“I advocated for animal rights online with graphic images and angry rants. Then I realized focusing on the brutal heartbreaking side was hurting my soul and making me hateful.”

Erika Ressa Bikini CompetitionName: Erika Ressa
Occupation: Bartender
Location: Orlando, FL
Age: 33
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 135-145 lb.
Type of Training: Bodybuilding

Q: What were the steps you took to transition to plant-based nutrition?

As a young teen, I realized animals were being decapitated for food, and I wasn’t comfortable with that knowledge.

I first stopped eating cows and pigs and then stopped eating chickens and turkeys. (I never cared for seafood of any sort.)

As a teenage vegetarian, I was left to prepare my own meals and basically ate pastas and anything I could cook in the toaster!

It wasn’t until more than a decade later that I acknowledged the dairy industry’s cruel treatment of animals and became vegan.

“I knew in my heart that being vegan was the only way for me to live in true harmony with my convictions and love for animals.”

As a vegan, I started cooking more from scratch and stopped relying on ready-to-eat meals and fast food. I expanded my palate and started trying new foods and cooking methods. As I continue to learn and experience different foods, my diet is constantly evolving.

Q: Tell us the story of how you got into yoga, what your practice looks like, and how it has changed your life.

Before I had a gym membership, I trained at home and acquired some fitness DVDs, including yoga DVDs. I really enjoyed being able to spend time stretching my body while relaxing my mind.

I was impressed with the strength and flexibility of yogis I saw online, so I started practicing more and attended some local yoga classes.

Currently, I attend yoga classes at my gym several times a week, and I can often be found on the gym mats practicing my handstands and forearm stands. Whether I’m warming up at the gym with sun salutations or doing headstands at the beach with friends, yoga has become a part of my life.

“I think yoga plays a role in keeping me injury-free despite heavy training, and I know it has helped with my flexibility. I highly recommend yoga to everyone for both mental and physical wellbeing.”

Q: What does your training look like these days?

Most of my training days involve lifting heavy and compound exercises. I’m a big fan of calisthenics and plyometrics, so I try to incorporate them into my training and therefore don’t do any cardio on equipment.

I get my cardio in by cycling outdoors. I love riding in the warm Florida sunshine and enjoying nature. I’m often lucky and see deer, raccoons, sandhill cranes, and even alligators!

Q: Favorite three exercises and why?

The classics! Squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts!

Sorry, not bench press!

I’m a bikini competitor, so hip thrusts are one of my main exercises. Glutes and legs are a big component of bikini bodybuilding and much of my training. Also, I like lifting heavy, and these exercises allow me to go hard and set new goals for myself.

Q: Walk us through a day of eating; how do you think about it, and what do you eat?

I eat a LOT!

I like to think of food as fuel for the body, not just pleasure for the palate. I still like my food to taste good, but I want it to help me, not harm me. I’m honestly not the healthiest eater, but I burn major calories at the gym so I can get away with it.

“Unless I’m preparing to compete, I don’t track my macros or overthink what I’m eating. I do indulge in sweets and junk food but in moderation.”

To help with building muscle, I always have a protein shake post workout, preferably blended with bananas and soy milk. I don’t normally eat breakfast, but I also don’t wake up before noon (bartender life).

Before I train, I’ll eat a light meal, such as a hummus/veggie sandwich or some fruit and granola. After the gym, I eat a large meal with an emphasis on protein perhaps some seitan or mock meat with green veggies or pasta.

“I always like to eat before bed; going to bed hungry makes me sad and gives me weird dreams about eating entire cakes!”

Q: Tell me a story of the mentor who played a key role in building confidence in yourself.

My mom has always been my mentor and number one fan. Throughout my life, both of my parents have encouraged and supported me and motivated me to follow my dreams.

When I told them I wanted to be a vegan bodybuilder, they were surprised, but they supported me and came to my first competition to cheer me on. My parents believed in me, and that made me grow up to believe in myself. I’m blessed to have loving and supportive parents, and I’m eternally thankful.

Q: What would your friends/colleagues say you’re really good at?

Getting things done.

“Once my mind is set on something, I do it. Some might think it’s compulsive or obsessive, but I believe in perseverance.”

Example: I had been considering renting advertising space on a digital billboard to promote veganism. One day, I decided to just go for it. I made some phone calls, started an online fundraiser, and had a billboard ad up by that evening!

With generous donations, I was able to rent ad space for an entire year. If you’ve been considering something for a while, just go for it, you might surprise yourself.

Q: Fun fact most people don’t know about you?

I like to garden and grow plants I can eat. Someday, I’d like to have a large garden and grow many fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Also, this is kind of a secret hobby … I collect my cat’s whiskers. I started years ago, and I have at least 100. I’m really good at finding them! I just can’t bring myself to throw away a kitty memento, so now I’m stuck collecting them forever!!

Q: What three pearls of wisdom would you tell your 13-year-old self?

  1. GO VEGAN NOW!!! Seriously. I wish I would have gone vegan earlier, it’s one of my few regrets.
  2. What other people think of you doesn’t matter, only what you think of yourself defines you.
  3. Being fit and healthy is more satisfying than being skinny.

There’s nothing wrong with being skinny, but I’d say this to myself because I used to have an unhealthy obsession with being thin. Even at my skinniest, I never liked my body, but fitness finally helped me to love myself.

Q: What have you changed your mind about in past 10 years?

I used to be an angry vegetarian and then an angry vegan.

I was outraged at the atrocities on animals, angry at people’s lack of concern, angry at their disconnect, angry at injustice, and angry at the world! I advocated for animal rights online with graphic images and angry rants.

Then I realized focusing on the brutal heartbreaking side was hurting my soul and making me hateful. I started concentrating on the good in the world and trying to portray veganism in a positive light.

“I believe I’m able to appeal to more people interested in veganism this way, and I am happier in general.”

Q: How do you wind down and relax at night?

I enjoy reading in bed at night, and I always sleep better if my cats are nearby. Just something about having a kitty close by puts me at ease. If I do have trouble falling asleep, I practice relaxation techniques I learned from yoga, specifically progressive muscle relaxation.