Montecito, California native Colleen Campbell is powered by plants and shares with her clients a greener way of life. Her company “EcoEvolve,” helps people cultivate an inner awareness of how to fuel and how to train: guilt and gluten free. She teaches others how to use nutrition for optimal performance mentally, physically and spiritually. Colleen’s choice to keep meat off the menu is far from preachy or Vegangelical, emphasizing substitutions instead of restraints. In my interview with Colleen I ask about her journey into the nutrition field, common misconceptions about the animal-free lifestyle, and what inspired her to help others.
LUCIE BEATRIX: When did you decide to take a look at your own health and reevaluate what you were putting into your body?
COLLEEN CAMPBELL: I was 19 (in 2007) and had a series of major allergic reactions to wheat and gluten that had previously gone undiagnosed. My first steps were to eliminate all foods I had allergies or sensitivities to (including wheat/gluten and all dairy products). I had been a certified personal trainer since 2006 without having any knowledge of nutritional training. The food allergies and subsequent illnesses due to inflammation were catalysts in discovering more about nutrition through various national certifications, higher education, and self-teaching.
What is the most common misconception about how you eat?
The most common misconception is that I deprive myself in order to stay fit. I eat anywhere between 2,600 – 3,000 calories per day of plant-based foods and do not believe in deprivation diets.
What inspired you to start EcoEvolve and can you give us a brief description of what it is?
EcoEvolve has developed into a combination of my personal training and nutritional services paired with Green Lifestyle Coaching. As I was being educated on nutrition and lifestyle choices, the issue of sustainability was eventually tackled. My work led me to question what was sustainable on a personal (and simultaneously on an ecological) level. I work intensively with people who want to improve their lives through dietary and lifestyle interventions, oftentimes custom-fit to each person I work with. This whole-being approach encompasses programs for weight loss, improved athleticism, strength training, and over all wellness. I only take on 7 to 10 clients at any time in order to ensure that my coaching isn’t being diluted and that I can adequately meet the needs of the people and families I work with.
What role does spirituality play in your life?
Spirituality plays a vital role in my life, but that wasn’t always the case. (I could’ve been an atheist at one point!) A great deal has happened to realign me with spirituality, including healing from very dire physical conditions, to meditation here in Boulder, Colorado (where I live full-time), to having greater empathy for the clients I work with… everything comes back to a power greater than whatever my human brain can come up with. The times I feel most connected to a sense of spirituality are on long runs or hikes through the Rocky Mountains. It’s not just the feeling of being at ease or peaceful with physical surroundings, but the sense that an artist is continually creating and connecting every living entity. It feels like wholeness. It feels like something we can all share in. My perspective on spirituality is always evolving to include more compassion and a sense of Divine Love. For me, being a vegan, I feel very connected to people and animals alike and it has pushed me to live in a way that honors both through a more spiritual perspective.
Describe what you eat on a daily basis, ideally when you are in training.
I usually start my day with a ton of water. I drink about 2 Nalgene water bottles before I start having actual food, just to make sure I’m hydrated. I typically have a shake for breakfast with several bananas, greens, Vega protein powder, and almond/rice milk. (My Vitamix blender is pretty much the best thing that has ever happened to my kitchen.)
For snacks, I usually eat dried fruit throughout the day or if I’m feeling rushed, I pick up a vegetable juice or smoothie.
For lunch, I like to eat something heavier like brown rice, greens, and legumes with an oil-free dressing or salsa. I’m a huge fan of avocados for lunch too, whenever there’s guacamole around!
For dinner, I either do a large salad (with kale, whatever fresh fruits I have on my countertop, sometimes nuts/seeds if I’m feeling hungrier than usual, lots of bell peppers, zucchini, squash, etc.) or a make a lot of vegetable soups with coconut milk bases, which are amazing for fall and winter weather in Colorado. I’m also a fan of homemade vegan chili and sweet potatoes.
For dessert, I either do fruit, raw vegan cookies (no processed sugar or gluten), pumpkin or zucchini bread (oil-free and gluten-free), or decaffeinated tea with a bit of coconut sugar. I drink water throughout the day in normal amounts – 6 to 7 glasses per day.
I like to make sure I’m getting a balance of sweet, savory, cool, and warm flavors into each day. I eat as organically as possible, but I’m not one to chastise myself for having the occasional vegan cupcake when I’m out with friends. For me, whether I’m on my workout plan or not, food is for fueling my body and being in a place where I’m not constantly analyzing or obsessing about what I’m putting into my body. What we think about ourselves is just as important as what we put into our bodies… I’m not going to pretend that I’m perfect or even striving for perfection. The focus with my eating habits is centered on progress, not perfection.
You could sum up my personal dietary preferences as “Plant-Based, Gluten-Free, 60-70% Raw Vegan,” because our society loves putting labels on EVERYTHING. (Haha.)
What advice do you have for people on the Standard American Diet (which includes fast-food, soft drinks, and tons of sugar) looking to gradually shift gears towards something more plant-based?
I mostly want to put minds at ease when I talk to people with different lifestyles than my own philosophy. The best advice I could give would be that it’s not about eliminating everything that’s “bad” for you in one swoop – it’s actually a process where you add in healthier foods to crowd out unhealthier choices. When you’re full of dates and bananas, it’s very hard to want processed sugary treats.
I want people to feel full and nourished at the end of every day, not to feel pressured to deprive themselves. Oftentimes, people who come from disordered or “unhealthy” eating patterns come from a place of shame, and the last thing I want to do is shame people for their choices. The only way to accomplish that is to show them foods that will satiate and heal their bodies over time. It’s a lifestyle change; it’s not a quick fix.
What kind of dieting mistakes, if any, have you made in the past that you learned from?
I once thought being a vegan was solely dietary preference. For me, it was not. I had been eating completely vegan foods for three years by the time I moved to Colorado and I thought I needed to eat more “normally,” so my gracious and giving friends made me a culinary masterpiece out of a deer that they had hunted themselves. It was a beautiful dish and people that cared about my well-being lovingly prepared it. I thought, “Well, maybe I’m Paleo now. It seems slightly more culturally forgivable in America.” For my body and for my health, I was wrong. After the meal, spent two days violently ill and, for all intensive purposes, afraid. I had given up morals that I didn’t even know I had! My body no longer wanted or needed meat in my diet and I began to explore ways that I could be compassionate not only on my plate, but in my life as well. The mistake, in a nutshell, was looking for cultural cues to feel more secure about the way I was eating… instead of being completely secure in my own method and choices.
Do you believe in counting calories?
I believe in counting calories for people who are new to dietary and lifestyle changes. It’s helpful in educating and engaging people about their health. After someone is firmly on a sustainable dietary path, counting calories becomes less of a necessity. It’s very easy to intuit calorie counts of certain staple foods in diets. Knowing ballpark calorie counts is part of the process of becoming more aware of personal food consumption.
When I’m working with people who come from a background of eating small amounts of unhealthy food to stay “thin,” one of the first things I do is make sure that they’re getting enough calories from fruits and vegetables. People are quick to limit the things that they should be eating in abundance.
What is the biggest food myth you think society perpetuates?
The biggest food myth, to me, is that we can’t be more future-oriented in our farming and sustainability approaches. More and more vertical farming techniques around the world are cropping up (pun intended) and it’s an incredible thing to watch. I don’t feel like we have to go back in time and have expansive family-owned farmsteads to sustain our growing population – if anything, that system (though still in use and still prosperous in the organic farming revolution today) is not the end-all, be-all in food production, as much as many fad food cultures want to “green-wash” it. (Yes, I realize it’s more sustainable than industrial farming, but I’m a bit of an idealist in this area.) I want to see more land conservation, more water conservation, and a technologically progressive outlook on how we produce our food, ethically and healthfully.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years, I’d like to be working in Ecology, specifically. I’m currently so close to having my Ecology, Evolutionary Biology masters degree! I always would like to continue coaching and teaching on the side, but I want to be able to impact change on a larger scale as well.
When you aren’t cooking, coaching, or working out, what are you doing?
I’m usually cheering on my fiancé, Grant, with his various athletic events. When we’re at home, we’re both spoiling our dog, Kavi, with obscene amounts of attention. You can find me snuggled on the couch with an oversized cup of tea and an iPhone constantly in hand, because I never really stop working. There’s always an e-mail, text, or phone call to take with EcoEvolve and I wouldn’t have it any other way. (Also, Instagram is kind of a big deal. Find me @EcoEvolve.)
Who are your food and fitness heroes?
I can’t even tell you how much of a PlantBuilt fan I am. All of their athletes are phenomenal and inspirational (www.PlantBuilt.com). There’s also my local hero from Boulder, Scott Jurek (www.ScottJurek.com). Hillary Biscay is pretty boss lady too (www.HillaryBiscay.com). There are so many of them… and each athlete truly does bring something new and exciting to each sport and/or event.
What is the single most important thing everybody should know when it comes to diet and nutrition?
Basically, diet and nutrition looks slightly different for everyone, even in the wide world of plant-based eating. It’s not about looking to what someone else is doing and trying to mimic somebody verbatim, it’s about finding what works for you. That’s basically in my job description; I help others understand foods that power and empower their potential. It’s important to honor your differences and play to your strengths.
Connect with Colleen online at facebook.com/EcoEvolve or on Instagram @EcoEvolve