10 Life-Lessons at the Living the Plantpower Way Event with Rich Roll

by Tom Perry

A few years ago, I took myself to the inner-Melbourne suburb of Malvern (where I spent the first 4 years of my life).

I went to the Malvern Town Hall to see a genuine superstar of the plant-based vegan world.

Some say nice guys finish last. That definitely does not apply to Rich Roll.

For those of you who don’t know Rich Roll, he is many things: a husband; father; former corporate lawyer; one-time champion swimmer; recovered alcoholic; international-best-selling author of ‘Finding Ultra’; host of one of the most popular podcasts on fitness, diet and wellness; whole-food plant-based vegan; middle-aged ultra-athlete, and rated as one of the fittest men in the world.

He is also a super-nice guy.

Rich Roll and his wife Julie delivered a performance and presentation that was equal parts inspirational, educational, entertaining and motivational.

They were also joined by Melbourne-based plant-based doctor, researcher and host Dr Andrew Davies, and Andrew ‘Spud-Fit’ Taylor, renowned for surviving a whole year eating only potatoes.

You might know of Rich and Julie and their work, including their plant-based recipe book ‘The Plantpower Way’. Whether you do or not, there were many things I learned, or had powerfully re-affirmed during this event.

Rich Roll and wife Julie

  1. People can change. Rich Roll is a living embodiment of the idea that you really can turn your life around, reject negativity, and live true to your purpose. Rich went from the depths of despair, spending 100 days in rehab from years of alcoholism, to climbing the peaks of performance as one the world’s premier ultra-athletes. It’s worth remembering that achieving real, lasting change can be difficult; even painful. It is only in the crucible of hardship, effort and struggle that true character is forged.
  2. You can heal your body. Rich told the story (detailed in ‘Finding Ultra’) of when he was 50 pounds overweight, unfit, and barely able to climb a flight of stairs. Rich was a junk-food addict at this point, well on his way to a heart-attack and early death. Rich then made the conscious choice to go on a journey to rediscover his young, fit self. He eventually became a whole-food plant-based vegan with more energy, fitness and vitality than he ever thought possible.
  3. You can change the world. The plant-based vegan lifestyle can prevent and even reverse disease and has great healing power. It also has a much smaller carbon footprint than eating meat and animal products and avoids the suffering and death of literally billions of farm animals. By changing the world within, you can truly help to change the world around you.
  4. Live an authentic life. You should live a life that’s meaningful for you, not what others think you should do. By all means, learn from and be inspired by others you look up to, but only you can be you. Follow your own path, find your true purpose, and be your authentic self. Don’t try to be anyone else; just be the best you can possibly be.
  5. Be the example you’d like others to follow. Rather than seek to preach and push people in the direction you want them to go in, be the beacon that others will be attracted to. Accept and love your partner, family and friends for who they are, even if you don’t always agree with some of their life choices. Be the shining example of health and positivity that radiates the power of the plant-based lifestyle. When people close to you are ready to change, they will look to your example for living a healthy, ethical, and authentic life.
  6. Keep striving for excellence. Rich talked about one of his podcast guests, David Goggins. David, the only member of the US Armed Forces to complete SEAL training, is known as the ‘toughest man on earth’. Rich quoted one of David’s sayings “when you think you’re done, you’re only at 40% of your total potential”. Rich’s own experiences of competing in gruelling ultra-man events and the aptly-named ‘Epic 5’, which consists of five Ironman-distance triathlons, each on a different Hawaiian island, all completed in less than a week. Rich’s example and the stories he explores on his podcast of other jaw-dropping feats of human achievement and endurance are reminders of the possibility and potential that often lies dormant, just waiting for us to unlock and unleash it.
  7. Focus on the process, not the prize. Commitment to the process of self-improvement, of striving for positive change, and seeing it through is what can transform your life. It’s not so much whether you reach your ultimate prize, or goal, it’s how much you are willing to invest yourself in making progress. Rich Roll didn’t set out to be an ultra-athlete when he started running. He also competed in international events that he didn’t win, but he doesn’t see that as any sort of failure. On the contrary, Rich considers the fact that he was able to compete at the highest level of ultra-endurance events, after years of sedentary, unhealthy living, all well after he turned 40, as a both a physical triumph and a spiritual awakening.

Andrew spud-fit Taylor

Andrew ‘Spud-Fit’ Taylor

Another of the inspiring guest speakers, Andrew Taylor, spoke about his battle for years with the twin demons of depression and food addiction. Andrew said he tried every diet imaginable, and despite often losing some weight, he always put it back on. Andrew became so depressed he would sometimes cry for no reason. As Andrew ate in a vain attempt to feel better, he ballooned out to obesity.

Andrew’s ‘a-ha’ moment came when he realised his attachment to food, especially high-calorie low-nutrient density junk food, was a real addiction, like gambling, drug-dependency or alcoholism. Unlike these other addictions, however, Andrew understood that he could not simply go ‘cold turkey’ and give up food! So, he immersed himself in researching alternatives.

After 6 weeks of solid research, looking into, for example, the Irish historical reliance on potatoes, and the Okinawan’s traditional staple of sweet potato, Andrew decided to eat only potatoes, in a radical attempt to break his food addiction. He initially planned for this to last for a month or so, but after starting his potato-eating odyssey on New Year’s Day 2016, Andrew kept eating only potatoes for the whole year.

Now Andrew is 55 kilograms (121 pounds) lighter, and fitter than ever. He has beaten his depression, and no longer takes medications. Andrew has published a book: The DIY Spud Fit Challenge: A how-to guide to tackling food addiction with the humble spud. He also has his own website, blog & podcast, coaching program and t-shirts.

Here are 3 things I learned from Andrew’s talk:

1.      ‘Moderation’ is an excuse for mediocrity. For people like Andrew Taylor, and I suspect most people, eating ‘everything in moderation’ simply doesn’t work. Moderation, although sounding reasonable on the surface, is more often an excuse for not committing to real, lasting change – an acceptance of mediocrity, at best, and abject failure at worst.

2.      Extreme results require extreme effort. Andrew said he was criticised by some for following an ‘extreme’ and ‘unbalanced’ potato diet. As Andrew puts it, being that obese was ‘extreme’, and feeling depressed all the time was ‘extreme’.  This required ‘extreme’ measures to get the results Andrew was so desperately seeking. Despite all the nutrition ‘experts’ prediction of disaster, the reality is Andrew has not ended up with nutrition deficiencies – on the contrary, he is healthier than ever.

3.      Don’t think, do! I love this quote from Andrew. I had to wonder if he wasn’t a student or fan of my team, the Hawthorn Football Club (Aussie Rules), whose legendary premiership coach John Kennedy’s speech included the immortal “DON’T THINK! DOOOOOOO!” to his losing Hawthorn team at half-time in the 1975 grand final (we were thrashed by North Melbourne that year but came back to beat them the following year to claim the premiership in 1976!). Andrew Taylor said that he was prone to ‘over-think things’, while noting that sometimes we have to just take some positive action and give it a go!

Tom with Rich and Julie

I was really fired-up and motivated after attending this event. It reminded me that we all have unique gifts to share, and our mission should be to find the ultimate expression of our true selves, to add meaning and value to the world.

I’d like to thank the event organisers, the New Normal Project in conjunction with Conscious Club and SumoSalad; the speakers including Andrew Davies and Andrew Taylor for candidly sharing their struggles to find lasting health and wellness, and most of all Rich Roll and his wife Julie, who graciously stayed long after the 4-hour event was finished to speak to fans, take selfies and sign books (see picture of me with Rich & Julie). It was an honour and privilege to meet them in person, and soak up their wisdom and life-lessons.

If you haven’t read Rich’s memoir ‘Finding Ultra’, listened to his podcast, or bought a copy of his and Julie’s recipe book ‘The Plantpower Way’, I can highly recommend them all.

*You can find out more about Tom at his website: https://vegnetworkshop.com