During many of my workouts at CrossFit Miami Beach, I've noticed Nick Valencia, a tanned and shredded little guy, smiling, sweating, and tearing up the black rubber floor with his aggressive approach to the W.O.D. (CrossFit speak for "workout of the day"). Until a mutual friend tipped me off this week, I had no idea he was a plant-based nutrition counselor.
Valencia's journey to a holistic plant-based lifestyle wasn't an easy one. It began two years ago in Manhattan, his hometown. He'd worked in hospitality all of his adult life, flitting from managerial posts to bartending jobs, and he was really good at all of it. "I was working from 9 o'clock at night until 5 in the morning, around a bunch of parties late-night, getting into the scene." In 2007, he made two big life moves: buying his own bar on the Lower East Side and marrying his Brazilian girlfriend.
Neither one went well. He hadn't laid out much of a business plan, so the bar was a losing game of catch-up. While he was at chase, his wife, who'd given up her homeland, her culture, her language, and her family to be with him, was lonely and neglected at home. He was anything but health conscious, eating whatever was put in front of him at the restaurant du jour and pushing thoughts of his family history of Parkinson's disease to the back of his mind.
In 2009, both his business and his marriage collapsed. "We went through a lot of stress and anxiety," Valencia said. "I ended up selling the bar, and my wife and I separated. And at that point I was really at a low." Valencia trudged just far enough out of his depression to acquire a real estate license.
One of the first leads he got was for a potential client called the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. "It kind of struck a chord with me. I was thinking about, 'Well, I should probably take better care of myself because of my grandfather [who had Parkinson's].'" He checked out the institute's website and soon became hopeful that he'd found a means with which to pull himself out of the dark.
The school's holistic program focuses not just on nutrition, but on career, spirituality, relationships, and physical activity. "Really, it was like therapy for me. I was inspired by great speakers and great teachers - a 'Who's Who' of health and wellness. It went from David Wolfe... to Deepak Chopra. It really helped me get my life in balance."
He adopted a near-vegan (he makes rare exceptions) plant-based diet. "My diet consists of nuts, grains, seeds, a lot of leafy greens and veggies, I have my steel-cut oatmeal every morning, and I'm into superfoods like goji berries, cacao and maca... kale spinach, broccoli, onions, mushrooms, a whole mix of almonds walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, beans, lentils, quinoa. It's just clean and simple, I don't eat too much." He lost belly fat, gained energy, and began to feel lighter and even smarter overall. "I feel clear-headed. I pay attention to the things that matter." He also began a practice of meditation, and made calls to apologize to people he'd hurt while he was bulldozing through life unconsciously -- including his ex-wife. (They're friends now.)
He graduated from the one-year program and decided to finally honor his long-time wish to be in warm weather all year round with a move to Miami. Here, he began dabbling again in the hospitality "biz," but then something steered him away. He wanted instead to help other people find the clarity and health that he's found, while still giving himself the space and time to nurture himself with plenty of fresh vegetables, superfoods, fresh air and exercise. "I also wanted to cultivate more meaningful relationships," he said.
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So he founded Plant Based Body, a holistic nutritional and wellness counseling service, whereby he assists people with bringing balance into all aspects of their lives: diet, relationships, career, spirituality, and exercise. His goal is to expand the practice from one-on-one sessions into a large non-profit enterprise that will bring world-class authorities on health and wellness to the South Florida masses.
"Plant Based Body is more of a mindset. It's a conscious evolution of self discovery and improvement," Valencia said. "I really believe there's this big shift going on right now where a lot of people are becoming a lot more open to this way, and I'm really happy about that. Change is only going to come when we make the changes -- the people make the changes. That's when corporations are going to see that fruits and vegetables are profitable."