Getting rid of old habits can be tough!
I recently asked a group of vegans what they found most difficult when transitioning to veganism. An answer that cropped up often was along the lines of: “I found it hard to change the habits of a lifetime, to not buy the food I’ve always bought, and visit the fast food chains I pop into.”
I can relate to this! When I went vegan 6 years ago, cheese and egg were the last things I gave up. So many meals revolved around them as I was vegetarian (not healthy, I know!) and I struggled to imagine what I’d eat within the home and at restaurants if these options disappeared. I had a preferred lunch at the cafe near work, go-to chocolate bars and my favourite takeaway was egg foo yung. So I completely understand. It can be easy to slip into default mode and buy things, without even realising it. So how did I overcome this and change my long-term habits?
Mindset and Emotions
As you can see from above, my negative and limiting mindset was one of the things that stopped me going fully vegan sooner. And for those worrying about changing habits, I completely understand. It is a daunting prospect – we all have busy lives and routines that we like following. But it is do-able and completely worth it! Take it from somebody who is out on the other side of change – you create a new normal. Once I fully realised the horrors of the dairy and egg industry, and associated health risks, I knew I had to do it. Now I have good habits and healthy routines, that don’t involve cruelty. I’ve found new dishes at the takeaway that I actually enjoy more. I’ve learned to make my own ‘egg’ foo yung at home, which is very satisfying, and healthier! I’ve discovered Vego chocolate bars (heaven) and gorgeous vegan lunches. Life is great!
As with getting rid of any habit, mindset is a huge player. Humans are emotional creatures! We make many decisions (especially in the moment) based on emotion rather than logic. If you’re not emotionally committed and prepared, the likelihood is that your new habit won’t last. We often adopt certain beliefs to justify keeping old habits. In the context of veganism, this could be “but I won’t get the nutrients I need” or “I can’t afford it”. What’s yours? It’s important to challenge these limiting beliefs. Are they REALLY true? I cover a lot of Vegan Myths over here, so do take a look – yours may be on there! Let’s replace those beliefs with new ones – “I’ll be saving lives” or “I’ll be helping the environment for my grandchildren”. Being vegan really is a positive lifestyle choice.
NB: I’m no psychologist, so if you’d like to learn more about overcoming limiting beliefs, there’s a great yet simple article here.
Changing Habits for New Vegans
When we want to change ingrained habits, there are two main approaches:
1. Going all in and not looking back. This gets results more quickly, and seeing the fast achievements can further motivate you to carry on – like a rolling stone gathering momentum! People with a lot of motivation, support and willpower can achieve this, but others may find it draining. I’ve seen people go vegan overnight, but I’m not sure how common this is.
2. Using small steps. Some people (myself included) start buying vegan food, replacing meat, then milk, and moving onto cheese, eggs and non-food items such as leather. For those who find change difficult, it can be a great way to transition and ensure you stay vegan for good. Some downsides of this approach are that it takes patience to see it through, and the nice bonuses such as better health take longer to kick in.
Which approach is better? Of course, it depends on your personality type. Think about something great you’ve achieved. Did you work at it slowly and steadily, or dive all in? Looking at past results can be a good indication of what works for you. Now, the quicker you can go vegan, the more lives saved, but we also want veganism to be sustainable and enjoyable for the long-term. If that means you replace foods one at a time, don’t feel bad! If you’re really stuck as to where to begin, you may find this post helpful: Get Started Slowly
Crowding Out with Vegan Foods
As a new vegan, changing habits isn’t just about mindset. The ingredients in food can have a big impact on us. For example, did you know that dairy cheese is actually ADDICTIVE? Many studies have shown that the milk protein casein is addictive in high concentrations. Cheese is much higher in casein than other dairy products. When it’s digested, casomorphins are released. These are opioids, in the same chemical family as morphine and opium. That would explain why so many people say they couldn’t imagine giving up cheese! When you suddenly cut it out, you can experience cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Luckily, there are techniques to change habits and improve your mindset, so you can overcome it and never look back.
Something that I heard about recently was the ‘crowding out’ method. I absolutely love the idea of this! Instead of seeing veganism as a lifestyle where you’re restricted and cutting things out (like the cheese!), you simply start buying more vegan food and eventually crowd out the non-vegan food with it. You can even order monthly treat boxes as a gift to yourself. As time goes on, you have a plethora of new vegan products that you love and they replace the non-vegan items in your home. This way, you are intentionally seeking out delicious cruelty-free food, instead of getting rid of everything in the fridge. Mentally, it feels more abundant and less restrictive. Give it a go!
Changing Shopping Habits as a New Vegan
Having good self-awareness is really helpful before you enter the supermarket as a new vegan. What are your weak points, and how can you overcome them? Do you love cheese? Buy 10 different vegan cheeses to try, to drown out the dairy cravings. Don’t think you can cook vegan? Buy a slow cooker and look up the easiest recipes you can find, to help you get started. If you’re a chocoholic, make a pledge to not even go down that aisle. Instead, visit the free-from section and find a vegan alternative. Have a clear plan to tackle these weaknesses, whatever they may be. It can take a while for your tastebuds to change, so being intentional with your actions is important.
It’s so easy to slip back into the habit of grabbing familiar foods off the shelf. Especially if you’re busy or in a rush! Changing our food shopping habits can be easier if we enter the supermarket with a ‘vegan’ mentality – ignoring any non-vegan products and not even allowing them to enter our consciousness. You can skip certain aisles (meat, fish) altogether! It can also be useful if you go with a strict list and budget – then you can’t deviate.
This is where getting rid of your limiting beliefs and adopting new beliefs, can really help. We can make rash, emotional decisions in the moment, but if we allow ourselves to just pause for 5 seconds, it can have a big impact on our decisions. So – take a breath, think about what you’re about to buy and if it lines up with your values. Remind yourself why veganism is positive and where non-vegan foods come from. That way, you’re far less likely to fall back into old habits.
Check out my post Surviving Your First Supermarket Shop As A New Vegan for more help with vegan food shopping.
Changing Habits through Accountability
It’s really helpful to have a support system when changing any habit. Somebody who can talk you down if you’re having a bad day, remind you of your goals and share stories with you. It’s especially useful if that person is changing the same habits as you! You can go vegan together, tell each other what products you’ve found, and eat out at veggie restaurants. Just ensure your accountability buddy is as committed as you are – otherwise, you could be the one providing all of the support.
If you don’t have a friend to go vegan with, try using other tools. Journals are a great way to hold ourselves accountable. For the first 30 days of veganism, commit to writing down everything you eat. You could even work out how many animals you’ve saved! By having to write it down, you’re much less likely to eat something you’re not proud of. There are also apps and websites to provide you with step-by-step encouragement. Veganuary is a great scheme to sign up to.
You can hold yourself accountable too. If you do get tempted to buy non-vegan products in the moment, mindfulness has been proven great for breaking bad habits, as mentioned above. For example, you’re in the store, and you want to buy that pizza slice for the train home. Notice your want, be curious about it, and think about what the cheese symbolises – bad health, animal cruelty, forced impregnation. Retrain your mind to think twice about the things you used to love. It might sound a bit ‘woo’, but it does work! It just takes a little practice to retrain your mind.
Physical Changes as a Vegan
Going vegan can also change some physical habits. And you don’t really have any choice over these!
Switching to a fibre-rich vegan diet results in rapid changes to your gut bacteria. You can make more frequent visits to the toilet, which is perfectly normal. It’s actually a good sign, as your body is finding it easier to process and digest the natural foods!
You may also find that you have less body odour (not guaranteed of course!). Your sweat glands get rid of toxins and unwanted waste, and so of course your food can have a big impact on the way you smell. Red meat and dairy in particular cause stagnation in the body by putrefying the digestive tract, and releasing toxins into the bloodstream. The next time somebody tells you that going vegan stinks, you know what to say!
People have also reported a reduction in undesirable PMS symptoms, lower frequency of coughs and colds, faster hair growth and increased focus. Of course, this will vary on an individual basis and if you thrive on junk food, fake meats and cheese, you may not notice these health benefits as much. If you currently eat unhealthily, starting small, such as incorporating a daily smoothie, can help with increasing the nutrients in your body. 31 Green Smoothies is a great e-book for £5.
Seeing these physical changes really makes you think about what’s going into your body, and how you’re fuelling it, rather than just eating what takes your fancy. Your body is adjusting to the whole, nutritious foods that it needs and you will reap benefits from this.
Are you ready to change lifelong habits and go vegan?
Whether you adopt veganism overnight or take small steps, you can face some mental challenges. But it also feels really good to be more in tune with what you’re putting in your body, what’s going on in the food industry, and making conscious consumer choices. Breaking those old habits can be refreshing and a fantastic achievement. Veganism is such an amazing lifestyle, and I just know you’ll love it as much as I do!
What habits are stopping you from becoming fully vegan? Let me know in the comments below!
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