How I eased my way into the vegan lifestyle and how you can too
I grew up helping my parents load up the freezer with their beef purchases and eating animal-based foods daily and never gave it a second thought.
Meat and potatoes were staples for our meals but as I matured, especially after high school and into college, my eating habits and food choices changed to what I believed to be healthier options.
In 1999, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and a few years later, chronic migraines. Soon after the fibromyalgia diagnosis, I started an exercise routine and decided I was going to live a more health-focused lifestyle. I researched fitness, food and all things health so I could help myself feel better and hopefully prevent future conditions from developing.
Fitness became a habit in my life. So did drinking plenty of water, getting a full night’s sleep and practicing stress management techniques.
I started eating more fruits and vegetables and trying vegetarian-based foods more often. I gradually became a vegetarian over the years even though I faced many comments and questions from friends and family about my veggie dogs and burgers and my other food choices. I continued eating this way because I enjoyed these foods and it felt right for me.
Game-changing eye contact and Darla
In 2009, my husband and I were driving on the highway and we passed a transport truck with chickens inside packed on top of each other, with feathers and legs sticking out of the holes and sides of the truck. I was in the passenger seat and I glanced over at this truck and one of the chickens looked me right in the eye. This eye contact is when I decided no more chicken for me. That moment of gaze felt like a message to me. The shift had begun.
In 2016, I visited a petting farm where they had several animals, including chickens, for visitors to enjoy. Volunteer staff were available to answer questions and help tend to the animals. I noticed a volunteer holding a chicken and petting it. I kept watching her pet this chicken thinking to myself, do you pet a chicken? I’m not shy so I approached her with this chicken in her arms and asked, “You can hold a chicken and pet it?” She smiled and said, “Oh yes, this is Darla, she is so sweet, she is my friend and I pick her up and pet her all the time, she is one of my favourites.”
I learned that day that chickens can be pets. Chickens CAN BE PETS!
Game-changer. I NEVER ate chicken again.
This opened my eyes to think that all animals can be pets. To this day I’m so grateful for the lesson that volunteer taught me. Farm animals can be loved and cared for as pets instead of treated as simply something to have for food on our plate. I started to grapple with this idea and what the difference was between which animals I choose to eat.
Is it society that decides, me, or something else? Does it have to be this way for me? I had this turmoil inside me and it kept tugging at me.
I declare myself a big animal lover. So why was I still eating them? I was still eating dairy, eggs, fish and seafood. Simple answers: the taste, convenience, and I didn’t have a big enough compelling reason not to. Until I was given the information to think differently.
In late 2017, I watched a plant-based documentary with my husband. I cannot tell you how much this opened my eyes, again. Wide-open.
The floodgates of information were opened for me from watching this documentary. This sparked so much action and curiosity inside me. I googled everything.
I spent hours and hours researching, learning, reading studies and gathering information. I reached out to my only vegan friend and asked her all the questions possible, probably to the point where I annoyed the heck out of her. The vegan community is very welcoming, supportive and respectful, including my friend. I researched the facts and stats in the documentary and started following new accounts on social media to help educate myself.
I knew I was becoming vegan and I was excited!
I didn’t wait until I “felt ready” or had “all the information,” I started making changes right away and was inspired to do more.
The solidifying shift
Some of the videos and documentaries that I watched contained footage of factory farms and interviews with people talking about animal abuse. These images and the information I learned are seared into my brain. The pain I felt, the tears I cried… I made myself watch until I couldn’t anymore. I saw enough, heard enough, and read enough of the horrors that go on, not just raising animals for food but animal testing for products we buy. This changed me forever.
By the end of December 2017, I was vegan.
It felt like the right decision for animals and it just so happens that my shift to veganism was also beneficial for my health and the environment. I found new recipes, and plant-based protein replacements and researched what common pitfalls people made as they transitioned to veganism, so hopefully, I wouldn’t make them too. I dived in and gathered as much information as I could. I spoke to my pharmacist and doctor to ensure that any new supplements and changes in eating would be acceptable with my medications and medical conditions.
As a further step into the vegan lifestyle, when my products for personal care and cleaning ran out, I replaced them with cruelty-free options. This also required research and a bit of a learning curve to find the authentic symbols on the products that represent cruelty-free.
What’s the one thing I would change about living a vegan lifestyle? I would have started years earlier.
In my professional and personal life, I don’t tell people what to do or how to live. That never works and it’s disrespectful. It’s always best for people to make their own decisions and to respect each other’s choices. If you’re taking the step towards adding more plant-based meals into your life or making the shift to plant-based eating, please know your choices are positively impacting more than your health and there is a large supportive community available to you.
I know that my choices have an impact and that one person can make a difference. That’s very powerful when you really think about it. There’s power in your choices. Each day I make a conscious choice of how I exercise that power and you can too.
Food for thought.
5 ways to make the shift to plant-based eating
1 Research: Seek out new recipes and ways to prepare your new foods. Gather new meat alternatives and experiment with their textures and all the ways you can enjoy them in your dishes. Find out what supplements you may require based on your food choices and lifestyle activities. Read nutrition labels to learn about ingredients and where animal products may be hiding. Learn about our food and agriculture systems.
2 Ramp up: Lean into this new way of eating. Take your time, be patient with yourself. Ramp up more of your meals to plant-based meals. Get ready by planning ahead for your meals and learn what you need for ingredients and food prep based on your research.
3 Reach out: Meet or connect with other plant-based eaters. Learn from others, ask questions, get guidance and lean on them for support.
4 Reinvestigate: Be curious. Explore, discover and uncover! Learn what new foods and textures you like. Approach it with curiosity and a beginner’s mindset.
5 Relish: Have fun discovering all about this new way of eating and what new foods you can add to your plate! Take pleasure, you may discover new taste buds! Have fun cooking new foods and recipes, and enjoy the process! Think of it as an adventure.
Plant-based resources to guide your path forward
Books: The China Study by T. Colin Campbell & Thomas M. Campbell, Becoming Vegan: The Complete Reference to Plant-Based Nutrition by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, Whole-Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell.
Podcasts: The Plant-Based News Podcast, Main Street Vegan Podcast, No Meat Athlete Radio
BONUS Resource List!
Cookbooks: Hot for Food: Vegan Comfort Classics by Lauren Toyota, Vega Richa’s Everyday Kitchen by Richa Hingle, Oh She Glows Cookbook by Angela Lindon
Doris Ward is a mind-body fitness coach who helps others build their optimal fitness, body confidence and stress resilience through mindful movement, education and coaching. She is a regular contributor to OptiMYz magazine.
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