Caitlin, a member of the YS Health Panel, has written about her journey to eating a plant-based diet after taking part in Veganuary four years ago.
Veganuary 2021 is well underway, and already more than half a million people have pledged to try out veganism for the month. Four years ago – armed with a carton of soya milk and a bag of lentils – I did the same. And, to this day, I’m still living the same lifestyle that I began on New Year’s Day in 2017.
Growing up I was a big animal lover and as soon as I understood what went into meat, I decided to stop eating it. For years this was where I drew the line. I had heard of veganism (though it wasn’t so popular then), but I never understood why people did it and, to be honest, I thought it was a bit extreme.
Fast forward to secondary school, plant-based recipes were all over Instagram and one of my friends had decided to go vegan. I was so intrigued by this and would ask endless questions about what she was having for lunch and how she managed to bake cupcakes without eggs and what she would eat in a restaurant. One day it occurred to me that the best way for me to really understand her lifestyle would be to give it a go for myself.
I didn’t want to put loads of pressure on myself and wasn’t quite ready to commit to a total lifestyle change, so I decided to just test it out for a week. I never thought this was going to be a permanent change for me and I was really just doing it for the sake of trying something new.
To be honest, I don’t remember when that first week turned into a month, or when that month became 4 years. I think the reason I chose to continue was because I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. Going vegan is often associated with cutting out lots of food which definitely puts people off. My experience was the complete opposite and I discovered lots of new foods I’d never even heard of, and I was inspired to learn how to cook them.
In the beginning, the biggest challenge I faced was eating out at a restaurant. My options were so limited that I was often left eating a side salad or bowl of chips at family meals. However, vegan food has become so much more popular and accessible in the last few years. In fact, it’s almost strange to find a café or restaurant that doesn’t offer plant-based options these days.
Very quickly I didn’t feel like I was actively trying to be vegan anymore, it simply became a normal part of my life.
Over time, the challenges have become less and less. Supermarkets are now full of vegan products and you can find a good vegan recipe for just about anything online.
Having said that, I’m sure most people who are vegan or even vegetarian have had slip-ups, myself included. It’s so easy to misread ingredients or be served the wrong dish at a restaurant. The most important thing I have learned from this is that there is no point in beating yourself up over it. Mistakes happen and it doesn’t take away from the fact that you are trying your best.
People often ask me how I have the motivation to stay vegan, do I miss certain foods, and do I ever ‘cheat.’ Judging from this, I think that veganism is commonly thought of as a diet that you force on yourself, but that’s not how I see it at all. I only went vegan out of curiosity, and I don’t think that would have been enough to maintain it for this long. However, I began to research the benefits of being vegan and the truths of the meat and dairy industries. I would encourage anybody who is interested in this lifestyle to do the same. In my opinion, you can’t make anybody else be vegan, you have to want to do it for yourself. As soon as you have your own motivation to do it, it isn’t a challenge at all.
My top 3 pieces of advice for someone who is thinking about going vegan are:
- Think about why you want to try being vegan. Is it about sustainability, animal rights, or health reasons? Whichever it is, knowing why you’re doing it will help give you the motivation you need to keep it up.
- It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be daunting to change your whole lifestyle overnight. Why not try out a meat-free Monday, switch to cruelty free shampoo, or order plant milk in your coffee?
- Give Veganuary a go! You won’t know whether or not you’ll like it until you try it, and you can always stop if it isn’t for you.
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Find out more about eating a plant-based diet on our dedicated page.