Name: Tess Challis
Year of Birth: 1971
Birthplace: Gunnison, Colorado
Current Residence: Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Sports: anything cardio, weight training, yoga, swimming, cross country skiing, walking, hiking
Tell us a little about yourself, what you do for a living, what hobbies / interests / passions you have
I'm a vegan chef, author, wellness coach, and personal trainer — my biggest passion is turning people on to delicious, healthy vegan food through my cooking classes, books, etc.
Why did you become vegan?
The year was 1991. I was already vegetarian and was the vice president of our animal rights organization in college. I had originally gone vegetarian mainly due to a philosophy class I'd taken called “The Philosophy of Animal Rights and the Environment.” Being in this class forced me to thoroughly think through the food choices I was making, and I found it impossible to rationalize the consumption of meat. So, I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian (in 1990).
However, as time went by, I began to feel like a bit of a hypocrite for continuing to eat other animal products. I was learning more and more about what went into the dairy products and eggs I was still consuming. I had also watched “The Animals Film” which was like the “Earthlings” of the early 90's. At this time, I had also moved into an apartment with a new friend named Anne. I didn't know her very well, but found her intriguing—she was a vegan and was strikingly beautiful and vibrant looking. There was also an all-vegan family I knew at the time that was just the most beautiful family I'd ever seen—they all just seemed to glow. So, I began to ask my new friends questions about the vegan lifestyle, and also picked up a copy of Dr. John McDougall's book, “The McDougall Plan.” I remember being floored—all the myths I'd grown up with about animal products being necessary and healthy were just propaganda and advertisement. Feeling empowered with this information, I decided to give veganism a try.
When and why did you become interested in fitness?
I think I was nine. I've been interested in fitness almost all my life! I come from a family that struggles with obesity (I was obese for most of my twenties, actually), so it's something I've always felt was necessary.
How would you describe your nutrition program?
I have a power drink first thing each day, consisting of kale, carrots, blueberries, and soy yogurt. Maybe some hemp powder if I need more sustenance. Then, I focus mostly on vegan whole foods for the rest of the day. I try to eat lots of veggies and drink plenty of water—these two things are very important. I'm also not too strict with myself. I love to eat and I find that if you're eating all vegan (and mostly light, healthy foods), you can have some treats once in a while and not stress too much. But in general, it's all organic foods consisting mostly of whole, unprocessed ingredients. I actually have a color-coding system for nutrition in my books that I follow. It works great for me.
How would you describe your training program?
My goal is always this: Cardio each day (which means I often skip a day or two each week, realistically) and two days of strength training (where I do all my muscle groups) per week. I also try to do some yoga a few times each week, and incorporate stretching into all my workouts.
What kind of supplements do you use if any, and why?
I'm a big believer in getting all of your nutrition from real food. I like superfoods and nutrition boosters, but only if they're basically whole, real foods. I've been vegan for 20 years and have never felt the need for anything synthetic. I do like the Vega and also Sproutein products though, especially if I'm traveling, as they're super nutritious, made from whole foods, and are very high quality. I'm picky.
How do people react when they find out you are vegan?
They usually say “Wow, that's why you look so healthy!” This is great, compared to 1991, when the usual reaction was either “What's that?” or “Is that safe?”
What are some common misconceptions about veganism?
It's boring, limited, and contains insufficient nutrients. I can say without a second of hesitation though that those are all totally false. I've found a vegan diet to represent not only the most delicious foods on the planet, but also the most nutritionally complete.
Have you had success in promoting veganism / vegetarianism to others? If so, how did you go about it?
Yes, great success. Mostly through my books and classes—in other words, through delicious food!
What do you think the most important aspect of training is?
Striving for progress, not perfection. Too many of us think we have to be perfect and then when we fall short, we give up. Just focus on continual improvement.
What do you like best about being vegan?
The fact that it makes me look and feel great—and that I'm avoiding all the health problems so prevalent in our society. I can also sleep better at night knowing that it's good karma—no animals are suffering to provide food for me. And I love that it's much more gentle on the earth. It's also delicious. I could go on and on—I just love being vegan!
What do you like best about being fit?
Great question! I love feeling like I have all the energy and strength I need to do everything I want to do in life. I also feel drawn to be fit so that I can be a good example for others to live healthier lives and try a vegan diet.
What advice do you have for people who are just starting out with training?
Again, focus on progress. Develop a doable plan for yourself—one that you can truly stick with—and focus on your improvements. Find activities that you enjoy and make it something that you can look forward to. Hold a vision of what you want to accomplish and who you want to be and don't let that image out of your mind!
What advice do you have for people who are thinking of becoming vegan?
I would tell them a little bit about my own experience, namely that it's the best decision I've ever made. It's given me a life of health, vitality, peace of mind, and also freedom from all of the needless health problems that plague our society (and my family). I would also tell them that the food is beyond amazing! Who could possibly feel deprived when being fed “Key Lime Pie with Coconut Ginger Crust” or “Crunchy Tempeh with Mango Avocado Salsa?” Vegan food is just the most flavorful, satisfying stuff on the planet, so there's no need to feel deprived in any way.
I would also tell them to take it one step at a time. Sure, it's a snap for many of us—but if it sounds overwhelming to you, take it in stages. Set doable goals. Progress is more important than perfection, so keep focusing on making that progress and eliminating the foods that don't benefit your body, the planet, or animals. Continue to find delicious replacements for animal foods. Eat at vegan-friendly restaurants. Find amazing vegan recipes that your whole family will flip for. Enlist the support of other vegans. Watch “Earthlings” and “Forks Over Knives.” And finally, make a list of all of the benefits of going vegan. If your list has under 1000 reasons on it, you've missed a few.
What motivates you in life?
I'm motivated predominantly by helping others, whether it's animals or humans. I want to make as much of a contribution as I can and help others realize their potential. There's simply no reason to live an unhappy, unhealthy life when you can make some changes and live in a way that embraces your potential.
What do you think of veganbodybuilding.com? Has it helped or inspired you?
I think it's pure awesomeness. Yes, it absolutely inspires me! I love to hear other's experiences and learn from them—so many fantastic people on here!