Everything you need to know before becoming vegan

Veganism, is the latest eating trend to take the world by storm. In recent years, the number of vegans in the UK, has skyrocketed. With greater awareness of the associated health benefits and the environmental impact of consuming animal products, more people than ever are considering overhauling their eating habits and going vegan for the first time.

In 2016 The Vegan Society, in partnership with Vegan Life Magazine, commissioned research and found that there were at least 542,000 vegans in Britain. Previous numbers recorded in 2006 saw this number at only 150,000. More recent research conducted by comparethemarket.com and supported by Gresham College professor Carolyn Roberts, suggests that this number has increased dramatically. They now estimate the number of people practising veganism in Britain has risen from 1% of the population to a mighty 7% - that’s 3.5 million people.

That is a rise of roughly 3 million people in the short space of two years. Numbers like this show veganism appears to be on an unstoppable course, and the numbers will keep on rising. With more vegans in the UK, becoming vegan is easier than ever before, easier than ever before, with meat and dairy alternatives and tonnes of new restaurants.

If you are considering veganism but are yet to take the leap away from meat and dairy, at Champneys we have created this article to explain everything you need to know before you do.

What’s your motivation?

A good place to start when you think about going vegan is to ask yourself why. Not only will this make you more motivated to stick with it, it will also help you know what type of vegan you will be, and what you’ll say when people inevitably ask you why you’ve changed your diet. There are a few key reasons why people choose to become vegan:

For the animals

This is the main reason why people choose to become vegetarian or vegan. In modern times, the effects meat eating and indulgence in animal products have become increasingly apparent. Although a lot of people would rather distance themselves from the problem, and the truth, many of those who are aware will start making more conscious efforts to eat ethically-sourced, animal-free products.

There are arguments that humans have always been omnivores, and its simply evolution, but personal choice allows people to rid their guilt of animal injustice by becoming vegetarian and vegan, or simply making more conscious choices.

For the environment

Becoming vegan due to environmental reasons is a more recent phenomenon. Just as modern technology has made facts about the effects on animals more accessible, it has also made the effects on the environment more well-known.

The production of meat and dairy products has a large effect on the environment, due to everything from the amount of water required to feed animals to the energy used in production and transportation. In fact, The Vegan Society states: “The vast amount of grain feed required for meat production is a significant contributor to deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction.

 “In Brazil alone, the equivalent of 5.6 million acres of land is used to grow soya beans for animals in Europe.”

For your health

A lot of people will choose to switch to a vegan diet for their health, whether for prescribed reasons, or through personal choice. Moderating what you eat lends itself to living a vegan lifestyle, as you’ll already be watching what you eat, it becomes easier to cut unwanted foods out of your diet.

Some people may have been prescribed by a doctor to steer clear of things like red meats. Becoming vegan is a clear way to cut these products out of your diet, and there are studies that suggest a vegan diet is healthier than an omnivorous diet, however it varies from person to person.

For religious reasons

Another factor people often overlook for veganism and vegetarianism is religious reasons. This is why certain cuisines, like Indian for example, are much more likely to play host to a large range of vegetarian dishes. If you are considering a religious reform, this could also include becoming vegan.

We spoke to Tabatha, known online as The Sensible Vegan. Her passion for health and fitness combines with her passion for keeping animals free from harm on her blog, and she looks to inspire her audience into living a healthy and friendly lifestyle. Tabatha told us why she first became vegan: “I became vegan overnight after watching the documentary ‘Vegucated’ and witnessing the animal cruelty scenes.”

We asked Tabatha if there was anything she wish she’d have known before she became vegan: “I just wish I had heard of veganism sooner! Growing up I started having digestive issues and mysterious skin rashes that lasted for years. After becoming vegan everything cleared up within three months and never returned.”

Finally, Tabatha spoke to us about the tips she has for people who are looking to become vegan, and the things she has learnt since she made the switch. “Join a vegan group for support. I often do 21 Day vegan challenges for the followers of my blog. We are currently halfway through one, and it's going well.

“Do your research and learn all about veganism and food substitutes. People are so encouraged when they see recipes on my blog for vegan burgers, pizza, biscuits, and quesadillas. There is a vegan substitute for everything!”

She continued: “Since veganism is becoming so popular, more and more companies and restaurants are catering to vegans! It's not hard to plan delicious and inexpensive meals and dining out should not be difficult because of the various vegan options that are available.”

You don’t need to go all in at once

Becoming vegan is a process. If you’ve always lived as an omnivore you’ll have to train yourself to reconsider the way you think about food entirely. As you’ve grown up and learnt about one type of diet, there will be certain preconceptions, certain things you think are more normal that you’ll have to realign in your head. This relearning can make transitioning to a vegan diet difficult.

We spoke to Romy, a vegan blogger at Romy London UK who agreed with this sentiment: “It's important not to put too much pressure on yourself in the beginning. Every change of habit is difficult and for some more than others. I believe that everyone is on a journey and even though I went vegan overnight I appreciate that it's not for everyone to do the same thing. Take your time and don't feel like you have to give up on yourself if you don't manage to stick to being vegan completely right away. Appreciate that you're going on the right direction and that is what counts.

“I would also recommend trying to educate yourself as much as possible - finding out so much about what actually is in my food helped me so much making more conscious decisions about what I want to put into my body and has made becoming vegan so much easier for me.”

We asked Romy why she first became vegan: “In the first place it was always something that I idealised but never thought I could do, because 'I just loved cheese too much (yes, I was one of those people, pretty clich√© right?) One day it just clicked, and I went straight from being a carnivore to being a vegan. At that time about 4.5 years ago I wasn't feeling particularly happy or healthy in my body and I always felt that it was mainly down to the food I was putting into my body. I felt like I wasn't living a healthy lifestyle and really needed to make a change. One day after work I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘Vegucated’ (ironically whilst eating sushi!) and it just clicked for me that evening and I knew I was going to make a change from that moment onwards.”

Finally, we asked Romy what she had wished she’d known before making the switch: “I probably wish I had known that I would need a lot of patience! But honestly, I was shocked to find out what is actually in my food, where the ingredients come from and what is animal derived. I kind of wish I had known more about this earlier, but then again: I probably would have gone vegan earlier if I had!”

It’s about more than just food

Often people overlook that veganism is about more than just food. Animal products can be found in everything, from leather clothing items to many beauty products. Becoming vegan will mean more than just adjusting your eating habits, it will also mean adjusting a lot more. A few every day products that can contain animal ingredients are car and bike tyres, the glue found in some musical instruments, some shampoos and conditioners and even some sugar.

We spoke to Victoria from The Pretty Natural, a blog dedicated to cruelty-free make-up and beauty tips, who told us why she first become vegan: “I first became inspired to go vegan around five years ago when I transitioned to cruelty-free makeup. I had watched some videos on animal testing and the awful methods that are used by certain makeup brands. I used to be a big meat eater, I never really understood where our food was coming from and the suffering animals have to go through at our expense.

“I started watching more documentaries about veganism and learned about the truth behind the meat and dairy industries. I was shocked to learn the impacts on our environment and health! I knew this was something I could no longer support because I care deeply about animals, our planet and my health so I slowly started to transition to a vegan lifestyle and never looked back.”

Victoria also gave us some fantastic advice for those thinking about becoming vegan: “Do as much research as you can, watch documentaries like Cowspiracy, What the Health, Forks over Knives and Earthlings. They will change your life! I recommend taking it slow and don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect. The perfect vegan doesn’t exist, and we don’t live in a vegan world yet. I would start by cutting out meat first, we simply don’t need to eat animals and it’s so unnecessary.

“Slowly incorporate a few vegan meals into your diet each week so you can try out new recipes and find what you enjoy. After a few weeks I would suggest cutting out eggs and dairy, which is the hardest one for most people so go easy on yourself. Try out as many vegan alternatives as you like and check out any local vegan/vegetarian restaurants you have in your area. Try to make conscious purchases as well be swapping out our old products for cruelty-free alternatives, stop buying leather and start supporting local and ethical companies.”

There are people like you everywhere

Veganism can feel quite isolated at first. Even though the number of vegans in the UK increases every day, it’s not uncommon to not know someone who is vegan. It can be hard to explain your reformed diet to your friends and loved ones, and try to find compromises that can make both parties happy, or have someone to discuss recipe trades with.

Luckily, the vegan community is a strong one, and a welcoming one. You can go online to find vegan bloggers or influencers and reach out to them to start a conversation, many are more than happy to help. In your local area you can search out vegan cafes and strike up a conversation with the owner, they may have events that you can attend, or be able to link you up with someone else. The vegan community will be there, it may just be up to you to search it out.

It’s easy to get inspired

Even if your local vegan community is small, it is still very easy to get inspired. There are hundreds of vegan bloggers who are putting recipes online every day. There are social media accounts filled with drool-worthy images of delicious vegan meals. Even on more conventional platforms like well known recipe websites vegan recipes are becoming more popular with all audiences.

One of the best places for recipe inspiration has always been Pinterest. The site allows you to not only search for specific terms in order to find recipes you’ll love, but you can also add factors like the time you want to spend on the dish, dietary requirements and key ingredients you want to use. These features mean it’s a great way to find recipe inspiration for all kinds of dishes in one place.

You can also take to the library or book shop and pick up a vegan cookbook. As we said, the influx of people becoming vegan around the world has caused a lot more people to realise there is a demand for vegan recipes, and thus there are a lot of vegan cookbooks on the market now.

Check out Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 recipes to feed your face by Lauren Toyota for some great vegan twists on some great comfort foods. Books like Thug Kitchen bring a hilarious (and 18 over) approach to vegan food and are filled with ingenuitive and exciting recipes. Or, if you have more of a sweet tooth, try Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town for some highly-recommended sweet treats.

You’ll get used to checking the label

As with all diets, you’ll have to be more cautious about what you eat. Often times there are hidden animal products inside things you wouldn’t imagine, and it’s important you learn how to recognise these and pick them out on a label.

Victoria from The Pretty Natural spoke to us about the amount of items people don’t realise contain animal-derived products: “You’d be surprised that so many products contain animal products. You'll come across products that you assume to be vegan, but I’ve seen thing like jelly sweets with gelatine, crisps with milk, pre-prepared vegetables in butter, condiments with diary in, Asian dishes with fish sauce, pasta made with egg and even some bread made with milk so always check the label! You’ll also be surprised at how many beauty products contain things like honey, beeswax or lanolin.”

These are just some of the items you’ll need to check, but after a while you’ll start to become more familiar with the ingredients of products and you’ll have an intuition to guide you. However, at the beginning it’s best for you to check everything you pick up, even if you are sure it must be vegan, so you can familiarise yourself with how products are made and know for sure you aren’t being caught out.

Not all vegans are healthy

When people think of vegan food, they often think of dishes filled with green vegetables, pulses and salads. Although these things are vegan, it’s important to remember not all vegan food is healthy like this, and that can trip a lot of people up.

If one of your motivation is having a healthier diet, being conscious of this is very important. It’s very easy to become a ‘junk food vegan’ one that survives solely on things like French fries, processed foods, Oreos (yes, Oreos are vegan) and crisps. Although these easier options are just that, easier, they are not healthy options and understanding how to have a nutrient-rich diet that works around your schedule is one of the main make-or-break parts of veganism.

If you are finding the diet you want isn’t working around your schedule, there are lots of tools available to help you find ways to make it work. Whether you are looking for meal prepping tips online, finding recipes that take less time to make, or finding other meal options there are ways.

If you are looking for some professional guidance, we offer a range of boot camps that can help you get on track. From exercise camps, to our eat-well boot camps with expert nutritionists, you will be able to find experienced mentors and supportive groups to help you on your journey.

In fact, from September of this year we are starting to offer introduction to vegan lifestyle retreats with Carli Wheatley, founder of Protein Haus. These retreats will assist you in learning about and becoming vegan through talks and demonstration and are the perfect place to kickstart your journey.

You might need to get to know the supplement aisle

Even though with a vegan diet you can find alternative ways to eat food groups quite easily, there are some things that you’ll find harder to come by and which you may need to replace by supplementing.

The main thing you’ll likely miss with a vegan diet is Vitamin B12, which is most common in animal products but can be found in some plant milks and soy products. A low intake of B12 can cause anaemia and nervous system damage, so it is important to ensure you are getting enough. Whether you do this by eating fortified foods (which are food with added vitamins) or taking supplements, it’s important to ensure you are getting enough.

This isn’t just the case for B12, and when you change your diet you need to be sure you are giving your body what it needs. Sometimes, if you find you are struggling to do that with food, the best way to do it is with supplements. 

It doesn’t need to cost more

There is a preconception that having a vegan diet can be a lot more expensive than a meat-eaters diet. This is not the case at all and as with any diet, it’s what you choose to buy that will determine how expensive your it is. Often, it is animal products like meats and cheeses that cost the most, so by dropping these from your list you’re instantly saving some cash. However, some people can compensate for this by spending more on other things, like more diverse vegetables or meat replica products.

At the end of the day, it’s going to be about what you choose to eat and how you choose to buy it, but it is possible and easy to be vegan on a budget. Blogs like The Stingy Vegan and youtubers like Cheap Lazy Vegan are great tools to help you when you need some inspiration for preparing vegan meals on a budget.

So, there you have it, everything you need to know before becoming vegan. Now it’s up to you!