When tennis star Venus Williams was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011, her brilliant tennis career came to a tragic halt. Sjögren’s syndrome is accompanied by dry eyes and mouth, fatigue, and joint pain. In an effort to manage her symptoms, Williams switched to a vegan diet with a focus on raw foods. What started off as an effort to alleviate pain and have more energy became a joyous way of life for Williams—
“I started for health reasons … and I wanted to maintain my performance on the court. Once I started, I fell in love with the concept of fueling your body in the best way possible. Not only does it help me on the court, but I feel like I’m doing the right thing for me,” she told Health.
She has graciously discussed her strategies for staying vegan and healthy despite her condition—and despite the familiar struggles we all face—like finding the desire to cook healthy meals all the time and avoid junk food!
Enjoy what you eat—and have fun!
Her first tip may seem obvious, but it’s something that’s easy to forget when we’re trying to reform our diets—“I always tell people that you have to enjoy what you’re eating. If you’re eating a plant-based diet or a mixture of one, make sure you’re eating something you like. Find a restaurant, recipes, or join a community.” (Like Peaceful Dumpling, perhaps?) “That way you can learn and enjoy your food. If you can’t enjoy your eating, I don’t know how fun life would be!”
You don’t have to be a top chef—find food you like to eat and cook.
We’ve all had those evening when we know we should make something healthy, but we just. can’t. even. Williams says the solution is to have some staple meals that are easy and enjoyable to cook: “I go in spurts because sometimes I’m like, ‘I’ve got to cook!’ and other times I’m like, ‘Who’s going to feed me?’ So I have different levels. One of my favorite recipes is celery-root soup. I get celery root, tomato, and some Silk almond milk as a base to thicken it a little bit, and then maybe I’ll add pan-fried garlic on top, maybe some truffle oil.” Looking for a place to get started? Check out these 15 Easy Vegan Meals with Common Ingredients.
Craving something sweet—or fried? Enjoy a healthy substitute.
“I do love sweet things,” Williams explains, “so I’ve tried to find things that I love that are sweet but are still healthy. So, for me, sometimes it’ll be a juice or a sweet smoothie. There’s a smoothie that I have called ‘orange creamsicle.’ I’ll put in Silk milk, oranges, a little banana, vanilla flavoring, and sometimes a little coconut oil. The best thing about the orange creamsicle is that it tastes like you’re having an ice cream, so it makes me really happy but it’s still really healthy. There are different ways to ease your itch when you want junk food.”
And then there are always delicious substitutions. “Always have a replacement food that tastes good,” Williams suggests, “So you like chips? Find a kale chip or bake your own chips that are healthy. Just find a replacement so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.”
Making yourself go hungry is not part of a healthy lifestyle.
A well-rounded vegan diet is about eating good food! “Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Because when you’re too hungry you can’t think straight, and you make bad decisions and then suddenly you wake up and you think, ‘what have you done?!’
Finally, track your accomplishments!
Williams says it helps to set a goal for yourself: “It can be something like 30 days without fried food. There’s something about having a goal and working towards it that makes you feel good. You can also get apps on your phone that help track for you, and just seeing those numbers makes you feel like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing it!'”
What are your tips for sticking to a healthy diet?
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Photo: Venus Williams via Instagram