Brendan Brazier wrote the book on thriving. Seriously—his book, Thrive: The Vegan Nutritional Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life, took the vegan lifestyle from the macrame jungle into the mainstream. He followed that with a magazine he called Thrive and will launch a new magazine, Alive, this year. He was also a founder of Vega and could be considered a pioneer of the modern plant-based movement.
New Hope Network talked to him about that and about "thrive" as the word of the moment and how the meaning has changed for him and for the world at large.
What does "thrive" mean to you in 2017?
Brendan Brazier: It means being able to do what you want, when you want, how you want, basically not having limitations, physical or mental, that hold you back from achieving what it is you’re trying to achieve. So, of course, people who aren’t thriving, I would say, are ones who get tired easily, need to rely on stimulants like caffeine and sugar to stay awake or have to sleep more, who are less productive. When all those things go away, when you get your mental and physical aligned, then you can truly thrive.
How common do you think it is among people to feel like they’re thriving?
Brazier: I think most people would like to do more thriving, and I think some people feel as though sometimes they’re just getting by, just putting out fires and dealing with the immediate things. To me, thrive also has an element of the future, and I know there’s a lot that’s been made of living in the present, but I tend to think to thrive I like to live a little bit in the future. I like to have that optimism for what the future’s going to bring. I think that’s what helps me to thrive. It’s just an optimistic attitude and spending a fair bit of my head-space in the future thinking about what could be if I do certain things now.
Could we consider the lack of thriving to be basically a condition? An ailment?
Brazier: I suppose you could. I think of it as quite holistic and kind of a general state. But there are certain things specific to lack of energy, for example, or being dependent on caffeine or sugar, or needing to sleep more. Of course, most people want to sleep better so they don’t have to sleep as much. That’s a really appealing thing to a lot of people. If you know how to eat properly and you understand hormones and all that and you can lower your cortisol through stress reduction, you can achieve things like that. I think any one of those could be considered specific but, like I say, generally I think thriving is pretty holistic.
Do you think people have an understanding of that balance between the psychological side and the physical side?
Brazier: Some people do but most don’t. A lot of people just aren’t aware of that connection. They aren’t aware that by cleaning up your diet, you can reduce a very large amount of your overall stress, and therefore the symptoms of that stress.
Can supplements help people thrive?
Brazier: Something we found when we first launched Vega, is that Vega is nutrient-dense, whole food, and it’s going to help you reduce cortisol, but it’s not going to do it overnight. A lot of people, especially people new to the natural health industry, they want results right away. They’re from the drug culture, really. Take a drug and the effect is almost immediate. I think it’s kind of a tough thing because supplement manufacturers want to make something that is going to be noticeable right away, but at the same time you don’t want to have people think too short-term. They need to think that a supplement that may treat their symptom is actually a long-term solution. That can be a challenge because sometimes people aren’t going to stick with it for the time required, which could be several months, in some cases. It can be a little bit tricky to navigate at times.
How does the natural products industry get people to see that holistic approach? What should the message be?
Brazier: Just getting the information out that there are certain things you can do that will help treat your symptoms in the short-term, but long-term, here are some meal plans that are going to help by eliminating other types of foods that cause cortisol to go up, which is what I try and do with my book and, obviously, through Vega as well. Of course a lot of other companies are doing similar things now, so it’s good. I think it’s just making sure people realize it’s a lifestyle. As with exercise, it’s not so much about exercising for six weeks or eight weeks or whatever and then taking before and after pictures. It’s more about consistency and lifestyle as opposed to a program. When people talk about their nutrition program or workout program, they’re usually looking at it in a way that’s not sustainable. Find a plan, find a lifestyle that is sustainable and just stick with it.
Let’s say somebody who hasn’t seen your magazine or hasn’t ready your book asks you "What’s my first step?" Is it nutrition? Is it more about attitude adjustment?
Brazier: It can be more complex sometimes than I’d like it to be. I think nutritionally, just be mindful of adding some good foods. Don’t even think about eliminating the ones that aren’t good right away. Just keep it simple. Perception, too, is a very big thing. You can become mentally unfit just by basically depleting your willpower. If you’re constantly doing things you don’t enjoy, things get harder and harder. Replenish that. Do things you like. It sounds strange, but if people are on a new program and they get home from work, especially jobs they don’t like, and they have to go right into an exercise routine program they don’t enjoy, that’s not sustainable. They’ve got to find things that are going to help them even if they have to just recharge their batteries by doing something they really enjoy even if it’s not necessarily the healthiest thing. If it helps them get up the willpower to approach bigger challenges, like maybe making bigger changes in their diet or maybe changing their career, whatever it is, certain things can really help.
Have you seen a change in awareness?
Brazier: The 10th anniversary edition of Thrive is now out and there’s been a big shift since the original edition. I think people are just better informed, generally. They think more holistically. They feel as though they have more control than they did in the past, which is obviously really positive. They feel that if they make changes, they will see the results and that’s very positive. They don’t feel as much like victims of the modern world. A lot of people are far more optimistic now, and that’s great.
How long is it going to take before people really understand that equation between the price of food and the value of food?
Brazier: I think the folks who shop at Whole Foods are the right place to start, for sure. Getting to people who don’t know as much about food is going to take a while. Twelve years ago, not a lot of people knew about hemp protein, pea protein, rice protein. The demand was for soy and whey. It will take a while, but I think it’s a worthy thing to start on.