How to become a vegan

Starter tips for the meat-eater, ovo-lacto vegetarian and relapsed vegan from two life coaches and a nutritionist.

By: Tamar Atik

For the meat-eater:

Going from eating all foods to full-time vegan is a big step. How can you approach such a goal? Life coach and director of the Bloom Centre for Hypnotherapy, Didi Vergados, knows. She wasn’t a successful full-time vegetarian when she tried over 20 years ago. But, she always knew what her motivator was and insists that’s the key to developing lifestyle changes.

Didi Vergados/Photo courtesy of Didi Vergados

Didi Vergados/Photo courtesy of Didi Vergados

“Keep motivated by remembering why you’re doing this,” she says. “Some vegans are vegan because they care for the planet, they care for animals, they don’t feel it’s necessary to kill animals. Some people are doing it for their health because they feel it’s a healthier option, but always remember why you’re doing it.”

Although meat-eaters who go vegan are generally making healthier food choices throughout the day than they were before, registered nutritionist and author, Ara Wiseman, says issues come up when people go to unhealthy sources for that same easy protein fix they’re used to. She suggests stopping cravings before they begin by eating lots of sweet ripe fruit, homemade lentil burgers, buckwheat, quinoa, stews, soups, lentil or chickpea pasta with low fat cilantro pesto or avocado, baked or steamed root vegetables (with tahini dressing).

Ara Wiseman/Photo courtesy of Ara Wiseman

Ara Wiseman/Photo courtesy of Ara Wiseman

She suggests staying away from the highly processed vegan frozen foods, soy milk, fake cheese and sour cream or soy based meat analogs. They are loaded with sodium, chemicals and soy protein isolates which are considered to be an excitotoxin.

“You’re still going to feel that fullness you would feel if you were eating a piece of meat,” Wiseman said.

For the ovo-lacto vegetarian:

Naadia Ahsan is a vegetarian at home and eats vegan when she’s out. With her father eating only halal and her mother and sister eating all foods, Ahsan said her vegan dietary restrictions would be one too many in the household. The 20-year-old Ryerson student said she’s going to wait until she moves out to adopt the vegan lifestyle fully.

Naadia Ahsan/Photo courtesy of Naadia Ahsan

Naadia Ahsan/Photo courtesy of Naadia Ahsan

“I try to be vegan at home too, but it gets awkward. My mom was like, ‘Oh my God, you’re a fanatic!’ and things like that,” Ahsan said. “Every now and then I’ll just let it go.”

Ahsan’s father is also a cattle farmer. “That causes tension sometimes,” Ahsan said, laughing. But she said switching from vegan to vegetarian everyday has become instinctive.

Wiseman says the initial taste of non-vegan food might satisfy a craving temporarily but in the long run it won’t make you feel good physically and emotionally. These cravings can easily be avoided with vegan foods which satisfy the same cravings.

“And there’s a really big difference because when you eat cheese for instance, it is mucous forming and produces a lot of mucous in your system.” Wiseman said.

Ahsan struggled with drawing the line between vegan and vegetarian foods when she realized she couldn’t be a full-time vegan. “Of course I make an effort, but I’ve just accepted it has to happen that way,” she said.

Life coach Paula Klein knows making life-long changes is hard work and her advice is to have a clear outline in mind. “With anything we decide to change in our life, how important it is to us will affect our success and will help us figure out what we need to do in order to ensure we have success,” she said.

Paula Klein/Photo courtesy of Paula Klein

Paula Klein/Photo courtesy of Paula Klein

“Think about why you decided to go vegan in the first place. My morals are what keep me going,” Ahsan said. “A lot of people go vegan for their health or a very important reason to them, so if you keep that at the front of your mind, it’s easy to realize, ‘You know what, that’s more important than my taste buds.’”

For the relapsed vegan:

Meet Barbara Jung, a 21-year-old University of Waterloo student who has been struggling to become full-time vegan since she started in winter 2012.

Barbara Jung/Photo courtesy of Barbara Jung

Barbara Jung/Photo courtesy of Barbara Jung

“I really love barbecue sauce, so if I smell it or if I’m having a craving, I find that almost impossible to resist,” Jung said. “That’s what happened to me last summer when I relapsed.”

The cause? She says while in residence, her friends threw a big barbecue and they made barbecue chipotle chicken—her favourite. “It was right in front of me, all my friends were eating it and there weren’t a lot of other options, so I just did it.”

This kind of temptation is exactly what Klein targets.

“I would have them get as clear as possible about what the obstacles are,” she said. “What is it that tempts them? And how do they want to avoid those temptations? Or are they perhaps okay with the odd time they eat dairy (or meat)? And how important is it to never fall off the path?” Because people need different kinds of encouragement, answering these questions can help them navigate target their temptations.

Jung has since stayed very focused on her path. She lives off-campus now, in part because there were no vegan options in the meal plan. “It was so hard because pretty much nothing was vegan at school,” she said.

Wiseman knows how hard it can be to resist non-vegan foods, especially in situations where you are not prepared, but the benefits outweigh those cravings. “Once you give up eating those foods, your health improves and it gives you the propensity to want to continue to eat healthy for your body says Wiseman. she said.

Fortunately for Jung, her cravings are slowly fading.

“I found the less you have of certain foods, the less you end up craving them. For the first two weeks, it might be really hard, but (then) it becomes almost natural and you don’t really miss it,” she said.

No matter where you’re starting from, the follow the expert advice: do your research and put priorities in place to stay motivated.

Getting powdered up, vegan style

Be in the know about the pros and cons of vegan beauty products.

By: Tamar Atik

Owner of online-based vegan makeup brush line Pirouette, Nika, has noticed a leap toward vegan products in recent years from both vegans and compassionate meat-eaters alike.

Nika Jabiyeva using her vegan makeup brushes Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

Nika using her vegan makeup brushes
Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

“I see people becoming more conscious of the products they’re using and wanting to use more responsible products that are not tested on animals, made out of animals or that require someone else’s suffering (to be made),” she says.

Nika, who lives a vegan lifestyle, says the moment she found out her old makeup brushes were made from mink hair, spurred her into action. This lead to the creation of her line in 2001, which she says has more beauty benefits than brushes made with animal hair.

“They’re soft and actually more hygienic because they don’t absorb bacteria and they don’t contain dead skin cells, like animal-hair brushes do,” Nika said. “Most people don’t know that luxury makeup brushes are made with mink, sable, pony and squirrel hair. A lot of times we’re not conscious of it and we just buy it.”

Nika Jabiyeva Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

Nika poses with her cruelty-free brushes
Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

Nika feels once people become aware of how much animals are used in the beauty industry, they start to choose to use cruelty-free products.

Toronto-based beauty blogger, Lisamarie Wilson, started her blog Beauty Crazed five years ago and has also noticed people gravitating toward animal-conscious and vegan hair and makeup products. However, she said it’s tricky to find strictly vegan brands because there aren’t many of them and they come with a shelf life disadvantage.

Lisamarie Wilson/Photo courtesy of Lisamarie Wilson

Lisamarie Wilson/Photo courtesy of Lisamarie Wilson

“The problem with vegan products is they don’t last as long. So you either have to use a product up or you end up throwing it out just because it doesn’t necessarily have the same preservatives to help keep them fresh.”

Toronto beauty blogger, Janella Panchamsingh, started her blog BoldnBeautifulMakeup in 2008. Also a beauty consultant and makeup artist at Sephora, she thinks shorter expiration dates are a problem for vegan products too, in addition to higher prices. But she said their quality makes up for that.

Janella Panchamsingh/ Photo courtesy of Janella Panchamsingh

Janella Panchamsingh/ Photo courtesy of Janella Panchamsingh

“The products are made more with love. They’re not just a bunch of ingredients or preservatives thrown into a can,” Panchamsingh said.

She estimates about 75-80 per cent of her clients go to her looking for more vegan or organic products. Overall, she agrees natural is better in the long run.

“We all have natural beauty, and with makeup, we’re able to enhance that natural beauty,” Panchamsingh said. “Think about how it affects your health later on. We all want a preserved, clean life. I explain that to people.”

University of Toronto student, Margo Vartanian, 18, went vegan about six months ago. She started using exclusively vegan hair and makeup products recently and said she’s seen noticeable improvements in her skin problems.

Margo Vartanian/Photo courtesy of Margo Vartanian

Margo Vartanian/Photo courtesy of Margo Vartanian

“I have lots of acne and a lot of chemicals (in non-vegan products) don’t fix that or they clog my pores, making it worse… The vegan products get rid of my redness I’ve noticed,” she said, who cites the Tarte line as her foundation of choice, finding it smooth and non-caky.

Tarte foundation/Photo courtesy of Margo Vartanian

Tarte foundation/Photo courtesy of Margo Vartanian

“You don’t feel it on your skin either, so you can tell it’s natural just by how it’s shown on your face,” Vartanian said. “I apply it with my fingers and it just feels like a moisturizer; it doesn’t feel like an extra layer of skin or anything.”

Vartanian also uses a mascara, face powder, eye shadow and face oil from Tarte, which she says absorbs really well into skin and feels really light.

Tarte eye shadow/Photo courtesy of Margo Vartanian

Tarte eye shadow/Photo courtesy of Margo Vartanian

For her hair, Vartanian uses products by Live Clean and Lush. She said she also recently discovered Urban Decay as a vegan brand.

Live Clean defining hair spray/Photo courtesy Margo Vartanian

Live Clean defining hair spray/Photo courtesy of Margo Vartanian

“I figure, if I don’t believe in putting (meat) internally in my system, why would I put it externally on my body?” she said.

Wilson agreed that food shouldn’t be the only consideration when it comes to animal welfare.

“You can’t really not eat meat and then go ahead and slap it on your face as a beauty routine,” she said. “If you’re going to be vegan, there’s a whole patch that goes along with it. So your beauty routine is going to have to logically follow that.”

Supplements: Yes or No?

Two health experts and three vegans weigh in.

By: Tamar Atik

The idea of whether or not to take supplements to achieve optimum health as a vegan is an ongoing discussion. Registered dietician, Christine Asik, says being a healthy vegan involves a lot of planning.

Courtesy of Christine Asik/Say Vegan

Christine Asik/Photo courtesy of Christine Asik

“If you’re a vegan you do really need to pay attention to getting the proper amount of nutrients and you really need to plan your diet and consider vitamin supplements,” Asik said.

But Olivia Pileggi, a vegan for five years, has experimented with various supplements and found they react negatively with her body.

Courtesy of Olivia Pileggi/ Say Vegan

Olivia Pileggi/Photo courtesy of Olivia Pileggi

“I was just like, ‘What am I doing new?’ And then I realized, what I’m doing new is taking this iron (supplement),” she said, realizing she should stop taking the supplement to see if she felt better. It worked.

Today, Pileggi takes a B12 supplement daily which she says provides 6,100 per cent of her B vitamin needs, including vitamin B12.

Asik says vitamin B12 is a very important one for vegans to consider.

“That’s almost exclusively found in animal products, so vegans really do need to take a supplement,” Asik said. “I think they can be as healthy and certainly, they could maybe even be healthier than some people who are just not eating well, eating a lot of processed meats and things like that.”

That said, Pileggi says she grows tired of taking vitamins and supplements, and wants to live as naturally as possible.

Marissa Rouse isn’t so fond of supplements, either. The 26-year-old has been a vegan for six years and a vegetarian for 12.

Courtesy of Marissa Rouse/ Say Vegan

Marissa Rouse/Photo courtesy of Marissa Rouse

She says the process to veganism wasn’t so smooth in the beginning.

“I would say, probably six months in I wasn’t doing too well… I wasn’t eating a diet full of variety and nutritious things,” Rouse said. “It was mostly just junk food I could find that was accidentally vegan.”

Nutritionist and personal trainer, Kyle Byron, says this is why he doesn’t recommend a vegan diet for everyone.

Courtesy of Kyle Byron/ Say Vegan

Kyle Byron/Photo courtesy of Kyle Byron

“First of all to be healthy as a vegan, the person must be really organized and knowledgable in choosing the right foods, in being very prepared with their foods and always having well-balanced meals,” Byron said. “Even if they do that, they have to supplement a few things.”

Rouse said she did more research to become a full-time vegan after going back to dairy for a short time. “Sometimes I take a multivitamin,” Rouse said. “Or I’ll take Vitamin C when I’m sick, but I’m not very consistent about taking any kind of supplement mostly because I’m lazy.”

Eventually, she realized supplements weren’t necessary for her when she ate a varied diet.

And a varied diet- including vegetables, pastas and even mock meats- is exactly what Barbi Lazarus, 29, says she eats. She takes B12, vitamin D and an iron supplement every morning at breakfast. And she says she’s perfectly fine with sticking to that schedule.

Courtesy of Barbi Lazarus

Barbi Lazarus/Photo courtesy of Barbi Lazarus

“It’s not a hassle at all. I literally have this cute vintage bowl sitting on our kitchen counter beside the sink where I keep my three little pill bottles in there. So every morning when I carry my plate from the kitchen to the table, I just carry that little bowl with me as well and just take it all at the same time,” Lazarus said.

Asik and Byron agree that vegans can be healthy if they pay attention to what they eat.

“Ideally, a [regular] person’s diet is mostly vegan, but has a little bit of added protein to it,” Byron said.

“I think veganism could be a healthy diet. People who are vegan just really need to plan their diets out well or take the appropriate supplements,” Asik said.


The reasons for being vegan

Samantha Bridges 

Here are the 3 main reasons why people decide to make the switch to veganism.

Have you ever wondered what motivates people to change their lifestyle? When it comes to veganism, people make the switch for different reasons. Here are three main motivators why people today choose to be vegan:

1. The environment

With the rise of the green movement, people want to protect their planet and the limited amount of resources on it. According to David Alexander of the Toronto Vegetarian Association, industrialized farming is one of the worst environmental offenders due to human consumption of milk, eggs and meat. Some people can’t help but question where their food is coming from and veganism appeals to them as a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Alexander believes the rise in veganism is because people are more aware of our effect on the planet.

“It’s a new phenomenon because more people have become aware of the environmental hazards in the last few years. There’s cases of agricultural waste, cases of soil contamination which is having a huge impact on climate change,” he said.

2. To become healthier

Another popular reason for switching to veganism is the desire to live healthier. In recent years more people have been choosing veganism to lower their risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to dietician Andrea Glenn. With the proliferation of vegan-friendly health food stores and restaurants, it’s become easier for people to make everyday vegan choices for a healthier lifestyle.

“A lot of people think of struggle when they consider going vegan. People worry a lot about protein and how they’re going to get it if they eliminate meat, but the main thing is to eat beans, nuts and seeds and then add lots of tofu,” says Glenn.

“I always tell my patients it’s about portion sizes. Changing your diet, a lot of the time it has to do with cutting back on the amount you eat,” says Glenn.

Toronto resident Alan Witz has been vegetarian for 15 years and vegan for the last three. He believes veganism can be motivated by multiple factors:

“To me being vegan is all about being reasonable. You need to understand why you’re doing it and it has to be for the right reasons. To me, vegan has two meanings: healthier diet versus animal rights,” Witz said.

3. Animal welfare

One of the oldest and most popular reasons for going vegan is the concern for animal rights. Centuries ago, some of the earliest vegetarians in ancient India and Greece were motivated by compassion for animal rights and non-violence. Now, since the start of PETA in 1980, the fight for animal rights has remained on of the leading causes of vegan and vegetarianism. “There have been more investigations into specific farms and what happens to the animals. It’s one of the oldest reasons on why people are vegan and with the growth of PETA, people nowadays are starting to ask more questions and taking a stand against cruelty,” Alexander said.

“People are more aware of what is happening around them, and with animal rights there’s more awareness of the cause,” says Witz.

With environmental concern, healthier living and animal rights, it’s clear that the vegan uprise is not slowing down. It’s important to understand the reasons behind veganism because it’s more than a lifestyle change-it’s also a serious commitment to something you believe in.

The vegan vacationer

Samantha Bridges 

Travelling to a new city can be challenging. You’re entering into unchartered territory and you think to yourself, “What should I pack?” “What hotel am I going to stay at?” For vegans the question of “What am I going to eat?” also comes to mind. Food is a big part of our culture across the globe and it can be a culture shock for someone. With the right tips, traveling as a vegan can be easy the next time you plan a trip.

So what is like travelling as a vegan? Today it’s becoming easier than one would think. Many international restaurants and airlines are vegan-friendly, making it easier for the person to have everything they need for their trip. Vegan traveller Maria Giurcn and author of How To Travel The World As A Vegan, says her journey as a vegan has been easy to maintain and offers these helpful tricks.

“I maintain my values by packing some vegan snacks and pre-packaged meals in my luggage. A few camping companies prepare freeze-dried vegan meals which I find helpful. I also like to use airlines that are vegan-friendly as well, “she said.

Giurcan knows well that every trip can present challenges. So what happens when you might not have the option to go to a vegan-friendly restaurant?

“The main challenge is when you’re in a tour group and they have already set up a specific restaurant in mind. If this happens, I just ask the tour guide in advance to ask the restaurant for a vegan meal. I bring my own packaged vegan meals in case there’s no options,” Giurcan said.

Think of being vegan as a life philosophy: Know what you’re eating and where it’s coming from. Food writer Adam Waxman, though not vegan says even he encountered meal challenges while travelling to the southern U.S.

“I was travelling in the south and everything was fried. I was sitting in a diner and I went to order a salad and they looked at me like I was crazy,” says food expert Adam Waxman.

He advises vegans to do lots of food research in advance, and warns, “You won’t want to go to a typical diner.”

If you’re travelling for pleasure, find places that suit your lifestyle and where you know a little bit. Being prepared is essential, and researching is a quick and easy way of setting yourself up for opportunities rather than challenges. Waxman believes you should treat your veganism like a religion because it’s all about the attitude that you carry. Have the confidence to say, “No I can’t eat that” and find something else.

A bigger challenge is living in a new country. It takes a lot to adjust to the life you’re living now as opposed to the one you had back home. Your everyday life tasks such as grocery shopping and cooking becomes harder because you may not have the same quality of food you had back home. Toronto native Danika Cahill, who moved to Australia in early August, has found it harder than anticipated to live in a new country.

“I’ve been living in a hostel for two months and even though I love it here, there isn’t an oven. I’m tired of frying and boiling, I miss baking vegetables!” she said.

“Even though it’s been a little more challenging than I anticipated, I’ve been eating this way for so long it’s like second nature to me.”

Don’t be overwhelmed when planning your next trip. It’s just going to take a little more community and internet sleuthing to make you feel at peace. Learning recipes, researching local grocery stores and vegan restaurants in your area are just a few tricks to help with the preplanning. Reach out to online vegan bloggers, Twitter or Facebook groups that offer advice on where to eat, that way you will feel you’re prepared to visit your destination. Remember vegans; you’re there for the experience, so enjoy what the world has to offer.