VegNews Interviews The Biggest Loser's Bob Harper, Winner of Their Veggie Awards 2010 Person of the Year
Though he's best known as one of America's toughest trainers for kicking people into shape on the hit reality show The Biggest Loser, it's Bob Harper's compassionate side that makes him 2010's biggest winner. The 45-year-old motivator made waves this year by formally announcing that he's a loud and proud vegan. Through the launch of his branded website, posting videos encouraging veg eating, and working with groups such as Farm Sanctuary and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Harper's making America a healthier, happier, more compassionate place. Between shooting a brand-new series of workout videos, penning a forthcoming book, and spending quality time with Karl - Harper's recently adopted pooch - Harper found time to chat with VegNews about all things vegan.
VegNews: You went vegan after reading The China Study. Was it an "ah-ha" moment or more gradual?
Bob Harper: I've been in the (training) business for a long time, and I'm always looking at diet plans. I was at a friend's house and it was right when Skinny Bitch came out. And she was like, "You need to read this book." The title totally threw me off; I said, "I'm not reading some book that's called Skinny Bitch." But I took it with me on vacation, and I was really interested and blown away by it at the same time. Then someone told me about The China Study, and when I read that I had a full-on "ah-ha" moment. Because I understand so much that you are what you eat. That's the bottom line.
VN: And you were recently Farm Sanctuary's nationwide spokesperson for the Walk for Farm Animals.
BH: Absolutely. I feel there are vegans out there who would say that I was not a vegan, because I did look at it from a health perspective, but then when Farm Sanctuary came to me it just made sense. I grew up on a cattle farm, ironically, and all of a sudden things started falling into place - just trying to live a kinder life.
VN: Are animal rights becoming more important to you?
BH: Yes, it's really starting to creep into my life. I was talking to Ellen DeGeneres of all people about this, and she told me that I needed to watch this documentary called Earthlings. It was one of those things where I didn't have the strength to watch it. I started watching the first 15 minutes and I was like, I can't do that. I know what's going on, I know how the kill floor works, I just can't see it - I can't have those visuals in my head.
VN: How did the training community react to you going vegan?
BH: Of course those die-hard fitness guys are like, "You gotta eat steak, you need to eat your chicken breast every day or your body's going to just waste away." My body did go through a period that was really interesting because I evaluate people for a living and all of a sudden it became self-evaluation. When I first went vegan I did lose a lot of weight. I got really thin, but then my body just needed to go through a transition period - it was reconstructing. I'm a big believer in trying to be as age-defying as possible and how you live your life will help or hinder that. And I really believe that living more on a plant-based diet is turning back the clock on me, or I like to say that it is.
VN: Judging from the success of shows like The Biggest Loser, people now want purpose and focus in their lives. Why do you think that is?
BH: I believe there is a storm of change out there, and I want to be on the forefront of that. People now are realizing that how we live affects our children, and our children are now dealing with Type 2 diabetes and obesity. We can no longer just close our eyes and wish that it'll go away. We all have to do something about it. That's why I love magazines like VegNews. It's out there preaching in a way that's more respectful.
VN: One of the main things that you stress is recognizing small accomplishments. How has that been effective?
BH: It's hugely successful. I truly believe that it's about finding that inner strength. Any change is difficult. You can overcome an old behavior, and what better cause for celebration? It really just feeds the self-esteem; it feeds that inner resolve. I also believe too, and I tell this to people all the time, that life is a process. Life is how a surfer thinks of the waves, there are ebbs and flows. So if you mess up, you know what? Today's a new day. And I really think that it gives people not necessarily freedom, but it gives them forgiveness. Because I've worked with people now for so long who are so quick to condemn themselves. "Oh look what I've done; I've already made these bad choices so eff it, I'm going to go back to eating whatever I want." You know what? You made a mistake; you messed up. It's over.
VN: Is there a cultural shift away from people wanting a certain size of body or weight and toward people just wanting to be healthy?
BH: I hope that to be the case. People really need to try and be the healthiest they can be, and not try to look like what they think they should look like. That's an important message to get out there. I tell people all the time, don't try to look like the girls on the covers of these magazines - they don't look like that anyway! I just did a photo shoot recently and the guy said, "Look how great these look, and they're still untouched." They should be untouched! I want to see me.
VN: Do you feel pressure to be healthy?
BH: People are always asking me, "What's your thing when you want something bad?" And I say, if I want something, I'm going to have it, but I have to be wise about it. Dark chocolate and peanut butter are two of the best things ever in the entire world - so if I want that, I'm going to have it. I'm just not going to have a truckload of it and I'm not going to have it every single day. Give me guacamole, chips and salsa, and a margarita, and I'm as happy as I can possibly be, but I'm not going to do it every day. I love to talk to people about that because they think that I'm this super hero, and I'm just a man. When you pull that curtain back for people, it makes them feel better. We're all human, and we're all just trying to do the best we can.
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