Arissa Agnant: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

I consider myself a perpetual optimist who connects with people to think bigger, envision their desired new future, and TAKE ACTION! As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arissa Agnant. Arissa Agnant is a Holistic Wellness Expert, Sustainability Advocate and Blogger […]

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I consider myself a perpetual optimist who connects with people to think bigger, envision their desired new future, and TAKE ACTION!

As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arissa Agnant.

Arissa Agnant is a Holistic Wellness Expert, Sustainability Advocate and Blogger at Melanin in the Kitchen.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?

I’m a senior digital media marketer by trade and have worked in corporate for large brands like Walt Disney World and IBM for over 5 years. In my first year of work, I found myself pulled to spirituality by the longing for a deeper existence. I needed more impact, connection, and purpose. Past Arissa struggled to feel healthy, have enough money, find her purpose, feel content in her 9–5, create her future vision of herself, break free from self-sabotaging cycles and so much more. She knew she had a higher purpose — but couldn’t break out of her self-limiting beliefs and fear of the unknown. So, I weaved myself a new mind, body, and soul. This version yearned to be stronger, wiser, more resilient. I learned my passions, my purpose, how I wanted to make an impact — and above all, how to heal, love, and take care of my mind, body, and soul. I started becoming the person I needed to be, to become who I dreamed of being. Transitioning into a plant-based diet was such an integral part of my transformation process! It made me question all my preexisting beliefs, and permanently transformed the way I view and show up in the world. I realized I didn’t have to cling to the stagnant ideas of tradition and that there was so much to learn. It made me carefully curate my new ways of living. I felt better, I looked better, I was better. The growth became addicting!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I would have to say it’s how I got into the sustainability field. I had just moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan into my first studio apartment and had A LOT of alone time on my hands.T o celebrate my new independence, I decided to adopt the mantra ‘just say yes”. One day I got a call for a freelance opportunity. I interviewed that day at 3, they told me I got the job at 4, and I showed up at 9:30am the next day. My point-of-contact was a woman named Kiki, and right away I knew she was awesome. We had similar advertising backgrounds, so started talking about how much money brands spent on marketing when there were so many people and cause-based organizations that needed more help. “Yeah, that’s why I’m getting a master’s degree in sustainability and social impact. It’s teaching me how to create or work in purpose-driven companies that also care about people and the planet, she said. “Huh?!”, I exclaimed. I was floored. I didn’t know anything like that existed and it sounded like exactly what I didn’t know I wanted to do! She sent an email to the admissions advisor and two weeks later I was enrolled in my Impact-focused Business and Investing program. Super easy money, a new great friend, plus a new opportunity!

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Looking back, I would say trying to quit eating animal products cold turkey. It all started back in 2015, a co-worker suggested I watch Cowspiracy. I did, and after feeling emotional, angry, and shocked — I vowed never to eat meat again! I dramatically threw out everything in my house that contained animal products. But then my stomach growled, and I realized I had no idea how to make or find plant-based food. Haha! That was a wakeup call that I needed to properly educate myself and treat this as a long-term transition process and lifestyle.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?

Certainly. I live to teach from the intersection of plant-based eating, spirituality, personal growth, & sustainability. I teach people how to develop a practice of self-love in order to transform their holistic wellness. I take a very neurological approach to eating and living, focusing on how our brains process the world and how we can overcome its limitations. When we love ourselves and have the patience to understand the ways in which we self-sabotage, we learn to treat ourselves better by making beneficial decisions.

To quote Aristotle, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. So I separate my teachings into Conscious Eating and Conscious Living.

  • Conscious Eating — Transitioning people into a plant-based diet to consciously consume healthful foods for body, mind, and planet. First helping understand why they eat what they eat, to inform them on new ways to create better habits and resist bad cravings.
  • Conscious Living — Teaching people about mindfulness, self-analysis, and self-awareness. Low self-awareness and mindfulness are the root cause of why people are unfulfilled in life running on autopilot in their comfort zones.

I consider myself a perpetual optimist who connects with people to think bigger, envision their desired new future, and TAKE ACTION!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

As if divinely orchestrated, when I first began my health and wellness journey a myriad of plant-based people came into my path. I started working as a host at Chili’s during college, and so many people I met within a 4-year span were either vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan. I didn’t even know what a vegetarian was! I had never met one and this wasn’t a prevalent way of life within the black community. Even my mother still thinks I’m health-deficient from not eating meat, but she thinks my vegan recipe pictures are pretty and healthy. These people became not only my greatest sources of inspiration, but great friends as well. Long days and nights were spent cooking, learning new recipes, trying new ingredients. We all faced the same setbacks with unhealthy cravings, overeating, finding options while eating out — but we grew together in the process. All in all, every friend who has ever spent time either eating my cooking, or cooking with me is a major factor in my success.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. Below are some main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives are:

  • I think the root of all our blockages is not knowing how our brains work. Our brains have evolved with us since the prehistoric ages when we were hunter-gatherers. For example, us hating the feeling of being watched stems from us being watched by animals trying to eat us. It’s telling us to watch our guard! So, take this concept and multiply that by hundreds of different ways our prehistoric brain makes decisions for how we feel and act without us even realizing it.
  • Our next main blockage would be the need for instant gratification. We tend to think everything needs to happen immediately, so things that take a long time are deprioritized for quick results. When you’re trying to increase in your personal success, a focus on the long-term needs to be cultivated. We can know all day long that exercise is good for us, but if we can’t see the effects until a few weeks this can stop us from even starting.
  • Lastly, we tend to make decisions from the person we currently are, rather than the person we aspire to be. Do you dream of being a CEO? Then start thinking like your future CEO self! Our future selves are the manifestation of the actions we take today. Think to yourself, ‘what would me in five years think I should be doing right now’?

Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)

  • Reframing your experiences — Integrating this daily habit could cause many people to think of seemingly negative aspects of their life as positives. Did a person just treat you poorly? Instead of categorizing this as a negative experience, what about seeing this as a way to be firm in how you expect to be treated? Instead of asking ‘why is this happening to me?’, what if you asked, ‘what is this trying to teach me?’ Or ‘what can I learn from this?’ If you acknowledge difficult circumstances for what they are and treat them as opportunities for blessings in disguise, that is what they will manifest to be. Everything is trying to teach us.
  • Cultivating an attitude of gratitude — We learn in middle school science that ‘like attracts like’. We attract what we’re strongly thinking and feeling. When we’re in a state of appreciating what we have, no matter what the circumstances may be, we become a magnet to blessings.
  • Get centered before doing anything — Many of us can make decisions from a heightened emotional state, instead of from a place of calm. When I notice myself reacting instead of acting, this gives me a chance to analyze my thinking. Before making a decision, answering a risky text, going to a new place — anything that makes you uncomfortable or less than confident. When you get your mind clear you can make better decisions. Rather than making decisions from a place of a conditioned habit or low frequency emotion like guilt, shame, worry, or stress. When you’re relaxed before doing something, you think better. Your mind feels clearer. When you’re relaxed, you flow better. When you’re relaxed, ideas come to you easier. When you’re relaxed, you’re in a state of allowing, rather than a state of control.
  • Monitoring your self-talk — This is one of the most important topics we should learn in school. We have the opinions of thousands of people we’ve ever met in our lifetimes in our head. Either of ourselves, or about how the world works. Sometimes we can keep these thoughts in our head and begin to think they’re our own. When I learned that our thoughts are not really our own, it sparked a great change in me. When you notice a thought that is negative come up think to yourself, is this my thought or someone else’s? Try not to scold yourself for having these negative thoughts, but rather let them be starting points for where you should focus your energy. Program your thoughts for success. Transformation begins with your mindset before it translates into your life. If what you’re doing isn’t working, focus on improving what you believe is possible. Once you master your mind, you can master anything.
  • Cultivating a healthy relationship with your brain — How do you form a relationship with another human? You spend time with them, you get to know them. You watch how they act in certain situations. You ask them questions about their thought patterns and values. Cultivating a relationship with your brain means being more conscious of yourself. What do you do when you wake up? How often do you eat and what do you eat? How about when you’re stressed? How about when you’re happy? Do you notice you feel a certain way around certain people? Happier? Self-conscious? Do you focus on the negative aspects of your life or the positives? When something is going wrong, do you blame yourself or take responsibility? All of these questions can help us to paint a picture of who we are, how we can hold ourselves back, and how we can create a new desired future.

As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?

I can only pick three?! Okay, I’ll pick my favorite ones. The first would have to be its effects on my focus and stress management. My day job is very fast-paced and can be overwhelming if I don’t take control over my state of being. Maintaining a consistent exercise regimen helps me focus on what I can do right now instead of stressing about my to-do list. The second most impactful benefit would be increased body confidence. Working out makes me feel sexy, confident, and in control. When I look good, I feel good. When I feel good, I look good. Instead of measuring your workouts by level of calories burned, measure your workout by how great you feel afterwards. Lastly, I owe so much of my perpetual optimism to my workout routine. As an extension of the previous two benefits, it makes me more positive, my stress levels decrease, it raises my self-esteem. It also keeps me from having sad thoughts or overthinking. So overall, an uplifted mindset, increased focus, and a healthier self-image!

For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?

To build a habit, I believe in focusing on the simplest tweaks in order to ease your way into a practice. The exercises I chose have a low energy and time barrier, but build a strong foundation for greater wellbeing.

  • 15 minutes of Yoga — I believe adopting a consistent yoga practice can change your life. It is so effective you can reap the results in as little as 15 minutes. The practice of being still with ourselves while consciously stretching our bodies is rejuvenating. If more people practiced yoga daily we would see widespread levels of lower anxiety levels and less body pain, just to name a few.
  • Walking — “Solvitur ambulando” is my favorite Latin phrase that means ‘it is solved by walking’. Walking at least twenty minutes a day not only boosts your cardiovascular health, but it creates a clear atmosphere for your mind to do its best thinking.
  • Planks — Having a firm core is the foundation of having a healthy body, everything spans out from our core, so it’s important to be strong in this area. Planks are one of the few workouts that exercise almost every part of our body. Our arms, our core, our legs, our glutes! You may realize time goes by infinitely slower while doing them. That’s because it’s also using so much of our mental concentration, so planks count as physical and mental exercise! I’m all about being efficient.

In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?

Definitely incorporating a yoga practice to soothe sore muscles. Yoga elongates the muscles by giving them more air to breathe and rejuvenate themselves. Creating an atmosphere of consciousness while you’re working out can also keep you in tune with your body to know when you are at the point of over-exerting yourself. I also love to take frequent hot baths and get massages. If you can’t afford to get professional massages, ask your spouse, or better yet — massage yourself! After all, you are the one who knows where the pain is most and how your body likes to be touched. You can YouTube videos on how to massage certain pain points and practice a daily self-ritual of massaging yourself. I promise it feels just as good with your own hands!

There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?

I follow a whole food, plant-based lifestyle, and this is what I recommend to my clients. The diet is simply one that contains no animal products, whole fruits and vegetables, and minimal consumption of processed ingredients. I aim to eat foods that increase my mental and physical health and wellbeing, while decreasing my negative effects on the environment and animal welfare. This came from years of learning the harmful ingredients that were in many different foods. Different foods you eat affect your body’s internal health, certain vegetables can re-form your cells and body to be healthier from the inside out. Doctors are now even starting to recommend plant-based diets to clear skin, prevent or decrease diseases, and so much more. Knowing the ingredients that are in our food has been so empowering for me, especially when I know they are creating a healthier environment for my organs and cells. I never feel bad about what I eat, how much I eat, or how often I eat because it’s all plants made from nature! I often tell my clients to view this way of living as a lifestyle, not a diet.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza was a pivotal experience in my life. So many of my viewpoints previously discussed were a result of picking up his book years ago and spiraling deeper into my spiritual journey. I had taken a huge step six months prior moving back up to NYC after spending ten years of my adolescence in Florida. Although I had made some strides in my personal journey, I still felt like I was holding myself back. I worked next door to the group meditation center Inscape and finally ventured in one day to peruse their books. I wanted a beginner-to-intermediate book on transforming my mental state to have a deeper spiritual experience. I picked a book up that I had decided on, and a woman who worked there came up to me a few minutes later. She noticed the book I had picked up and told me if I was interested in this then I HAD to read Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. She said it changed her life when she read it a year prior. With that kind of testimonial, I had to get that book instead, right? So, I did, and it changed my life as well. Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book provided me a new light to spirituality, by bringing a neurological and scientific perspective. A part of me thinks I only got the job so I could eventually wander in and find that book 😉

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, only backwards”, by Steve Jobs.

I consider myself a spiritual alchemist, and I could tell you hundreds of stories of ‘seemingly unfortunate’ experiences that were actually ‘blessons in lessons’. On a daily basis I have come to realize that there are always larger transmutations happening in conjunction to a larger plan. Jobs that I’ve hated wound up making me learn something that was pivotal to advance into my next role. People who have treated me poorly have been the trigger to recreate my reality and how I show up in my relationship with myself.

My biggest dot-connecting story would be my previous story shared about my plant-based journey. I only met those crucial people who influenced me because I lived in Florida. My family and I moved there when I was 12 from Long Island, and it was one of the most impactful changes in my life. I hated it for years, clinging to the story that everything was going wrong and I should be in NY — but little did I know, everything was actually going right. I went to a great low-cost university, met the people who would help change my health and wellness journey, and encountered a variety of key experiences who made me the person I am today. I am so happy and in love with that person I see in the mirror today and would have never gotten here had I not gone through my past. This quote serves as a daily reminder for me to be happy with the present because I have no idea what kind of future is currently unfolding.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The aforementioned neuroscientist extraordinaire, Dr. Joe Dispenza! For my master’s dissertation, I desperately wanted to find a connection between plant-based eating and cultivating a deeper conscious awareness of self. I think I could talk for hours with Joe about the neurology behind cultivating better mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health, especially regarding what we eat!

Dr. Joe Dispenza made me fall in love with learning about how my brain processes the world, how it holds me back, and how I can hi-jack it to create the life of my dreams. I would love to find a connection between mindfulness and healthy eating.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or get email and blog updates from my website Melanin in the Kitchen!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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