Avoiding Perfectionism While Transitioning to a Vegan Diet
When I first went vegan six years ago, I vividly remember the experience: I had just watched Forks Over Knives and learned about the damaging health impacts of consuming animal products and decided that was it. At the time, I had been so used to eating eggs or yogurt in the morning and lean chicken at lunch or dinnertime with the mindset that these were the healthy and macro-friendly foods I needed to eat for a lean physique. Growing up around these foods, I was blind to the notion that these could be harmful in any way. After all, everyone was eating them! Boy, was I wrong there.
Informed with this newfound knowledge regarding the health benefits of a plant-based diet, I decided I was done consuming animal-based foods and bolted to the Raley’s in my college town on a weekday night to load up on dairy-, egg-, and meat-free staples. Shortly after, I immersed myself in other facets of veganism by watching documentaries like Earthlings and Cowspiracy, researching the vitamins I needed to supplement to thrive on a vegan diet, and even attending the Animal Rights Conference to gather as much knowledge as I could about the vegan movement and learn how I could contribute to vegan advocacy in a meaningful way.
Needless to say, I fell hard for this cause. How were these atrocities being committed so regularly to animals on factory farms with no regard from the general populous? How could animal products be so harmful to human health, yet so prominently pushed onto our plates by governmental agencies and nutrition committees? How can so many people advocate for climate change, yet neglect to consider the most damaging industry of them all to our environment and continue to consume animal products? I was angry. I was passionate. And above all, I was set on making a change to help end the suffering of animals worldwide.
Then, one evening on campus after a long day of classes, I decided I’d pop into the dining hall for dinner before heading into my night class. If nothing else, I’d at least be able to find some veggies, I thought to myself. I grabbed a plate and scooped a few helpings of roasted veggies on there, assuming these were my safest choice considering the other options were cheesy pizza, chicken tenders, or cheese-laden sandwiches. After eating, I ran into a friend working at the dining hall and asked if the roasted vegetables were vegan, just to be sure. Lo and behold, they were not! They were covered in butter, and I was none the wiser as I scarfed down a bowl of them.
The second I left the dining hall, I panicked. For weeks, I’d eaten a “perfect” vegan diet and cautiously avoided any trace of meat, dairy, egg, and honey. How could I so foolishly slip up now? How many cows suffered for the butter I’d just consumed? My heart rate was elevated and I dashed to the nearest bathroom, fully prepared to make myself sick to rid my body of what I’d just eaten. Lucky for me, my class was starting in less than five minutes and I had no time for that. Still, I sat through my lecture distracted by the deafening anxiety stemming from my mistake and didn’t hear a single word my professor said. It wasn’t until I texted my (vegan) best friend to share what had happened and she assured me that things like this happen to everyone, and you learn from them and happily move on with your otherwise vegan diet.
Looking back on this now, I feel sadness for myself at that moment in time for being so distraught and unforgiving over a simple accident. When starting out on a plant-based diet, it’s easy to miss little things that you’ve never had to consider before! You’re so used to trusting the food served to you in restaurants and it takes time and practice to adjust your mindset to ask (or check online) before ordering if things aren’t explicitly labeled on the menu. The important thing to remember is that transitioning to a vegan lifestyle is a journey—you don’t have to be perfect overnight, and no one expects you to be. You’ve chosen to make the most meaningful change possible for animals in this world, and no one will fault you for accidentally eating some butter that wasn’t listed on a menu. In this post, I’d love to share some quick tips for avoiding a perfectionist mindset when adjusting to your vegan lifestyle in hopes of saving someone from the agonizing anxiety that can come from “messing up.”
Tip #1: Take it slowly and set an ideal deadline for yourself.
Transitioning from a traditional American diet to a plant-based diet can take a little bit of time, and that’s okay! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your diet doesn’t have to be either. Jumping in too quickly can run the risk of feeling overwhelmed and giving up before you have a chance to get settled in. Instead, I’d recommend doing some research before embarking on your first vegan grocery trip to learn the staple foods to stock up on, supplements you may want to purchase, and tips for how to identify vegan goodies anywhere in the grocery store. There are plenty of vegan starter guides online to help get you going, so read up! If you get stuck, Veganuary is a great resource to get you started. Once you’ve had a week or two to gather the ingredients and supplements you need, you’re ready to embark on your exciting new vegan lifestyle!
Tip #2: If you slip up, mentally note the error and simply move along!
If there’s one thing you take away from this post, it’s that mistakes happen! They happen to brand new vegans and they happen to veteran vegans who have been plant-based for years. Sometimes, foods will be mislabeled or you’ll accidentally forget to check an ingredient before buying something and only realize your mistake once you’re home. Regardless of the error, it’s important to remain forgiving to yourself and don’t sweat the small slip-ups. When you’re saving animals every day of your life by choosing a vegan lifestyle, one chocolate bar that you swore was dairy-free when you bought it won’t erase any of that. Simply take note of the product, make it a point to check ingredients more carefully before purchasing in the future, and move along with your day!
Tip #3: Remember, Google is your friend!
When you decide to go vegan, it can be a lot of information to take in. What do I need to look for in labels to know an item is vegan? What supplements should I be taking? Can I wear wool? What about silk? Does that restaurant have vegan options? Whatever your question, Google (most likely) has the answers for you. If you ever feel stuck or uncertain about any aspects of veganism, don’t hesitate to look it up online! There are plenty of vegan blogs out there who want to help transitioning vegans settle into their new lifestyle, so utilize those resources to your heart’s content. Soon enough, you’ll be your own expert!
While I don’t expect that all new vegans will to need to read this article by any means, I thought it was important to write about for the folks out there like myself who can get caught up in the harms of perfectionism. Regardless of any road bumps you encounter during your vegan journey, remember to stay kind to yourself and keep your focus on the myriad of positives you’re contributing to this world by choosing a vegan lifestyle. In case you need a pep talk anywhere along the way, I’ll be here to help!