When I first made the decision of going plant-based, I never imagined how much my life would change for the better. I immediately noticed the health benefits of going vegan; my acne cleared up, I had more energy, my digestion improved drastically, I lost extra weight, and I was learning to enjoy new foods and textures.
However, as it happens with everything new, there was some trial and error along the way. And look, we all mistakes! I sure did and you will, too. But hopefully by sharing mine, I can make the beginning of your plant-based journey a little bit easier. You've got this!
What I Wish I Knew Before Going Plant-Based - How to Avoid My 5 Biggest Mistakes
1. Supplementing Isn't (Usually) Necessary, Except in One Important Case!
One of the many benefits of going plant-based? Plants are packed full of vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and beneficial phytochemicals that are essential for a healthy body. Your immune system will be stronger and more resilient to bacteria and viruses.
However, there is one nutrient that you probably won't be able to get on a plant-based diet: vitamin B12. (Here's why B-12 is hard to get on a plant-based diet, by the way.) A deficiency in B12 can cause severe neurological problems, most of which are non-reversible, which is why it's extremely important to supplement daily!
The Simple Fix:
Make sure to take a vitamin B12 supplement to stay on top of your health. You can even find it in a spray, with delicious flavors.
2. Being Patient with Yourself is Key
The benefits of going vegan are plenty, but many people (myself included) try to be perfect which can set you up for failure.
Food labels can be confusing and there will be times where you accidentally eat something that doesn't fit the plant-based bill. You may attend a social gathering where the food offerings aren't exactly vegan and you find yourself eating a tray of cookies you wish you hadn't, which can lead to feeling of guilt and frustration.
The Simple Fix:
Do not be too strict with yourself! You will make mistakes in the beginning, through which you will learn more about your new lifestyle. Nobody is perfect. Brush it off, and keep going!
3. You Need to Eat More Food!
Plants naturally have much less calories than meat or dairy. Especially if you are following a whole food plant-based diet, you will be consuming less calories than before. The Standard American Diet has loads of excess sodium, saturated fats, and added sugar, which sometimes means that people end up reaching their daily caloric requirements in just one meal.
A common "complaint" of people when they're first starting a plant-based diet is that they feel hungry all the time. Take this as your body's signal to eat more. Sounds pretty good, huh? Eating as much as you like without compromising your health or your weight?
The Simple Fix:
Eat enough calories every day, and aim to have as much variety in your meals as possible. An easy trick to achieve this is to make sure that you eat all the colors of the rainbow every day, if not at each meal. Need more help staying satiated? These 8 tips for keeping hunger at bay on a plant-based diet are life-saving!
4. Protein Combining is a Myth
Protein combining is a nutrition myth that claims in order to get complete proteins from plants, you need to eat two or three protein-rich foods at each meal, such as beans and quinoa.
Contrary to what you may have heard, you don't need to go out of your way at each meal to combine protein sources in order to get complete proteins. Your body does a great job of storing amino acids, so whatever you didn't get from your breakfast, you can get it at lunch and be done with it. And a friendly reminder: all plants have protein!
The Simple Fix:
If you eat enough food, you won't have to worry about your protein intake, but if you want to be sure, simply include protein-rich foods in every meal; peanut butter, nuts and seeds, lentils and beans are excellent sources of plant protein.
5. There Will Be Jokes (Don't Take Them Personally!)
Food isn't just a way to nourish your body; it's often tied to cultural and familial traditions. It can be a bonding experience. This is why going vegan can be a little bit scary because yes, to be frank, your social life can get a little awkward (at first!) when you take the plant-based plunge.
Your friends and family may understand why you cut out meat and dairy, but they could have a harder time understanding why you don't consume oil or added sugar anymore.
Some may even feel defensive or uncomfortable around you, as they get suddenly aware of their own diet habits and in some cases, folks resort to jokes to make themselves gain control of their feelings.
The Simple Fix
People don't always accept what they don't understand. Don't take things personally, and remember that most of the time, people are not doing this out of lack of respect, but lack of understanding, or even fear. Change is scary, even if they're not the one doing the changing. So laugh them off, or take the opportunity to educate them if you're in a patient mood. Remember, this is your journey, not theirs...and that's OK!
- There are so many benefits of going vegan...but there are challenges along the way, too. No biggie! Take them all as lessons if you can and keep on keepin' on.
- Some of the things I wished I'd known before going plant-based: you need to take a B-12 supplement, be patient with yourself because you will make mistakes, you need to eat more food, protein combining isn't a thing, there will be jokes but don't take them personally!
Rafaela Michailidou is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach, and a freelance health and wellness content writer, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.