by Carah Wertheimer
To most of us, Canadian pair skater Meagan Duhamel is living the dream. An Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalist, two-time World Champion Figure Skater, and seven-time Canadian National Skating Champion, Duhamel and partner Eric Radford are currently skating their way around the world with an active touring schedule following their 2018 post-Olympic retirement.
Despite all the skating glory, it’s actually Duhamel’s plant-based lifestyle that has her most fired up.
On December 1, 2008 – yes, she remembers the exact date – a 23-year-old Duhamel suddenly ditched her junk and processed food ways for a whole food plant-based diet. It all started in an airport bookstore when a bestselling, catchy-titled book about veganism, “Skinny Bitch: A No-Nonsense, Tough-Love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want To Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous!” caught her eye.
Duhamel stayed up all night reading and promptly launched her plant-based journey the next morning. Not only hasn’t she looked back sine, she said that she’s never veered from her plant-based diet and hasn’t ever been tempted to. The rest, of course, is plant-based athletic history.
“I’ve achieved a lot in my sporting career and in my life. But deciding and dedicating myself to a plant-based lifestyle is the proudest decision I’ve ever made, the proudest achievement I have ever had. I think that it changed my life. It opened up so many doors and opportunities, it opened up so much in my life that I didn’t even know about,” she said.
Going Plant-Based “Overnight”
Prior to going vegan, food was way off Duhamel’s radar.
“I ate anything, mostly Quizno’s and Subway. I was super poor and that was pretty cheap food, where I could get a meal. I literally ate cereal for breakfast and dinner sometimes. I never thought too much about nutrition or what I put in my body,” she said.
“I honestly didn’t know anything about being a vegan. I never heard of vegans, I didn’t know a vegan, I was like, ‘Why would people not drink milk?’ Because I didn’t know. I thought so naively, ‘Milk makes us strong. We’re supposed to drink milk. We need calcium.’ Because that’s what my parents had taught,” she said.
“Skinny Bitch” contained information about health problems associated with dairy, meat, sugar and soda.
“That night, when I finally finished reading the book, I said, “OK, that’s it! I’m becoming vegan and I’m quitting diet Coke,’ because I drank a lot of diet Coke.” Becoming vegan, especially because Duhamel had never enjoyed meat, happened literally overnight. (Quitting diet Coke, on the other hand, was much harder, she said, taking a couple of years!)
“I woke up in the morning. I cleaned out everything from my fridge. I drank my coffee black because I didn’t have anything but (dairy) milk to put in it. I went to the bookstore and I was like, ‘OK, I need to learn something. I need to buy some books.’ I started looking all over the internet, looking for ideas and recipes, reading research articles,” she said.
“About a year after starting this is when I started studying holistic nutrition. Wellness and food became such as passion of mine that I didn’t know existed,” she said.
Fortunately, Duhamel found two vegan restaurants and some health food stores in Montreal where she lives. The trickiest thing, she said, was learning to scrutinize labels carefully for animal derivatives, for example, such as milk and cheese powders in bread and crackers.
Pushback from Her Skating Coach and Partner
While Duhamel’s family and friends were supportive, even buying her vegan cookbooks for Christmas that year, her skating coach and partner were an altogether different story.
“I remember the first day I went to the rink and I was so proud that I was going to be a vegan. I was so proud and excited. And my skating partner and coach just wanted to burst my bubble. They said, ‘You can’t be a vegan. Vegans are sick and they’re pale, they’re malnourished.’ And I said, ‘Do you know a vegan that’s sick and pale and malnourished?’ And both of them said, ‘Well, no, but they are.’”
“I said, if they are, then I will prove to you that they don’t have to be, and I will not be. Having them think that this wouldn’t work just urged me to do it more. I thought, ‘I’m going to be the healthiest vegan.’ Because of that comment, that’s what I decided,” Duhamel said.
Duhamel’s determination paid off. In the ten years since she’s been vegan, she’s only been sick once.
“If anything, it’s helped me not be sick! I don’t even get a cold or anything. My immune system is so strong because of what I feed it,” she said.
And before long, Duhamel’s coach was asking her to help the other skaters adopt healthier eating patterns – although not necessarily to become vegan.
“He would say, ‘Go tell them about that birdseed that you eat,’” she said. “It took him forever to realize I eat real food.”
Personal and Professional Transformation
Duhamel experienced dramatic change, personally and professionally, from going plant-based.
“Going plant-based definitely improved my (athletic) performance. That was really when my career started to skyrocket, it was exactly around this time,” Duhamel said. “There were so many things that changed.”
Although she wasn’t technically overweight, her body “kind of slimmed down” and got more “tight.” Her weight no longer fluctuated up and down, it was stable no matter whether it was training season or not.
“I also noticed that my skin was glowing, almost like a pregnancy glow in my skin, and I was more energized. More importantly, for me was that I was more focused and concentrated when I went to train. I wasn’t in la-la land. I was so focused on what I had to do,” Duhamel said.
This was a welcome improvement over her junk food days.
“It was like I would focus and then lose my attention span, focus and lose my attention span. It was like, ‘Oh, it’s 3 o’clock, I need to go have a coffee and a snack.’ Now that’s not the case. I can focus so intensely and concentrate so well,” she said. “Through that my training improved, through that my skating improved, and I kind of took on the world from there.”
Duhamel also underwent a personal transformation.
“Over time I started feeling more patient and more compassionate. I’m a very high-strung person, I still am, but I’ve become a lot calmer and a lot more patient and understanding than I ever was before,” she said. She thinks her more peaceful mood comes from not putting the fear that animals experience when they are killed into her body.
“I don’t know what else to attribute it to,” she said.
Moving Toward a Plant-Based Career
Duhamel has her sights set on a plant-based career path. In her “next life” she plans to open a whole food plant-based café that offers cooking and nutrition classes for kids and adults and to have a little shop to sell healthy and easy vegan kitchen supplies. Duhamel also wants to create a wellness program for athletes, particularly to help young athletes take better care of their bodies. And she wants to keep helping animals.
“It became about compassion for animals. It started with a nutrition-based reasoning, that’s why I started my vegan adventure, but the compassion that ended up coming for animals – I’ve rescued a dog from a dog meat farm in Korea. I’ve done so much incredible work and helped so many people and I want to continue to do so. I want to live my life spreading the good word about what a plant-based life can do,” she said.
As if international competitive skating weren’t enough, Duhamel has also been laying the groundwork for her plant-based career. From 2010-12 she studied Holistic Nutrition at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition from 2010-12, which helped her become a healthier vegan.
“I really enjoyed doing the program for Holistic Nutrition because I learned so much about different foods that I just would’ve never tried before. I started learning about what’s in the foods I’m eating. What type of nutritional density does it have? OK, I’m eating a bowl of quinoa, but what am I getting out of this? I’m making a smoothie, but what’s in it, what’s it going to give me? I always want to know what I’m getting out of the food I’m eating,” Duhamel said.
In 2018, Duhamel completed a second Holistic Nutrition Program, this time with a focus on Sports and Fitness nutrition and with a vegetarian nutrition unit, at Alive Academy in British Columbia.
Favorite Cookbooks and Resources
When Duhamel went plant-based back in 2008, resources were few and far between, she said, and social media wasn’t what it is today. The resources she did find became essential aids along the path.
Duhamel’s very first (and still all-time favorite) plant-based authority is Toronto’s “Oh She Glows!” blogger Angela Liddon, who now has more than 1 million followers.
“When I first became vegan, she was the first person I found that shared vegan information and vegan recipes on her blog. She was my inspiration. From day one I was like, ‘What’s Angela posting? What’s Angela doing?’ I made all of her recipes. I listened to everything she said,” Duhamel said. “She’s now gone to a higher level of fame than when I started following her. She was my very first vegan inspiration.”
Still on the Fence? Duhamel Shares Tips for Going Plant-Based
Duhamel offered advice for those who may be on the fence about going whole food plant-based.
- Start by including more plant-based foods into your diet little by little.
- Wander around the grocery store beyond the meat and dairy aisles.
- Spend more time in the produce aisle. Experiment with some new fruits and vegetables.
- Add more whole grains to your diet.
- Every now and then add a milk alternative in your cereal or your coffee.
- Gradually increase your use of the milk alternative.
- Take it step by step like that.
“I’m very rare to have gone all in all at once, that’s so rare. I do realize that, and I don’t encourage other people to do that – unless you’re as crazy as I am,” Duhamel joked.
Meagan Duhamel’s Overnight Chia Oats
- ½ c. rolled oats
- ¾ c. almond milk (or other plant-based milk alternative)
- 1 mashed banana
- 2 tbs. chia seeds
- cinnamon to taste
- peanut butter (optional)
Combine ingredients in a mason jar. Place in refrigerator and soak overnight. Enjoy in the morning!
Optional: Top with other fruits, seeds or nuts.
**This post contains affiliate links. Anything you purchase will help to support Plant-Based Cooking at no extra cost to you.