When you are 44 years old but have the physique of a 20-year-old, you’re doing something right. For Ani Phyo, that “something” is eating foods that make her look and feel her best.
The vegan chef and award-winning author chatted with PETA about how she stays fit, why she eats raw foods, and how—by making healthy decisions—you can be super fit, too.
From raw food cookbooks to instructional cooking videos, your ideas are fuel for anyone trying to live healthier. What inspired you to do the work you do?
Food is fuel for our body and affects our level of health and vitality. The right foods can fuel our brains to orchestrate the trillions of cells in our body to fight disease, maintain our ideal body weight, and hum like a well-oiled machine. We inhale and absorb toxins from our environment, so choosing to eat clean, chemical-free foods means not adding more toxins while lowering overall stress to our body. Less overall stress means we have more energy for healing and doing all the things in life we set our minds to. I hope to help everyone feel great, look their best, and live a great life.
I learned the value of health at a very young age from my father who was terminally ill and passed away when I was 17. He taught me how to use food as medicine to boost our immunity, vitality, health, and to extend our longevity.
Photos by Tyler Golden
When I went away to college, I began eating foods we didn’t have in our home growing up. This food included white flour, refined sugars, dairy, and deep-fried foods. In only 2 months, I gained about 20 pounds, and my cholesterol levels skyrocketed to almost 300! The doctors wanted to put me on medication to lower my cholesterol, but instead, my mother reminded me of why she raised my brother and [me to eat] the plant-based foods we did. She encouraged me to eat vegan and healthy, I began exercising regularly again, and my cholesterol levels went back down to normal.
I’m inspired to share what I’ve learned to help people feel great because when we feel good, we can achieve anything in life we set our minds to.
You’ve said that a raw-food lifestyle is more than just a diet to you. Can you elaborate? How does it affect other areas of your life?
Let me first define “raw foods.” For me, it used to mean unheated, fresh, whole foods, including only nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits. Today, I define raw foods in the same way as “raw materials.” What I mean is that we use rocks and wood straight from the Earth to build a house. And I’m encouraging everyone to avoid foods that are manufactured in a factory. Instead, choose whole, fresh foods that come straight from the Earth. This helps us to avoid toxic industrial chemicals like preservatives and artificial flavors and colors.
For example, I may blend together tomatoes, avocados, and herbs to make a raw soup. If I’m craving a hot soup, I may leave the blender on longer to heat the soup up or even pour it into a saucepan on the stove. This hot soup has been made using all whole, fresh ingredients and is cleaner and healthier for us than any boxed or canned soup!
Choosing whole, raw ingredients means treading lightly on our planet. What I noticed immediately when eating raw was that I no longer had garbage in my kitchen because most of the garbage comes from food packaging. By shopping locally at a farmers’ market and by buying in bulk, my kitchen only produces organic compost and recyclables. I even have a composter under my sink that turns my organic compost into organic soil
Raw foods are a lifestyle. Food choices have the greatest impact on our planet, and by eating vegan and fresh whole foods, we lower our carbon footprint, reduce pollution, and use less energy and resources. We will choose a raw vegan lasagna because we understand how avoiding wheat, gluten, and dairy will help us with weight loss while decreasing inflammation and easing digestion to fuel optimal energy and peak physical performance.
Over the years, I’ve seen how certain foods can make us healthier, stronger, clear up our skin, give us a radiant glow of natural beauty, and boost our overall vitality. Eating raw vegan foods helps increase my mental clarity, focus, and productivity. I have boundless energy, don’t need as much sleep, haven’t had a flu or cold in about 20 years, and look and feel better than ever!
Of course, we must know: What recipe do you recommend for a hot summer night?
This recipe comes from Ani’s 15-Day Fat Blast.
This yummy soup is all about the tomato. Recent research suggests that in addition to being a good source of fiber and lycopene, tomatoes help regulate the hormone ghrelin, which is one of the hormonal messengers responsible for telling us that we’re full.
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup avocado
1/2 tsp. chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. fresh or 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Filtered water sufficient to achieve desired consistency (approximately 1 cup)
Pinch nutritional yeast (optional)
- Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Sprinkle with the nutritional yeast and serve. (This soup will keep for 1 day in the refrigerator.)
Makes 1 serving
You’re a very busy woman. What’s coming up for you? Are you working on anything that you’re particularly excited about?
The power of raw foods has inspired me to focus once again on the functional aspects of food for weight loss, building muscle mass, boosting our immune system, clearing up our skin, increasing stamina and endurance, and decreasing inflammation. I’m inspired to develop recipes that support different goals to help people look and feel their best.
Having grown up as a champion athlete competing in numerous varsity sports, including track and field, volleyball, diving, and swimming, I’ve always studied sports nutrition to fuel my optimal peak physical performance. While writing and researching for my newest book Ani’s 15-Day Fat Blast, I’ve figured out how to burn fat, build muscle mass, and raise my metabolic rate. I’m 44 years old, was eating about 1,600 calories a day, and have weighed 132 lbs. for the past two decades. Today, I try to increase my calories by an extra 900 a day for a total of about 2,500 calories. To my surprise, with this increase in calories, I’ve lost weight, and now weigh 125 lbs.!!
People frequently ask me what I do for exercise and how I work out. So, I’ve been inspired to develop a fitness and nutrition program that I’m super-excited to share with you soon!
What advice do you have for someone who wants to make the transition to a raw-food diet?
It’s simple! Avoid processed and packaged foods that come from a factory. Choose fresh whole foods that come straight from the Earth like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. You don’t need to be extreme to see and feel the benefits of a whole food diet. Just add a shake or smoothie, large green salad, and/or raw vegan dessert to any meal. These nutrient-rich foods will fill you up and help you feel more satisfied, and you won’t have as much room in your belly to eat as much of the other foods on your plate. You’ll immediately notice that you feel lighter, tighter, and that your mind feels clearer.
Once you experience how good you can feel, you’ll want to feel good always. And the whole, fresh food portion of your meal will increase, slowly elbowing out room for the less beneficial foods on your plate.
Like Ani’s ideas? Share your healthy eating habits in the comments section below!