This year I decided to do ‘Vegan-uary’. For those unfamiliar with the term it basically means going Vegan for January – a bit like Movember or Stoptober. I’d been pescatarian for a year and had been toying with the idea of going vegan but always thought it would be too difficult. I love cheese and eggs – how could I ever give them up? Having managed pretty well I reflected on what had worked for me.
- Mindset is really key. If I had focused on what I was denying myself I would have been dreaming of cheese omelettes and would have launched into the sour cream dip at the first hurdle. Instead I approached it as an opportunity to try out a bunch of tasty recipes from the new cookery books I got for Christmas. This really worked and I honestly didn’t have too much trouble sticking to it.
- Support from the people around you is important. My family didn’t want to go as far as to join me for the whole month but hubbie was quite happy to eat the same as me for many meals and he cooked a fair few for me too so this really helped. Social norms are changing in this area fast… of course I got a few people taking the mickey “How do you know when someone’s a vegan? (Don’t worry they’ll tell you within 5 minutes of meeting you)” but on the whole people are coming on board with the need for us all to eat less meat. There is incontrovertible evidence to show that avoiding eating meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the planet (bigger than taking fewer flights or having an electric car). The barriers to Veganism are coming down. Restaurants, coffee shops and supermarkets as well as manufacturers are all playing their parts to make it easier for people to make plant based choices with greater availability and clearer labelling. It feels like a lot of progress has been made even in the last 1 or 2 years. Finally vegans are becoming seen as more hip than hippy!
- Planning ahead makes it easier to stick to your guns. The classic British buffet is not vegan-friendly so I took marmite sandwiches to eat before my Auntie’s wake and I ate before going to a Burn’s Night celebration (otherwise it was dry bread with my wine!) A packet of nuts and an apple in your bag can get you through a lot.
- When there were hiccups I forgave myself. So while others gave up on Dry January and felt like a failure, I put mistakes down to experience and got back on track the next day. Half a naan bread and a dollop of pesto was not a terrible sin. Oh and wine… who knew so many wines contain egg? My approach was that if I couldn’t read it on the label then it must be fine. Ok I’m not a saint!
- I need boundaries! When January was over a friend asked me what was the first thing I was going to eat. I realised I hadn’t really missed much and wanted to continue, although I wasn’t going to be a strict vegan. We all know that a little of everything in moderation is a good thing, but if I know I can have a few crisps I can quite easily finish the family sized packet. Who wants to stop at one glass of wine? As soon as I didn’t have to stick to plant based foods I ended up stealing my son’s chocolates and generally eating rubbish. It’s no wonder so many people put back on the weight they lose on diets. So my next task is to set my rules. I will enjoy the odd fried egg and a portion of cauliflower cheese but knowing where to draw the line will help me to stay on track. This can be applied to so many things – e.g. I could decide to only drink on Fridays and Saturdays, that I won’t look at my work emails after 7pm, that I don’t take my phone to bed.
So the trick is to choose to start a positive habit rather than focusing on giving something up. For example if you want to cut down on caffeine introduce a hot water with a slice of lemon as the first drink of the day. Surround yourself with some support from family or colleagues and plan for times when you know it’s going to be hard. Play about and find the rules you are happy with and above all don’t beat yourself up over an occasional slip-up – let’s face it that’s better than not trying at all!