If you are interested in the wellness space, you are likely familiar with Rich Roll. If not, Rich is a 51-year-old, vegan, ultra-endurance athlete (and we’re guessing you’re probably already pretty impressed by that sentence alone), who is also a bestselling author, host of a highly popular podcast, boasts over 140,000 followers on Instagram, oh and he was recently named “The World’s Fittest Vegan” by Men’s Health Magazine. In the world of wellness influencers, Rich stands above all the rest, known for not only his remarkable athleticism but also his unique and disarmingly honest brand. Today, Rich lives in southern California with his family and says his life is an “embarrassment of riches.” But if you met him about a decade back, you would hardly be able to recognize him.

In a recent episode of the #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias podcast, Rich shares the painful details of his past and how he managed to overcome addiction, pull himself out of a successful, but empty, career as a lawyer, and face the threat of near bankruptcy to pursue his passion in life.

Rich might be the world’s fittest vegan now, but at the age of 40, he was out of shape and nearly collapsed while climbing a set of stairs, an event which made him realize he desperately needed to make a change in his life. He immediately started eating a plant-based diet and set a goal to compete in an Ultramarathon. A mere two years later, he became the first vegan to complete the 320-mile endurance event and finished in the top 10. After accomplishing this, he decided to get out of the law field and wrote his first book Finding Ultra. Unfortunately, he found that writing a book alone wasn’t going to be the career path he needed and he struggled to make ends meet. In the podcast episode, he explains how his family could barely pull together enough money to pay for their town’s waste disposal service and would drive around looking for an open dumpster to take out the trash. From there, in a fit of desperation, he started a podcast and slowly he learned the key to success: sheer honesty.

From getting personal letters from people who were inspired by his book, to interacting with people who heard something that resonated with them on his podcast, Rich learned that the only way to make it in the wellness space is by living as authentically as possible. Sure enough, this mindset – and of course, a lot of training and a plant-based diet – helped him propel through the past 10 years and to the top of his field.

Through his conversation with Nil, Rich explains that he started by just being honest with himself, calling on a phrase he learned in recovery, “If you want to save your ass, you can’t save your face, you’ve got to pick one.” This sort of sheer authenticity and self-knowledge is what has helped Rich connect with so many people, and as he says, “be in service” to them.

In this day and age where everyone is on social media, Rich explains that you have to be a storyteller to keep an audience engaged, but it’s critical to know your own story and stay true to yourself if you really want to make an impact. Rich literally stripped his life down to the bare minimum – perhaps not purposefully in the beginning – and was able to rebuild it and find real, fulfilling success by living his most authentic life. For many of us, this is a lesson that we could all stand to learn from and reach for in our own lives.

Through this inspiring conversation, Rich also dives into a number of other subjects such as his stance on food tribalism and what everyone in the wellness community can agree on, lessons entrepreneurs in the food space can use to help establish their individuality and voice, and how he hopes to see the food system change to benefit the population’s overall health and the state of the environment.

This is a conversation about breaking down barriers and sparking change in how we relate to one another and the world around us – through food and media alike. To hear more of Rich’s thoughts and wisdom, listen in!

You can listen to the full episode below or on the following platforms: iTunesGoogle PlaySpotifyStitcher.

If you like this episode, be sure to subscribe to the #EatForThePlanet with Nil Zacharias podcast for new episodes with food industry leaders, health, and sustainability experts, as well as entrepreneurs and creative minds who are redefining the future of food – and order your copy of the #EatForThePlanet book!