7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Going Plant-Based

This is a follow-up to my Beginner’s Tips on Going Plant-Based. I find that people who wish to reduce or cease their consumption of meat get  into the idea with good intentions, without realizing that it’s not all flowers and sunshine. Here are some snags that might hold you back from experiencing the fullest potential of the plant-based lifestyle. As long as you proceed with mindfulness and a positive attitude, you’ll become the difference you wish to see in the world in no time.


Avoiding carbs

For some reason, a lot of people believe that going vegan means forsaking carbohydrates. Not true! A plant-based diet, like any regular balanced diet, should contain a moderate amount of complex carbs like brown rice, beans, barley, oats, whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes and whole fruits. These will give you slow-burning energy to help get you through your day. I thrive on this stuff. I’m eating the most carbs I’ve ever had in my life… and my hips have actually shrunk. (Working out helps with that too though.)


Giving in to peer pressure

It’s going to be pretty much a given that your friends will tempt you with things you used to eat with them, from burgers to dim sum. It’s a social thing, and you wouldn’t want to feel left out or come across as a nuisance. Taking on this disposition was one of the reasons why I took 12 years to become a vegetarian! I eventually realized that my leniency was only creating roadblocks towards my goal.

Once I put my foot down, AND let everyone around me know about it, noone was offended and noone gave me a hard time. My friends supported my decision as much as they could. It was an education for them, as much as it was an education for me. How you wish to react to peer pressure is entirely up to you. The important thing is being cool with the decisions you make. And if you aren’t, have a think about what you want to do to change that.


Sticking to one kind of food

We’re all creatures of comfort. The moment we like something, we tend to stick to it… especially in an unfamiliar world! I once dated someone from Canada who landed a teaching job at Sunway, made other teacher friends at Sunway, and never stepped out of Sunway for 2 years, until he met me. When I showed him my mum’s neighborhood for the first time, he was pleasantly surprised: “This is a really nice part of town!”

The plant-based world is like the Klang Valley. If you stick to a part of it that feels safe and comforting, you won’t get to experience how multi-faceted and exciting the rest of it is. So don’t eat banana leaf rice every day. Stay diverse! Stay curious! Try everything! This is particularly important in fulfilling as much of your nutritional needs as possible.


Ignoring food labels

Just because a product looks plant-based, doesn’t mean it 100% is. A bag of fruit gummies containing natural fruit juice might contain gelatin. A packet of vegetable crackers might be made with milk powder. Granola might have honey. Noodles might have egg. Making it a habit to read food labels before buying is not just important for vegans, but everyone who cares about their health and wellbeing. There are unnatural, toxic ingredients that we might have been consuming our entire lives and had no idea; ingredients that are quite insane to read up on. Not to freak you out or anything. Well, maybe just a little. This pitfall is related to the next.


Believing that ‘vegan’ equals ‘healthy’

Trust me… there are some unhealthy vegans out there. Potato chips are vegan. Soda pop is vegan. Pisang Goreng is vegan. If you only eat junk / deep fried / processed food that is incidentally free from animal products, it’s going to free you from the guilt of eating animals, but not from visits to your doctor!

The key to a successful healthy meat-free lifestyle is leaning mostly towards a whole foods plant-based (WFPB) diet. In a nutshell, this diet features whole vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains, and minimizing refined products like white flour, white sugar (which isn’t technically vegan anyway) and oil. It’s recommended that you start cooking some of your own meals, to know what exactly what goes into them. This might sound unfathomable to you. But Hey. Before going vegetarian, I had zero interest in cooking. Now I’m some food geek with dry foods in my pantry with names that sound like Game of Thrones characters. Belum Cuba, Belum Tau, Bro.


Believing you will instantly look and feel like a hot vegan influencer

Good things take time. A good diet, and sticking to it long enough to experience results, takes time and effort too. If you’re making changes to a diet you’ve had since young, chances are it’s something your body won’t exactly hold a welcoming party for. In the first week you might get frequent cravings or hunger pangs, your face might break out, your bowel movements might surprise you. You might not even feel great at all. Depending from person to person, such effects could take a week. For others it could take a month. Whatever strange goings-on you may physically experience, this is all just part of the adjustment period of the body learning to heal itself through a plant-based diet. It goes through its own detox. Isn’t that awesome?

If you manage this period well and tend to your body when it calls out for assistance, getting over this hump will be an accomplishment that reaps great rewards on the other side… Like looking and feeling like a hot vegan influencer. That being said though, its crucial to take as much time as you need to ease yourself into the diet. And if you fail, take a break and start over. No biggie.


Becoming overwhelmed with anger / grief / hopelessness

Going plant-based is most often a decision based on ethics. And if you go down that rabbit hole deep enough, there’s a whole lot about the world to be miserable about. In the name of meat consumption, greenhouse gas levels skyrocket, entire virgin forests get mowed to the ground, communities living near factory farms suffer from poisonous fumes and tainted water supply, slaughterhouse workers get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and become violent towards people, billions of animals live horrendous lives and die horrendous deaths. I’ve seen vegans take it personally and get emotional. Some cry, some lash out. Some just go back to their non-vegan ways because they feel that they won’t make a difference at all.

You don’t need to be any of those vegans. Going plant-based can induce seismic shifts of positivity within you and towards others around you. It’s AMAZING to be a vegan. One person CAN make a difference. You should honour that fact, whilst practicing patience and understanding with yourself and others, staying humble about your intentions, and always looking at the bigger picture.