Not Sure How to Go Vegan? Start Small.

Hey, y’all! Glad you’re here! I’m Missa, I’m vegan, and if you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided to go vegan. YAS! I’m here for it: a well-balanced vegan diet comes with a long list of health benefits. Not to mention, it gives the power of The Glow (I mean, look). When I went vegan for ethical reasons almost 15 years ago, I cut off all animal products immediately. Not you? Ease on down. Veganism is a healthy and rewarding journey, and there are as many ways to go vegan as there are vegans. I cannonballed off the deep end, but you don’t have to. You can start small. I’ll give you some of my story, and a few ways to do just that.

Read Labels (and books). I was in Research Mode for the first several weeks (y’all: book after book after book), and you better know the first thing I did was put my “vegnifying glass” on every label in the grocery store and our cabinets until I had identified every vegan/non-vegan item in rotation. I know I sound like one of those vegans, but it wasn’t shade, I just needed to know what I was eating. Fact: “A healthy, plant-based diet requires planning, reading labels, and discipline”. Also fact: Some of the food in your kitchen/pantry is already vegan. Look at you! Already halfway there. Now on the flipside, animal products are often additives, and you’ll find some things are sneakily not vegan (I’m talking to you, “non-dairy” coffee creamer). So again, read!

Make Simple Swaps (and find a support system). Now, I told y’all I in-veg-toried the house. But beyond avoiding anything but plants, I had no clue how to eat. I got creative with my plate from the get-go. My first vegan meal at home was a humble bowl of steamed peas and white rice, anointed with a holy glug of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt (I know, I’m extra). Ma was down to help re-work some of my plates (I faithfully contributed to the grocery bill). At school, I even made “loaded” baked potatoes (tons of broccoli, shredded carrot instead of cheese, olive oil/salt rather than butter) in my dorm kitchen. Accepting the process and having the freedom and support to be creative in small ways helped me feel like I could really do this vegan thing. Then, as meat substitutes became more available, I revisited former favorites. “Meatloaf” and “fried chicken” rotated in with plates I’d created. Meat substitutes were easy for ma to understand, which helped her support me, the only vegan in the house, and they gave me some variety. See where I’m going here?? Meat and dairy substitutes took some pressure off of figuring things out. And whatever made ma’s life easy was cool with me. BUT!

Think outside the box (or bag). After a while, I noticed something was up. I was a runner, logging 3-5 miles each morning since freshman year, and suddenly I was performing poorly! I was losing energy during my runs. I even gained back some weight that I had lost! (WHAT?! NO). What happened, you ask? Y’all. I had sidelined vegetables for heavily-processed food. Disrespectful. Come with me down this road y’all cause I want to be clear: Food should be fun and delicious! Some things I thought I would never eat again became part of my life once more (love you, mung bean “eggs”). But processed foods cause serious health problems down the line. You gotta eat real food!

The best way to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition is to: Get Cooking (and use recipes). It may seem time-consuming, but optimum health requires mindful planning. Stocking vegan staples and in-season produce. Seasoning with fresh herbs, not just Lawry’s (just me? oh). Knife skills. Practice these things using recipes (no guesswork, y’all). You’ll soon evolve from personalizing to making them your own as you narrate your cooking show to yourself in the kitchen (just me again? Oh ok). I’m just saying, recipes build cooking confidence.

I mean look at me now (ayyye): breakfast evolved from PB&J toast to PB & Banana French Toast with homemade Berry Compote. My tofu scramble is a magically delicious 15-minutes-start-to-finish timesaver. My partner is a chef and decidedly not vegan, but I he likes my vegan grits (and my buddha bowls). My food is more IG-worthy these days (My partner taught me how to plate food), but it’s deeper than that. Meal planning and cooking real food from recipes made being vegan easier and healthier.

Be easy (on yourself). Learning how to build a healthy vegan lifestyle takes time. Cut yourself some slack and focus on the process. The rest will take care of itself. Love y’all.

Featured Image: Photo by Sara Dubler on Unsplash

About Author

Missa is an ISSA-Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. A performer at heart focused on promoting healthy eating and fitness among the Black community, her goal is to be a resource for the plant-based community, focusing on optimal nutrition, fitness, and helping clients choose their own path to both.