I was recently asked to give a talk about vegan fitness. I had to think about what valuable information and insights I bring to an audience…I mean, who doesn’t already know that it’s important to make consistent exercise a part of your lifestyle?
Exercise has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old, starting on the swim team, gymnastic team, dance classes, and later, after my growth spurt, volleyball in high school.
From there, I became a gym rat and personal trainer. I even won first place in the bikini division of the Fame World Championships, which I did to prove that it was possible as a vegan in fitness, at a time when many people didn’t even know what the word vegan meant, and those who did thought of vegans not as fitness buffs, but rather as scrawny hippies who grew armpit hair and didn’t wear deodorant.
What I found, working in fitness, was that the industry had very little concern for true health. Instead, it was all about what you looked like on the outside. And for me, having become a walking billboard for the strong, lean physique that was possible to build as a vegan, I put a ton of pressure on myself to stay in fighting shape in order to inspire others to go vegan.
I became programmed to believe that my worth was based on the shape of my body and it sent me down the road of disordered eating and a distorted body image.
To the world I looked like the shining example of a healthy, fit vegan, but I felt like a fraud because I was not healthy mentally or emotionally.
Maybe you have that voice inside your head that says, “I’ll be happy when… (fill in the blank). I’ll be happy when I lose this weight, or when I’ve got the body I’ve always wanted.”
Happiness and Weight Loss
Well, we’re here to tell you that happiness is not on the other side of weight loss. It’s actually the other way around! Weight loss is on the other side of happiness.
It’s important to change your mindset around exercise and (vegan) fitness from what most people use as motivation (a means to lose weight), to a means of being strong, healthy, and active into old age with weight loss often being a welcomed side effect.
In this episode, we give you three shifts that you can make starting today to create a vegan lifestyle that will result in a strong, healthy, fit body for life. These are shifts we help people make permanently through the Vegan Life Coach Academy membership.
Shift #1 is based on the philosophy that you can’t outrun your fork.
What I mean is that no matter how insanely hard you work out, if you’re not fueling your body with nutrient-packed whole plant foods, you won’t achieve a healthy, fit body, at least not for long.
First off, you can only over-train for so long before your body starts to break down from overuse injuries, to acute injuries, to adrenal fatigue. (I have experienced all three thanks to all my years of over-training).
Second, let me ask you a question: You know what burpees are, right?
Well most people, myself included, have a love/hate relationship with burpees because they are one of the toughest yet most effective total-body exercises that exist.
How many burpees do you think it takes to burn off the calories in just 3 Oreo cookies (which are accidentally vegan by the way)? Over 100! Yes, that’s right, so if you’ve ever eaten something, thinking, “It’s okay, I’ll burn off these calories at the gym tomorrow,” good luck! Constantly working out for the purpose of burning off calories you feel guilty about consuming will keep you spinning your wheels, frustrated, and exhausted.
So I encourage you to use food and exercise as complements to each other. Use food to fuel your body so that it can perform at it’s best, so you can be energized and feel strong day in and day out.
This leads me to Shift #2: Loving yourself unconditionally is a prerequisite for changing your body.
In other words, transformation occurs from the inside out. This can be a tough concept to wrap your head around, right?
We spend so much time and energy doing research and trying to find the right meal and workout plans to finally get us in good shape. But ultimately, what happens? How often do you eat something, knowing very well it’s not going to help your cause?
How many times do you find yourself in a cycle of self-sabotage, where you are super motivated, stick to a strict diet, and exercise like a crazy person, only to eventually find your willpower has run out, your life is completely out of balance, and you end up “falling off” the wagon, overeating, under-exercising, and ending up back where you started or worse off?
Well, what if we spent that time and energy first learning to respect and accept ourselves exactly as we are?
What if we truly loved ourselves, and started listening to our bodies, and making the choices that will serve us and our bodies best?
What if we started eating and exercising because we love our bodies, not because we hate them?
I’ll tell you, because we have helped hundreds of clients do just that.
I’ll tell you about Mary, who enrolled in my program because she was pre-diabetic, had hypertension, and a decent amount of weight to lose.
She, like so many, said to me, “I’ve tried everything!” to which I asked, have you tried not dieting, and not trying to lose weight by burning calories at the gym? Have you tried overcoming the mental and emotional hurdles you may not even know are standing in your way?
Well, she had been through some individual therapy for some serious trauma she experienced as a child and teen. Despite the therapy, she was still carrying around the weight of shame, and the belief that she was unlovable and unworthy.
We gave her a safe space to be vulnerable and the tools and coaching she needed to build a foundation of self-love, and when she did, everything else began to fall into place. When she began eating and exercising out of true love for herself, 25 pounds melted off, and she regained her health.
And finally, Shift #3: Get curious and find the fun in vegan fitness!
Let me tell you about my boyfriend Christian.
Christian grew up a band geek (his words, not mine), so music was his thing, whereas vegan fitness and sports were mine.
Before I met him, he had the goal of getting up to 185 pounds by building muscle (don’t us women love it when men complain about not being able to gain weight?!).
He had hired a trainer and was meal prepping as his trainer recommended. Side note: When I first looked in his kitchen I was horrified, I mean absolutely horrified…from turkey burgers and canned tuna, to terrible protein and other supplement powders, to diet coke and seltzer water sweetened with aspartame and Sucralose).
He was working his ass off at the gym and was seeing very little in the way of results.
He was beyond frustrated, and not long after we started dating, he got on board the vegan train but fell off the wagon when it came to exercise. “What’s the point?” he asked me.
Well, I threw a lot of points at him! I told him that getting big muscles was one aesthetic reason to workout, but what about all the benefits that would set him up for a lifetime of activity? The strength, mobility, flexibility, and agility you can get from different types of exercise. The heart health he could experience as he prevented heart disease. Fending off back problems and osteoporosis as well.
What if he could find motivation in wanting to feel his best and enjoy a high-level quality of life into old age? If you really think about it, our looks are going to change regardless. We get older, we get wrinkles, we get age spots, things sag, but if you’re able to continue to move with ease and access the joy and freedom from within, the golden years really will feel golden!
That being said, I like to get creative and have fun, which often means mixing things up.
I go through phases where I’m really into one type of physical activity, let’s say training and sparring Muay Thai, and then I’ll go through a phase where I’m into calisthenics, and then heavier lifting, or cycling, the possibilities are endless.
So recently, Christian and I came up with a competition between the two of us. I’d call it a friendly competition, but we’re both competitive so there’s a lot of friendly sh*t-talking taking place, let me tell you!
And what will happen after our competition? I’m not sure! Maybe Christian will be in the flow, feeling so good from the inside out he will keep it up on a more moderate level. Maybe he’ll be achy and ready to join me for some yoga. Maybe we’ll take couples yoga classes, or I’ll join him for some workouts at the park or track since. We’ll see! I’m not worried because there’s always a solution when you think outside the box.
What Do I Want to Do?
So ask yourself, “What could I do to make working out something I want to do?” Give it some thought!
Here are some ideas:
- Take on fun challenges.
- I’m a huge proponent of classes, though right now with the Pandemic they may have to be virtual. I really like the social/community aspect of classes, the energy, and accountability. Have you tried (Kick)boxing classes, indoor cycling, or boot camps?
- What about yoga, which has become a moving meditation I can’t live without. (And if you “hate yoga,” I get it. I resisted it for years until I found the style and instructors that worked for me at which point it was life-changing!)
- There are also programs that last a certain number of weeks/months which make it possible to really test your progress if that motivates you.
- And what about recreational sports like tennis, volleyball, cycling, or swimming that you could make part of your weekly routine?
Don’t think, just do! You talk yourself into going to work, and doing things for the people you love, not necessarily because you feel motivated, but because it’s a responsibility you’ve chosen. Time to choose exercise as one of those responsibilities!
I’ll finish up here with this thought…
You are not a body. You have a body. You are a soul.
Take care of your body so you have a healthy vessel for your soul to reside while you navigate this game we call life.
We encourage you to join our uniquely powerful and compassionate Empowered Vegan Life group on Facebook for more coaching and support around this topic.
We’d love to hear about your experience listening to this episode, and how helpful you found it to be (or not to be)! Email firstname.lastname@example.org. I read and reply to every email myself because your feedback is so incredibly valuable… This podcast is for YOU!
Empowering people with the tools they need to bring out their inner bad ass, develop a healthy relationship with food, and build a PLANT-strong body for LIFE! Ella has been a transformational coach for over 15 years. She is featured in the media as an expert on veganism, wellness, and fitness (click on her image above to listen to one of her latest appearances). Ella is a published author and speaker who has conducted workshops across the globe. She earned her Master’s Degree in Social Work and Eating Disorder Recovery Coach certification to further her coaching skills.