Exercise is a vital part of health through the detoxification of sweat, lymph drainage via muscle movements, stimulation of the digestive tract, serotonin production and sleep onset. Remember that using your body in playful or therapeutic movement goes hand in hand with diet when it comes to overall health.
As part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tonya Kay
Tonya Kay is a brutally elegant actress, film/tv director, burlesque headliner and raw vegan renegade. Her TV directorial debut premiered on The CW and her recent short film, The Ascension of Ava Delaine won the AT&T SHAPE Film Awards in 2019. She recently created and starred in original dark musical Anita Berber is Dead as the title role, Anita Berber, with the Independent Shakespeare Company. You can see her lead acting roles on Lifetime currently in Saving My Baby, The Other Wife and A Daughter’s Revenge.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Hi! I’m a actress/singer/dancer and film/tv director who has performed in NYC experimental dance (STOMP, De La Guarda), Los Angeles film and tv (The Fosters, Glee, Lone Ranger) and many a stage production (Anita Berber Is Dead, Panic At the Disco tour, Madison Square Garden). I grew up in a farm town in Michigan and started dancing at four, acting at six and making movies at 8 years old. Most relevant to Wellness though — I’ve been vegetarian for many decades, was diagnosed as and medicated for bipolar symptoms at 15, went vegan *while on tour* with Kenny Rogers and went raw vegan 15 years ago while going off medications. I haven’t been on medications ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Iwent raw vegan while on tour and my cast mates and the company manager teased me and called me rabbit, but still accommodated at catering by having a vegan fresh salad with every meal. Over time, my cast mates saw my energy and mood elevate, stopped teasing me and started eating all the raw vegan food at catering!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There’s always been high-protein diet fads and the truth is, they’re just a nightmare on your liver and glycogen levels. They are built to force your body to lose weight fast — they aren’t built to build health. Back when I was a vegan teenager, I read The Atkins Diet (another high-protein diet fad decades ago) and tried it as a vegan. I did the math according to my BMI and activity level and Atkins suggested I get 80g of protein per day. I ate so much tofu, beans and greens that I immediately gained 10 pounds and felt. like. crap. I kept it up for three months and the puff never came off. I wish someone had showed me the medical research back then that concludes a high-protein diet increases the risk of heart failure by 33% — not a small increase there! I got off the high-protein diet and slimmed down again immediately to my athletic physique and felt the fog lift mentally. I wish someone had told me that starving your brain of glycogen can cause depression.
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?
Mygrandparents helped me get to where I am today. Not only because they were very supportive and cool af, but they also owned a slaughter house in rural Michigan. Now, I know that doesn’t seem like something I would be thankful for, but in a strange way, I wish every kid (and adult!). walk through and hang out in the holding pens and the kill room and the processing floor for a day, a week, a year. Because that’s the truth that I witnessed when I was just a small child and it didn’t take any doctor trying to scare health into me, it didn’t take an environmental journal to turn out stats on the effects of the livestock, milk and egg industries for me, it didn’t take some guru chanting about cleaning up the spirit through non-violence. All it took was witnessing that, feeling the pain and unconsciously not wanting to participate anymore. Kids are smarter than adults in some ways. They have immediate and authentic emotions and they don’t override them until we teach them to. I am thankful that I witnessed the full spectrum of the animal product industry so young and thankful that my family supported me on this journey even with very different lifestyles.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I’m a vegetarian of 37 years, a vegan of 26 yrs and raw vegan for the past 15. I have toured and spoken at numerous health conferences as a professional vegan athlete, I have volunteered around the world protecting habitat, endangered species and wildlife, I’ve taught dance and specialty movements for a decade and direct a dance company full of vegans. It’s humbling and inspiring how many audience members, fans and students have said “you inspired me to go vegan — thank you”. This makes me soul sing.
Can you share your top five“lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Alkalize by eating a majority of raw vegan foods and when you feel a bug coming on, alkalize even more by adding Phour Salts to your drinking water or drinking lots of celery juice.
- Find a movement or physical therapy that you enjoy and induces sweat — hit it for at least 20 min 4 times/week.
- Refuse foods made with table salt and replace with sea salt or Himalayan salt products.
- Get off the caffiene — it taxes your adrenals so they don’t work on their own when you need them.
- Actively surround yourself with people that share your vision of health — host vegan potlucks, find a yoga partner, take some raw food cooking classes — keep it fun and remind yourself you are in great company!
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Global veganism and discontinuance of all single-use plastic.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- The cheapest way to eat vegan is also the healthiest — nothing is more cost effective or health-nourishing than raw, fresh produce.
2. Eating locally and seasonally is also another notch up on vegan food value and health — if it’s in-season locally, it’s the most cost effective and health nourishing again!
3. Even winter climates can consume local vegan food throughout the winter season: squash, potatoes, beans, onions, Brussel sprouts, greenhouse herbs and greens as well as stored foods from late harvest like dehydrated apples, frozen vegetables and pre-prepared soups.
4. Medical insurance companies lose money if you heal completely and no longer need office visits or prescription drugs, so if you are seeking complete healing on a physical and spiritual level, you might want to also look into natural healers and natural health.
5. Exercise is a vital part of health through the detoxification of sweat, lymph drainage via muscle movements, stimulation of the digestive tract, serotonin production and sleep onset. Remember that using your body in playful or therapeutic movement goes hand in hand with diet when it comes to overall health.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
These things are one in the same for me. You can’t segment one aspect of health from another. A lifestyle that increases your actual health (not just gives you 6 pack abs — that’s vanity not health) — a lifestyle that increases actual health increases the health of the body, the mind, the environment and is more sustainable. And the neat thing is, one might get into health for personal purposes, but something happens after you start feeling better — you suddenly have more energy to focus outside of yourself. People generally find that they start caring about their community, join in activism, intentionally reduce their personal waste and many other expressions of health expanding outward. Plus, eating vegan reduces your environmental footprint dramatically. Go to thevegancalculator.com and type in a number of years. I just did and over my lifetime in this lifestyle, I’ve saved an estimate of 14MM gallons of water, 405K sf of forest, 540K pounds of grain, 270K pounds of CO2 and most importantly to me: 13,500 lives.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!