I've been vegan for over 11 years now, and it's an ever-evolving process. Having talked to plenty of newer vegans and vegetarians or those thinking about making the switch, folks who express having a hard time with the process express many of the same concerns/issues. Here are a few happy tips to make the journey a little easier, based on my own experiences. :)
I. Experiment and try new foods/recipes. Be open and flexible about vegan/veg eating.
Lots of times new vegans/veggies simply cut out foods that aren’t vegan/veg-friendly without finding nutritious subs, or they view being vegan/veg as ‘cutting out’ foods rather than opening themselves up to a whole new world of culinary delights. There are bunches of ideas that can help it feel like an adventure instead of a sentence! Try different brands/types of cheese/milk/protein substitutes sold in stores before deciding it all sucks. Buy/borrow cookbooks and be adventurous with what you try. Set the goal to try one new food every week. Find delicious replacements for your favorite non-vegan/veg dishes. Have fun with vegan baking (including finding healthful ways to reduce fat and sugar without sacrificing taste and texture). I find it really helpful to a) to stock up on frozen/processed food options for whenever I don’t feel up to or have the time for cooking; b) find a small collection of easy vegan/veg recipe favorites that I use again and again; and c) making larger amounts of favorite recipes and freezing some for meals in a pinch. Sticking with what works is always good advice.
II. Let go of the "shoulds".
You will likely hear lots of them along the way. Vegans/vegetarians shouldn't eat this/wear that/use this/say that/do this/be that way. Those voices are hard to get rid of sometimes, but try to let them go and find your own answers. Using another person's standards for whether or not you are "measuring up" to being a *true* vegan (whatever that is) is a sure way to sabotage your own accomplishments, your own voice, your heart and what you find meaningful, and finding your own identity as a vegan/vegetarian. Likewise, being another persons "should"er is not helpful to either of you.
Veganism/vegetarianism is a different journey for everyone. We each fall along a spectrum of lifestyle choices and have a unique and complex set of reasons for traveling on the path. And that often changes as time goes on and life unfolds. Along the way, especially when meeting others on the path, you're bound to encounter a bazillion judgments about what being vegan/veg should/shouldn't look like and be about. Those judgments are not helpful, and have a tendency to create inside of us all sorts of pressures and "shoulds" and "should nots" about our own vegan/veg journey, including a harsh inner critic. This can be a controversial view, but forget about what others are saying that living a vegan/veg lifestyle is and is not, and find within your Self what it means for *you*.
III. Becoming vegan/veg doesn't have to happen overnight.
Making the switch to being vegetarian or to being vegan doesn't have to be cut and dry or cold turkey, which can be hugely overwhelming to the point of making it seem impossible! Start by reducing/eliminating one non-vegan/veg food a week or month, perhaps. Or start by eating one all-vegan/veg meal a day/week and move toward two and then three and then all, over time. Making small goals makes the switch feel manageable, and accomplishing each little goal is encouraging and empowering, keeping us moving toward the larger goal!
I also suggest these same steps if you are trying to make broader lifestyle changes in becoming vegan/veg, like not wearing animal fibers/leather in clothing or eliminating use of products that tested on animal. Take your time. Make small changes. Take baby steps. Allow each change to take hold and settle before adding another.
IV. Educate yourself.
Success really is more likely when starting the journey loaded with knowledge, prepared for challenges, and with eyes wide open. Do your research, and take notes on things like what a well-balanced vegan/veg diet looks like, common challenges you may encounter, and tips on making the transition easier. Learn about all the reasons people have for going veg. Read. Read more. And keep reading (check out the resources on the EtsyVeg and Vegan Etsy blogs). Subscribe to magazines or newsletters that keep being vegan/veg relevant and new (my favorite is VegNews). Connect with local or online groups that provide resources and info to support a healthy vegan lifestyle. Find a community, whether virtual (check out this one) or locally, that supports one another on the vegan journey. Be open with your struggles- chances are very likely that someone else has been there or has known someone who has. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Stop by local natural foods stores or co-ops and browse their book selection, peruse food options and supplements, and use employees as a resource. And keep reading. And keep asking questions. And keep reaching out.
V. Return regularly to whatever motivated you to become vegan in the first place.
Whether it's for health, weight maintenance, ethics, spiritual or religious reasons, compassion for animals and the planet, or any combination of these, connecting again and again with that motivation is a great way to refocus, re-energize, and re-center to make the path ahead a little easier. For me, that means doing things like staying informed about animal rights and the negative impact non-veg lifestyles perpetuate on the environment. A friend of mine keeps a picture of a sweet baby cow with her to look at when she feels tempted to indulge in icecream at her favorite shop. Reflecting on the enormous positive impact being vegan/veg has on oneself, the planet, etc. makes the difficulties seem more surmountable. It's so worth it! And it gets easier all the time... :)
Note: Another difficulty mentioned about the switch to being veg is the notion that it's more expensive than eating a non-veg diet. Check out this great little article on eating Vegan on the Cheap on the Hungry Hungry Veganos blog!