Common Pitfalls for New Vegans
By Dani Taylor
Many of you may be thinking it might be time to clean up your diet, lose a little bit of weight, or maybe you're even entertaining the idea of going vegan. The vegan movement is building steam, and we want to share with you seven common pitfalls for new vegans. These are seven reasons why many people fail at a plant-based diet.
1. You Don't Eat Enough Calories
Many times when the Vegan Strong Team is touring the country, someone will come up to the booth and explain to us that they tried to go vegan and that they felt great - at first. But then after a few weeks or a month, they started to feel very low energy, weak, and perhaps they even lost weight that they were not trying to. Often people think it is a nutrient deficiency or something they were missing in their diet. They get nervous, they don't feel great, and they go back to their old way of eating. A few weeks or even a month isn't long enough for a nutrient deficiency to set in to a degree that it makes you feel awful. Ninety-five percent of the time, this is due to a tremendous decrease in calories that the person is unaware of.
It makes sense, when you remove meat and dairy from your plate and replace it with fruits and vegetables (or sometimes nothing at all!), you will be reducing your caloric intake significantly. Plant foods are much less calorie-dense than animal-based food, in general, so you need to make a conscious effort to ensure you're keeping your calories where they need to be.
To avoid this, try logging your food intake into a food tracker to make sure you're eating enough. If your calories are too low, focus on incorporating higher calorie plant foods such as nuts, seeds, avocado, grains, and beans.
2. Eating Too Much Vegan Junk Food
Yes, there is such a thing as vegan junk food. If you go to Whole Foods or any grocery store, you're bound to find plenty of processed packaged foods labeled vegan! You snatch it up, throw it in your cart, bring it home, prepare it, and you may not feel any better than you did when you ate your regular burger!
These foods can be a godsend when you are transitioning from a Standard American Diet to a more plant-based diet. They offer the familiarity and comfort of foods you already love, and for some people, that can be the difference between a successful transition or not.
The issue is that in 2020, it is pretty effortless to construct a fully vegan diet based primarily around processed vegan foods while excluding the whole plant foods that are loaded with the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that lead us to better health. While processed foods are definitely okay to have from time to time, try to build the majority of your diet around balanced whole foods to experience the health benefits of going vegan.
3. Being Unprepared
Being unprepared is something that we all struggle with from time to time. Nobody is perfect, but being prepared is going to help you stay on track with your vegan journey. Having a plan when you go grocery shopping will make it, so you don't end up with anything to eat on a busy work night and ordering pizza out of convenience. Bringing some vegan snacks with you when you're out of the house can be a lifesaver if you get caught hungry and without any plant-based options. Think ahead and plan appropriately. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Vegans make up about 3% of the population. What this means is that many people will think differently than you about food choices, and it can be quite jarring at first. You may find that your family or friends start poking fun at what you've chosen to order at a restaurant. Strangers may suddenly throw their two cents into any conversation about your food choices. This can range from friendly banter to argumentative.
One of the best things you can do in these situations is to remain calm and to avoid becoming defensive or argumentative back. Perhaps take some time to read some books or watch some documentaries on a plant-based diet so that you can learn some facts and talking points that may help to adequately explain to people why you choose to eat the way you do. Be sure to avoid attacking other people's food choices. Many years of experience have taught the Vegan Strong Team that this only serves to validate the "angry vegan" stereotype and is the fastest way to shut down communication.
5. It's too expensive
One of the stumbling blocks for some new vegans is the perceived price. Specialty vegan foods, much like the packaged foods mentioned in #2, are too pricey to incorporate into many people's diets regularly.
Much of this food budget increase will dissipate as you learn more about how to incorporate whole plant-based foods! Lentils, bananas, potatoes, oats, apples, etc. are some of the least expensive foods you can buy. As you learn to build your meals around whole plants while only occasionally incorporating the fun specialty vegan foods, your grocery bill will come back down significantly.
6. Trying To Go Cold Turkey
There are some fantastic stories out there about folks who went vegan overnight and never had any issues. But this isn't the case for most people. Although you may have the desire to be 100% vegan immediately, the overwhelm of trying to cut out the animal-based foods you've been eating all at once, could lead you to not knowing what to do, or what to eat, and giving up altogether.
If you think you may be falling into this camp, try cutting out one food group at a time. Perhaps start with cutting out red meat, then dairy milk, then white meat, then cheese, and finally smaller animal ingredients. You may find a different order works best for you, and that's okay too! Take small, consistent steps towards veganism, and you will find yourself there faster than you know it.
As you move forward in your vegan journey, you will likely find many different viewpoints and stances on the "best" way to follow a vegan diet. There is a lot of contradictory information out there, and it can be incredibly confusing who you should listen to. Following the wrong person's advice can make or break your transition to veganism, so this is very important.
We recommend following evidence-based advice. If someone cannot cite their sources beyond "It worked for me," this may be the information you want to avoid. The prevalence of social media has given rise to "Internet Experts" with little to no accreditations but massive followings. Take this with a grain of salt.
One resource that Vegan Strong finds credible is nutritionfacts.org by Dr. Michael Greger. Greger bases his advice on medical journals and research findings. All the sources he cites are peer-reviewed, and he weighs the balance of evidence in his videos (for example, he considers a study's funding, the magnitude of impact, design, etc.) Greger is not the only doctor compiling this information, but his website is well-organized, frequently updated, and makes complex nutrition topics easier to digest.
Going vegan is an incredibly personal journey. If you ask 100 vegans to describe their plant-based journeys, you will get 100 different stories! It's essential to take your individual likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses into consideration when creating your road map to a plant-based diet. Examine the points above if you are struggling in the early stages of your veganism. And if you haven't yet begun taking steps towards veganism, definitely make avoiding these pitfalls part of your plan. You'll increase your chances of success tenfold!