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.

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Guess who’s coming to dinner

Samantha Bridges

The date is marked in your calendar. Your friend is having a dinner party on Saturday night. You can’t figure out whether to be excited or dread it because they’re making their famous pot roast, and as a vegan you can’t even stand the thought of looking at it. For most vegans, this is a common scenario.

Knowing your table manners, bringing the host or hostess a gift are typical examples of polite dinner etiquette when going to somebody’s house. But for a vegan, a large dinner crowd can feel overwhelming, however it’s important to make your dietary restrictions known. Whether you’re invited out for dinner, or going to a party, as a vegan don’t make your friends cater to you if you haven’t helped prepare yourself first. There are certain steps you must take when being a dinner guest.

When someone invites to you dinner, let them know what you can and can’t eat. That way your host will have plenty of time to prepare something separate for you. Toronto etiquette specialist Louise Fox believes common courtesy can go a long way to help vegans enjoy a dinner party.

“Sometimes vegans think that it would be more trouble to tell the guest of their restrictions, so they wait till they’re at dinner to say anything. You can’t expect the host to accommodate you if you don’t say anything before,” Fox said.

When you have dietary restrictions one solution is telling the person, “It’s okay, I will just bring my own thing,” Or simply eat before you go to the party so you don’t starve. Los Angeles vegan chef Brian Patton learned this the hard way.

“In my first month of being vegan, I was at a fancy dinner party at a friend’s house and they were serving a bunch of hors d’oeuvres. None of them were vegan, and since I was inexperienced at being vegan I didn’t eat anything before hand. So I ended up eating nothing that night,” he said.  “My stomach felt like it was eating itself.”

Help the host during busier times of the year such as holidays. Often the host has a signature dish they want to perfect, and preparing a vegan option may seem like too much work. But there is still a way for everyone to be happy. Kristin Lajeunesse, a vegan blogger of “Will Travel for Vegan Food,” believes that both parties can meet in the middle.

“If the host wants to do all the cooking, ask them to send you their favourite recipes,” she says. “There are a bunch of great vegan options for the holidays. It won’t seem like extra work if it’s done ahead of time.”

She says it’s important to keep in mind that dinner is about enjoying time with family and friends.

The trick to being a great dinner guest is knowing what to do before going to the party. Let the host know about your restrictions immediately or bring your own separate meal. Also help the host research some quick, delicious vegan options for everyone, so next time you’re invited to a dinner party, you won’t dread being that pain-in-the-butt guest. Embrace the company of your friends and family with a little communication and planning ahead.

How to satisfy your vegan sweet tooth

Alissa Heidman

Many individuals choose a vegan diet based on their desire to live a healthy lifestyle. While proper nutrition and exercise is certainly important, a balanced diet includes a sweet treat now and then. Whether you’re a beginning vegan or a veteran vegan you need to know how satisfy that sweet tooth without compromising your vegan values.

If you’re not a whiz in the kitchen don’t fret! There are a lot of products out there that are technically vegan to satisfy your sweet and salty cravings. Lesia Kohut, a chef and founder of LPK’s Culinary Groove in Toronto says because veganism is trending, these products are becoming easier to spot on grocery shelves.

“Companies nowadays big and small are jumping on whatever marketing bandwagon they can. You’re going to see a lot of vegan stuff out there [that] wasn’t necessarily labeled ‘vegan’ before,” Kohut says.

Anne-Marie Campbell is a Toronto vegan who lives very healthily as an MMA athlete but admits she does enjoy junk food like sweet and salty popcorn on occasion when she isn’t training.

“There’s a lot of vegan junk food at the grocery store,” Campbell says. “Some good ones are Oreos, Twizzlers, Sour Patch Kids, Ritz Crackers, So Delicious ice cream and frozen desserts and Tofurky frozen pizza.”

When she’s enjoying time with friends or family, she stacks up on mixed nuts, tortilla chips with salsa and vegan cheese and crackers.

“I also really like dark chocolate-covered coconut cubes and almonds,” she says.

Kohut has been creating vegan desserts for over 15 years. She took home the win for Toronto’s “Best Professionally Crafted Vegan Dessert” in 2009 and 2010 with her vanilla bars and peanut butter Nanaimo bars. Some of her favourite ingredients are certified organic sugar, coconut milk, dark Camino chocolate, organic peanut butter and of course fruit. She makes her own vegan ice cream with a coconut milk based sorbet which is sweetened with agave and other fruits that are in season.

Kohut says you don’t need to be a chef to come up with your own mouthwatering sweet creations. Random ingredients in your kitchen can do the trick. Such as this dessert idea she pulled together last-minute on her birthday:

“I took coconut milk and organic peanut butter and I whipped [them] together. Then I had some fresh raspberries available and some organic frozen blueberries. I just made myself a parfait,” Kohut says.

Kristen Bethel Lepine is a Toronto-based vegan educator and founder of a mobile vegan cooking school called Know Thy Food. She works with a lot of beginner vegans teaching them how to transition their diet and cooking.

“While I teach whole food vegan cooking focusing on unprocessed and simple ingredients – I still enjoy going out for cupcakes, cinnamon buns and vegan French fries,” Bethel Lepine says. “I know that vegan food trends are like any other ones and I can tell you that when vegans find anything sweet that they can eat, they are usually pretty excited.”

Creating your own vegan sweets is all about finding alternatives to the animal products use in most non-vegan treats. This includes dairy, honey, bone char refined sugar and gelatin to name a few. The way around this is finding alternative fats and sweeteners that work as well as animal-based counterparts.

Bethel Lepine says she uses dates, raisins, coconut sugar and sometimes stevia which are all great plant-based sources of sugar for her vegan desserts. Her recipe for vegan date squares is a quick and easy dessert fix anyone can make at home.

“I like to mix oats with some virgin coconut oil, date paste with some cinnamon and nutmeg. You can pop it in the oven or you can put it in the fridge if you want it raw,” she says.

Having desserts and junky snacks in moderation is a way to stay on track and fulfill your cravings. You can do this by learning more from a vegan cooking class, filling your kitchen with vegan-labeled products and visiting your local vegan baker. Having sweets and snacks should never be a guilty pleasure – just a delicious one.