Here's the thing, these are solvable issues with the vegan diet but you shouldn't feel compelled to solve them. If you aren't up to the work then cheeseburgers it is! I've been performing as runner on a vegan diet for over two years without suffering nutritionally or feeling constantly hungry.
Intent is important when coming into making the change to a plant based diet. You need to come in with eyes wide open and an understanding of why you're doing this in the first place. If you do your chances of success improve dramatically. Here are eight ways people fail at being vegan and how you can avoid them:
You're a Picky Eater
Imagine you are in the grocery store and have a cart full of your pre-vegan groceries including milk, meat and eggs. Now take those foods out and consider what's left. Like most people you probably always bought a limited selection of grains, veggies, fruits and processed or packaged foods. What happens with a lot of people going vegan is they eliminate food from their diet and refuse to add new things.
This has two problems. First you are simply going to get bored living on carrots, hummus and Raisin Bran. Variety is important.
Secondly you are fast tracking yourself to malnutrition. While I don't believe meat, dairy and eggs are the best source of nutrition they obviously were giving you something and if you fail to replace it you're in trouble. Buying nut milks, tofu, tempeh, nuts, beans, seeds and fruits and vegetables that you've never tried before is very important. If you don't you'll eventually feel awful, and run back to hamburgers claiming your body was missing nutrients.
Here is what my family does. When in a grocery store we occasionally look for a fruit or vegetable we've never tried before, buy a small amount and give it a test run. YouTube is great for researching how to cook, peel or prepare all these strange plant foods. We've had some hits and misses and a lot of those foods have become a regular part of our weekly shop. Revisit things after some time though. Trust me your taste buds will change. Beets and pineapple were two foods I hated as a meat-eater but love now.
We also buy vegan cookbooks and we actually try the recipes. This is huge, it will drag you out of your comfort zone. Embrace the idea of shopping those aisles you never went down or in health food stores looking for Agar powder or Dulse flakes, amaranth or silken tofu. It's an adventure. Again, some recipes were huge misses, but others were big hits. We write right in our cookbooks beside each recipe to remind ourselves if we've tried it, if it was good and to suggest any changes.
You're Going Vegan Just to Lose Weight
I hate to be the bearer of shocking news but diets don't work. I've tried them, so probably have you. If you're vegan and not living on Oreo's and Coca Cola you are probably of a healthy weight. But when your motivation to become vegan is only based on your waistline then eventually you're going to rebound. I love eating a plant based diet, but occasionally even for me it's a pain in the ass. Eating out at restaurants and at the homes of friends and family can be challenging. It would be easier to just shrug and accept that the veggie burger has eggs and cheese.
If you treat being vegan as a diet plan instead of a way of eating that reflects your values around nutrition, the environment and treatment of animals (you don't have to go with all three) then eventually like all diets it will just come to a natural end. A plant based diet isn't the same thing as the Soup Diet or Atkins. It's a way of living that respects your body, your environment and doesn't take from other living creatures to sustain you. Diets fail, life changes often succeed.
You're Hungry all the Time
Once you go vegan you're going to be inundated with the question of "where do you get your protein." Trust me, you'll get sick of it knowing full well that protein is readily available in a plant based diet and that nobody that eats enough in the modern world is protein deficient. Nobody. But now that you've eliminated all the steak, milk and eggs from your grocery cart you do need to pay attention to heavier foods that will fill you up and stop you from feeling hungry constantly. There are two ways to do this, and you should do both.
First you need to replace those animal proteins with lots of plant proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds and if you want the "mock meat" products that can be helpful if you're transitioning and want something familiar.
Second you need to focus on the one area where most people are deficient and that is with fibre. Eating a high fibre diet (you really need to transition slowly while your body adapts to this to avoid diarrhoea, gas and bloating) will slow the digestion of some foods making them last longer keeping you full for hours. Oatmeal in the morning for example will keep you feeling full long past the sugary Coco Puffs.
You're a Processed Food Fanatic
As mentioned above Oreos are vegan. Yup you can eat all you want and relax with the knowledge that you have hurt no animals while bulging your waistline. While some foods such as veggie dogs and fake cheese make sense for people that are new to a vegan diet and not yet ready to give up their old comfort foods, pretty much every processed food is terrible for you. Eventually you'll want to give up those veggie dogs too and everything is ok on the rare occasion as a treat (I'm a bit of a fan of coconut milk ice cream) but when your food pantry is half full of processed crap eventually you're going to be super unhealthy.
If you're currently eating the standard diet that most people in the modern world eat then you'll need a transition period, but what I'd advise is picking up the habit of reading labels. If you can't pronounce the ingredient or if it sounds like something you wouldn't eat in isolation (like TSP in Cheerios) you should drop it from your life. I've only been vegan since 2013 and even in that short time I've seen the amount of processed vegan food choices explode. There are hundreds of junk food options that are animal product free but chemical nightmares. Eat too many and you'll be malnourished, unhealthy and blaming your vegan diet.
You're an Activist First
If you've come to be vegan because of your stance on animal treatment or the environment good for you, you're doing an amazing thing. The hazard is that you're not only hurting your body, but setting a really bad example when you look anemic, haggard and malnourished. Even if nutrition isn't your thing, paying attention to it will keep you happier, mentally sharp and able to continue as a shining example of what a vegan can be. Spend all your time tossing buckets of blood (please don't do that) and eating ripple chips dipped in fake cheese and eventually the wheels will fall off the bus for you. Hello hamburgers.
You Don't Have any Vegan Friends
Having my wife and daughter on this journey with me has been a tremendous help. We have spent time seeking out other vegans as well and having occasional dinner parties etc. I will say though that the change has resulted in my social circle shrinking a little. Dinner invites have dropped as have friends from our lives. Part of this is likely because we just have different interests now. I spend my time running and playing with food instead of eating chicken wings and drinking beer. But you need to know that it can feel very isolating. Food is a tremendously social thing. It's something we gather over with others whether it be a BBQ, dinner out or over popcorn at the theatre. And it's not just friends, even my extended family had a hard time adjusting to my new way of eating.
The internet is a wonderful resource to find like minded people to share with and help. You can also try sites like Meetup or Facebook Groups to try and find other vegans in your area. If you don't have support within your home from a spouse or partner that can be especially difficult so it's vital to find someone to talk to. I run with one person that is also vegan and not only do we swap ideas for how to fuel our athletic activities, it's also a great sense of belonging, something everyone else gets as a matter of routine over a shared pizza or birthday cake.
The more isolated you feel as a vegan in social situations the more likely you are to just go back to your bacon wrapped pork chops. Make an effort to find others, expect some of your current social circle won't like your new way of living and you'll be much better prepared for the long haul. It does get easier.
You're Not Eating Enough
If you do find yourself losing weight after going vegan and you are low on energy and getting to a body weight you would consider too low there is a good chance you aren't eating enough. The size of bowl I use for my morning oatmeal is rather embarrassing. I'm not shy about loading up on my breakfast. I snack throughout the day and usually eat less as the day goes on. If my activity levels are high I eat more. While I like to go to bed on an empty stomach, I've certainly had my share of groceries during the coarse of a day.
The truth is that if you are eating a predominantly whole foods vegan diet (meaning largely unprocessed food) your food is naturally lower in calories and higher in nutritional content. This will probably lower your appetite as your body will feel it has enough nutrition early in the day and turn off hunger signals. That's a nice problem to have if you're trying to drop some weight, but at some point you'll start raising eyebrows when your collarbones and ribs are showing under your shirt.
It seems I've found an equilibrium now with my body weight that is in the 140's (pounds) which while about 10 pounds less than my healthy weight as a meat eater is a weight I feel good at. But during times of heavy exercise (like marathon training) my grocery intake goes up significantly as it should. If I were to be dropping weight I'd just add more food, and probably food like hummus or nuts that are going to give me more calories.
In a nutshell, losing weight is nice, but if you're starving being vegan isn't going to be fun for you or anyone around you with the low blood sugar grumpies.
You aren't Supplementing
I'm not a fan of powders, pills or isolated minerals or vitamins. I believe that we can get everything we need from real food and that our body knows best how to take what it needs from our food. But if you're vegan, even if you're eating fortified nut milks, nutritional yeast, chlorella and eating dirty vegetables you need to supplement vitamin B12. I use one sublingual tablet two times a week and there are many alternatives. Your body can store B12 for a long time, but it pays to keep it up. If it makes you feel better, I know lots of meat eaters who's doctors have them on B12 as well.
If you live in a northern climate like I do, it might be a good idea to take some vitamin D in the winter months and make sure you get enough sun. Ask your doctor or dietician first (I'm neither of those things) but vitamin D deficiency is super common for everyone no matter how you eat.
It also pays to get your iron, B12 and whatever else your doctor thinks is important checked at least once a year. Then if something is low address it with food through the help of a nutritionist or dietician or supplement according to doctors orders.
If you're an athlete I'd consider a high quality protein supplement. Honestly I think it's a waste of money, but it's money I waste and I think you should too. Vega is my favourite brand but there are others. Read the ingredients to make sure the quality is there and none of the crap or animal products like whey or casein. Likely you will just pee out the extra protein, but look at it as insurance and mental re-assurance when everyone asks you where you get your protein. Pretty much every meat eating athlete I know supplements with protein (and they likely don't need too either) so why shouldn't the plant eaters?
So if you don't want to be a former vegan and have decided this is the life for you concentrate on going in with your eyes wide open. This isn't a diet, it's not a fad and it's not for everyone. When I realized that going vegan was a complete change in my relationship with food, my environment and belief system it became part of who I am. That's much harder to give up on.