The story of the month for April 2010 comes from Anthony J.W. Benson of AnthonyJWBenson.com.

I have been familiar with Anthony and all of his phenomenal work for a while now and greatly encourage you to get to know this amazing being as well. Anthony is as passionate and serious about his work as he is about his health. He is greatly engaged in his many talents, from producing music to motivational speaking, as well as design and publishing. He is always finding ways to be creative, while helping others.

When it comes to Anthony’s health journey, his story speaks beautifully for itself and is a shining example for each of us. Anthony took accountability for his health in ways that are highly inspirational. He didn’t feel right and he didn’t accept that this is how life was supposed to be. He sought other answers. In finding those answers, he found for himself an incredible lifestyle. He embarked on a journey of health and wellness that brought him incredible results physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

Today I am honored and delighted to have Anthony share that journey with us, as he inspires, enlightens and ignites a passion within each one of us to live from the heart for our health, well being and that of the planet.

Area(s) of My Health and Wellness that Needed Change

From my perspective, health and wellness is truly an integration of mind, body and spirit. I maintain that a healthy mind begets a healthy body and conversely a healthy body begets a healthy mind. Darina Stoyanova founder of the Surprise Foundation says, “We are healthy and happy by nature. We can be even more so by choice.

I whole-heartedly concur. How I care for myself and my diet choice is a reflection of my self-value. The quality of the energy that enters my body and the way I honor my body is in direct relation to the degree which I experience overall wellness. I endeavor to be responsible and loving to myself on a daily basis and to be aware of what I eat. But I didn’t start out this way.

As I grew up, though well fed and cared for, my diet was packed with every meat imaginable, eggs, dairy, processed sugar and “food” items such as Carnation Instant Breakfast, Tang (a day-glow orange juice substitute and the Astronauts’ Space Drink of choice) and other chemically-based goodies, as well as various “foods” attempting to imitate real food. Given my early academic strides and sports aspirations, nightly and weekend neighborhood games and activities, I expended lots of energy and I, as any growing kid, needed food, and lots of it.

I drank gallons upon gallons of milk, heartily ate every burger and steak placed before me, devoured cookies and cakes and never gave my diet a second thought. This is what my parents were feeding me. It had to be good for me—right?

Cut to the mid 1980’s: I am living in Los Angeles, newly sober, living in a studio apartment in a funky part of the city and in an even funkier dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship. I was young, staying out late, eating even later (mile high Rueben sandwiches at 1 AM anyone?). Though, comparatively speaking, on a new path to improved personal health, having given up alcohol, cigarettes and drugs a few years earlier, I was often passing out, waking up feeling drugged, drooling and in a food-induced hazy stupor after eating. I was experiencing unpleasant, and to say the least, as I termed, disturbing “Food Comas.”

My lifestyle of late nights, and personal turmoil combined with unconscious eating patterns were assaulting my body and my blood sugar levels, which in turn were leveling me. I was eating poorly, I was unhappy and feeling trapped by circumstances and choices of my own making—not a recipe for good health.

I was a natural when it came to food and loved to cook. My first job as a young kid was in a diner as a chef’s assistant, followed by many stints throughout the years in various food establishments as a cook, and I eventually even became a restaurant kitchen manager. I loved cooking—the creative art of making what you ate look and taste good. But, in those years, what I deemed good and healthy was actually far from that.

As I matured in other areas of my life, my world-view of food was still a limited one—standard high fat and sugary breakfast fare and variations on meat and potatoes and plenty of fast food. As my life situation in Los Angeles deteriorated, my health, mentally and physically did too, I fortunately discovered a life-changing book Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth. Written by John Robbins (a designated heir to the Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream fortune), this book spoke to me like no other and awakened me to a new way of thinking. Robbins’ enlightening insights and startling information was coming from a place of wanting to educate and illuminate, and to imbue a sense of understanding of how the food-system actually works and to embrace compassion for the animals whose lives are given in the name of food for humans.

A quote from Diet for a New America says it best:

“At the present time, when most of us sit down to eat, we aren’t very aware of how our food choices affect the world. We don’t realize that in every Big Mac there is a piece of the tropical rainforests, and with every billion burgers sold another hundred species become extinct. We don’t realize that in the sizzle of our steaks there is the suffering of animals, the mining of our topsoil, the slashing of our forests, the harming of our economy, and the eroding of our health. We don’t hear in the sizzle the cry of the hungry millions who might otherwise be fed. We don’t see the toxic poisons accumulating in the food chains, poisoning our children and our earth for generations to come.

But once we become aware of the impact of our food choices, we can never really forget. Of course we can push it all to the back of our minds, and we may need to do this, at times, to endure the enormity of what is involved.

But the earth itself will remind us, as will our children, and the animals and the forests and the sky and the rivers, that we are part of this earth, and it is part of us. All things are deeply connected, and so the choices we make in our daily lives have enormous influence, not only on our own health and vitality, but also on the lives of other beings, and indeed on the destiny of life on earth.

Thankfully, we have cause to be grateful – what’s best for us personally is also best for other forms of life, and for the life support systems on which we all depend.”

Powerful stuff, especially for a young man that was hungry for change. Armed with Diet for a New America as inspiration and a new-found enthusiasm to learn more, I began to do research on my own, reading countless other books—gleaning all I could. As I became more informed, I initially dropped dairy from my diet, then eventually all meat. Health concerns were eventually joined by newly-found personal political insights (Understanding how we eat affects the world) which in turn was joined by a burgeoning spiritual awareness (a building unease with the killing of animals for my meals).

Many people then and surprisingly even now — wondered what do you actually eat? Your food choices must be so limited. On the contrary, my choices expanded multi-fold (Hello Amaranth, Quinoa, Jicama, Seitan, Gogi Berries and more!), as my exposure to newer vegetables, grains and fruits was both eye and belly-pleasing and ultimately healing.

I eventually explored the delight of ethnic cuisine diving mouth first into the exotic flavors of Thai, Indian and other Asian foods.

This exciting and delectable process, originally born of health concerns, evolved to a place where I believed in the deepest part of my being that I did not feel that other sentient beings needed to give their life in order for me to sustain mine. This belief continues to this day, as I celebrate over 25 years of being a healthy Vegan (A diet free of animal products) — a choice I embrace with gratitude for the many gifts it has given me both physically and spiritually.

Strategies I Implemented & Their Results

My choices are not a punishment or even a penance. I have, by virtue of my health choices, chosen a carefully considered, heart-centered ever-evolving lifestyle. My strategy is to make conscious choices on a daily basis. It’s a path of progress not perfection. People have probably heard the term ‘Strict Vegetarian” or “Strict Vegan”. There is nothing strict or regimented about my decision and choice. I believe I am gifting myself — honoring and loving myself enough to make smart and healthy choices for me. I am not here to pontificate the virtues of certain health choices and diet. I choose rather to live by example.

When a friend, or anyone is curious about my choices, then I enthusiastically share what I lived and experienced for me. There is no righteousness or correctness to my lifestyle except for me. Everyone, I believe, must find what works and fits for them.

The choices we make as kids, as young adults and as aging adults, have consequences on our overall health and quality of life, not only in the moment but as our life progresses. So I have chosen to work the odds as best as I can in my favor.

How My Changes Benefitted Me

When I made the aforementioned initial changes in my eating habits and married them with my new-found beliefs, I lost weight, eradicated my food comas, increased my energy and overall feeling of well-being. My health was indeed becoming healthy. It continues to this day.

I look and feel younger than my years. I have good blood pressure, low resting heart rate, have had no major health issues or disease, very rarely succumb to colds or flu, and have great stamina.

These are not genetic gifts, but a result, in my opinion, of the choices I have not only made, but more importantly, have upheld for nearly three decades. I do not strive for perfection but rather growth, consistency and understanding.

There was and continues to be an excitement to discovering new foods, new flavors, new ways to cook and feed myself in healthy ways on multiple levels. It is, as with anything, a journey and enjoyable one at that. I continue to love to learn and incorporate new-found health and wellness knowledge into my life.

Next Steps on My Health and Wellness Journey

As I have mentioned, I have a real penchant for self-discovery and digging deep into the world of personal health. I am an advocate for making choices of benefit to ourselves and others. So my path of growth, healing and wellness continues.

I strive to seek new health options, new recipes, new ways of thinking and new ways incorporating mindful choices into my life. I hunt for, try and create new recipes. I also take vitamins and supplements everyday to augment my diet. Yes, I do believe by my food choices I get a lot of what I nutritionally need, but there are certain things as a Vegan I don’t get (B12, for example).

We as humans are so bombarded by chemicals and by our environment that our bodies are constantly challenged. I do what I can to help it under all possible circumstances. This consists of a mix of helpful food, vitamins, essential oils, herbs and plenty of play and exercise (daily 2-3 mile walks and throwing the Frisbee with my dog Cinta really helps!).

I can always do more when it comes to experiencing new ways of caring for myself. To that end, I endeavor to mix things up and explore different options. Variety is indeed the spice of life!

Wisdom & Inspiration for Others

In this body, we have but one opportunity to serve our higher good. From my personal experience, choosing the road less traveled, has resulted in amazing discoveries about life and about myself. For as long as I have this life and am on this beautiful planet, I desire to be healthy and ever-evolving. It’s not always the easy choice (People still look at me cross-eyed when ordering food at restaurants), but it has proven time and time again to be the choice that delivers the most consistently amazing dividends.

I believe in supporting local farmers and Co-ops whenever I can. I eat organic whenever possible. I may pay more money for my food but I am worth it and I save in so many other ways. The money I could be spending on cigarettes, alcohol and drugs or fast-food is so much better spent on enlivening me rather than destroying me.

From my perspective, wellness is a mindset that must be put into action. It is a choice I make on a daily basis — a commitment to self — one healthy decision at a time. In my heart I believe we are all spiritual creatures, blessed with a life we are responsible to. By honoring this gift, we in turn honor ourselves.

So an obvious question is, do I indulge occasionally in things that are arguably not healthy for me — I do. Do I punish myself for it? — never. Life is too short not to enjoy a Vegan Chocolate Brownie or 2 or… :) I do love food. But, throughout the years I have developed and fine-tuned a new understanding and respect for it and for my body. I understand better than ever the concept of balance. Can I improve? Yes, I can — always. But, again, for me it is all about the journey, not the destination.

I really want to live a long and healthy life. I am committed to being consciously aware, so I eat as though my life depends on it — because it does. For me, being Vegan isn’t about being cool or trendy. It’s about listening to my body. Today I choose to eat and live healthily and I continue to reap the positive benefits of my choices. Tomorrow, who knows? I can always eat a Twinkie in the afterlife.

RECIPE

One of the things I do for my daily health is to start my day with a nutritious and healthy shake. Here is one of my own recipes for you to try.

Anthony’s “injoi Your Day Shake” (Vegan–this shake is tasty and filling and is also fiber and antioxidant rich)

8-12 oz Soy Milk (I choose a plain unflavored and unsweetened variety. You can also replace with Rice Milk, Hemp Milk, Almond Milk, etc.)

4 Tbs of Hemp Protein Powder (I prefer Manitoba Harvest Brand)

2 Tbs of organic Unsweetened Organic Cocoa Powder (Dagoba Brand is great)

1 tsp of Light Agave Nectar (to taste)

1/3 cup of frozen or fresh Organic Blueberries

4-6 chunks of Fresh or Frozen Organic Mango

½ Frozen Banana (preferred- fresh will also work)

1 -2 Tbs of Flax Seed Oil

NOTE: For variety and personal preference, you can change fruits and can also replace the Hemp powder with a mix of Psyllium Fiber (I like Organic India products) and protein powder of choice (I recommend Peaceful Planet) and adjust the amount as directed on containers. Experiment and have fun.

Blend till smooth, drink and injoi!

Beyond this wonderful site, here are some additional resources:

www.foodandspirit.com

www.foodrevolution.org

www.vegnews.com

www.vegetariantimes.com