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.