What was once a fringe diet has become mainstream, with the list of vegans now including not just celebrities, like Peter Dinklage, Alec Baldwin, and Beyoncé, but also some of the world’s most successful athletes, including CrossFit Games competitors, the world’s no. 1 ranked tennis player, and a UFC champion.
To persuade more people to embrace a plant-based diet, Veganuary launched five years ago in the UK. In exchange for you pledging not to eat animal products in January, the organization provides meal plans, shopping guides, exclusive product offers, and information on how to eat out. In its first year, Veganuary recruited 3,000 participants. Last year, that number rose to over 170,000 from 193 countries.
This year, Veganuary hopes to convert 300,000 people to a plant-based diet, and to explain how to eliminate animal products from your life, we sat down with the CEO of Veganuary, Simon Winch, who offered five tips for how to make the transition.
1. Being Vegan Has Never Been Easier
Even though Winch turned vegetarian at age seven, he still struggled to make the transition to veganism in his 20s. In fact, the process took him three years, primarily because of two foods: Ben & Jerry’s and cheese.
Since then, he says it’s exponentially easier to go plant-based. Ben & Jerry’s now offers non-dairy pints, and vegan cheeses have also improved (Winch recommends Daiya and Violife). In fact, according to Winch, 14 percent of the food products released in the UK last year were vegan, and more restaurants are also noticing the shift and offering more plant-based options. In part because of that convenience, Winch says that over half the people who sign up for Veganuary eat meat.
2. Lack of Protein Is a Myth
Many assume that veganism and muscle growth are mutually exclusive, but that’s far from the case. To help ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need (not just protein), Veganuary recommends following the Daily Dozen checklist, which includes, among other things, five servings of vegetables (one cruciferous, one green, and three others), a tablespoon of flaxseeds, and three servings of beans. If you’re especially active, you can also supplement with one of the many vegan protein powders now on the market.
To prove just how compatible sports and a plant-based diet are, Winch points to Anthony Mullally, a professional rugby player in England who was so passionate about his new diet that he opened a vegan cafe near his home stadium. At 6’ 5” and 250 pounds, Mullally is also an absolute unit. “No one’s asking if he’s getting enough protein,” says Winch.
3. Having Support Is Crucial to Success
Veganism is more popular than it used to be, but Winch still suggests that you find a network of people to answer questions and provide information. One place he recommends is the Veganuary Facebook group.
If you take the pledge, Veganuary will also send you daily emails to guide you on reading labels, knowing what to buy at the supermarket, finding vegan-friendly restaurants, and dealing with family, friends, or coworkers who haven’t yet seen the plant-based light. It’s also a good way to learn about surprising plant-based products (what Winch calls “secret vegan foods”).
4. Success Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Committing to Veganism Forever
There are as many ways to do Veganuary as there are people who take the pledge, says Winch. Some want to permanently cut out animal products from their diets and are converted after a week on the new diet. Others take the pledge for three or four years before making the transition. Another group is looking for a way to improve their nutrition after the holidays and has no intention of staying vegan.
Regardless, Veganuary is a great way to expand your diet whether or not you plan on giving up animal products forever. In fact, according to a survey done by Beyond Meat, a plant-based meat company, 90 percent of their customers also bought conventional meat, showing that your diet doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. According to Winch, even if you’re just reducing the amount of animal products you eat, that’s a win.
5. Don’t Worry if You Fall Off the Bandwagon
According to a Veganuary poll, 82 percent of all participants stay plant-based for the whole month. However, Winch emphasizes: “Everyone makes mistakes. If you fall down in the street and accidentally land on a piece of pizza, and part of it goes in your mouth, tomorrow’s another day.”
Winch also points out that many people’s motivation for going vegan tends to change from the beginning to the end of the month. Some take the pledge for environmental reasons, then notice an improvement in their health. Others want more humane treatment of animals and realize they have a dairy allergy they’ve never noticed. No matter the motivation, though, the Veganuary pledge “is not a life-changing commitment,” says Winch. “You’re just trying something for a month.”
To sign up for Veganuary, click here.