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The Journey of Transitioning to a Vegan Lifestyle

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

So, you’ve decided to go vegan. Be it for animal welfare and moral values, for health concerns, environmental activism, beliefs about human needs or personal preference, as daunting as it can be, you’re embarking on this journey, you’re doing it.

Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle seems pretty simple on the surface; cut out all animal products and instead consume only plant-based foods. But if you, like me, grew up in a uber meat-consuming culture, believing that all meals ‘should’ be planned around what meat you’re going to eat or having meat be a central part of cultural practices, it can mean a lot more than changing your behaviour. Sustainable change is born from a profound change of mindset.

There is no right or wrong way to go vegan, every journey will be as unique as you are an individual. The truth is that the transition can bring about many personal and internal challenges, and I mean many, and it can also have an impact on our relationships. This journey can be incredibly lonely. Not everyone is going to understand your decision or support you on your journey, you might even be the only vegan in your family or group of friends, which may draw an invisible line in the sand. This is the line that separates vegans from non-vegans, and with time, can become deeper and deeper, leading to feelings of isolation, being misunderstood and ‘othered’, or like we are fighting an impossible fight all on our own. This can feel overwhelming, especially as new vegans.

Here are some tips and guidelines for when you feel alone on your journey.

1. Manage your expectations

Whatever your reasons are for going vegan, we tend to feel pretty passionate about what it is we have discovered, what has become our fundamental truth. We sometimes hope in sharing this, the people in our lives will see what we see, feel what we feel, and want to change too. This is unfortunately, rarely the case. When transitioning, we need to manage our expectations and understand that our friends and family, for whatever reason, might not feel as strongly and passionately as we do or be willing to make a change.

2. Be the change

Our home situations and life stages may differ greatly. Some of us may live alone or with a vegan partner, others may live with a non-vegan partner or in a non-vegan family. Being vegan on your own might not be as challenging as being vegan in an integrated community with different habits. Regardless, the onus is on you to develop a new routine and take the responsibility of finding a balance between differing needs. Be that becoming more comfortable in the kitchen or adapting around others, doing research on vegan restaurants or vegan options at other restaurants, or pre-preparing yourself food on outings. Remember, every time you act in a way that aligns with your values and beliefs, you set an example.

3. Practice patience and compassion

That leads me to the next tip; be patient and practice compassion. In the context of the people in our lives, compassion is a process of connecting by identifying with another and showing an ability to turn toward the suffering of others. When transitioning to veganism, a process of ‘othering’ can ensue, where we are ‘othered’ for our lifestyle, and we in turn ‘other’ those who do not share it. This can lead to feelings of anger and resentment towards non-vegans. We may even experience ‘othering’ and a lack of understanding from fellow vegans, especially when transitioning isn’t as easy as people believe it should be.

Compassion can counter feelings of anger, resentment and even our own judgement, by allowing you to see the pain of others, perhaps their ignorance, their humanness. This reveals that maybe they are not as malicious as they may seem, that they too have struggles, that they too are human, and remind you that you once stood in the same shoes.

This compassion can also be turned inward and create a practice of self-compassion. You are not and will not be perfect and that’s okay. You are doing your best and that is what matters. Be gentle and kind with yourself and acknowledge your courage and commitment.

4. Learn as much as you can

Familiarise yourself with veganism, not so that you can win every “but bacon” argument, but so that you create a system of beliefs that are solid and true to you. People will challenge your choice. Educating yourself will help you feel prepared, knowledgeable and build a firm and sustainable foundation for your journey.

5. Nurture your motivation for change

There are many reasons to go vegan and a huge difference between going on a diet and adopting a plant-based lifestyle. It is important that you find your own personal reasons for choosing veganism as this is what is going to motivate you when it gets difficult. Like I said, there is no right or wrong way to going vegan and no journey is the same. We may have the best intentions in the world and still slip up and that’s okay. That is why it is a journey.

Once you know your reasons and motivation for change, it’s important that you nurture them. If you’ve gone vegan for the animals, spend time nurturing your love, care and compassion for sentient beings. If you’ve done it for environmental reasons, look into what other lifestyle changes you can make to amplify this. When we nurture our motivations, they grow, they become stronger and so do we.

6. Seek like-minded people

Finding people who share similar values, beliefs and practices can be a great source of support and comfort. There are approximately 79 million vegans in the world and numbers are slowly growing in South Africa. Reaching out on social media platforms such as Facebook groups or Instagram can help connect you with people who not only share your choice of lifestyle, but likely also your struggles.

7. Explore psychotherapy

Transitioning to veganism is not always easy. Issues related to loneliness, isolation, guilt, anger, shame, helplessness, anxiety and depression can arise. Veganism can also lead to existential questions and concerns related to humanity, wide spread health concerns and the future of the planet that can be difficult to process on our own. Psychotherapy could be a powerful way to engage effective behavioural change and help you cope with the emotional backlash of transitioning. If you feel that your current support system is lacking and you are not coping on your own, therapy could provide you with a safe space of additional support where you can develop strategies to help you manage powerful emotions and address patterns and fears that may be holding you back.

Thank you for being here. You are brave. You are seen. You are not alone.

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