Going Vegan: Gradual or Cold Turkey?

By December 30, 2015How to Go Vegan
how to go vegan

There are two ways that people generally go vegan: gradually or cold-turkey (though turkey obviously isn’t the best term to use here).  Both methods can work well, but there are some pros and cons of each to consider before you make the transition. 


The Gradual Approach


Going vegan gradually seems to be the popular choice.  Think of it like putting your toe in the water before slowly lowering yourself in, eventually becoming completely submerged.  It’s not that exciting, and you won’t make a big splash, but you also don’t risk going into shock from the sudden change.


  • Less pressure: You don’t have to make a big announcement saying that you are veg, so there is less pressure.  This might also be a downside too depending on your personality.
  • One change at a time is doable: If you aren’t the type who does well with change, taking baby steps towards veganism (like first cutting out beef, then chicken, then milk, etc) means you are less likely to suddenly hyperventilate when you go to supermarket and are overwhelmed by all the things you can’t eat.
  • Gives you time to learn new recipes: I usually recommend that new vegans try at least one new recipe per week.  Over time, they gather up all sorts of new recipes to replace their old meat dishes. Check out these best vegan cookbooks.
  • You are less likely to miss the foods you “gave up”: Actually, you might not even feel like you gave up anything because you are gradually filling in the gaps with new, exciting foods.
  • You are less likely to have health problems: vegan nutrition isn’t rocket science, but it can be difficult to be a healthy vegan if you aren’t used to doing things like putting greens in your tortillas.  By taking the gradual approach, you will give yourself more time to figure out the nutrition aspect so you don’t suffer from deficiencies in iron, calcium, or B12.  Because, if you feel like crap on the vegan diet, you probably won’t stick with it.


  • You won’t realize how much good it is doing your body: If you are eating a lot of meat and dairy, you probably feel sluggish all of the time.   By switching to a healthy vegan diet which is rich in fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and plant proteins, you can do wonders for your body.  You might not realize how much good the vegan diet is doing you if the change comes gradually.
  • You can become complacent: You might get lazy and put off the big changes you need to make because you already feel like you made some progress.
  • It can be a very long road! You’ll be battling with a long, drawn-out process of giving up foods and coping with new social situations instead of getting it over all at once.


The Cold Turkey Approach


I personally like this method better because I do better with big changes than trying to draw things out.  I had even planned on going vegan gradually but, the moment I decided I wasn’t going to eat animal products anymore, I couldn’t bring myself to eat them.  I even still had a half-eaten container of sour cream in the fridge which suddenly — against all logic — I found too disgusting to eat — even though I had been greedily eating it the day before (I gave it to my cat to finish off).


  • You are full of adrenaline: Making changes is scary, but it is exciting too!  Take advantage of the surge of adrenaline that comes from the decision to go vegan.  You will feel happy and in control.  By the time the adrenaline rush wears off, you will be 100% vegan.
  • It is faster: After the initial shock of the switching to vegan wore off, I didn’t even have to think about it anymore.  This is a lot less willpower than having to carefully remove one item of animal food from your diet weekly, monthly, or whatever.
  • There’s no wiggle room, so you are more likely to stick to it: I am an all-or-nothing type of girl.  By putting all animal products off limits, I was more likely to stick to it.  For example, let’s say I decided to take the gradual approach and cut eggs but not cheese from my diet. If a friend invited me to dinner and served eggs, I’d probably eat them “just this once” because “I’m still eating cheese anyway.” Well, just this once usually turns into twice, trice…
  • It’s less confusing for friends: When you try to go vegan gradually, it is pretty confusing for the people around you.  One day you are eating chicken but not beef.  Then the next time you come over for dinner you aren’t eating chicken anymore but say fish is okay.  On the next visit, fish is off limits but you say you will eat eggs.  Good luck getting support from family when they can’t understand what your latest diet rules are!
  • You are accountable: Once you tell your friends and family that you are now vegan, you are being held accountable.  I don’t know about you, but this alone is a big motivation to stick to something!


  • It is a big shock: When that adrenaline wears off, you might find that you haven’t completely adjusted.
  • You must give up your favorite foods all at once: You suddenly realize that you can never eat cheese again, and those cashew cheese recipes seem really confusing.
  • In a moment of weakness, you give in to your cravings: Feeling defeated due to your all-or-nothing mentality, you throw in the towel completely instead of giving it another go.
  • Grocery-shopping and cooking chaos: Your stockpile of vegan groceries runs out and you realize you have no clue what you want to eat this week and how to shop for it.


Going Vegan: The Cost


If you do decide to go vegan all at once, be warned that it’s probably going to cost you a lot. At first, you’ll suddenly try a lot of new foods (some of which you’ll have no clue how to cook). Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the grocery store aisles figuring out what foods you can eat. Moreover, you’ll spend more time in the kitchen. You also have to be careful that you’re eating healthy or you could end up with a nutrient deficiency.

Regardless of which approach you choose, you will need support. Rally the support of any vegans you know. Maybe ask them if you can join them on shopping trips or see how they prepare dinner. Trust me, they won’t mind if you invite yourself over for dinner!

Going Vegan: Support Groups


If you don’t know any vegans, then you will want to scout out some vegan groups. I personally find it more beneficial to connect with people in person. But, if you can’t find vegans in your community, you can turn to the internet.

Here are some places you can find vegans in your local community:
– Vegetarian Resource Group’s list of local and state groups (USA and international)
Meetup.com – Just choose your area and search for “vegan” (International)
– Vegan Society’s list of local groups (UK)
– Your local co-op’s bulletin board – you’ll often find vegan potlucks advertised here

Here are some places to connect with vegans online:
– Facebook and Twitter
– Google+ — I particularly love this G+ vegan community
happycow.net community

Don’t forget to rally the support of your non-vegan friends and family too! They might not be going through the transition with you, but they can still be supportive and compassionate. In the next chapter of Vegan Made Easy, we talk about how to make the announcement that you are vegan so you can get support from your friends and family.

The Bottom Line:

No matter what approach you take to going vegan, it is important that you go for it.  Even if it takes you a year to give up cheese, or you keep “falling off the wagon” because the pressure of going vegan is too much, all those small dietary changes you make add up to a big difference.  Not only are you directly helping animals and the planet by going vegan, but you are also serving as a  positive example to the many other people considering a vegan diet.   Don’t underestimate the impact that one person can make!


What method of going vegan worked best for you???

Image credit: Go Vegan (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  Egui_ 

About Diane Vukovic

Diane Vukovic is a vegan mom, health nut, and kitchen diva. When she's not deducing veggie nutritional facts, she's probably dancing crazily with her daughter or traveling somewhere in Europe.