{MIND} {BODY} {SPIRIT}

When I’m not blogging, or going to school or the gym or trying to sustain a somewhat sane existence I actually have a full-time job.  I am fortunate enough to say that I work with maybe some of the best people on the planet.  And they like to ask me all kinds of health and nutrition questions.  And I am always happy to answer them.

So when some of the girls told me they were transitioning to a plant-based diet I thought it might be easiest to write a post about it.  Adopting a vegetarian diet can seem overwhelming at first.  Most people cut meat out of their diet and look down at their dinner plates only to realize that the plate is half empty and wonder what the heck they are suppose to eat.  There is also a huge emotional and spiritual component to plant-based eating as well.

I have been vegetarian for the last 3 years (read about my journey here) and have flirted with veganism throughout this time.  Most recently I have started eating eggs and dairy on occasion and I finally feel like I have a really great sense of balance going on.  When I first decided I would stop eating meat (March 1, 2008 – the night before I decided to commit to a vegetarian lifestyle I got a dirty ol’ quarter chicken dinner from Swiss Chalet and chowed down while watching the Hills…truly not my finest moment but we’re not about judgement here at Body By Nature, are we) I had no idea what to do, what to eat and how to cook vegetables. 

I was like a newborn baby in the kitchen.  Most of my meals centred around tofu and faux ground meat (in the name of all that is good and holy, please never let me see you consuming this crap)  It’s taken me three long years and a lot of mistakes in the kitchen but once I got the hang of what it really means to be vegetarian it has been nothing but a happy and healthy lifestyle for me.

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Advice for making the transition to a plant-based diet:

BODY

Invest in a few great cookbooks, this will help you with meal planning and grocery shopping.  My favourites include: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone and reFresh by Ruth Tal.

Vegan/Vegetarian blogs (ahem…) will be your new best friends for support and amazing recipes.  And there are some fabulous ones: Oh She Glows, Happy Herbivore, Fully Nourished, Vegan Culinary Crusade and Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen

Consider taking a vegetarian cooking class.  If you live in Toronto check out: Marni Wasserman, Meghan Telpner, Arvinda’s and Live NutritionThe Big Carrot and Loblaw’s also offer vegetarian workshops.

The biggest question I am always asked is “where do you get protein?”  It’s true that the protein that comes from an animal is different from that which comes from a plant however humans don’t need nearly the amount that we North Americans consume.  A well-balanced vegetarian can provide you with the nutrients that you need.  What does well-balanced mean?  Whole grains, beans, lentils, quinoa (which is a seed, a complete protein and an excellent base for meals) nuts, seeds and dark, leafy greens and superfoods.  Protein powders can be great, especially if you are active and there are two really great brands that are popular with the vegetarian crowd – Sunwarrior Raw Vegan Protein powder (my most favourite thing in the world) and Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer. If you are new to the smoothie world, see my smoothie guide

B12 and Vitamin D3 are available from animal sources (including eggs and dairy) however there are vegetarian sources available in fortified foods, nutritional yeast and supplements.  Again, note because they are not from an animal, they are different and absorbed differently in the body.  I am iron deficient as a vegetarian, but I was also iron deficient as a meat-eater so it’s not always about where the vitamins and minerals are coming from but how they are absorbed by the body.  If you have any concerns, see a Registered Holistic Nutritionist or Naturopath and they will be able to properly assess your needs.

MIND

Educate yourself.  Becoming veg for health or because you really like animals is great.  But I think it is so important to have a deep understand and appreciation for where our food comes from.  This goes for veggies and non-veggies alike.  Some great resources are: Toronto Vegetarian Association, The Vegan Society and Farm Sanctuary.

When family and friends find out about your new lifestyle they are going to have questions.  Your 83-year old great aunt might not get it when you tell her you no longer eat meat.  Have patience with them, it might take some getting used to. 

Don’t become a preacher.  When you find out the awful things that go on in factory-farms and slaughterhouses, you’ll feel outraged.  You’ll want to tell everyone you know to watch Earthlings and write a letter to their local government.  But guess what?  Not everyone wants to hear about it.  Although it would be nice if every one took an interest in animal-welfare, the second you become a preacher and not an educator, people will not listen. 

What kind of vegetarian do you want to be?  A label is really just a word and not a definition of who you are as a person but here’s a run down of the different types of veggies that exist:

Vegan – Abstains from all products that come from an animal, this includes meat, dairy, eggs, leather, fur, feathers, products tested on animals, products with animal ingredients and honey (although honey is said to be debatable)

Vegetarian – Includes animals products like eggs, dairy and honey.  Within this there is Lacto-vegetarian, includes dairy but not eggs and Ovo-vegetarian, includes eggs but not dairy.

Pescetarian – Includes eggs, dairy and seafood (fish and shellfish)

Raw – Can be vegetarian or not.  A raw diet means no food is heated above 118 degrees and diet consists of 75-80% raw foods.

At the end of the day, you need to eat however it is that brings you the most health and happiness.  We like to put categorize and put ourselves in boxes but this doesn’t give us freedom to move around.  The body changes daily and you need to figure out what works best for you.

SPIRIT

This journey might feel daunting and lonely.  People will question you and your choices and you may wonder if it’s all worth it.  Stay strong and have faith in yourself and your beliefs.

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Do you have any advice for new vegetarians?

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