“I Messed Up Being Vegan!” How to Deal with Slip-Up Guilt

So you decided to go vegan, and then you messed up and ate some non-vegan food, whether totally by accident or by a lapse in your willpower. I’ve done it, and I’m pretty sure every vegan in the world has, too.

How do you deal with slip-up guilt as a vegan? Every vegan has slip-ups. Forgive yourself and move on. Your goal is to stop eating animal products, which is not always easy in this society. Do your best, and keep going. Your effort over time is what matters, not perfection.

When you have a vegan slip-up, it’s actually a great time to pause, reflect on what your goals are, and potentially come away with even more clarity about what you’re trying to do.

In this article I’ll go over a few perspectives I think it’s useful to get in touch with when you’ve slipped up and you’re feeling bad because of it.

It Happens to Every Vegan. Every Single One.

I remember one of my more memorable slip-ups. I was in a restaurant, and I ordered their veggie burger.

It crossed my mind that the veggie burger could have animal products in it, but I didn’t want to go through the hassle of asking the waiter if it was vegan and then possibly having to wait for her to go check with the chef, or making her feel bad for not knowing the answer. So I just ordered it.

Well, it turns out that the veggie burger had cheese in it—like, visible strings of cheese that you could clearly see after you bite into it! After the first bite, I felt too gross to eat it, and I threw it out.

Sharing Stories of Vegan Slip-Ups

Ask any vegan, and they have stories like this. We might all react differently: some vegans will spit out the food, some will offer it to a friend, and some will just finish the meal anyway.

But however they handle it, all vegans understand how this happens! It’s very understandable! I could list off 5 or 10 more of my own stories, plus a bunch that I’ve heard about from my vegan friends.

If you have any vegan friends or acquaintances, you should share your story with them, or just ask them if they’ve ever messed up. I can just about guarantee they have.

By hearing them talk about their own slip-ups, you will probably feel less guilty about your own. It’s really not a rare thing at all—it happens to all vegans.

One Slip-up Doesn’t Ruin Everything

People go vegan for different reasons, and I’m not going to assume that you and I share the same reasons. But whatever your reasons are, it is okay to have mess-ups along the way. It doesn’t undo all your progress or your future potential impact as a vegan, either.

If you went vegan to improve your health in some way, such as lowering your blood pressure or losing weight: one slip-up by itself is not going to undo all your progress.

You can just get right back on the vegan horse, and if it was truly just a brief slip-up, then the impact on your health will likely be almost nothing. (The body can generally heal from occasional offenses. It’s the chronic, consistent bad diet that really hurts us.)

The Impact of One Slip-Up is Basically Nothing

If you went vegan for an ethical reason, such as protesting against the abuse of animals on factory farms, then you might feel even more guilty than a “health vegan” who messed up, because you really feel that you committed an ethical wrong when you ate an animal product.

Still, I would argue that what you did was not that bad in the scheme of things.

Think about this for a minute: Animal agriculture is a huge industry. I do believe that the evolution of society toward plant-based diets as a whole will have a big impact on this industry, and so I think it’s a worthwhile boycott to participate in. But you have to admit: The impact of one meal is practically nothing.

Grocery stores and restaurants are throwing out their leftover meats all the time. In 2016, there was a dairy glut that resulted in 43 million gallons of milk being dumped out.

The animal agriculture industry counts its production in tons, not ounces. So honestly, one meal worth of meat or dairy is not going to change the equation very much.

Only with your long-term habits and by spreading the vegan lifestyle to others can you really have a sizeable impact. So all is not lost, but your ongoing effort still matters. Get back on the vegan horse.

It’s Nothing Compared to a Whole Life of Eating Meat.

Most of us did not grow up vegan, so we had a whole childhood and maybe even an early adulthood of eating meat. Knowing that you’ve already consumed thousands of non-vegan meals earlier in your life should help put your slip-up into perspective.

Sure, you wish you didn’t have this slip-up, but let’s be honest: It doesn’t compare to how you ate when you were younger. You’re still making progress in a direction that you value.

If you happen to be one of those rare, life-long vegans, then you can still put your slip-up in perspective by comparing it to the fact that most people spend their whole lives eating meat.

Most people don’t question what they eat or make positive changes in their diet at all. Some people eat meat, dairy, or eggs at every single meal. The average American lifespan is about 79 years. If you eat 3 non-vegan meals a day for 79 years, that’s over 86,000 non-vegan meals.

So you slipped up and ate a non-vegan meal today, or maybe you ate non-vegan for a week, or however much. But you didn’t eat 86,000 non-vegan meals.

What you’re doing as a vegan is trying to put a cap on the number of animals you eat—you’re trying to limit your contribution to this industry.

But even if you slip up sometimes (or even if you intentionally planned non-vegan “cheat days”), you’re still having a very different impact over your lifetime compared to the average American if you’re mostly vegan now and going forward.

Appreciate that. You’re still making a difference, despite any imperfections in your diligence.

Don’t Quit Being Vegan Just Because of a Slip-Up

If you get back to eating vegan after the slip-up, then it’s really no big deal, like I said above. But if you get discouraged, beat up on yourself, assume that you can’t do it, and then decide to just give up on being vegan, then that’s going to have more of a long-term impact.

Whether you’re vegan for health reasons or ethical reasons or both, you decided to do it for a reason, right?

You weighed out the options, and you decided that going vegan would benefit your life, that this would be a good thing for you and for the world. Something in you was compelling you to make this change, right?

Well, all those things are still true. Your slip-up does not change the fact that it was a good idea to go vegan, that it will help you and the world. It’s just a little hiccup along the way.

So you messed up, but now you’re right back where you started again, and it’s still a good idea to go vegan. You’re just a little more experienced, a little wiser: “Well, now I know that product has milk in it.”

And you can start strong again from this position. In fact, check out my other article titled “The Ex-Vegan’s Guide to Going Vegan Again.” It will help you troubleshoot what went wrong, so you can go vegan again and stay vegan.

Try to Live a Life You Are Proud Of

If you think being vegan is a positive choice for yourself, then I encourage you to try to be resolute and persistent in trying to live out that ideal.

It is not always easy when you have urges and stressors like anybody else. You will fall short at times. But if you keep making the effort, it will give you self-respect to see yourself making the effort. And again, guides like the free e-mail course I mentioned earlier can help, too.

So that is my overall message: Being vegan is more about what you’re trying to do. If you mess up, that’s only human. It’s to be expected. It happens to every vegan, I promise. I can even promise that it will happen to you again in the future, in some form!

But if you’re trying to make this positive change, and you are giving it your best effort, and you get back on the vegan horse after you fall off—that’s something you can feel good about, even with hiccups along the way.

Two More Recommendations for Your Plant-Based Journey

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