By Sarah Wray
This blog post is written from my own personal experience as a self-described vegan-ish flexitarian, with a lot of help from Sara Botero‘s insightful new guidebook The Essential Vegan Toolkit. I’m not an expert on this topic and I do not claim to speak for everybody!
While some of us are still trying to wake up after the holidays, January has decided rather rudely to continue moving forward – leaving us nearly two weeks into 2020 already! And if you made a new year’s resolution, there’s a good chance you’re struggling with it at this point. An estimated 80% of resolutions are failed or forgotten by February each year. There are a lot of reasons for this, a huge one being that many people see a one-time step off the so-called righteous path as a reason to quit entirely.
‘Failing’ at Veganuary
So what if your resolution was to go vegan – whether for Veganuary, or for the whole of 2020? With vegan diets on the rise in general and 370,000 people signing up for the Veganuary pledge (plus plenty more who, like me, are attempting to have a vegan month without signing the pledge), you’re certainly in good company!
And yet, I can see clearly that the shift hasn’t been easy for a lot of people… this weekend, my social media timelines were filled with people lamenting how they’d “failed already” at Veganuary and were giving up. The same was echoed in articles in the press – one writer has “already failed” at Veganuary only 10 days in. Another article about Dry January (in which participants abstain from alcohol for a month) noted that a quarter of the people who had slipped up in their goal decided to go right back to their old ways – again using the phrase “already failed”.
Over and over, I see people being eaten up by guilt and shame because they’re having a difficult time making a difficult transition. So what’s the problem? Us, or the way we frame our goals?
Setting ourselves up to fail
Frankly, this is all very sad to me… after fewer than two weeks of working toward a massive life change during the most difficult month of the year, well-meaning people had decided their endeavours weren’t worth the effort following a minor setback. Surely, changing your lifestyle is a long-term endeavour, one that might take a bit of trial and error? I couldn’t help but think that the all-or-nothing way we in which we frame our resolutions is setting us up to fail.
The fact is that we have a lot working against us when it comes to making a big lifestyle change such as going vegan:
Biologically, our brains are lazy; they want a routine and they really don’t like having to break habits (especially something so deeply entrenched as the way we take in sustenance)!
Then there is the cultural and social messaging that helped form and solidify your habits – messages like: “non-vegan diets are the default” or “meat = power and status” or “vegans are weak/weird/extreme/difficult” or “an important tradition in my family is sharing a roast dinner every Sunday” or “fried chicken and mac’n’cheese are delicious and they will comfort me when I feel low”.
Both positive and negative messaging about food and eating are driving your primal brain in ways you’re unlikely to be conscious of.
It’s OK to slip up – and it’s also OK not to be 100% vegan all the time
I’m here to tell you that adopting a vegan lifestyle means you’re facing an uphill battle, and it’s really, definitely, totally OK to ‘slip up’. It’s also OK to decide against the all-or-nothing approach! Even if your goal is to eventually live a 100% vegan lifestyle, you have to start within a framework that suits you.
You haven’t “failed” at veganism forever just because you had a cheese sandwich in a hungry panic, or because you had a bad day and decided to say ‘screw it’, or because you kind of forgot your pledge and ate a milk chocolate bar without really thinking about it, or because you had a packet of crisps and later learned they had whey powder in them (related: WHY DO THEY PUT WHEY POWDER IN EVERYTHING?!) … You’re just a human who’s feeling out a brand new way of living. I’ll say it again – it is OK!
It’s also OK to recognise that going 100% full-on vegan might not be the right choice for you. Maybe you’ve struggled with disordered eating in the past, and severely restricting your diet is taking a toll on your health. Maybe you ‘kind of sort of maybe think you should probably try out veganism’ because of something Greta Thunberg said. Again, that’s awesome! But if your motivated solely by a general feeling of guilt, there’s a good chance your heart’s not in it and you won’t make it very far…
So how do you transition to veganism in a way that works? How do you keep going amidst a slip up? Is it OK to decide to be a part-time vegan?
Making it work for YOU
With all of the above difficulties in mind, I’ve come up with some tips from my own experience as a vegan-ish flexitarian, with a lot of help from Sara Botero‘s insightful new guidebook The Essential Vegan Toolkit:
1. Be clear on your motivations, or ‘Know your why‘
Whatever your reason, it’s valid. All that matters is that you’re extremely clear on your motivation, and that you remind yourself of this motivation regularly. This is the foundation of success, and it’s the main thing that will keep you on track when you reach those inevitable pitfalls.
When you face temptation or you slip up in your goal, come back to this motivation – let it guide you in moving forward rather than stewing in the feeling of failure.
2. Create a framework you’re actually capable of living in, or ‘Know yourself‘
Look long and hard at your motivation, and then consider whether it’s strong enough to take you to your goal. Ask yourself whether you care enough about your reasoning to make a full-on switch. Crucially, accept if the answer is no, and re-frame your goal. You can still do a lot of good even if you don’t adopt a hardcore, black-and-white stance.
This was the key for me. I recognised that no motivation was enough to drive me to completely give up every single animal product I’d been consuming. Rather than beat myself up for not being able to get all the way there, I decided to do the best I could with what I felt able to give. While I do try to stick to a vegan lifestyle, I might also enjoy an occasional cheesy treat when I eat out (or have fried chicken once a year when I visit my hometown in Missouri), and sometimes I buy leather boots.
I feel OK about these ‘failures’ because I’ve made an agreement to myself to live within this framework. I’ve accepted that my goals are to live with more compassion, be more mindful and try to do more good. I use my moments of happy sin as motivation to get continue on with my vegan-ish reality. Isn’t that more useful than “failing” after a few days and giving up entirely?
3. Do some research, or ‘Know your stuff‘
You will be questioned, whether by well-meaning friends or pesky devil’s advocates who just want to get a rise out of you. So as well as knowing your motivations, it really helps to be able to debunk a few common myths about veganism.
You know how everyone suddenly NEEDS to know where you get your protein from when you say you don’t eat meat? They’ll also want to know your views on soya and oestrogen, or on supplements, or on any number of things you maybe haven’t considered.
Arming yourself with the knowledge you need for these conversations will help you have more faith in your choices, rather than questioning yourself the first time somebody else does.
4. Frame it positively, and be kind to yourself
The last bit of advice I can give – and this extends across most areas of life, not just going vegan! – is to frame your goal positively. Don’t put it in terms of what you’re giving up, but rather what you’re aiming to achieve. Consider how the change will benefit you and others in the future, and focus on the benefits, not the costs. So rather than saying, “I’m giving up meat because of animal cruelty” or “I can never eat eggs again”, consider “I’m doing my bit to show compassion to other living beings by trying out veganism” or “I get to try all sorts of new recipes and foods!”. The language we use makes a difference!
Finally, by adopting a vegan or vegan-ish lifestyle, you’re already working so hard to extend your compassion to other living beings, from animals to other humans. Be sure to extend some of that compassion to yourself. You might need it throughout your journey!
Want more vegan goodness?
The Essential Vegan Toolkit is just £9.99 in our webshop for all of January 2020!
You get a free vegan nutrition poster when you order from us (pictured below).