Change can be scary. Knowing what to expect in advance can provide stability and assurance. From navigating the transition, to overcoming challenges, to the profound emotional positives, this guide will help you know what to expect emotionally when going vegan.
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If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve either decided to go vegan or are considering going vegan. Change can be scary, so knowing what to expect in advance can provide some stability and assurance. I want to be clear that no two vegan journeys are the same, so some of what I cover may not apply to you.
Also, I want to note that while we will be addressing some of the emotional challenges you may face, there is a profoundly powerful emotional upside to going vegan that we’ll get to at the end. So be sure to stick around for the pay off.
Before we dive in on what to expect when going vegan, I wanted to let you know that I also have you covered on how to go vegan! I have a completely free “How to Go Vegan” guide to get you going on your vegan journey. You can also download the guide as a free eBook when you sign up for the Bite Size Vegan newsletter.
Any life change can produce strong emotions, and going vegan is no exception. On the purely dietary side of things, you may experience some withdrawal-type symptoms or even “grieve the loss” of your favorite dishes.
Food is deeply tied to our emotional memory and our cultural and familial traditions. The good news is that you can “veganize” all of your favorite dishes! Even if you’re not much of a chef, the list of vegan ready-made alternatives continues to grow and increase in availability.
If you’re in an area or circumstances where you struggle to find or afford vegan options—and especially fresh produce—please see the Eating Vegan on a Budget & Addressing Issues of Access section of the How to Go Vegan guide.
On a more profound level, you may experience some emotional upheaval when coming to terms with what you’ve been supporting your whole life. It’s natural to become overwhelmed as you start to come face-to-face with the horrors of the animal products industry—the brutalization of sentient beings, the destruction of the environment, the health impact upon yourself, friends, and family, and the diversion of global food and water resources.1 It’s a lot to take in, to say the least.
You’re likely to experience a range of emotional ups and downs throughout your vegan journey, but especially during this time of transition. It’s important to be patient with the process and with yourself.
In many ways, going vegan is like having blinders removed. For some people it happens in an instant; for others, it’s a more gradual process. This increased awareness can result in a range of strong emotions. It can be exciting, infuriating, illuminating, heartbreaking, motivating, even traumatic—sometimes all at once.
It can be extremely painful to suddenly become aware of the suffering all around you—in every glass of milk, cut of meat, and carton of eggs. To no longer see these as food items, but rather products of exploitation.
This is not by any means limited to awareness of what non-human animals are subjected to. Perhaps you’ve become aware of the adverse health impact of animal products and the lack of nutrition education physicians receive. If you or a family member experience chronic health problems that could benefit from dietary change, this awareness could be infuriating.
Perhaps you are passionate about the environment, but relied on the information provided by top environmental protection organizations, which consistently fail to address the environmental devastation of animal agriculture.
Perhaps you’re passionate about human rights and social issues, and have become aware of how much food, water and resources are diverted to animal agriculture; or the extreme threats to public health from disease outbreaks and the contamination of our food, air, and water.
The more you learn about the far-reaching consequences of our collective use of animals, the more overwhelmed you may become. For some people, this may lead to feelings of hopelessness. Others may be inspired and motivated into action, wanting to share with others their new-found knowledge. Your experience will be your own, and will evolve over time.
I for one would not for a second trade the pain of awareness for the comfort of denial. Yes, there is bliss in ignorance—for the ignorant.
While the emotional turmoil and overwhelm that increased awareness can bring may sound like a deterrent to going vegan, don’t be dissuaded quite yet. While denial does function as a protective measure, remember that there is a profound emotional upside to living vegan.
Before we get to the payoff, we need to address one of the more emotionally daunting aspects of going vegan: navigating social situations. Stick with me, though—I promise you it’s worth it.
Navigating social situations is a common concern for new vegans and those considering going vegan. How do you deal with food at social functions? How do you field questions and objections? How do you share what you’ve learned with others?
As we’ve discussed, as a brand new vegan, your emotions are likely to be in flux and can be intense at. Perhaps now that your your eyes are wide-open, you can’t understand why everyone isn’t having the same earth-shattering revelations.
Perhaps your attempts to share your findings with non-vegans come out as unbridled overzealousness, militant anger, incomprehensible sadness and crying fits, or some other bizarre attempt at expressing the astounding new realities you’ve awakened to.
It’s important not to be hard on yourself—these communication challenges are something every vegan experiences.
Going out to eat or attending social functions involving food may also be a source of concern. What if there’s not something for you to eat? What if others judge you for your dietary choices? There are many ways to handle these situations, from looking at the restaurant menu ahead of time, to eating beforehand and just socializing at the event, to bringing vegan options to share.
You may also struggle being around people eating animals. It can be profoundly challenging to watch your friends, family, and loved ones continue to participate in what you now see as the enslavement, torture, and murder of innocent beings, the decimation of our planet, and the potential damaging of their own health.
Some vegans choose to remove themselves entirely from these situations, while others focus the conversation on their family and friends, and avoid discussions about food. It’s up to you to determine what you’re comfortable with.
Stay grounded in the knowledge that you’ve made one of the most profoundly impactful decisions one can ever make. You have nothing to explain nor apologize for.
Over time, you’ll become more confident in navigating these situations and discussions. I have additional resources that can help guide you further with:
- effective communication with friends and family,
- effective communication with non-vegans in general,
- navigating social situations, and
- dealing with non-vegan friends and family.
Many new vegans find it helpful to connect with other vegans. It can be a great relief to talk to people who have been where you’re at, faced similar challenges in the transition, and found their way through. While everyone’s journey is different, there are many aspects of being vegan with which almost all vegans can identify.
I truly believe that one of the hardest parts of going vegan is living in a non-vegan world. When almost everyone and everything around you continues to normalize the use and consumption of animals, it can be distressing, and maybe even make you question your decision.
It’s important to know that you are not alone. Finding community with other vegans can be a lifeline. There are countless ways to connect with other vegans, and countless kinds of vegans with whom to connect. Veganism is no respecter of race, religion, socio-economic status, or culture.
Some places to start if you’re wanting to connect with other vegans are: sites like Meetup.com where you can find or start a local vegan group; online communities on platforms like Facebook, Reddit or Nextdoor.com; and websites like VegEvents.com, which lists vegan events. (Important note: these online platform suggestions are not official endorsements. Please use with care.)
You can also check your area for farmed animal sanctuaries and vegan restaurants—places where you’re likely to spot some vegans in their natural habitat.
And hey, if you’re not a social butterfly by nature, there’s no obligation to become a vegan social butterfly–just know it’s an option.
We’ve finally made it to the emotional payoff I’ve promised. While we’ve covered sources of turmoil and strife, there is an incredible emotional upside to going vegan that outweighs all of it.
One of the most exciting things you can expect from going vegan is to finally be living in line with your values. When we live in a way that conflicts with our values, it takes a toll—whether we’re aware of it or not.
I think it’s safe to say that most people love animals, but continue to consume and exploit them. We must maintain a severe disconnect deep within ourselves in order to be able to love our cats and dogs while we pay others to enslave, torture and kill pigs, cows, and chickens for us.
The same is true of environmentalism. Many people want to be environmentally-conscious. They recycle, take shorter showers, even drive hybrid cars. But nothing makes nearly as large of an impact on the planet than what we eat.
We all want to think of ourselves as good people. But when we are contributing to the murder of innocent beings, the destruction of the planet, the diversion of food and resources, and the endangerment of our society’s health as a whole, we have to do some pretty intense mental gymnastics to preserve this concept of ourselves.
When you go vegan, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you’re finally living your values. You can go to sleep every night knowing that no one had to die for your meal. That no blood was shed on your account. That you’ve made the most impactful, incredible decision of your life.
That is what you can expect.
I hope that this article has been helpful. Now that you know more of what to expect when going vegan, remember to check out the “How to Go Vegan” guide for how to do it!
I’d love to hear about your emotional experiences when going vegan, or your concerns if you’re not vegan yet. Let me know in the comments!
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— Emily Moran Barwick