What 7 Plant Based Eaters Wish They Had Known Before Becoming Vegan

Photo: Stocksy/Nataša Mandić

Making the switch to plant-based eating can feel overwhelming. It's intimidating to think about removing entire food groups from your eating plan. But figuring out how to go vegan (while managing to get all the nutrition you need from plants) isn't as difficult as it might sound.

If you're thinking about how to go vegan, you should steal tips from the people who have been there, done that. Whether it's a plant-based registered dietitian who knows the ins and outs of the diet or vegans who have learned a lot throughout their journey of plant-based eating, getting their expert guidance will help you make the switch—and make sure the new plan sticks.

How to become a vegan in five steps, according to a registered dietitian

Before getting advice from vegans who have made the switch, there are five registered dietitian-approved steps that will help you flawlessly switch to a vegan diet.

1. Swap the easiest foods first

When going vegan, Lauren McNeill, RD, MPH, the vegan nutrition expert behind Tasting to Thrive, says swapping the easiest foods first is key. "Choose a meal you're already eating that can very easily be made vegan," she says. "For example, try swapping out the regular milk in your oatmeal for plant-based milk, consider adding lentils to your bolognese instead of ground beef, or make a chickpea salad sandwich instead of tuna."

2. Consider what you're adding, not what you're taking away

Going vegan can be daunting because your mind instantly goes to everything you can't eat anymore. That's why McNeill encourages her clients to consider what they're adding to their diets, not taking away. "Think about all of the legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and whole grains you'll be trying on a vegan diet that you may have never have tried before," she says. "Over time, increasing these portions of plant-based foods will naturally crowd out the animal-based foods."

3. Choose one vegan day per week

You don't have to go all in right away when going vegan. You can take things slowly to avoid becoming overwhelmed. "When making the transition, I encourage clients to choose one vegan day per week, increasing the days per week as they get more comfortable and as time goes on," she says. "This makes it easier to see what a full day of vegan eating would look like. Oftentimes, it trickles over into the other days of the week as well."

4. Make sure you're eating enough

It's not uncommon to give up on plant-based eating if you feel hungry 24/7. But you're only hungry because you're not eating enough food. "Plant-based foods are naturally lower in calories than their animal-based food counterparts, meaning we need to increase our portion sizes," McNeill says. "Not eating enough food can lead to low energy levels and nutrient deficiencies on a plant-based diet. I recommend upping the portion sizes of your meals or adding in more snacks throughout the day."

5. Be kind to yourself

Changing your diet isn't easy. That's why McNeill says if you want to be successful, you need to be kind to yourself throughout the process. "It can take some time to fully transition to a vegan diet, but don't be hard on yourself," she says. "Having 'slip-ups' is normal. Instead of getting down on yourself about them, I encourage you to reflect and assess why they may have happened. Did you go too long without eating? Were you craving the comfort of an old favorite? Did you forget to prep a quick and easy meal ahead of time? Reflecting can help to avoid these slip-ups in the future."

How to go vegan, according to plant-based eaters with years of experience


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1. Brandi Doming, vegan chef, author, and creator of The Vegan 8

What I wish I would have known: I wish I had known that I didn’t need to be worried or intimidated. At first, I thought I would miss out on all my favorite foods. But I soon realized that I could make luscious creamy sauces and homemade ice cream and savory stews, all without any use of animal products. They taste just as good and satisfy my soul. There’s a way to veganize pretty much anything by introducing texture and flavor with the right ingredients.

How to stick to plant-based eating: My best tip is to remember to keep it simple. Don’t stress over trying to create elaborate meals. Make the foods you love, whether it’s pasta, soups, tacos, and so on. Simply replace the meat with beans, chickpeas, or lentils. Use all your favorite spices for maximum flavor. You can replace dairy with homemade cashew cream and cheese sauces. I do this weekly with my recipes. Also, remember to eat large enough varied meals each day so you're full and satisfied. Trying to sustain this way of life on salads or green smoothies will leave you hungry and unfulfilled.


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2. Ashley Melillo, cookbook author and creator of Blissful Basil

What I wish I would have known: It's about abundance! When I first went vegan, I focused heavily on what I was giving up. The cheese, the eggs. But the further I leaned into the lifestyle, the more I realized just how much I'd added to my plate and to my life. The types of foods I ate expanded widely, and the energy, vitality, and clarity I experienced soared to new heights.

How to stick to plant-based eating: Give yourself permission to lean in slowly. Honor whichever approach works for you. If you're someone who thrives by diving into things headfirst, by all means, dive in. But if you're prone to overwhelm (my hand is raised) or you tend to push back against any form of change or restriction, take it slowly. Lean into the lifestyle over time and give yourself the space to find a rhythm before committing fully. And hey, if labels aren't your thing, don't label yourself. You can adopt a highly compassionate lifestyle without calling yourself vegan.


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3. Whitney English, MS, RDN, of Plant-Based Juniors

What I wish I would have known: Something I emphasize with eating plant-based (that many people don’t realize!) is it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. A plant-based diet simply means a diet centered around plants, which can look different for everyone.

How to stick to plant-based eating: I recommend experimenting with new recipes and making plant-based eating fun. While it may seem limiting at first, there are endless possibilities when it comes to making healthy, plant-based recipes. If you aren’t sold at first, give it a few weeks—it takes time for our tastebuds to adjust, especially after eating a lot of processed foods.


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4. Nisha Vora of Rainbow Plant Life

What I wish I would have known: I wish I had focused more on all of the good food I could eat on a vegan diet instead of what I couldn't eat. I had always been cautious of certain "unhealthy" foods, but when I went vegan, a whole new world of wholesome yet delicious and satisfying foods opened up to me. Instead of forcing myself to eat chicken breasts and eggs because I thought they were healthy protein sources, I now happily enjoy eating creamy lentil curries, rich bean stews, and crispy tofu.

How to stick to plant-based eating: Find ways to cook outside the box and maximize the flavor in each dish you make. I'm not the kind of vegan who can eat salads and smoothies all day and feel satisfied, so recreating favorite comfort foods and building hearty and flavorful yet wholesome dishes keeps me excited. For instance, risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods, so I've learned how to make it just as creamy and indulgent without using butter and cheese. Or brownies. I'm a fudge brownie gal all the way, so I spend time experimenting with ingredients and quantities to recreate incredible brownies without using eggs.


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5. Ana Alarcon of AnaGoesFit

What I wish I would have known: At the beginning, I'd love to have known about all the recipe books out there (there are so many to choose from!) and the amazing vegan community—especially locally. So many people are vegan, and I didn't even realize it. I also wish someone would have guided me on cooking different meals. It can be tricky at first, but you get used to it.

How to stick to plant-based eating: Start by making your favorite meals vegan. That way it's you'll instantly have a collection of options you can easily make without overthinking things. Also, work on building a group of vegan friends that support you—it makes a massive difference.


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6. Remy Park of Veggiekins

What I wish I would have known: I wish I would have known that a vegan diet could look different for everyone. Before going vegan, I believed the stereotype of eating salad all day was the only way to be vegan. Of course, after jumping in myself, I realized there are so many ways to be vegan. It could be vegan pizza and salad one day, and a raw wrap another. Had I known this, I would have probably been interested in making the transition much earlier. People don't realize you can eat just about anything—you just have to put a vegan twist on it.

How to stick to plant-based eating: The number one reason why I love the way I eat—and why I've stuck with it—is because it feels good. Making the switch to a vegan diet was the first time I really felt a noticeable physical difference in the way my body felt and my energy levels. Knowing that I'm making ethical choices every time I eat also makes every meal that much better. This compassionate lifestyle has helped me learn to become more compassionate toward myself, and most importantly, it's opened my eyes to the way small changes can have an incredible impact on myself, the environment, and the animals.


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7. Richa Hingle, cookbook author and creator of Vegan Richa

What I wish I would have known: I wish I would have known that there are all kinds of options available. And it can be hard to fit in the community during transition.

How to stick to plant-based eating: I have a few tips: 1) Find vegan versions of some of the meals or dishes you eat frequently. If you don't already cook, start with a few and go from there. 2) Ask food bloggers, ask in vegan forums. Ask about substitutions, about recipes. About anything. Ask about cookbooks that suit your eating style. 3) Keep a supply of snacks or meals with you when you're traveling until you can figure out how to manage travel or visiting friends and family who aren't vegan.

Here's what a dietitian has to say about some popular alt-meat brands:

This diet lets you go mostly plant-based without *totally* ditching burgers. Then get to know the plant-based nail polish that's coming to a drugstore near you.

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