The Mindful Vegan

The key to a successful Veganuary

If you, like hundreds of thousands of others this year, are trying Veganuary, or have done it previously, you will already be familiar with the ups and downs, the mistakes, and the triumphs of moving to more ethical eating and buying habits.

When we get it right and remember to choose vegan it’s great, but if we just forget or give in to that piece of brie then it can feel a bit rubbish.

Why do we feel bad when we give up or make a mistake? We don’t want to fail – of course. But deeper down it’s because we want to live in harmony with our core beliefs, in this case, a vegan lifestyle. Sometimes there can feel like a chasm opening up between our actions and our beliefs. The result of this is a very definite feeling of discord or lack of internal harmony.

Out of balance

There can be many reasons why our life feels out of balance, but in this blog, we will take a look at one reason which we may have overlooked – and which may help us if we are trying to change our lifestyle and eating habits for healthier and more ethical ones. That reason is the understanding that sometimes our life choices are out of balance with our core beliefs and values.

It’s an interesting exercise to have a bit of a think about our current core beliefs – write them down and take a look to see if our lifestyle and food choices really align with them. Sometimes it’s a case of our choices being on the road to our core values but not quite there yet. For example, we might prefer not to have a car for the sake of the environment, but in reality, we need one right now. However, we might aspire to live a car-free life in the future. This is ok because our intention remains the same. Our core beliefs change over time, with new information that we discover, new influences, and our own personal circumstances.

As I mentioned in the first blog, when I became vegetarian over thirty years ago I did not really understand why veganism was important. I wasn’t eating animals so surely that was enough, right? I didn’t eat, buy or use products made from or tested on animals, and so I was sure in myself I was doing everything I could to align my life with my own core value which was a wish to protect animals from harm.

As time went by, I began to realise, through becoming exposed to more information, that there was more that I could do – a whole lot more! And so my core beliefs changed to become closer to vegan. However, my eating habits and buying habits didn’t change at the same pace, I was lagging behind, and I could feel the disparity. I was on the road to achieving alignment with my core beliefs but needed to take a few steps closer and make a few more changes to close that gap. And this is where mindfulness steps in….

Just one cheese toastie……

We all know that feeling of breaking a resolution, we promised ourselves we wouldn’t do it but… well, we just can’t help it! If we make a habit of this we start to feel really deflated. We may think this is because we broke our promise to ourselves – and on one level it is. But on a deeper level, it’s because that gap is there, between how we are acting and how we want to act, and that is more challenging to address because it can make us feel like a fraud.

A useful way to work with this feeling is to make mindful choices in line with our beliefs, this means checking in on a regular basis with our core values.

Generally speaking, through life we make judgements, and these judgements influence emotions, which in turn influence the way we act. Being aware of this process takes a mindful approach: ‘Think, feel, act’. This is a framework often used in CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy).

If we think that it is wrong to cause suffering to animals, the natural progression is that strong emotions follow, and so our actions will change, ie. by refraining from eating animals or animal products. However, our old habits will not have gone away, and this is where we need the mindfulness to bring our actions back in line with our core beliefs before the habits take our attention away.

In some ways, becoming vegan is harder than becoming vegetarian because dairy does not look like the animal from which it comes and so it is easier to not think about the connection. So we need to put in a little extra work to keep that mindfulness and awareness there and stop those old habits creeping back in. Pick which resources work for you from the wealth available on the internet or in books to help reinforce those connections.

Facts help!

“Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, leaked in August, states: ‘A shift to diets with a higher share of plant-based protein in regions with excess consumption of calories and animal-source food can lead to substantial reductions in emissions, while also providing health benefits … Plant-based diets can reduce emissions by up to 50% compared to the average emission-intensive western diet….avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.’ Quote from the Veganuary website

I would definitely recommend checking in with the Veganuary website as there is so much useful information there, including words of inspiration from vegan ambassadors, recipes, and blogs addressing so many different aspects of the vegan journey.

Solutions for a happy January

It is no coincidence that Veganuary is January! We are ready for a change after the excesses of festive eating. A New Year is the traditional time for resolutions. But think of it as the start of a journey, not a regime, and recognise that any changes we make to long-term habits tend to take lots of work and mindful attention. It’s definitely a work in progress, remember, if you want to be a vegan, it’s better to be mostly vegan than not vegan at all!

Set realistic goals, and rewards for reaching them!

It’s ok to be on the road to Veganism, it’s a great goal to have

Keep checking in with your core beliefs, and bolster them with reliable information and inspiration. Remember your core beliefs won’t be exactly the same as another’s.

Relax and don’t give yourself a hard time, there’s no point, it’s better to accept we are still on our journey.

Finally, stay mindful. It keeps us closer to our core values, makes us less likely to follow old habits and so creates a happier person – who is having a great Veganuary!