“A whole food vegan diet is the way to go. You will have more energy, much less risk of disease, and rarely get sick. I interview vegans all the time, and all of them tell me they wish they had done it sooner.”
Name: Brenda Carey
Occupation: Editor-in-Chief/Founder of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine
City/State/Country: Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Type of Training: Triathlete (swimming, running, biking), as well as weight training and yoga.
Weight: 122 lbs.
Fitness Accolades: Former lifeguard, Ashtanga Yoga instructor, 4th female finisher at CrossFit Games in Santa Monica in 2013, first place overall 5k in the 2013 PowerMarathon in Austin, Texas, first female finisher at 50k Saturn Day ultramarathon on 7.5.14 in San Antonio, Texas, ran 17 miles in the Vegan Global Run on 4.4.15 in Miami Beach, Florida, daily victories in getting stronger and faster, breaking old PRs…
Q: Who do you admire the most?
Modern/Living: Ellen, Oprah, Kathy Freston, Alexandra Paul, Leilani Munter, Fiona Oakes, Andrea Kladar, Pope Francis. All of these people have used their lives to make a statement that is changing the world for the better, involving compassion, athletics, education, intelligence, and humor.
Historical: Krishna, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon. These people all used their lives to make the world a better, more compassionate place, also.
Q: Tell us the story of how you became the founder of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine.
The short version is that I spent years trying to find my path to a career that makes the world a better place for animals, promoting a compassionate lifestyle. I became vegan as a 20-year-old model. Shortly thereafter, I put myself through college and law school with the idea that I’d be an animal rights attorney.
By the time I graduated, I realized that was not my path. The law is not very animal-friendly, and I don’t really like fighting, especially when it is a losing battle.
So I tried using the law to help animals by starting a Humane Society in California that consisted of Humane Officers that were trained very well in the law (by moi).
“There are no exemptions under the animal cruelty laws for farm animals in California. So we busted a slaughter house and with a warrant and aided by the LAPD, we seized animals and took them to sanctuaries.”
Shortly thereafter, we were faced with a lot of frivolous legal challenges (seems that we made the status quo nervous), and after a year of very little sleep and witnessing a lot of animal cruelty in investigations and fighting in court, I folded that organization.
After that, I moved to Hawaii for two years and became an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and a professor of Communication Studies at Hawaii Pacific University. I also got into improv comedy acting and standup comedy.
From there, I ended up doing standup comedy in NYC for eight months. From there, I moved back to LA and created a sort of silly online TV show on the paranormal.
At the same time, I met Robert Cheeke after reading his bodybuilding book.
I was searching for my way to make the world a better place for animals and was inspired by Robert to start a blog called “Female Vegan Bodybuilder.”
That followed my journey to put muscle on my model-thin body with high-protein vegan foods.
I got so much positive feedback that I decided to start the magazine.
“At the time, I knew nothing about graphic art or publishing.
Fortunately, I had a background in photography and a very supportive boyfriend (Brian Acree) who helped me teach myself everything and start this magazine all by myself on my laptop.”
At first, I thought I’d make a few and give them out for free.
Then I called the distributor who handles the magazines for Whole Foods Market and sent them some emails with images and information on the first issue, and they ordered several thousand copies right away!
And we were off and running!
We were quarterly from the Summer 2012 (first issue that featured Robert Cheeke on the cover with Koya Webb) until the November/December 2013 issue (that featured John and Ocean Robbins and family on the cover), when we went bi-monthly. That was also the first issue where we went international, into eight countries.
We are currently working on expanding our digital reach and starting a book publishing branch.
Q: What are your personal passions outside of fitness?
Vegan nutrition and science! I love researching the tough stuff. I spend days obsessed on scholar.google.com. Some of the articles I have written (or helped research for other writers) literally represent hundreds of hours reading intense scientific journal articles.
It’s important for me to get a complete understanding of plant-based nutrition so that I can explain it in simpler terms to our readers and share life-improving information. The magazine always includes the citations to the articles, too, so that our readers can see the science for themselves.
Sometimes I get so excited about an article or two that I find on a controversial topic, that I have shared it on social media. This can get me into trouble, as people will often react with disdain against something that brings new information that they don’t understand.
I encourage them to read the science, but a lot of people are intimidated by the medical jargon and don’t feel comfortable reading science for themselves. Instead, a lot of people will “follow” a certain doctor or nutritionist and take their word for what is scientifically true. I think this is dangerous.
Often, trusted doctors and nutritionists sell supplements and other products, and even though they mean well, they have bills to pay like everybody else.
“Any time the [doctor/nutritionist] has a vested interest, there is a tendency to be biased towards what will help them make a living.”
Only what we are willing to research and understand on our own can truly be trusted.
Q: What uncommon activity do you schedule into your daily routine?
I suppose that putting together a magazine is rather uncommon. Every day, I spend quite a few hours on the computer developing articles with my contributors and scheduling photos shoots and overseeing them, etc.
Other than that, I spend time preparing (and gathering) organic vegan meals for myself, my dogs, and sometimes our whole staff.
Since we moved to Miami, we don’t have an office, we all work from our respective homes. But when we had an office in Austin, TX and had a staff there daily, I enjoyed making everybody big salads for lunch almost every day. I love nurturing others with nutrition. It’s my maternal instinct or something, I guess.
Q: Tell us about the path that led you to plant-based fitness?
When I was a little girl and I found out what meat was, I didn’t want to eat it. I grew up in Mississippi and had never heard of a vegetarian, so I was on my own.
“I tried to eat plates full of canned vegetables and clearly did not get enough calories. Without support from an adult, I became very weak and fainted a few times.”
This scared us all, and I was told that if I didn’t eat meat, I would die. So I reluctantly ate it after being reassured that the animals did not suffer, etc. When I was nineteen years old, I was finally out of Mississippi and modeling in Miami Beach.
“I went to a Macrobiotic convention with a photographer friend and sat at a table full of people who had healed themselves from cancer and heart disease, etc. with their (mostly vegan) diets.”
At the time, I also had an acquaintance who was an angry vegetarian who challenged my supposed love of animals and my food choices. As rude as she was in her approach, I could not deny that she was right and I was being a hypocrite. Now that I knew of the health benefits of eating vegan, it was a no-brainer to go vegan.
I gave up chicken and fish first, because a cow is a larger animal. I read about 20 books that summer (that I got at the library in Mississippi— this was in 1991, who knew those books were even there!) when I went home to visit family.
I learned about the animal cruelty of factory farming and about the nutritional benefits of the vegan diet.
I gave up beef about a month later, then eggs and dairy within another month. Then I gave up all my leather clothes because I was being challenged by non-vegetarians for being a hypocrite for refusing to eat animals when I was okay with wearing them.
“Again, I hated their approach, but I knew they were right.”
I gave thousands of dollars’ worth of leather clothing to the homeless, because I read that giving animal skins (leather and fur) to the poor helps take the status symbol away. Nowadays, I don’t even like to wear fake leather for a similar reason. I don’t want anybody to think that wearing leather looks cool and want to buy it to copy my look.
By the way, I’ve been vegan for about 24 years now and have never taken supplements of any kind. I dabble with chocolate protein powder because I like the taste, but I try to limit that, too.
Unfortunately, most vegan processed foods are fortified with vitamins, so I can’t say that I don’t get dosed with vitamins occasionally. I try to avoid processed foods, eating mostly raw.
As for the athletics, I took ballet as a kid and dabbled in that again in my teens, twenties, and thirties for short periods (along with jazz and tap), but never took it very far. My first job was as a swimming instructor (age 15); shortly thereafter, I became a lifeguard, which required a lot of testing of my athletic ability in swimming laps, etc.
I became an aerobics instructor in 1989 (you should have seen my colorful, crazy 80s aerobics outfits). I played a little softball and volleyball on teams in school and did a little running (5k) with my dad and brother as a teen. Again, nothing very serious.
I dabbled in fitness after that as I modeled (and mostly starved myself to stay thin, until I went vegan and found out I could eat fruits and vegetables all day—by then, I think I had caused a lot of muscle atrophy, which is unfortunate). I did a little yoga, starting in law school in 2000. I had a gym membership for years and would go months without walking in the doors.
But I didn’t get serious about fitness until recently (2011). Right before I started the magazine, I got pretty serious about bodybuilding because of Robert Cheeke’s influence. But since I am so tall and thin, my muscle is hard won.
It has taken me almost four years to put on enough muscle to be seen. It amounts to about eight pounds of solid muscle, which is about right for four years of training, but when you spread it out over a long frame, it doesn’t look like much.
I started running to burn off some of the fat that I put on with my massive protein diet I experimented with my first year of bodybuilding. Now I realize muscle growth does not require such massive doses. Dating Austin Barbisch has influenced me a lot. When we first met, I hired him (and paid him a lot of money) to train me in the gym.
It was worth every penny. I put on more muscle training with him for six months than I’d put on the prior two years. He is also an ultra-marathoner, and I’ve covered a few of his races for the magazine.
That influenced me to want run a 50k. Brian Acree actually ran it with me, and his support was instrumental in getting me across that finish line.
Nowadays, I am continuing to put on muscle in the gym and keep the fat off on the running track. It is the most efficient means of getting that fit look that I need when I make public appearances and speak on behalf of Vegan Health & Fitness Magazine. Someday when I have more time, I’d love to do a triathlon and play team sports.
Q: What does your daily meal plan currently look like?
- Breakfast: Fruit smoothie, a cup of tea, and a couple large glasses of water (often with lime or lemon juice).
- Lunch: Large salad for lunch with tons of raw veggies, sprouts, olives, and Bragg’s Mango dressing (I love it because it’s organic, vinegar based, and oil-free).
- Dinner: Sometimes another smoothie or salad, depending on my mood and how much time I have. I eat cooked food like lentils, potatoes, and other veggies in a sauté pan for dinner sometimes, too. I feel better when I eat less cooked food, so I keep that to a minimum.
I snack on fruit all day (apples, mango, raspberries, whatever is organic and on sale).
Lest you think I am an angel, I will admit that I do occasionally eat dark chocolate, peanut butter, vegan baked goods, and other vegan junk foods and treats. I just try to keep that fattening, processed stuff to a minimum and eat them rarely (once a week or less) as a treat.
Q: Philosophy on supplements?
“I don’t take any supplements (no, not even B12, as I often get asked). Supplements are not necessary if you eat a variety of whole plant foods.”
The vegan diet, when it is unprocessed, organic, and varied, provides everything the body needs to be optimally healthy, with no need for synthetic, laboratory-extracted pills and potions.
If you look into the science, you will see that taking supplements is also quite harmful. Many cancers have been related to taking vitamin pills and even oils.
Read my favorite book, “Whole,” by T. Colin Campbell for more on that. For more on the B12 controversy, see the VHF website, as we love to delve into that controversial topic and have a couple articles on the science posted there.
Q: Favorite butt exercises and describe the form you use.
This is a great (and very specific) question! Wow! Okay, I have scoliosis so I cannot do squats or deadlifts with heavy weight.
“If you are lucky enough to have a straight spine, squats and deadlifts are the best exercises to grow/tighten your glutes. Just start with light weight, and keep your spine straight (neutral) as you move.”
I recommend working with a trainer until you get the form down, as it can be complicated, and if you don’t do it right, you can really get hurt. If you have an imperfect back like me, you have to get more creative.
But I can do lunges with quite a bit of weight without hurting my back. I also do thrusts laying on my back on the floor with weights on my hips.
I also do cable kickbacks (I even have my own ankle strap since the ones at the gym are often missing or really dirty). I use the abductor machine at the gym. My trainer taught me to do way more sets and reps on this machine than I had ever done before. Sometimes, we hog that machine for half an hour as we do our reps to failure over and over.
Just when I think I’m done, he will say “Give me five more.” Then he will say, “Five more” or “Ten more.” It’s grueling at that point, and sometimes I will call him names, but he knows it’s just the muscle fibers talking, and I apologize later and thank him for pushing me harder.
I think it’s a huge benefit to have a workout partner pushing you past what you thought were your limits (check out all the big, muscular guys at the gym who do that, and you will see what I mean.) I also do indoor rowing (which is a killer butt workout) and run long distances on the track (any time I run for more than 30 minutes, I feel it in my butt later).
As someone who had a pretty flat butt before I started working out, I can attest that these moves work. In all of them, I am very aware of keeping my spine neutral and not arching or curving out.
Q: Describe your training regimen: favorite exercises, weekly training schedule, etc.
I do yoga every morning for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on my schedule, to get my spine in alignment and get ready for the day. I work out at the gym about six days a week for about an hour a day, sometimes two hours, if we have time.
When I am preparing for a running race, like the Vegan Global Run, I will alternate running at the track for an hour one day with working out at the gym for an hour the next day. Sometimes it gets to be too much, and I am just exhausted and have to take a day or two off of running and lifting weights.
On those days, I just do my yoga, hydrate really well with water and electrolyte blends (recipes in several issues of the magazine), and take a power nap to help my body recover faster. I also take an Epsom salt bath every night and add turmeric to my food as often as possible to help recover faster.
My smoothies have fruits like cherries and pineapples, which also help recovery. Finally, I eat lots of greens in salads and munch on seaweed, which helps reduce inflammation and speed recovery, also.
Q: If you have to pick only three exercises, what would they be?
That would be tough. I do so many different exercises and keep mixing it up all the time so I don’t plateau. If I have to choose:
This would hit every muscle in the whole body if you varied the angles a little and did them right. Note that yoga utilizes pushups and lunges. There are lots of benefits to these moves.
Q: What tips can you share about fitness that you don’t typically read in magazines?
“Going vegan is the best thing you can do to be a better athlete and/or get more fit! That is something you don’t read in other magazines (besides Vegan Health & Fitness).”
We are seeing some other mainstream magazines acknowledge the vegan diet and its health benefits recently. I know it is because they see our publication on the shelves and they know we’re selling and they want to compete. Whatever it takes to bring veganism into the mainstream!
Q: What are the biggest trends you see in fitness right now?
- People want excitement in their workouts, so they are doing obstacle courses and CrossFit type workouts where you don’t know what you’re going to have to do until you get there. It’s more mentally stimulating than doing the same old thing in the gym every day.
- The camaraderie people are experiencing in these new styles of workouts is also wonderful. We are social creatures, and we like to compete with other people and have someone to high-five when you do something really well.
Q: Do you meditate?
“If you don’t sit (or lay) still for a few minutes every day and/or pray, or just get quiet and clear your mind, you will never be your best self.”
Life is stressful. We need to turn off occasionally, and not just by passing out and sleeping. We need to learn to control our minds and relax. I am a spiritual person, so I pray. I heard someone say once that meditation is actually when you stop praying (talking to your higher power) and listen.
I love that. We so rarely listen.
If you’re not religious, you can just sit still and turn inward to connect with your inner compassionate nature.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to try a plant-based diet?
Do it! Do it now!
You can truly maximize your life when you go vegan because you are more productive and you just function better.
Tons of bodybuilders and athletes know it, and they are at the tops of their fields. Tons of people have turned around diseases like cancer, heart disease, immunological, and inflammatory problems. Not only that, but who wants to be a part of the horrible animal torturing and slaughtering meat industry?
It’s a great feeling knowing I’m not a part of that. It’s a perfect example of good karma. When you choose to do the compassionate thing, you benefit greatly in your own body, too!