Lapsed vegans: How to get back on track when you slip up

Author: Clea Grady

Read Time:   |  2nd July 2021

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Clea Grady has encouraging words for anyone who may have tried veganism before and felt they’ve not succeeded. These gentle reminders and tips will help lapsed vegans back on track with their vegan lifestyle.

Have you ever tried something and failed? I know I have. I was always the last kid picked in PE, so my school years were hardly what you’d call sporty, and I tried my hand at running a few times in my 20s and hated it.

In my 30s, however, I ended up running three marathons. Most of us have failed at things that at one point felt impossible, but I bet – like me – most of us can remember the times we went back and conquered.

I’m always surprised at how many people respond with “I used to be vegan” or “I tried veganism once” when they find out I don’t eat animals.

More often than not, the stranger I’m chatting to at a wedding or in the lunch queue at a conference has had some experience of plant-based eating.

It got me wondering… Why did they stop being vegan and what is stopping them from giving it another shot? Here is my advice for any lapsed vegans who need a little bit of encouragement to get back on track.

Veganism is not a club you can get thrown out of

The only terms and conditions that exist when you go vegan are the ones you set yourself.

It’s not possible therefore to breach those terms and get excluded from the ‘club’. Mistakes are exactly that, so if you make one (or several), then simply acknowledge it and move on.

Most of the herbivores I know have fallen off the wagon at one point in time, especially in the early days. And if anything is true in this world, it’s the fact that time does indeed make things easier.

Remember why you stopped eating animals

Whether it was because of animals, the environment or your health, ask yourself whether your motivation for going vegan still exists and if it still matters to you.

Because if it does, then it’s unlikely you’re living in a way that supports your core ethics or beliefs.

Perhaps you feel guilty or as if you’re not being true to your authentic self. If your reasons for initially going vegan still exist, then you’ve got nothing to lose in giving it another shot.

Find more advice to help lapsed vegans get back on track here:

Recognised what made it difficult last time

This can be a tough one, as it might mean facing things you’d rather not.

Did you stop because it felt too difficult in social situations or you were embarrassed at the thought of ‘causing a fuss’? Or was it something to do with a relationship that’s important to you?

Research indicates that many people stop being vegan when they’ve not got the approval or support of someone significant in their life.

We are hugely influenced by those we choose to spend our time with, so this can be a real barrier for many and shouldn’t be regarded as easily ignored or overcome.

Equally, however, we should each be able to make our own life choices, so it’s important to recognise if this has happened, or is happening to you.

It’s especially difficult in a parent/child relationship or one with a partner or spouse, the only way through this obstacle is via communication.

You will need to find the words to explain how you feel, why it matters and how their support could change things for you.

Other reasons like lack of convenience or poor diet/feeling hungry are much more easily dealt with.

In the last 18 months or so, there have been massive strides in the provision of plant-based convenience foods, whether that’s takeaway delivered to your house or grabbing something when you’re out and about.

From dairy-free milk in coffee shops to ready-made sandwiches and so many more products in the supermarkets, there has never been an easier time to be vegan.

Being a healthy herbivore is vital for longevity, and not replacing animal products with plant-based equivalents is a common problem and can lead to feeling hungry or a lack of energy.

We all need to understand what our bodies need to function and to ensure we’ve swapped animal fats and protein with plant fats and protein.

The Vegan Society website is a great place for nutritional research and advice, and talking to others about their swaps and tips makes the transition to vegan living much less lonely. Don’t let your reason for giving up be something that’s as easily fixed as knowing how to eat better.

Remember that everyone is different

No one person’s journey to veganism is the same, so what works for your mate may not work for you.

Some people have no problem going ‘cold Tofurky’ and starting exactly as they mean to go on, but for others, it’s more of a process – I don’t see a problem with that.

In fact, some of the people I most admire took months to go fully plant-based. You could argue that a transitional period creates a better foundation, as you’re not under the weight of such expectation – it’s not all or nothing.

It may feel less daunting and a lot more cost-effective to take it one week or month at a time. Colleen Patrick-Goudreau describes veganism as a journey rather than a destination.

Being vegan means choosing to make better life choices every day, so it’s not about reaching a fixed point and graduating with a certificate of veganism. You live in a way that causes as little harm as you can, and every positive step makes a difference.

Did one thing make you fall off the wagon?

Whether it’s cheese, or milk in your tea, or a particular brand of chocolate, many of us have an Achilles heel when it comes to leaving animal products behind. And that’s OK.

It’s hard to turn the table on a lifetime of habit, eating and tradition. But instead of throwing up your arms and saying “It’s no good, I just can’t do it!” why not think about saying “Right now, I can let go of everything except X” and see how you go?

You may find that with the pressure off, it’s easier to step away from the tempting thing.

Or you may be happy to make that compromise until you find an alternative that hits the sweet spot.

Most people are unaware that our taste buds replace themselves every few weeks, so if you can go without something for a while it’s likely you’ll move through the craving and find it easier and more enjoyable to eat something else.

Find new inspiration!

Whether it’s cooking new and exciting recipes (check out Is a Does it by Isa Chandra-Moskowitz if you haven’t already) or watching a documentary that challenges you to make a change (Seaspiracy and The Game Changers are both on Netflix), the inspiration is out there if you want it.

Every vegan has something that made the difference for them, so don’t be shy in asking about what’s worked for others.

I can wax lyrical for hours about my favourite foods and books and films, and swear by the power of a delicious vegan meal to pull anyone out of a slump.

Don’t be lonely

More people are choosing to go vegan than ever before, and even more are choosing to make more plant-based food choices, so don’t be fooled into thinking that a previous bad experience is anything to shape your future around.

You definitely won’t be alone if you choose to give veganism another try. In the last year, there’s been a huge surge in WhatsApp groups for building support or community that can offer advice to any lapsed vegans, so why not ask if anyone’s keen to be part of one?

I joined a group for a 30-day yoga challenge in the first lockdown and the encouragement and camaraderie has been intrinsic to making yoga a consistent part of my everyday life.

There is no such thing as a perfect vegan

We live in an imperfect world and make compromises in how we choose to live – whether consciously or not.

Veganism is about intention not perfection, so do yourself a favour and leave any preconceived ideas of purity at the door.

Doing something is always better than doing nothing, so start with what you can do and build from there. Rather than despairing at what you’ve failed to achieve, give yourself a high five at all that you have.

It will get easier and one day you’ll surprise yourself when you realise you can’t remember the last time you worried about it. I found my groove and I know you will too.

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Written by

Clea Grady

Clea is a writer, marketer and activist who has been vegan since 2014, and vegetarian since she was 12. She is passionate about inspiring others to go vegan, and believes that good food, empathy and kindness are the best forms of activism.

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