7 Things That Totally Shocked Me About Going Vegan

Having been vegan for roughly six years, I’ve heard it all—it’s impossible to get enough protein, cheese is too delicious to give up, plants feel pain too, etc. 

These stereotypes made me realize that you don’t really know what it’s like to be a vegan until you are one (which is probably also true for most things in life). 

When I first went vegan in college, I tried to prepare myself by subscribing to vegan content creators and reading countless articles. I even attended several vegan events, such as VegFest in Los Angeles.

I thought I knew what to expect based on what I heard from others, but I’m here to tell you—going vegan can surprise you.

I also want to paint a realistic picture for anyone thinking about going vegan. So many figures in the vegan community are so focused on the pros of veganism that they forget to accurately convey the cons. It’s important that we view veganism realistically and not through rose-colored glasses.

So, that’s what this post is for. These are the things that surprised me about going vegan and that I wish someone had told me before I made the switch.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which help support the blog at no extra cost to you. Check out the full disclaimer here.

1. Getting enough vegan protein requires effort

Vegan skeptics will tell you that getting enough protein is impossible without meat. Hard-core vegans will respond that you don’t even need that much protein anyway.

Both are wrong, and I’ll tell you why:

You can get enough protein as a vegan, and you do need to eat plenty of it. But it’s something you have to be proactive about.

As an impressionable new vegan, I turned to the Internet for advice, and the vegan experts assured me that if I focused on eating complex carbohydrates and fiber, my protein requirements would be met with ease.

In hindsight, I wish I’d paid more attention to plant-based protein. Protein sources are also common vessels for essential nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin D, and B vitamins, per the USDA. I later went on to develop some nutrient deficiencies, and I wonder if I could have avoided them by prioritizing protein.

New vegans should brush up on the basics of nutrition to understand the various vegan protein sources and how to eat enough of them (along with all the other essential nutrients, of course). The USDA has answers to pretty much any nutrition question you could have.

Check out my in-depth guide on protein for vegans since vegan proteins aren’t always obvious. 

One hack to sneak in crazy amounts of protein as a vegan? Protein powder. If you already make foods like shakes, smoothies, oatmeal, overnight oats, and yogurt parfaits, adding a scoop of protein powder can significantly increase the protein in your meal.

Ritual’s Essential Protein Daily Shake contains 20 grams of complete vegan protein as well as minerals like iron and calcium. This makes it easier to get all the essential amino acids as well as micronutrients that are harder to obtain as a vegan.

2. Vegan groceries can be expensive

Woman saving money on her grocery bill

No one wants to hear that going vegan is expensive, but depending on what you’re buying at the store, it could be costly.

When veganism was shiny and new to me, I fell into the trap of wanting to try all of the vegan products. At every opportunity, I loaded up on specialty products like vegan cheeses, meats, burgers, ice creams, etc.

Those items don’t come cheap, so if that’s your idea of a vegan diet, don’t expect to save money. My grocery bill actually increased at first!

Fortunately, there are ways to save money grocery shopping as a vegan. The biggest tip is to stick to whole, unprocessed foods and shop wisely. Not only is this a healthier way to shop, you don’t pay a premium for those convenient foods with expensive ingredients. Choosing proteins like tofu and tempeh over pre-packaged foods like vegan deli slices and meatless chicken nuggets will save you money in the long run. 

Other affordable vegan foods include canned beans, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, and whole grains. Click here for a shoppable list of affordable vegan pantry staples hand picked by me.

I also like to take advantage of online offers, which can also save me time and money. In the past, I’ve tried different meal delivery services to lighten my load. Revive Superfoods delivers pre-portioned smoothies and acai bowls to your doorstep—and they’re all vegan. All you have to do is add water and blend!

3. Vegan meals are often repetitive or challenging to make

There’s this saying in the vegan world that veganism is about abundance. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. There are hundreds of thousands of edible plants. In theory, you’d never get tired of vegan food.

But that’s not reality, and we’re human. We like variety, and we like for things to be easy.

Something I struggled a lot with as a vegan was getting bored of my meals. I often felt as though my meals lacked variety. And plus, it can be a lot of cooking, which involves a lot of grocery shopping and cleanup.

Meat eaters tend to eat the same things over and over again—some variation of meat with a starch, such as rice or potatoes. Replacing the meat can feel like you’re just eating starch and more starch, yet the recipes are often more complicated.

If you’re creative in the kitchen, you’ll find ways to keep meals exciting. I often turn to Pinterest for recipe ideas, but I mostly keep it simple. Here’s my list of 75 easy and delicious vegan recipes for beginners.

Not everyone wants to cook, though. Meal delivery services like Purple Carrot make eating vegan exciting and convenient because there’s always something new on the menu. You don’t have to grocery shop and you can opt for prepared meals instead of meal kits, so it’s a huge time saver. And since the company is 100% plant-based, you never feel like you’re missing out or restricting yourself.

4. Going vegan means switching to cruelty-free cosmetics

Veganism isn’t just a diet. It’s a lifestyle that involves reducing harm as much as possible, including cosmetics.

When I went vegan, I was surprised to find that animal testing was still a thing. I thought we’d be past this by now. So, I was shocked to find that you still have to actively seek out cruelty-free makeup, skin care, and personal care products.

I was also shocked to find that some cosmetics are formulated with animal-derived ingredients, such as beeswax, lanolin, etc. so even if they’re not tested on animals, they aren’t automatically vegan.

As a professional beauty writer, this was one of the most exciting parts about going vegan for me. I loved experimenting with new products and brands. It took some time to use up all my old products and replace them with vegan-friendly alternatives, but for me, it was fun. 

I also didn’t have to replace everything–many mainstream brands are vegan-friendly and cruelty-free without realizing it.

It was through my beauty writing career that I discovered Petit Vour, a curated marketplace with 100% vegan and cruelty-free products. Petit Vour subscription boxes are an especially fun way to discover new vegan brands.

I’m also a huge fan of shopping at The Detox Market, an online retailer that carries natural beauty products. Everything sold on The Detox Market is free from animal testing, but not everything is 100% vegan. Check the ingredients list to be sure.

For specific product recommendations, check out my guides on vegan hair care and vegan skin care.

5. Eating out as a vegan can be challenging

Eating vegan food at a restaurant

Dietary restrictions can be limiting. If you have any dietary allergies or other food restrictions, you’re all too familiar with this.

Before going vegan, I didn’t have any dietary restrictions. Nothing was off limits. I’d just show up to a food joint and order what looked best off the menu.

When you’re vegan, ordering food at a non-vegan restaurant looks a little different. Your best bet is to research the place ahead of time. Look up the menu online or call and ask about the vegan options. Watch out for hidden sources of animal ingredients, such as lard, bacon grease, cheese, eggs, milk, and honey. These ingredients often show up in foods you’d assume were vegan, such as beans, salad dressings, and breads.

And because I’m all about transparency, sometimes the only options are a sad side salad and order of fries.

Why would anyone want to eat at a place like that if those are their only options? In social situations, you don’t always get to choose the establishment. I once went to a place where a side of Brussels sprouts was the only vegan option, but I couldn’t complain because it was a work function.

Mexican restaurants are some of the most vegan-friendly places to eat. I like to recommend Chipotle to new vegans because most people have access to one, and it’s relatively cheap. Check out my guide on how to order vegan at Chipotle.

Chipotle’s not the only place making life easier for vegans. More and more restaurants are coming out with vegan options. You can find oat milk at most coffee shops now, and plenty of places have some sort of vegan burger option. This isn’t the case everywhere, but it’s becoming more common.

6. It’s impossible for vegans to avoid all animal products

When I say animal products are all around us, I mean it. 

The glue that holds your furniture together? It’s likely derived from hooves. The tires on your car? They could very well contain stearic acid from animal sources. What about sugar? Conventional sugar is often processed using bone char, making it a controversial subject.

My most shocking discovery of all was that some orange juice brands aren’t vegan. If they’re fortified with vitamin D, they could contain lanolin, an ingredient derived from sheep’s wool.

You get the picture: Things aren’t always as they seem, and animal-derived materials can be hidden in plain sight.

So, what should you do with this information? Be easy on yourself. We don’t live in a vegan world, so there’s no such thing as a perfect vegan. Do your best with what you’ve got. After all, the definition of vegan is someone who avoids animal exploitation as far as is possible and practicable.

Buying vegan sugar and orange juice is practical enough, but you can’t avoid furniture and tires. Be realistic about the vegan changes you can make because if you’re going for perfection, you’ll drive yourself mad.

7. Vegans don’t agree on everything

Remember when I said that sugar is often processed using bone char? Sugar itself is plant-based since it comes from the sugarcane plant, but because it’s processed with animal ingredients, there’s debate about whether or not sugar is vegan.

The same debate exists for figs. The fruit itself is a plant, so figs must be vegan, right? Well, since female wasps must die laying their eggs inside figs, there’s controversy.

Vegans also argue on a bunch of other topics like: Is honey vegan? Is it vegan to eat at a non-vegan establishment? Is it vegan to buy from a beauty brand that’s sold in China? Is it vegan to purchase leather goods second hand? 

The answers depend on who you ask. It all comes down to reducing the amount of harm as much as possible and finding places in your life where you can make sustainable but lasting changes. 

Veganism has its pros and cons

I went vegan for a variety of reasons, but I mainly went vegan for ethical and health reasons. 

Some people experience health benefits when going vegan, and I was one of them. I lost weight and noticed improved gut health and cholesterol levels. Bloating became a thing of the past, and my hereditary high cholesterol stabilized.

But I also experienced some downsides to being vegan. My vitamin D levels constantly came back deficient, for example. This is why it’s so important for vegans to take vitamin D.

Not all vitamin D is vegan, which is why I like Ritual Multivitamins. They use certified vegan vitamin D3.

All this to say—veganism is a more ethical and eco-friendly lifestyle, but it’s not without its downsides. Going vegan changed my life, and I experienced several benefits. At the same time, it’s important to remember that it’s not a miracle diet. You have to be proactive on a vegan diet to get all your nutrients, and some parts of it can be challenging.

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