The Veganuary Challenge

Catherine Lawson

Whether you’re a devout believer in the power of New Year’s resolutions or not, the chances are you’ll have some changes in mind as you step into a brand new year. At the very least, most of us will be quietly committed to cutting back after a bit of festive overkill on the chocolate, cheese and booze. Who amongst us doesn’t head back to work after it’s all over to a staffroom lined with boxed-up salads and packets of Ryvita with not a Quality Street in sight? For some, though, cleaning up eating habits after Christmas is an opportunity to change them altogether. Enter Veganuary.

In recent years, Veganuary has been gaining traction as an opportunity to sample the benefits of a vegan diet for a month. For those interested in trying veganism (for reference, a vegan diet is the elimination of all animal products and by-products whereas a plant-based diet focuses primarily on plants with only occasional or limited animal products included – it’s an important distinction) it’s an ideal time to jump right in. The benefit of ditching meat in January (along with fish and dairy) is that there will be countless resources out there to help you on your way, from nutrition plans to Veganuary celebrity cookbooks – there’s never been a better time to delve into the research around veganism and to find the support you need for your vegan journey.

However, if this is your first foray into the vegan world, the all or nothing approach can be overwhelming. Let’s not underestimate the impact of lifelong eating habits on our bodies and the challenges which come with sudden and all-consuming change. Our bodies can rebel. So, if cutting so many food groups out in one go is something you feel might trip you up one week into the month-long challenge, then how about considering an adapted approach? The question is, what’s your ‘why?’

If ditching animal products is based on a commitment to long term sustainable change and is rooted in a belief system which motivates you (for example taking a stand against animal cruelty, making food choices which support planetary health or investing in your own personal health) then key to success is going to be finding the way to change your eating habits which sets you up for success, not failure. Ultimately, the approaches we take are all personal to us – you know what works best for you, right? Some people have massive success with the jump right in approach and can maintain their motivation to see the month of Veganuary through in one fell swoop. For others, a stepped approach is much more achievable. It might be that cutting meat becomes the focus for January. If that’s successful, cut the fish in February, then the dairy in March (dairy is almost always the last to go!). Every step you take counts and success isn’t determined by how quickly you get there, it’s determined by how well you sustain your goals. If they’re rooted in the belief systems above, you’re going to want the changes to continue beyond January.

So if you’re thinking about giving Veganuary a go, here are my top four tips for sustainable success:

•Be clear about why you’re doing it and base your goals around that understanding.
•Figure out what works best for you – are you an all or nothing goal setter or a step-by-step achiever? Adapt your expectations for Veganuary based on that knowledge.
•Enjoy the process by making use of the wealth of resources available to experiment with exciting new foods and flavours which keep you hooked in.
•It’s very easy to be an unhealthy vegan, filling up on highly processed alternatives. Keep it as fresh and wholefood based as possible so you feel good throughout the process.

And on a final note: if being completely vegan doesn’t work for you, and you veer more towards a plant-based diet which keeps some animal products in your diet, remember you can still make an incredible difference to personal and planetary health every time you say yes to the plants. Like everything in life, it’s about finding the balance that works for you.