If you, like hundreds of thousands of others, decided to give ‘Veganuary’ a go this January, then you might be wondering where you go from here, now that we’re into February and looking to the months ahead.
Whatever your reasons for giving temporary veganism a go, there’s no denying that it’s a movement that’s growing in popularity year-on-year, and more people than ever before are deciding to make the leap into full-time, permanent veganism.
Major influencers including Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian have all spoken out about the virtues of a plant-based diet, and it seems that the tide is turning for good. More vegan-friendly products than ever before are available on the supermarket shelves, making it a smoother process than before, but it can still be tricky to know how to make your lifestyle shift more long-term.
For those that are dithering about continuing with a plant-based lifestyle into the rest of 2020 and beyond, it’s easy to see how you might be confused or concerned about taking it into the long term. Anything is easy to do in the short-term, right? Who minds eating the same meal three times in a week, if it’s only for a little while?
But making your fun new habit into a consistent lifestyle can be a little trickier, if you’re not sure what you’re doing. You’re likely breaking a habit of a lifetime, with the need to shop differently, plan differently and cook differently too, so it’s essential to make your transition as easy as possible, so that you can maintain it without too much effort, and won’t be tempted to slip back into your old ways, or end up eating the same meal over and over again.
Dr Laura Freeman, lifestyle medicine doctor and advocate of a plant-based lifestyle, and head of the department of lifestyle medicine at the award-winning Dr Nestor’s Medical & Cosmetic Centre, has given us her top tips on transitioning into a full-time vegan diet, and the benefits that it can have on your wider health too…
She said: ‘There are many benefits to adopting a plant-based lifestyle, for your own health and the health of our planet. If the whole world went vegan, it has been estimated that we could prevent 8 million deaths and cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70% in the next 30 years.
‘On a more achievable scale, if every person ate one plant-based meal per day for a decade, we could reduce carbon emissions so significantly that it would be equivalent to flying a jet 868,217 times around the world.’
And what about when it comes to our own health?
She explained: ‘A plant-based diet can help with almost every aspect of our health; increasing our energy levels, helping us to control a healthy body weight, and preventing major chronic lifestyle-related diseases. It can also reduce our risk of cancer. It’s interesting to note that it has been reported as many as four in 10 cases of cancer diagnosed are potentially preventable with lifestyle changes, which drastically reduces the risk of cancer.’
Dr Laura’s given us her advice on maintaining the good habits you’ve built up during Veganuary, and turning your short-term experiment into a long-term lifestyle…
‘While some change their diet very quickly, for most people the transition to a WFPD (Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet) is best done gradually,’ says Dr Laura. So, if you’ve gone full-pelt with Veganuary and feel like you didn’t get a proper chance to say goodbye to your old favourite foods, don’t beat yourself up about it. Feel free to enjoy them for the time being, but just start gradually cutting down on the frequency of enjoying them, and replace them with a plant-based alternative as you start cutting down.
‘Breakfast is a good meal to start with,’ Dr Laura says. ‘There are lots of really delicious breakfast dishes which work well with plant-based alternatives; try porridge made with oat or nut milks, vegan pancakes piled high with berries, scrambled tofu and different plant milk options in your morning coffee.’
‘You can also “veganise” your favourite meals, so that you don’t feel like you’re missing out on the things you enjoy the most. Your changes do not have to be too drastic, and you don’t need to start missing certain dishes,’ she continues. ‘Try vegetable lasagne for example, a vegan chilli made with different beans, or a curry with lots of different vegetables and chickpeas.’
Dr Laura advises that new vegans should try their best not to become too dependent on meat alternatives in their new lifestyles: ‘Meat alternatives are good for a transition phase, and brilliant at helping you adjust to your new lifestyle, but in the long term, they should ideally be used sparingly. Discover vegetables, beans and different wholegrains that you enjoy instead, and gradually cut down the meat alternatives as best you can.’
For sustaining your new lifestyle, Dr Laura advises that one of the key things to do is to educate yourself on your choices. ‘It’s most likely family and friends will question your choices about your new lifestyle, so it’s important to arm yourself with evidence-based facts (of which there are many!) and be prepared to answer questions about what exactly you eat and how everything works. It’s always a good thing to get discussions going and help to raise awareness about the best diet for health.’
And as her last tip, Dr Laura has some failsafe advice: ‘When it comes to optimising your health through diet, do the very best that you can manage. Eat a diet rich in lots of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Limit, as much as you can, the amount of red and processed meat, other processed foods, sugary drinks and alcohol.’