Like so many, when I was a child, my parents told me that if I wanted to be big and strong, I had to drink cow’s milk. And they wanted me to drink a lot of it. My father even had us drink a glass of milk along with our cheese pizza! I remember being sent to training as a kid with a water bottle filled with milk. Of course, I don’t blame them. Just as my parents, I didn’t know any better, either. I did as I was told. Everyone around me was drinking milk, so I didn’t see why I wouldn’t.
In 2006, I began skating with the National Team. As part of our training program, I was scheduled to see a nutritionist that worked for the National Team in Toronto. This was when my eyes truly opened to what foods I was putting into my body. The nutritionist made me an entire meal plan, and it happened to include cheese strings, among other (unhealthy) things. I didn’t know much about nutrition, but I found this an odd recommendation. According to the nutritionist, the calories, fat and protein content was the ideal combination for a training snack. But I had further thoughts. Aren’t those cheese strings completely processed? Are there any nutrients in them at all? Why would a professional recommend something that has no nutritional density? I questioned the cheese strings for a long time, and I decided not to include them in my meal plan. I had finally learned to think about food as fuel, and I became more curious about the foods I ate.
Fast-forward to December 2008. I was walking through the airport when I spotted a book that caught my eye. Skinny Bitch. What an odd title. I picked it up and skimmed through it, and I found it funny and interesting, so I bought it. I read the book in one night and the next morning I decided that I was going to become vegan. The authors made a compelling argument for the plant-based diet and offered a tough love approach that was hard to ignore. They rallied against the standard western diet staples such as meat, cheese, and sugar. I actually tried to quit Diet Coke that same night, but becoming vegan turned out to be a lot easier than quitting Diet Coke. (I eventually quit, it just took a lot longer).
It has now been just over 10 years since I spontaneously decided to change my life and rid my diet of any animal products, but despite this dramatic diet overhaul, I found it quite easy. As human beings in this society, we make choices every day about what we put into our bodies. I made the decision to stop putting animal products into my body, and I held myself accountable to that decision. I found alternatives for all my favorite foods and before long, I didn’t know what dairy cheese tasted like anymore. It didn’t take long before I started to feel the positive effects of my decision.
Dairy leads to inflammation, and for athletes, that is something we work tirelessly to avoid. Since I stopped eating dairy, I noticed major changes with my body. First of all, my skin started to shine. Dairy is known to lead to acne problems and my skin became so nourished and fresh when I removed dairy products. I then noticed changes that helped my athletic performance. I began recovering from training sessions faster. I trained the same as my skating partner, but I didn’t get injured or experience nagging pains or lactic acid buildup the way he did. After training, I focused on recovery and bringing down my inflammation, so I could train just as hard, if not harder, the next day. If I had been putting inflammatory dairy products into my body, I would not have recovered at the incredible rate I did, and I definitely wouldn’t have stayed injury-free like I did for the past 10 years. I also lost a few unwanted pounds. I can’t say I was “out of shape” before ditching dairy, but I definitely needed to get in better shape if I wanted to meet my athletic goals. I also began making healthier decisions once dairy products were no longer an option for me. A lot of the dairy foods we eat have tons of added sugar, including yogurts, cheeses, and milks. By avoiding these products, I also avoided excess sugars, which helped me reach my peak performance weight—that doesn’t fluctuate.
One day I decided to take responsibility for my choices. It is one of my proudest accomplishments. That day changed my life. I can confidently say I made the switch4good.
Meagan Duhamel is a 2-Time World Champion Figure Skater; Olympic medalist, and 7-Time Canadian National Champion in pairs figure skating. Visit Meagan’s wellness website at: https://www.lutzofgreens.com/