As more and more people become vegan, it’s easy to be interested in how—and why—people might adopt a completely plant-based diet. The more you’ll learn about what veganism is and how to become vegan, the more you’ll realize how straightforward it is. And the more you’ll understand why so many are adopting vegan diets.
Though the modern-day vegan movement started way back in 1944 with just six non-dairy vegetarians, between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of US citizens who self-reported as vegan increased from 1% to 6% in just three years. That single-digit percentage might still seem small, but more stats indicate it could see even bigger jumps in the near future.
For instance, the popular campaign “Veganuary” saw a 45% increase in participation from 2020 (402,206 participants) to 2021 (582,538 participants), which means that 45% more people attempted to go vegan for a whole month.
Statistics about veganism show a rapidly growing population of plant-based eaters. But what these numbers can’t tell you is how all of these vegans managed to adopt a completely plant-based diet.
Luckily, you’ve landed here: A guide to all the smartest steps you can take to successfully, healthily go vegan for the long term. Let’s dive right in.
Pinpoint your main reasons to go vegan for continued motivation
There are endless benefits to being vegan. You likely know what piqued your interest about veganism initially—that’s probably what got you to this post in the first place. But did you know just how many upsides there are?
Even better, the many benefits of becoming vegan aren’t limited to you. In fact, when a single meat eater goes vegan, it can have a global impact. Here’s a look at all the most exciting facts about going vegan— and the primary reasons vegans decide to go without animal products. Take a look, and decide which one will be your North Star as you start your new diet.
Many people find their way to veganism through their efforts to combat climate change. And for good reason—a 2018 Oxford study found that going vegan is the “single biggest way” a person can reduce their environmental impact. The study found that, depending on where you live, going vegan can reduce your diet’s greenhouse gas emissions by up to 73%, amount of required farmland by 76%, and the amount of required freshwater by a quarter.
If you want to be vegan for environmental reasons, these statistics should convince you—and they’ll definitely be useful motivation to stay solid if you start to miss your old non-vegan favorites.
True to the founders of veganism, you might be interested in a vegan diet specifically as a way to end your participation in animal cruelty and exploitation.
In the U.S., around 99% of animals raised for food live on factory farms. That’s a staggering 1.6 billion animals crowded into just 25,000 factory farms. The inhumane conditions of overcrowding are accompanied by brutal practices like debeaking, genetic manipulation, and tail removals. Even if you found your way to veganism through another benefit, the knowledge you won’t be giving your money to factory farms could certainly be an added bonus. On the other hand, if you’re going vegan to end your participation in this industry, then you’re certainly on the right track.
While some might be eager to go vegan for more ideological reasons, many people adopt a vegan diet to lose weight. And there’s absolutely no shame in that! In fact, becoming vegan has been shown to be incredibly effective in reducing BMI, weight, and waist circumference.
Overall, those who follow a vegan diet tend to eat fewer calories than omnivores, even when they’re not aiming to restrict their calorie intake. Vegans also naturally eat less saturated fat and animal proteins. On the flip side, a vegan diet provides more fiber, polyunsaturated fats and plant proteins, which means that vegans can stay fuller and more energized on fewer calories.
If you’re hoping to lose weight for health or aesthetic reasons, know that before you start your vegan diet. But you should also make sure to monitor your mindset throughout the initial steps. At the outset, becoming a vegan can feel restrictive if you’re approaching it with the goal of weight loss. To set yourself up for long-term success, try to focus on all the delicious food you’re able to feed yourself on a vegan diet that you would have never even considered choosing as an omnivore.
Becoming a vegan and starting a plant-based lifestyle can be exciting, but before switching up your diet specifically for weight loss, you should absolutely talk to a doctor about your current diet, any health issues you face, and any hesitations you might have before beginning. They’ll be able to help you decide whether or not a vegan diet is the best fit for your specific needs.
Other health improvements
There’s way more to health than weight. And the physical benefits of veganism go beyond a few shed pounds here and there. In fact, even the weight loss that often results from a vegan diet goes hand-in-hand with crucial health benefits like improved glycemic control in those with diabetes, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome.
Beyond those upsides, a plant-based diet has also been found to lower your chances of getting cancer and make the symptoms of arthritis more bearable. There are many more health benefits to plant-based eating than weight loss. So, if you’re looking for a long-term lifestyle shift to address a specific health struggle, a vegan diet could very well be part of your solution.
Decide exactly how vegan you want to become
Another thing you’ll want to establish before you dive into becoming a vegan? Just how vegan you want to become.
Many people practice veganism in their diet, but they’ll keep it to that instead of cutting out animal products like leather, silk, wool, and goose down. Whether or not you want to expand your veganism to your lifestyle will depend on your reasons for going vegan in the first place. If you’ve decided to go vegan for the rights of animals, then you might lean toward these lifestyle changes, too. On the other hand, if you’re in it for health or weight loss reasons, a vegan diet is enough to reach your goals.
All that said, there are also some surprising parts of a vegan diet that you might want to opt in—or out—of. For instance, many refined sugars are produced with bone char, which would render them unsuitable for a strict vegan diet. More commonly, honey is a food that many vegans will avoid because it’s technically an animal product. Again, your reasons for going vegan will help you navigate these grey areas. But always remember that your vegan diet (and lifestyle, if applicable) is all up to you, and you shouldn’t let shame, labels, or in-fighting intimidate you from starting the transition.
Prepare for a few difficulties
There’s a reason not everyone is vegan. And it’s not as simple as unwillingness to go without meat, dairy, and eggs. Many people start out a vegan diet with every intention of sticking to it—but then they run into choppy waters and abandon ship.
Like any diet, veganism has its pros and cons. Here are a few common difficulties that new vegans can run into during their ramp up period—plus some tips for getting through them. You’ll be a stronger vegan for having survived:
First and foremost, even the most enthusiastic new vegan can fall victim to cravings. And what you end up craving will certainly surprise you. You could have a wicked sweet tooth, but after a few days of plant-based eating, you might find yourself craving a medium-rare steak. Or, you could be a cheese gourmand who finds themselves drooling over gelatin-based sour candies.
Whatever animal product you find yourself craving, do your best to come up with a tasty vegan alternative with a similar flavor profile. There are often vegan imitation recipes for a lot of your old favorites. Plus, specialty vegan food brands are creating uncanny vegan alternatives to meat, cheese, dairy and eggs.
One of the biggest traps new vegans can fall into is an overly purist approach to their new diet. Be lenient with yourself—it might feel counterintuitive to indulge your cravings, especially if you’re going vegan in an effort to lose weight. But giving your body what it’s asking for—or something similar to what it’s asking for—is a great way to set yourself up for long-term vegan success. So go ahead with that vegan ice cream! It will help you set the right tone for your newfound veganism.
As we mentioned before, you might be surprised what isn’t vegan. Taking a look at the ingredients in any given store-bought cracker will truly shock you. There will often be snacks, breads, cereals, and more packaged goods that sneak in butter, condensed milk, powdered milk, cheese powder, eggs, and honey that you might not think to investigate before eating.
Another sneaky ingredient to keep an eye out for is broth. Chicken and beef broth often sneak their way into soups, stews, and vegetable sides that might otherwise be vegan. Salad dressings can often feature cream or mayonnaise, too. All in all, don’t be afraid to read the ingredients and ask your server questions if you want to be sure you’re fully avoiding animal products.
Most people have come across the common misconception that veganism is inherently more expensive than being an omnivore. This misconception isn’t totally unearned. Vegan alternatives to cheese, meat and eggs are often more expensive than the animal product they’re meant to simulate.
That said, a survey of over 1,000 Americans found that the average grocery haul of a person who doesn’t eat meat is actually $23 cheaper per week than a person who eats meat.
Plus, if you want to become vegan but you’ve got a limited budget to work with, there are entire websites dedicated to publishing delicious vegan recipes on a budget.
As is the case with any diet, with a vegan diet, you can save a ton of money if you master the art of only going out or ordering in for special occasions. So, if you’ve already got a tight budget that you stick to through cooking and meal prep, becoming vegan on that same budget will be surprisingly easy.
Vitamin, mineral, and nutrient levels
Vegans also need to be intentional about supplementing their diets with a few key vitamins and minerals. Though a typical vegan diet will offer more fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, and other crucial nutrients, it will also often fall short in vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, and iron.
As a result, it’s often healthy for vegans to take specific supplements to fill in those gaps. Again, though, it’s often smart for anyone following any diet—vegan or otherwise—to fill in common nutrient gaps with a lineup of specific nutrients. Becoming vegan just means you’ll be getting more of certain nutrients and less of others than an omnivore might.
Dining out and dinner parties
Finally, one of the main challenges of becoming a vegan is the social one—particularly dining out and being a dinner guest. Dining out as a vegan can range from exciting to downright frustrating depending on where you live. In big cities and college towns, almost any restaurant you end up at will offer a vegan option or will be flexible with adjustments to dishes.
Meanwhile, in smaller, more rural towns, it might be more difficult to find something vegan other than the salad with no cheese and no dressing. And it can feel demoralizing paying money for something so lackluster. If you’re in a town that might not have as many vegan friendly options, try to scope out two to three mainstay restaurants. Indian, Thai, and Chinese cuisines tend to offer more dairy-free options than other cuisines, so if your town has any of those options, they could be a great place to start. As you’re getting a feel for dining out vegan, we’d recommend being your own best chef. Trying out exciting vegan recipes and feeding your friends could prove more fun and more fulfilling than dining out while you get your footing.
On the other hand, being someone else’s dinner guest can prove difficult while you’re starting to become vegan. If you have an invite to dinner at a friend’s place during your first few weeks as a vegan, it might feel uncomfortable to bring up your new diet ahead of time. Even with that initial discomfort, though, it will be well worth it to keep your friends and family in the loop. A great way to ease any awkwardness is by offering to prepare a vegan recipe that could serve as a side for the omnivores and as your main meal.
Set yourself up for success with these logistical steps
With all of the mental preparation out of the way, the logistics of becoming vegan will be simple. Nonetheless, there are a few specific steps you can take to make your transition into veganism all the smoother—and more likely to stick for the long term.
Be intentional about when and how you start
As we mentioned above, there are certain situations where being a brand new vegan can be more challenging. We’d recommend finding a week that you don’t have dinner plans, dinner parties, or any other huge food-centric plans. Having the freedom to try out new recipes at home, meal prep, and grocery shop to your heart’s desire will be a solid start to your veganism.
Another thing to consider? Whether you operate best easing yourself into new things—or if you tend to succeed jumping into something head-first. It might be tempting to go full vegan all at once, but if you’re starting from an omnivorous diet, you should consider cutting out meat, dairy, and eggs in gradual steps.
Find—or follow—vegan mentors
Another key step for becoming vegan—and staying vegan—is finding a community to support you during the process. A vegan “mentor” could be particularly helpful while you’re just starting out. They’ll be able to give you advice for your own specific questions, and they’ll be able to base it off of their own lived experience.
If you aren’t able to find a vegan community in real life, try going online. There are plenty of Facebook groups, forums, and friendly faces across the internet. Plus, there are tons of vegan content creators out there who are eager to provide advice.
No matter how you approach it, finding your vegan community will increase your likelihood of having a smooth and successful transition into veganism. A study over two years compared weight loss maintenance between four groups: a vegan-diet group with limited support, a vegan-diet group with ongoing support, a non-vegan group with limited support, and a non-vegan group with ongoing support. Not only did the vegan groups lose more weight than the non-vegan groups, the vegan group with ongoing support lost significantly more weight than the vegan group with limited support.
And beyond the science of it all, having a vegan community means you’ll be able to exchange recipes, try new vegan spots, and recommend products within your vegan crew, too.
Research vegan grocery lists
When you’re first getting started, finding grocery lists from seasoned vegans can be super helpful. Seeing the products they’ve been buying for themselves for years can help make this whole vegan thing seem like it’s nothing. It can also help you get a better grasp of what day-to-day vegan life will be like—and how much it might cost.
Finding these grocery lists can be as simple as a quick search online. You can find grocery lists that fit a multitude of budgets and lifestyles, and you’ll learn a lot about what kind of vegan products are available.
Compile a running list of recipes to try
One easy way to keep yourself excited about vegan cooking? Compile a running list of vegan recipes to try on a regular basis. If your vegan mentor sends you a link, someone in your vegan Facebook group drops a recommendation, or your vegan friend mentions a meal off-hand, write it down somewhere so you can look forward to revisiting it in the kitchen soon.
Hit the ground running
There you have it: All of the most important steps to becoming a vegan for the long haul. No matter why you’ve chosen to be vegan, you now have a tool belt full of the knowledge, support, street smarts, and motivation to make a plant-based diet happen. Now go out and save the world, one meal at a time!
- History | The Vegan Society
- Top Trends in Prepared Foods 2017: Exploring trends in meat, fish and seafood; pasta, noodles and rice; prepared meals; savory deli food; soup; and meat substitutes
- Veganuary 2021: 200% Sign-up Increase in 3 Years!
- A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes
- Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: a randomized controlled trial of five different diets
- Effects of Plant-Based Diets on Weight Status: A Systematic Review
- Whole-Foods, Plant-Based Diet Alleviates the Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
- Micronutrient status and intake in omnivores, vegetarians and vegans in Switzerland
- High compliance with dietary recommendations in a cohort of meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Oxford study
- Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods by Pesco-Vegetarians, Vegetarians, and Vegans: Associations with Duration and Age at Diet Initiation
- A Two‐Year Randomized Weight Loss Trial Comparing a Vegan Diet to a More Moderate Low‐Fat Diet
- Low glycemic index vegan or low-calorie weight loss diets for women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled feasibility study
- Plant-based, no-added-fat or American Heart Association diets: impact on cardiovascular risk in obese children with hypercholesterolemia and their parents
- Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets
- How plant-based food helps fight cancer
- New estimates of the environmental cost of food
- Going vegan is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce our impact, study finds
- US Factory Farming Estimates
- Factory Farming: What It Is and Why It’s a Problem
- Factory Farm Nation: 2020 Edition
- Exploring Opinions on Plant-Based Eating