I’ve always loved the Holidays, and growing up, Thanksgiving was my absolute favorite.
((Okay sure – my mashed potato addiction had a lot to do with it. And pie. And whip cream. And anything that grandma made.))
Yep, that was me right there. Although I preferred to eat it straight out of the tub, slightly frozen. My poor arteries…
Anyway, it was understandably quite a surprise when I told my family and friends I was ditching the feast this time around… and going to a vegan fitness retreat this year instead.
and whyyyyyytf?? they asked.
You goddam hippies, a VEGAN FITNESS RETREAT? (it’s ok, i was thinking it too).
It was the exact opposite of the lounge-about food fest we all looked forward to every year. So many were rightfully concerned I’ve totally lost my mind.
Let Me Explain
So, why did I decide to ditch shoveling cool whip into my face for a wellness retreat?
Well, for starters, I was eating pretty much 100% plant-based, and I wanted to be fully 100%, and continue over the Holiday break. Therefore, I’d have to say no to the amazing food prepared by my family, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Usually I’d bring my own dish or two, but this time I just felt like I wanted to avoid being around the turkey feast.
Another reason is over the last few years, I haven’t really loved the idea of celebrating this holiday due to its historical roots. (I’ll spare you the details since I’m sure most of you are aware). I’ve found ways to make this “holiday” more meaningful by taking time out of the day to honor the Indigenous people of this land, share their stories, attend their events throughout the year, and support financially through platforms like Real Rent Duwamish.
I have plenty of friends and family who understand, but it was still never the primary reason we got together on this day. We didn’t actually talk about it. So basically, my mind is elsewhere on Thanksgiving, and this year it didn’t feel right to pretend nor to complicate things for others who just wanted to have some quality family time.
And so, I decided I wanted to do my own thing. I scheduled a trip home for a later time so I could still get some quality time with family, just not during this holiday. I just wanted to keep my momentum, honor my feelings and stay dedicated to my diet, even if it meant being alone. Plus, they make dairy-free cool whip now, so I could have a tub all to myself if I got sad.
So how did I end up in Mexico?
Well, guys, let’s back-track a little. You see, a couple years ago, I met these cool people online..!
((the worst start to any story, i know. stranger danger.))
But for reals, I had been following Nimai Delgado and Bianca Taylor online for quite some time, as well as many other plant-based athletes via the Instagrams. They helped keep my motivation going over the last couple years and I learned a lot from them. Their commitment and dedication to the vegan lifestyle was inspiring and essential in a time of so much misinformation, and they have helped so many people see the real side of veganism.
I later followed one of Bianca’s fitness programs and was impressed by her knowledge in plant-based nutrition, having certified from Cornell University. Her program was not a starvation diet: exercises were challenging and effective; the recipes were easy, healthy and actually delicious. It wasn’t full of fake, processed food but real food. This is what I had been looking for – not a fad diet, but a sustainable, plant-based lifestyle.
In early 2018, Nimai and Bianca and their pal Stephen started a new joint business, VeganFitness.com, and in the Spring they launched their first-ever Vegan Fitness Challenge. It was 8 weeks of workouts, meal plans, recipes, Q&A sessions and more so I signed up. [You can read more on the fitness challenge later.]
After that 8 weeks I felt the best I ever had. I knew that I could eat this way forever and reach and maintain my fitness goals, now that I better understood how to keep my diet balanced and low cost with their help. And so I continued all throughout the summer and fall.
Cool, now back to the point – Mexico.
October came along, the Holidays were creeping up and I had already let my family know I decided I was doing Thanksgiving alone. Days later, the Vegan Fitness team announced their first-ever Vegan Fitness Retreat, over Thanksgiving week: 5 days in sunny Sayulita, Mexico filled with activities, workouts, yoga, mental and physical wellness talks, all-inclusive plant-based meals and more.
I thought, yep – this is it.
It sounded like the perfect getaway I needed to stay healthy and fit over the Holiday, and to meet some like-minded people as well. I mean, they eat vegetables for a living, so I don’t think I’m signing up for anything too scary, right?
They didn’t announce it too far in advance, so I had to save up fast. I worked extra–extra–extraaa hours to make it happen (in a ridiculously short amount of time), just in time to buy my flight and book my room. And I am so glad I did.
Say what you want about “wellness retreats,” but this one was the real deal. It was genuinely fulfilling, informative, restorative, and filled with so many fun activities, laughs, talks, and more. I’ll share a few of my favorite highlights from the Vegan Fitness Thanksgiving Retreat below so you can better understand what the heck I was up to the week I went MIA on turkey day.
1. The Villas Sayulita Retreat Center
The Vegan Fitness Thanksgiving Retreat was awesome first and foremost because of Villas. This retreat center, tucked away just blocks from the beach, was adorable and comfortable. They grow many of their own vegetables, cooked all of our meals during the retreat, and they have ducks! And chickens! Annnd they just got a new puppy. It was almost too much for an animal lover like me.
The outdoor area offered lots of space to relax with hammocks, swings, a pool, and lush greenery. There’s a central plaza of sorts where we did group activities or spent free time. Also outside were picnic tables where we shared our meals together, family-style. Being surrounded by nature, animals and kindred spirits was something I’ll never forget.
2. Meeting People From All Over The World
I figured it would be mostly LA-area folks since Nimai and Bianca’s followers are mainly from there. But nope, I was totally wrong. We had a woman from Thailand, a few folks from Canada – including a vegan chef (!!!) – a young man from Slovenia, a baddie from Boston, another from France, a makeup artist from Sacramento (vegan and cruelty-free makeup, of course!) and so many others. It was so cool to meet such a variety of people from all over the world, who each decided to be here for different reasons, trusting they would find the community they were looking for.
Oh, and there were non-vegans, too! Yep. It wasn’t at all a requirement to be perfectly plant-based to attend. In fact, many of us were still struggling to get there back at home, mainly for convenience reasons, for not wanting to upset others or being labeled as “difficult”. No wonder I felt right at home.
The conversations went far beyond soyrizo and vegan ice cream, though; we talked about everything under the sun. We shared many different perspectives, different ways of life, and we even found Slovenia on the map and learned a lot about it. We talked about Thanksgiving and what it means for us, and how many of us Americans just felt a pull to do things differently. We all felt a deep connection to one another after the first couple hours. We were a true soul fam.
3. Health and Wellness Talks
This was one of my favorite parts of the retreat because there’s a lot about veganism that the mass public gets totally wrong. And sometimes, without knowing it, many folks toying with veganism carry the same misconceptions, like where will they get their protein from? Are dozens of supplements required to stay healthy? What’s actually healthy vegan food and what isn’t? What about that one video where the one girl went vegan and all her hair fell out or turned green or something?
To have Nimai, Bianca, Steven and Andrew discuss topics of concern and debunk the many myths of veganism was encouraging. Each of the hosts brought their own foundation of knowledge and practice based on certified nutrition education, thorough research and personal experience.
It was also fun to share the weirdest questions we’ve each been asked about our terrible life choices of eating more kale.
On a different day, Bianca hosted own talk on mental health, with a focus on how to take care of our mental health in an era of social media and fad dieting. She discussed her own battles overcoming an eating disorder, how she sets boundaries on social media, and how she handles the flood of negativity day-to-day as an online influencer with half a million followers. This is a conversation I will never forget, and everyone in the room was deeply touched by her vulnerability and openness to discuss these challenging topics.
4. Beaches, Hikes, Activites, and Exploring Sayulita
Oh ya – did I mention we were in the gorgeous town of Sayulita? It was hot, a tad humid and just plain beautiful. The retreat allowed us to have lots of free time to explore town, visit the beach, and just take it all in. Many of us frequented juice bars like Orangy Sayulita. I walked around checking out the street artists and murals around town.
Each morning started with a meditation and yoga class hosted by the one and only Andrew Sealy at the retreat center. And each afternoon we had an optional workout sessions during our free time. As a group we visited a couple beaches and did group yoga there as well. Andrew and Stephen even offered some Acro Yoga sessions, and some folks took full advantage of it.
We also had scheduled activities for each day. One day we took off for a medium-difficulty hike up Monkey Mountain, led by our MexiTreks tour guide. The steep, rocky but mostly covered terrain led us to one of the most gorgeous 360-degree views I’ve ever seen. We reached the top, spent some time to rest and admire the view, and of course we took some photos.
The most memorable night was when some of our group attended a baby seat turtle sendoff at the beach. The newly-hatched sea turtles, who were cared for by Campamento Tortuguero volunteers prior to hatching, were now healthy and ready to return to the ocean. Seeing the babies crawl their way back toward the ocean was such a beautiful thing to witness.
Looking Back On It All
6 months have since passed, and I still can’t fully describe how amazing the retreat was for me. Maybe you’ve have had one of those life experiences that was pretty incredible; those “you just had to be there to get it” type of experiences. Well, it absolutely was that and then some.
It’s hard for me to say I had an amazing time at the expense of being away from family, but oftentimes that’s where growth occurs. I truly believe I needed this for myself, and if you ever get the chance to attend one of their Vegan Fitness Retreats, I hope you decide to break away from the norm and just do it for you. And if a vegan retreat isn’t your thing, then do what your thing is. Find it.
Don’t feel bad for breaking tradition when it just doesn’t mean enough to you. But always be thankful for those you have in your life, and make time for them, even if it means on a different date than usual. Because of the choice I made, I now have a second family who “gets” me, that part of me that those closest still don’t fully understand. And now I have even more to be thankful for.