Before You Do a Vegan Resolution in January: Eight Steps to Set Yourself Up for Success
Lots of people will be embarking on vegan resolutions and challenges this January 1. Maybe someone you know? Maybe yourself? Here are some tips on how anyone can set themselves up for success in January starting with some simple steps now, actions I have learned as a vegan of nearly 25 years who has helped many others through the process. Please check out my free Guide for New Vegans for more depth on things you can do to remove blocks and barriers to your vegan goals. Keep in mind that resolutions are famously difficult to maintain: thinking of veganism as something you are transitioning to adopting for life rather than forcing yourself through is probably an attitude that will lead to better long-term results.
1. Start weaning yourself off dairy now.
I think many people underestimate how much dairy they’re consuming because they’re not sitting down with a big glass of milk at every meal like so many of us grew up with, but how much are they really still consuming — like creamer in coffee, dairy-based cheeses, yogurts, butter, ice creams, as ingredients in products, at restaurants and so on — when thought about it in those terms? My guess is it’s more than you would think, perhaps significantly more.
While fluid milk has lost market share, statistics show that products like butter, yogurt and cheese are being consumed at record high per capita rates today. Dairy can be one of the hardest animal-based foods to quit — again, think of all that cheese people perhaps legitimately say they are addicted to — so I recommend that you start the process of noticing and reducing your consumption of animal-based milk products starting in December. That will give you a good head start into making your January resolution a success.
I think many of the non-dairy milks and butters are easy to use in a direct replacement of dairy, but animal-based cheese can be harder to leave behind, at least at first. I recommend giving yourself a good three-week complete break from cheese, dairy and otherwise, to reset your taste buds. After this time, you can start to experiment with the growing non-dairy cheese sector or enjoy your own vegan cheeses with somewhat more of an open-minded palate. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time. You might also consider checking out The Dairy Detox for hands-on, expert support with weaning yourself off the white stuff once and for all. It’s just $25 as I write this and worth every penny for the expertise.
2. Find community — online and in person.
There is nothing like a group of supportive people with similar goals to help you get over some of the rough patches associated with creating lasting change in your life. In the month of December, make it a goal to find and join some vegan support groups on social media; because it is social media, remember that not all groups are created equal, but look for ones with moderators that insist on respectful, helpful discourse. Vegan Beginners 101, New Vegan Support and Veganuary — a free, month-long program that offers social media support as well as a handy email-based daily message that is full of great information but not overwhelming — are some examples of virtual communities worth checking out. Also online, Vegan Outreach offers a free service for being matched with an experienced vegan as a mentor to help you through the challenging early months.
Don’t forget that many communities also have vegan meetups as well as their own local Facebook pages and that will require a little searching around online. Sometimes it is best to meet in person to really feel a sense of connection with the vegans in your community so don’t neglect your need to connect one-on-one.
3. Learn some quick, delicious recipes you love.
You don’t have to be a good cook or enjoy cooking to have a few decent recipes you can lean on to make quick, easy and inexpensive meals anytime you’re in need of one. This will make it less tempting to fall back on old habits. Also, ordering in and eating out is a nice convenience but it can get expensive over time. If you can find a handful of recipes you can make without too much trouble, you will always have options at the ready.
There are too many great vegan recipe resources to list here but some of my favorites are VegWeb, VegNews, Rabbit and Wolves, BOSH!, It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken, Hot for Food, and my very own recipes at Vegan Street. The recipes don’t need to be complicated: they just need to taste good enough to you that you’ll return to them again and again. Once you really master a recipe, it can be fun to improvise a little, add new veggies and plant-based proteins to switch things up a bit.
4. Learn how to ignore people who will try to derail you.
You know the expression, “Misery loves company”? Well, I’m not saying that omnivores are miserable, but that people can feel personally threatened when their friends and loved ones adopt positive changes in their personal lives, challenged enough to be defensive, unsupportive, pushy, mocking and antagonistic to the fledgling vegans in their lives. There is something about going vegan — even when it is done without judgment or criticism of others — that can make those around you react in defensive and prickly ways.
I go into this subject, as well as strategies for building your confidence in the face of pushback, in more length in chapter six of my Guide for New Vegans, but suffice it to say that while this kind of reaction doesn’t necessarily go away, your ability to navigate it will become much stronger. Eventually, it will throw you off less and less. Ultimately, your ability to thrive as a vegan hinges a lot on becoming less susceptible to peer pressure, guilt trips and other manipulative tactics from those who are threatened by what you choose for your own life. A side benefit of veganism is it will help you to learn how to maintain your boundaries and become less of a people pleaser, always good life skills to nurture. It isn’t easy for everyone, though. Spend December reminding yourself that you don’t need anyone’s permission to do what is right for yourself.
5. Be gentle with yourself: you’re learning something new.
December is a good month to practice the art of dusting yourself off after you’ve made a mistake. You probably didn’t learn to ride a bike by berating yourself. No, you learned to ride a bike through practice, and that probably involved some falls. It’s the same with learning any new skill and living as a vegan in a non-vegan world, well, it’s also a skill you develop through practice. After a while, it will become second nature to you, just like learning how to ride a bike, and you’ll have to put a lot less effort into things. For now, though, understand that one of the best things you can do to successfully adopt veganism into your life is not quit over mistakes. Learn from them and move on. In other words, get back on that bike! (Okay, enough with the bike metaphor.)
6. Stop buying animal products in December to make the transition easier.
Instead of white knuckling it through January, why not start the process of a successful implementation by not buying any new animal products now? Don’t overload yourself: just begin the process. It will help you to start with a clean slate and less stress in January. You might also want to check out this piece on stocking a vegan pantry to get some ideas for what to have on hand.
7. Become familiar with apps that can help with the process.
There are a lot of apps and websites that can help you in your transition, but I recommend Happy Cow, Vanilla Bean and VeganXPress for support in finding vegan food locally and internationally, including at chain restaurants. (I list many others along with descriptions of how they work in Chapter 8 of my Guide for New Vegans.) Many of the apps I list are user-supported, which means things are up-to-date and you can get recommendations and reviews.
8. Get clear on your motivations.
Some people lose weight going vegan. Some people lose weight at first and then gain it back. Some people maintain their weight. Others actually gain weight. Veganism is not a diet. Just as veganism isn’t a key to unlocking weight loss, it is also not an immunity shield. There are certain conditions that can be assisted by removing animal products and flesh from the diet, most notably issues connected to the heart and blood flow, but it is not a guarantee. Further, what is considered “healthy” changes day to day, and there are always excuses for eating animals even for ecological reasons. Having the firm foundation of ethics underpinning your veganism is — at least in my experience — the most durable way of it sticking.
What veganism will do is get you closer to being in alignment to any convictions you might have about compassionate living, reducing your support of injustice and shrinking your environmental footprint. Yes, people come in through the door of health or other motivations and I am not here to discourage that or say it’s illegitimate but to say that at its core, veganism is about doing our best to reduce harm and boost a more just, kind world. All that said, there are films, books and podcasts that run the gamut of focus, from ethics to health and all points in between, and can help you to feel motivated and firmer in why you’re about to embark on what you’re doing.
Expect that there will be hiccups along the way but that each day should get a little easier as you gain some familiarity and some new skills. I think going vegan was the best decision I ever made and I hope you also have a great experience.