This year, 629,000 people set a record for the vegan – the challenge to eat vegan during January (pronounced vee-gan-you-airy, in case you need a hand).
Although meat consumption is still on the rise, nearly a quarter of Americans say they are at least reducing their expenditures — for their health, animal welfare, or to curb the acceleration of climate change in meat production.
But a vegan is in the rearview mirror now, and if you’re like many people, much of that New Year’s excitement has waned, and your resolve to stick to your resolutions may evaporate — or evaporate entirely.
There’s no shortage of information on how to start eating less meat, or go vegetarian or vegan – but there isn’t a lot of guidance on how to make it consistent. For most people, it doesn’t — a 2014 study by animal advocacy nonprofit Faunalytics found that 84 percent of people who go vegan or vegetarian go back to eating meat.
“This is a statistic that has shocked a lot of people deeply,” Jo Anderson, a psychologist and Faunalytics research director, told me.
But a lot of good came from it, too, because it gave researchers a better picture of reality — and a lot of data about why people fall. Reasons range from boredom with food choices, feeling unhealthy, feeling that being a vegetarian made them “stay in a crowd”, and thinking it was too difficult to maintain a meat-free diet.
But the world has changed a lot since 2014 — vegetarian options are more plentiful, and eating meat-free is more common than ever. There has also been talk of eating less meat, rather than not eating it, which may help avoid the “purity” problem that some lazy vegetarians have.
The researchers also improved understanding of what helps people maintain their meat-eating or meat-less habits. In 2019 and 2020, Anderson and colleagues at Faunalytics conducted a new study, involving 222 people for six months while they were on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
They found that nearly three-quarters of participants aiming to become vegetarian took weeks or months to ease into the diet. Slightly more than half still eat a small amount of animal products after six months. For me, the takeaway here is that practicing patience and imperfection is good—and may be beneficial—in making a less meat-dense diet work for you. And for the vast majority of us, targeting less meat, rather than not eating it at all, is more achievable and sustainable.
I spoke with Anderson for Meat/Less, Vox’s 5-part newsletter on How to Eat Less Meat—which includes practical tips for eating more vegan and eating to consider the impact of our dietary choices. When it comes to making it consistent, Anderson shared eight tips.
Select your reason
According to Anderson, having a strong internal drive is the key to adopting a new habit and, most importantly, making it consistent.
“Finding something inside of you about why you’re going vegan or cutting back – whether it’s for animals Or health—and linking it to your identity helps with long-term success,” Anderson says. Extrinsic motivations, such as trying to please a friend or partner, may be effective in the short term but likely won’t work in the long term.
“Committed people tend to be successful,” Anderson said.
That finding came from her new research, which found that more than 90 percent of people who go on a vegan or vegetarian trip with a strong commitment stick to it for at least six months.
Choose a specific goal that is achievable, especially if you’re cutting back on it
The limits of a vegetarian and vegan diet are clear, but not so much with “reductionism” – simply eating less meat. How much less? What types of meat do you still eat and which ones won’t? Will you stop eating meat for certain days or meals?
Set clear limits, such as “vegetarian before 6 p.m.,” “vegetarian during the week,” or meat-free Monday, and limits that achievable for youvery important.
“Shaping your goals to match what you can reasonably achieve in the long term, as opposed to the dream-big approach, is more likely to succeed,” Anderson told me. And you can come back in six months or a year and say, ‘I’m doing really well with this, and I’m going one step further. “It’s better than trying something huge and giving up.”
And a big part of deciding what can be achieved is thinking about what you want – or don’t want – to change, at least at this point in time. For example, if you want to become a vegetarian but don’t want to stop eating, say, bacon, go vegan with the exception of bacon.
This may sound strange, but you’ll have roughly the same impact on animals and the environment as a vegan, and you’ll probably stick with it longer than if you tried to become completely vegan.
Find social support
Whether that means a friend or family member doing it with you, or simply explaining to friends and family members why it’s important for them to support your choices, harnessing social connections can help maintain new habits.
It’s also a good idea to meet other people who care about this issue – you can find them by volunteering at animal welfare or environmental organizations, or searching for a vegetarian group on Meetup. There are also powerful online communities, such as r/vegan and r/veganrecipes on Reddit, and Challenge 22, an organization that facilitates the online community for new vegans and gives participants access to nutritionists and mentors.
Try a wide variety of new foods, and have realistic expectations
Reducing your meat intake or following a vegetarian diet will likely motivate you to try a lot of new foods and foods, some of which you may like – And some not so much. So be sure to experiment with an open mind.
And experiment with a realistic mind – today’s meat, egg and plant-based dairy products are better than ever, but they are not perfect replicas of animal foods. For a list of the best alternative meat and dairy products, tips on how to cook tofu and other plant-based proteins, how to find vegetarian-friendly restaurants in your area, and more, sign up for Vox’s Meat/Less online course.
Learn the basics of plant-based nutrition
This advice comes from me – according to the American Dietetic Association, well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and can contribute to the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. But let’s be clear: Eating vegan won’t cure cancer, give you totally glowing skin, or make you feel amazing all the time, as some fringe corners of the vegan internet might suggest.
And as Faunalytics found in its 2014 study, some people don’t feel healthy on a vegan diet. This may mean that a vegetarian diet is not available to everyone, or it may mean that these people would have benefited from eating more nutritious foods. (After all, potato chips and Oreos are vegan—but that doesn’t make them good for you.)
If you’re going to be completely vegan, the first question friends and family might ask you is: “Where will you get your protein?” Americans are obsessed with protein, with 1 in 7 reportedly following a high-protein, low-carb diet. But there are many plant foods that are rich in protein, such as beans, tofu, tempeh, peanut butter, plant-based meat products, nuts, and soy milk. In addition, most people exceed the recommended daily amount of protein.
Unless you’re an Olympic weightlifter, you don’t have to worry about whether you’re getting enough protein. “On a vegetarian or vegan diet, you can get enough protein if you eat an appropriate number of calories from a variety of whole foods,” according to Nancy Gibb, a registered dietitian at the Diabetes and Nutrition Center at the Cleveland Clinic. And even if you’re an Olympic weightlifter, it’s possible to compete at this level as a vegetarian or vegan (and other Olympic sports as well).
If you’re completely vegetarian, make sure you take a vitamin B12 supplement and get enough iron – whether through vitamin supplements and/or eating plenty of iron-rich plant foods, such as lentils, beans, soy products, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, and oats.
However, if you are a vegetarian or just trying to reduce your meat intake, these nutrients will be less important, but it won’t hurt to know more; I recommend this series of plant-based nutrition primers from registered dietitian Jenny Messina.
Planning for challenges and setbacks
One small study (200 participants) found that 77 percent of people kept their New Year’s resolutions for one week, but only 19 percent kept them for two years.
One way to avoid this fate is to plan ahead for challenges and setbacks. Will your mother-in-law be adamant about trying the meatloaf she gets, or perhaps chicken wings at the bar with friends? (Or maybe these are welcome exceptions.)
“Everyone’s challenges are different,” Anderson says. “Thinking about it in advance and planning for it – what your reaction will be at that time – is really helpful.” Deciding in advance means that your response is planned, so you don’t necessarily have to think of it as a failure.
And Anderson recommends “quit” apps, like Quiitzilla, to reframe your thinking. You can customize [the app] For any habit you want to break (like consuming animal products), and — the main part — when you experience a setback, there’s a reset button you hit that immediately starts the timer again, so you never feel like failure equals quitting.”
be calm with yourself
Change is difficult. If you’re having trouble sticking to the plan, guilt won’t help, but adjusting your plan can.
Anderson says that if you find yourself feeling guilty, or your inner voice blaming you for perceived failure, try this paraphrasing technique: “Imagine a rude stranger telling your best friend or significant other, ‘You’re a failure without your ego-control eating that pepperoni.'” How do you respond if you hear? Which – which? Take whatever you say to that stranger – I hope it’s a stern defense! And say it to your inner voice.
You are more than just a person with a New Year’s resolution. You are discounted now.
“Identity is an essential part of behavior,” Anderson says. “Despite the accuracy of the wording, there is a world of psychological difference between eating less meat and being reduced. The ratings have pros and cons, but applying them carefully to ourselves can help reinforce the behavior we want to maintain, by reminding us that this The behavior is not only one-off but is an essential part of who we are now.”
Labels can make us feel better about ourselves, because “it’s good to be part of a group that we see as good,” Anderson writes. Of course, there’s a dark side to taking any group membership seriously: intragroup bias – when we favor people like us, and bias against those who aren’t like us.
Vegetarians, ecologists, and other passionate actors can get a bad reputation for intragroup bias, so it’s crucial to keep this instinct in check and, well, not be mad about it.
Want more resources on how to eat vegan? sign for meat / lessVox’s 5-part e-course.