How to Go From Vegetarian to Vegan Without Getting Hangry

POPSUGAR Photography | Mark Popovich
POPSUGAR Photography | Mark Popovich

When I tell people I'm vegan — and that I've been a vegetarian since I was born — the first question I usually get is: you don't eat cheese? For some reason, it's a lot easier for most people to fathom going vegetarian than it is for them to entertain the idea of going vegan. Foregoing a hamburger is one thing, but give up my beloved brie? As if!

Over the course of my lifetime (35 rotations around the sun so far), I've gone from vegetarian to pure vegan to where I am today — as a what I like to call "mostly vegan," "99 percent vegan," or "plant-based". Why the 99 percent? Let's just say I'm not into extremes: if I'm in New York, and I want a slice of New York pizza, well, then, I eat a slice of New York pizza (without beating myself up about it). However, during my strictest stint as a pure vegan (about a decade), I didn't eat even a morsel of animal-derived ingredients, or wear them on my feet, or even rest my head on down-stuffed pillows. (I was even married wearing a pair of super posh vegan Stella McCartney sandals.) During those years, I looked and felt better than ever . . . physically, emotionally, karmically . . .

But enough about me . . . this is about you! Even if you are already a vegetarian, the number one reason I can give you to go all the way (or mostly) vegan is that it's the easiest thing you can do to feel super amazing, super fast. In what ways will you feel like your most amazing self ever? While each person's experience is unique, if you give veganism a go — even for 48 hours — I suspect you will feel lighter, more energized, happier, and less bloated and enjoy better digestion, sounder sleep, glowing skin, better sex, and more!

While most people think of veganism as the double black diamond of specialty diets, the irony is that the "rules" of going vegan are actually really easy, especially if you are already a vegetarian. All you need to do is stop eating any foods that are derived from animals. If you're already not eating meat or fish, that just means giving up dairy and eggs (plus honey and any obscure animal-derived ingredients if you want to get super picky). It's that simple, and yet that impossible-seeming at the same time, since dairy and eggs are so easy to reach for, especially when you are super hangry.

But trust me: if you can make it the first 48 hours without meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, you'll never go back. Why? You have to feel it to believe it.

Here's my tried and true advice for transitioning from vegetarian to vegan:

Ditch the Dairy

The hardest part about going vegan for most people is giving up dairy. Specifically cheese. Our addiction to this stuff is real, people. When it comes to satisfying your cheese cravings, I recommend the following two tactics.

1. Up Your Intake of Good Fats

Sometimes when you think you are craving cheese, you are really just craving fat — and for good reason. Our bodies need fat to feed our organs (including our brains!), muscles, and skin, and also to balance our hormones and energy levels. But dairy fat is not the healthiest option; there are plenty of delicious and nutritious "good fats" to consume, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, shredded coconut, and coconut oil. Be sure to keep these on hand at all times. When a cheese craving strikes, bust out your favorite nut butter and enjoy with sliced apples or celery sticks.

2. Opt For Dairy Subs You Love

Finding satisfying substitutes for your go-to dairy products is key. Luckily, the repertoire of dairy-free doubles stocking super market shelves these days makes it easier and tastier than ever to ditch the diary. Not sure where to begin? Read on for a round-up of awesome dairy alternatives.

No-Moo Milks

Who needs cow's milk when you can choose from a range of creamy soy, coconut, almond, rice, or hemp "milks." My choice selections below go great in morning cereal, smoothies, coffee, or with cookies as a late-night snack. Or, just enjoy a tall, refreshing glass for added protein any time of day.

The New Generation of Vegan Cheeses

As much as we all adore avocados, sometimes you just want the melt-in-your-mouth taste and texture of cheese. Comfort food favorites such as grilled cheese, mac-'n'-cheese, quesadillas, and pizza are easier than ever to veganize thanks to a growing roster of amazing nut, soy, and pea-protein based vegan cheeses. Try one of the my picks below for a truly satisfying non-dairy stand-in.

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter

Why choose artery-clogging butter when you can opt for a heart-healthy spread like Earth Balance, coconut oil, or olive oil? Whether you are smearing it on toast, veggies, or even baking, the rich taste and texture of these alternatives will win you over on first bite.

Get to Know Excellent Egg Replacers

While it's hard to imagine eggless scrambled eggs or an eggless omelette, tofu scramble done right (like this protein-packed tofu scramble with kale and sweet potatoes) is just as tasty, if not tastier. Not into tofu? Believe it or not, the revolutionary health food brand Follow Your Heart has even created plant-derived vegan "eggs" that come in a carton and are perfect for scrambling, omelettes, or using in baked goods! Plus, here's how to use flax eggs instead of chicken eggs for baking!

Become an Avid Label Reader

As if you weren't reading labels closely enough already, becoming strict vegan pretty much requires an unofficial degree in nutritional science jargon. Animal-derived ingredients masquarade under strange names and pop up in the strangest places. For instance, can someone please explain why I would want gelatin (boiled bones) in my Starburst or squid ink in my spaghetti? The big three to memorize now include gelatin, casein, and lactose. But here's an A-Z index of animal-derived ingredients compiled by PETA that you may want to print and carry in your purse while food shopping.