Stephanie Bellia is a 39-year old vegan personal trainer who has been running her own business Move ‘n’ Improve personal training for the past 13 years. Fitness has been a huge passion for her since the age of 17 when she was drawn to buying her very first Fitness & Bodybuilding magazine. She discovered Cory Everson 8-times Miss Olympia who became her idol, inspiration, model and drive. Something had clicked there, and from that moment on she knew what her purpose in this lifetime would be: helping, supporting and encouraging others on their very own Health & Fitness journey. Originally from France, Move ‘n’ Improve Personal training was created 13 years ago when Australia became Stephanie’s new home. She believes in a holistic approach to Health & Fitness, placing a strong emphasis on eating a plant-based diet, combined with exercise and a positive, focused mind.
How and why did you decide to become vegan?
From the age of 17, I developed two huge passions: one being Fitness and the other animals. I knew in my heart that they were going to be the driving factor of all I would undertake in this lifetime. After doing extensive research on the health benefits of living a meat-free lifestyle, as well as looking deeper into what happens to the animals before they end up on our plates, I instantly decided that being vegetarian was the only way. What I didn’t realise during my 20 years of being vegetarian, is that I was still contributing to tremendous animal cruelty by still having dairy and eggs. It is only a year ago that I became vegan, thanks to an incredible animal activist and owner of a farm animal rescue sanctuary who simply exposed me to the truth. My only wish is that it would have been done sooner. Soon after becoming vegan, I started experiencing almost immediate health benefits which only re-enforced my convictions that it was the right path for me, the Earth and all living creatures.
How long have you been vegan?
I have been vegan for over a year.
What has benefited you the most from being vegan?
Having been a fitness fanatic my whole life, I noticed an immediate difference in the way I was feeling with a surge of new found energy. The headaches I was having on a weekly basis just disappeared. I started sleeping better. My pre-menstrual symptoms were significantly reduced, which of course made a huge difference to my life. The best part was to feel physically, mentally and spiritually more balanced. I started feeling more in tune and in harmony with my environment.
What does veganism mean to you?
Veganism means compassion. It means I deeply care for the Earth, the animals and my health. It means no body gets hurt.
What sort of training do you do?
I do weight-lifting mostly using free-weights and Kettle bells. I use the TRX suspension training system. Calisthenics, running and mountain-biking.
How often do you train?
I train 6 days a week - alternating my routine to suit my body’s needs and maximise results.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
Yes I do. I have been a certified Personal Trainer for 13 years. I have been fortunate to be living the dream everyday having turned my passion into my occupation.
What sports do you play?
I don’t play any sports outside of my weekly training routine.
Strength, weaknesses & outside influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
The biggest misconception is that vegans can’t get enough protein and are vitamin deficient. The way I address this is leading by example. I am my own walking advertising to the cause, so to speak. I try to inspire and educate people by practicing what I preach, and showing others that we can be vegan and have a fit, strong, athletic body. There is nothing I love more than the look of surprise on people’s faces when I tell them that I am vegan. This is usually when they run out of valid arguments.
What are your strengths as a vegan athlete?
I have a lot more energy than I used to, which allows me to more easily address the high physical demands that running a personal training business involves. Very importantly, it still leaves me with plenty more readily available energy to attend to my own training outside of work. I feel stronger and healthier than I have ever been. I am able to keep raising the bar and set new goals and new challenges on a regular base because I know that both my mind and body will take me there. There is an inner trust that I am giving my body the best chances to perform.
What is your biggest challenge?
Consuming enough calories to sustain muscle mass and sitting down long enough to allow my body to recover!
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
They mostly seem to think I come from another planet. But this mentality will only change once trainers start thinking outside the box, and not just believe that what we are taught in the nutrition classroom. Fortunately, more professionals are bringing a more open mind to the industry and are willing to listen and learn of different ways, especially when backed up with undeniable facts and evidence. Again, here my job is to lead by example.
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
My family lives on the other side of the planet so I actually haven’t been around them since I’ve gone vegan. But, they have always been very supportive of my vegetarian lifestyle with two of my sisters following in my footsteps. I am fortunate to have a family who has always supported my choices. As for my closest friends, they have also been behind me 100% and have even been open to new, healthier ways. Some I have lost along the way, but the real ones stayed close. Becoming vegan has made me reach out to the vegan community via the social media means and I have made some wonderful new supportive friends, which is essential as a minority.
What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out you are vegan and how do you respond?
It’s usually, “but where do you get your protein from?” Shortly followed by, “I love my meat - I just couldn’t do it.” I usually follow this with a rather extensive list of all the plant-based protein sources, which I usually carry around with me in the form of a flyer being a personal trainer. If that’s not enough, I can always do a little flexing of my muscles for the most skeptic ones.
Who or what motivates you?
Although health & fitness is a huge part of my life and I have some people I look up too for inspiration and motivation, I have to say that my biggest motivation is the animals. The thought of billions of animals being tortured and slaughtered on a daily basis is my driving force. My mission is to open people’s eyes to a better way of life, a healthier way of life but most importantly a cruelty free way of life.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:
Breakfast - A green smoothie, and a bowl of oats with a blend of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sultanas and raw almonds with rice milk.
Lunch - A large salad with lots of greens, heaps of vegies, mixed beans, seeds, sprouts, tofu and a homemade dressing.
Dinner - Usually cooked food. Stir-fries with lots of greens and vegies, tofu, chick-peas, kidney beans, lentils. With some form of grains such as quinoa, brown rice or gluten free buckwheat pasta. Roasted sweet potatoes and pumpkin are my favourites.
Snacks - Green smoothies, bananas, dates, gluten-free bread with organic peanut butter and coconut spread.
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Tofu, it is very versatile.
Calcium - Greens
Iron - Greens
What food gives you most energy?
Green smoothies, bananas and dates.
Do you take supplements?
Only B12 and Iron.
What is your top tip for:
Gaining muscle - Eat enough food! Make sure you eat enough calories. Lift heavy and be consistent with your training while allowing recovery time for muscle repair and growth.
Losing weight - Only eat clean, fresh foods and stay away from processed foods, sugar and alcohol. Find a balance between cardio-vascular activities and weight training. Implement circuit training and interval training for optimum fat burning.
Maintaining weight - Be consistent. Organisation and preparation is the key to staying on track with proper nutrition. Allow yourself a special treat occasionally.
Improving metabolism - Eat 5-6 meals a day, no calories restricting. Drink plenty of water.
Toning up - Eat clean and train dirty!
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
I promote it daily through my business Move ‘n’ Improve Personal training and online.
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
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Leigh-Chantelle is an International Speaker & Consultant; Author, Singer/Songwriter and Blogger.
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