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Canadian pairs champ Meagan Duhamel credits vegan diet for good health

Meagan Duhamel packs her suitcases for competitions like she's about to board a boat for a desert island.

Among her skating dresses and track suits she'll tuck carefully wrapped cartons of almond milk, homemade bread, and enough nuts and seeds to satisfy a family of squirrels.

It's not easy being a "Skinny Bitch."

"It does make my luggage very heavy," Duhamel said, laughing.

The 26-year-old figure skater from Lively, Ont., who recently captured the Canadian pairs title with partner Eric Radford, became a vegan three years ago.

Her diet, she says, is a big reason for her good health and skating success.

She adopted the diet in 2008 when she purchased a copy of the best-selling book "Skinny Bitch" in an airport bookstore. She read the book — which advocates a vegan diet — from cover to cover in one sitting. The next morning she purged her kitchen of all animal products.

"The suggestion is to wean into it slowly, but I kind of do everything all or nothing so I was like, 'I'm just going to do this and see how it goes,'" Duhamel said. "Everybody was like, 'I don't think this is a very good idea, you're going to be malnourished,' and they were all telling me it was a bad idea.

"The more people that told me that, the more I wanted to do it so I could prove them wrong. In the end, it's been one of the best things I've ever done in my life."

"Skinny Bitch" advocates for a vegan diet — which prohibits all animal products — based on both its health benefits and because of animal cruelty.

"I guess I'm a very compassionate person so hearing about animal abuse kind of triggered something in me that maybe I should try it," Duhamel said.

"I'm really into health and fitness and wellness, so this kind of tied into it. I thought I was just going to do it until the (2010) Olympics, but then I didn't go to the Olympics, and then I ended up liking it so much, I think I'll be a vegan for the rest of my life."

Duhamel is in good company. Former NHLer Mike Zigomanis, who's currently playing for the AHL's Toronto Marlies, is a vegan. So is former American sprint star Carl Lewis, former NHL tough guy Georges Laraque, MMA fighter Mac Danzig, Canadian triathlete and ultramarathoner Brendan Brazier and former Toronto Raptors forward John Salley.

"It's becoming more and more popular," said Trionne Moore, the lead nutritionist for the Canadian Sports Centre of Ontario.

Moore said its benefits come from minimizing processed foods — more nutrients and fewer chemicals —and avoiding the contaminants that are found in conventionally raised livestock.

"Everything in the body works together and if you want the machine of your body to work well you have to fuel it properly," Duhamel said. "My energy is so much better, I don't hit that wall at 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I sleep well, my skin is better, everything just feels well.

"And it transfers into my attitude, everything in my life has just become a lot calmer, everything I'm putting in me is clean and genuine and organic and in turn, the way I live my life has started to follow that path."

Duhamel stands just five feet tall, but boasts the muscle definition of a bodybuilder.

"You see a lot of disordered eating in female athletes and this is a really easy way for me to maintain that ideal competition weight all the time," she said. "And it's really not that hard, I never had a problem, I stopped eating all animal products and never looked back."

But planning her diet can be like a part-time job as she squeezes in cooking and baking between training, her studies in holistic health, and the two nights a week she spends coaching.

"I barely (find the time)," Duhamel said. "Usually on Sunday I'll make dishes, like a barley and kidney bean dish, and that's something I can eat for lunch every day throughout the week. And I'll make my muffins and cupcakes."

Duhamel has battled numerous injuries including two stress fractures, a bulging disc in her back and a nerve problem in her leg that left her foot numb. She nearly retired after she and former partner Craig Buntin failed to qualify for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"I always assumed I would retire then, when I would close my eyes and I would envision my life, it kind of ended in 2010, I never looked beyond it," she said.

"When we didn't make the Olympic team and I went home to my apartment, I remember waking up the next day and I was like 'I don't know what to do,' every day I woke up for the 2010 Olympics and that's when it hit me: 'OK, I still want to do this, I still want to skate.'"

Duhamel took six weeks off to heal her body and then teamed up with Radford, a native of Balmertown, Ont., who she'd already known for most of her career.

The two skated an almost flawless performance to win the Canadian pairs title last month in Moncton, N.B., and are gunning for a medal at the ISU Four Continents this week in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"It's definitely been an amazing experience and I think deciding not to retire after 2010 was the right decision," Duhamel said. "Eric and I, I guess you can say we've found our skating soulmates in each other. There's been not a single day since we started skating together that we haven't loved coming to the rink."

Duhamel believes their stiffest competition in Colorado should come from China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. The Chinese were second at Skate Canada this past fall, finishing one spot ahead of Duhamel and Radford. They're known for their throw quadruple Salchows and quadruple twists.

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