I have a confession to make. I’m what most people would call a ‘failed’ vegan. In January, I always pledge to try Veganuary and manage to go a full month of each year without any form of meat and dairy – but once 1st February hits, I begin to struggle.

The first time I messed up – back in January 2016 – I felt like a complete failure. I’d accidentally picked up something that wasn’t vegan and didn’t realize until much later on when I’d already scoffed it down. Then, in February, I pledged to try and be as vegan as possible still, but this still didn’t stop me feeling guilty when I gave into my cravings from then onwards.

It was meeting my ex boyfriend that made me try and go fully vegan again. As he was vegan – and I spent so much time at his place that I practically lived there – it was really easy – except for the days when I wasn’t with him. Now that we’re no longer together, it’s even harder.

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I find it hard to commit to being vegan for a few different reasons. Firstly, it’s convenience. When I have money and go shopping for lots of vegan goodies in advance, eating green is like second nature to me. But when I’m skint and have nothing planned for lunch at work, it’s so much easier for me to run to Wilko’s and grab a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar than, well, fruit or otherwise.

My second reason is my cravings. I still get cravings for things like McDonalds, Chinese food or pizza on a regular basis. I think this is because I pencil being vegan in with being healthy – and when I’m on a health kick, working out and eating healthy, it’s only a matter of time before I think I deserve a treat like a burger or a pepperoni pizza. And of course, if I’m PMSing or I’ve had a bad day, it’s so tempting to go to the McDonalds drive through on the way home from work!

My final reason is that it’s hard to eat vegan when I’m at home, especially when my Dad is cooking one of his famous Sunday roast dinners or ordering our traditional Saturday night curry. I have learned to get better at this though – these days, I’ll swap chicken for a vegan pie and have pretty much the rest of a roast dinner, and often I say no to a curry altogether.

I think what stops me committing fully is that I’m not doing it for the animals. Well, I am in some ways, but I’m also mostly doing it for the health reasons. I know where meat and dairy comes from and I’ve read the facts, but perhaps I haven’t watched enough documentaries to put me off meat and dairy entirely. I’m still at the point where I’m ignorant to where it comes from – I know, but I don’t think about it – and so I don’t feel as guilty when I give into a craving.

However, I’m learning to take on a more healthy approach to being what some people would call a ‘failed’ vegan. I prefer to think of myself as a transitioning vegan and I’m a lot less harsh on myself now. You can never be 100% perfect, and even those who have been vegan for years may accidentally mess up from time to time.

Since joining some Facebook groups, I’ve learned that as well as cutting out meat and dairy and all non-vegan products from your life, essentially, being vegan means being as vegan as possible. It’s impossible to be 100% entirely vegan – simply because of things out of our control – but it’s also so much better to just try. It’s important to accept your mistakes and remember tomorrow is a new day. It doesn’t make you wrong or make you a failure. It makes you human.

Even if you eat vegan six days a week and have one day off, you’re still miles ahead than complete meat eaters. You’re still making a difference and you’re still doing something good.

I’ve also downloaded a habit tracker app, so I can see an overview of the days which I’ve eaten completely vegan and which days I’ve slipped up – seeing a calendar filled with green and red dots puts it all into perspective for me and makes me more and more determined to turn all those red dots into green ones.

But, mostly, I’ve come to accept that I try my hardest to be vegan and that even if I do mess up, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure or doesn’t mean I’m not a vegan. It just means I’m trying my best.

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If you’ve chosen to try Veganuary this year then a massive well done to you. Not only is it a great step for both animals and the environment, but the health benefits of going vegan and cutting meat and dairy out of your body are insane.

For example, did you know that ‘studies show that cholesterol levels are lower in vegans than in the standard population’? [Source].

Despite this, many people see making such a huge change as daunting, even if it is just for a month. When I first pledged to try it, many family and friends told me I was crazy and that going from one extreme to another would be bad news – I was told I should have gone vegetarian first and then vegan.

Although it worked out great for me, there were many times I wanted to pack it in. It has got easier over the years, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. I’d struggle with meal planning and giving into temptations and I didn’t do half as much research as I should have done.

I’d recommend visiting the official Veganuary website for professional advice, but for those of you who might be struggling mentally – wondering how the hell you’re going to get through it – I approached Nicki Kelly, the founder of Nicki’s Vegan Weight Loss Cafe on Facebook.

Nicki knows her stuff. She has achieved several nutrition related diplomas, ran her own large weight loss business in Australia for 25 years and now offers private coaching. She also launched Nicki’s Vegan Weight Loss Cafe where she supports women by showing them how to balance meals using vegan whole foods without oil or sugar and shares other top tips and advice on being vegan.

I asked her to share some tips with me when it comes to keeping a level head during Veganuary and here’s what she shared.

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!
I’ve also said this a million times before but Nicki cannot stress enough how important it is do research before switching switch to a vegan diet. She states that it’s not done simply by omitting animal based foods. It’s a bit more involved than that. Read up about why you want to do it and how you’re going to plan ahead. Research more into the meat and dairy industry to understand why people choose this way of life. Think about what this is going to do to your body. Which brings us to..

MAKE A LIST OF IMPORTANT ‘MUST HAVE’ VITAMINS
One of the most popular arguments meat-eaters give vegans is that they miss out on essential nutrients and vitamins by not eating meat. Well, yes. Which is why we refer to other sources to get these essentials! Nicki suggests adding easy to obtain supplements like B12 and vegan D3 vitamin supplementation to your list, then learn how much protein you should consume for your unique needs and what other nutrients to look out for. Not everyone is the same, but it’s definitely worth understanding what needs to be supplemented when not eating meat and dairy. My boyfriend and I take all round Holland & Barrett Vegan Multivitamin & Mineral tablets, which consist of vitamins A, D, E, C, B1, B2, B6 & B12, calcium, iron, zinc, folic acid and other minerals. It’s our go-to supplement and stops us worrying about anything we might be missing out on by not eating meat and dairy.

LOW STARCH VEGETABLES ARE YOUR FRIEND
Taking part in Veganuary is going to make you super healthy of course but if you really want to lose weight or tone up, Nicki recommends stocking up with low starch vegetables on your plate (think kale, spinach, courgettes, broccoli, rocket salad, cucumber etc) with all other plant foods being the supporting factor. This is great, as things like rocket salad go with most meals, whereas spinach always works well with rice, pasta and inside stuffed mushrooms. And why are they good for you? Low starch vegetables are low in calories, but are rich in vitamins, minerals and sometimes fiber too.

GET CREATIVE AND HAVE FUN
It’s super important to not be too hard on yourself this month. Going vegan is a huge change on your body, so it’s important to stay in a healthy place mentally too. You probably will slip and mess up – whether that’s giving into a meat craving or misreading ingredients and accidentally eating something with dairy in it. It happens. Write it off and move on. Being vegan isn’t just about strictly cutting out meat and dairy – it’s about trying your best, even if that means just starting with Meat Free Mondays! To make it more fun and less of a challenge, Nicki suggests enjoying vegetables and fruit with a variety of colours and textures – rainbow pizza, anyone?! Not only does this tip ensure you have a variety of plant based foods, but it also looks great on your instagram.

COMMUNITY IS KEY
Finally – if I had to add one tip, it would be that you don’t have to take on this challenge alone. There are plenty of online forums, websites and Facebook groups to check out, such as Nicki’s Vegan Weight Loss Cafe and Veganuary and they’re super helpful. Although they’re great for finding recipes and advice, it’s always nice to have someone to talk to (or a whole community to talk to!) when you’re feeling frustrated. Many people log onto these Facebook groups to vent about cravings or family members not supporting them – the amount of posts I’ve seen asking for proof to prove someone wrong that you can be vegan and still get necessary nutrients is crazy! – and each is all round really helpful.So there we have it. With it now being my third year of taking on Veganuary, I can safely say that going vegan isn’t just about cutting out meat and dairy. One of the most important factors of making this change is to stay healthy mentally and not put too much pressure on yourself – I hope this post has helped!If you’d like any further tips, recipes or advice, visit my Vegan tag here.

Are you trying Veganuary this year? Let me know!

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