Whether you’ve been recently toying with the idea of embracing a meat-free life or have been a certified vegan for as long as you can remember, there’s never been a better time to get veg-ucated.

Take it slowly

Going from full-blown meat eater to completely animal-free overnight could be a tall order. Even going from vegetarian to vegan can be quite challenging, so be realistic and take baby steps. “Work on one meal at a time and build a core selection of three to four options to rotate before working up to a wider selection,” suggests Allerton. You can also gradually reduce your meat consumption by transitioning to a vegetarian diet before you convert to a fully vegan diet.

What’s your motivation?

Ask yourself why you’re adopting this way of eating. Are you concerned about what goes on in the meat and dairy industries, animal-welfare issues or the environmental impact? Maybe your motivations are rooted in perceived health benefits, weight loss or simply vegan-curiosity. Take time to think about what’s driving you because the stronger your conviction, the more likely you are to stick to it. At the same time, however, avoid shaming or judging others for their choices. Remember this is your decision and it’s unlikely everyone will share the same opinions.

Don’t be lazy

A vegan diet can be rich in healthy foods and fibre as well as being low in saturated fats, but it’s still possible to be an unhealthy vegan. “Avoid convenience foods or filling up on sugar-loaded snacks – the body doesn’t distinguish between good sugar or bad,” warns nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik. “Forget about meat substitutes, which are loaded with additives and artificial ingredients. Focus on whole plant foods packed with nutrients – real foods in their most natural states. Plan ahead and prepare foods to ensure your meals are nutritious, tasty and support your body.”

Preparation is key

Staying healthy is not just what you eat but how you absorb it. Getting into the habit of soaking nuts, seeds, legumes, pulses and grains to improve their absorbance is important, especially when they’re a significant source of your protein.

“These foods contain a compound called phytic acid, and repeated exposure can create damage in your gut,” explains Kalinik. “Phytic acid can also impair the absorption of calcium, iron and magnesium. So soak these foods and rinse them thoroughly before prepping them, which might be cooking or dehydrating. Investing in a good dehydrator is worthwhile if you’re vegan.”

Smile at the menu

Eating out doesn’t have to be crazy-hard just because you’re vegan. Be flexible and open-minded with the menu (side dishes are a good place to meat- and dairy-free options), and don’t get hung up on minute traces of dairy (as long as it’s not the main ingredient). Plus, it never hurts to be super friendly to staff when asking for a variation (like a pizza topped with spinach instead of cheese). “It’s more important to sit and enjoy yourself than sit there stressing out,” says Kalinik.

Don’t sweat it

Choose animal-free foods wherever it’s reasonably possible so that it becomes a lifestyle choice that you can enjoy rather than dread. Whether that means relaxing your dietary restrictions in social settings or eating vegetarian rather than vegan when on the road, it’s up to you to decide. Be confident, adaptable and create your own boundaries without guilt. That way you’ll be able to reap all the benefits of your animal-free diet, without any of the unnecessary pressure.

This story originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Women’s Fitness.

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