“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”
~ Jim Rohn
I met my friend, Neilie Weidell, in the fall of 1999. We went to school together at the University of Minnesota and lived across the hall from each other during our freshmen year.
We hadn’t been in touch since our days in school until about eight months ago when she started to post updates and pictures, almost weekly, about a new training schedule she had started and how she had decided to change her diet and become vegan.
I wanted to know more. How had she started and why?
Neilie’s journey, from hairstylist to national figure competitor, inspired and motivated me, and all of those following her on Facebook; I wanted to spread her desire and determination.
Note: For those who don’t know, like I didn’t, a figure competition is similar to female bodybuilding but emphasizes muscle definition rather than size.
BF: What was your motivation to start training for a figure competition and to also do it as a vegan?
NW: The reason why I started any of this “health stuff” is because my father has terminal cancer. It was important to me to be a good example for my family to wake up about their own health.
“One thing I have realized is that you cannot change people. All you can do is try to inspire them to want to change for themselves.”
I started training with a guy in Minneapolis, Ryan Nelson, that I found via Twitter. He mentioned doing an NPC (National Physique Committee) competition in March and I decided it would be a good time for me as well. Because I am single, it was kind of like a “Now or Never” mentality. Ryan and his girlfriend, Jessica, are vegan and they really inspired me. I wasn’t eating much meat at the time and I was up for another challenge.
BF: How long did you train and what was your schedule like? How many hours a day?
NW: My training was lifting heavy weights three times a week from August to November with some light running. Lifting became four times a week from November through March. I also added barre classes and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) the last two months leading up to the show.
BF: Did you find it difficult to juggle your daily responsibilities with your training schedule?
NW: Absolutely! One great thing is I live two blocks from my business. It helped immensely with meal prep and taking care of my dog, Manhattan. Because I am self-employed, I was also able to manipulate my schedule.
In January I got a part time job in addition to my full time position. For awhile, things were very tricky. There were many late nights and early mornings. Most nights I got five or six hours of sleep. You learn to get the most out of every hour.
BF: How does it feel to compete? What did you like and dislike about it?
NW: Competition isn’t new for me as an athlete. The thing about bodybuilding is you only compete with yourself. That is the best and the most difficult.
BF: What was the hardest thing about training for the competition?
NW: The hardest part was alienating my friends and family. I realized how much our lives revolve around food and alcohol. I also learned who my real friends were because they were supportive and understood. Many nights were spent on the couch with my dog, but I have no regrets. I tried the best I could to maintain relationships.
BF: What did your diet look like? A lot of people consider a vegan diet to be inherently low-calorie; did you find you needed to cut calories or bulk them up?
NW: Actually, when you are building muscle, you need to eat much more (rore food+heavier weights=more muscle=less fat).
Vegans can eat much more because their calories come from plants and are easily absorbed and digested, provided they are “good” calories. There are many theories about diets for bodybuilding. I learned what works for me. I encourage people to seek a professional’s advice, not mine. It is truly scientific.
BF: Did you find it necessary to add in any dietary vitamins or supplements?
NW: Yes. I added a high quality multivitamin, Vitamins B and D, creatine and glutamine.
BF: What is your favorite thing about being a vegan?
NW: Feeling energy, life and light.
BF: How has the transition to veganism changed/effected your life?
NW: Aside from the health benefits and awesome skin, it has inspired me to make a career change. After 14 years as a stylist, I will be moving to Austin, Texas in September to attend theNatural Epicurean Culinary school to study vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, raw, and Ayurvedic cooking. My goal is to have a vegan food truck.
BF: What was the hardest thing about going vegan? What was the most difficult food to give up?
NW: The most memorable transition period for me was the holidays. Eating meals with my family was difficult. I spent Thanksgiving dinner with Ryan and Jessica, my trainer and his girlfriend.
We had vegan pizzas, buffalo wings and the most amazing pecan pie. It was so kind of them to invite me to their home and we had a great time. Though to be completely honest, I was sad that for one meal, my family wasn’t willing to support me. As far as food goes, I don’t feel like I am missing anything in my vegan diet.
BF: I’ve followed your journey from the start and I know that competing in this figure competition was your ultimate goal, what does it mean to you to have accomplished it?
NW: Sometime last fall a gal asked me if I would consider doing a competition. She said it was on her bucket list. It was then that I added it to my bucket list. Anytime I can cross something off my list it makes me feel good.
Like Nicki Minaj said, “Everybody dies but not everybody lives.” I’ll sleep when I die.
BF: Are there more shows in your future?
NW: Yes. The NPC Gopher State Classic. I told Ryan that if I placed in the top five I would do another show.
BF: Were your friends and family supportive of this journey?
NW: It’s always easier to jump on the band wagon towards the end. I get that. Change is tough for everyone.
However, I was so excited that my brother and sister-in-law, Heidi, came to my first show with my adorable nieces Violet and Cecilia. The best part was walking onto the stage and hearing my brother cheering for me from the balcony. Immediately after exiting the stage, I started to cry. It was the best moment of this whole journey. At that moment, I had won.
BF: Have you influenced any of your friends and family to become vegan or begin training?
NW: My goal isn’t to get everyone to be vegan or lift heavy f*cking weights. I wanted to inspire people to make conscious choices about what they are putting into their bodies.
Healthcare is the most disputed issue in congress. If people want healthcare to change, they should be healthier. Too many people rely on western medicine instead of good ole’ fashioned diet and exercise. It comes back to the fundamentals.
I am proud to say that many people have been inspired. I knew my efforts had been worth it when my sister called asking about hummus and my parents started drinking lemon water every morning. Also, some of my clients and coworkers are now seeking training with Ryan. He’s awesome.
BF: If you were giving advice to someone just starting what would you tell them?
NW: Seek professional guidance and be open-minded. Also, do your own research. Don’t rely solely on one person’s opinion. What works for one may not work for you.
BF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
NW: I think of myself as practicing disease prevention through food because I believe food is medicine.
If you’re interested in following Neilie’s amazing journey you can find her on Instagram, and don’t forget to post any questions you have for her in the comments below.
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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photos: Dan Meuller (via Neilie Weidell)