Michaiah Simmons-Villari is the owner of Deluxe Events, a successful events and catering company based in Auckland, that has been running for many years. She is the Event Manager for events such as NZ Spirit Festival, NZ Yoga Day, and Resolution NYE Festival. She also owns Al Volo Pizzeria in Mt. Eden, Auckland with her chef husband Luca Villari. If that wasn’t enough, she is also an empowerment coach, speaking on several issues such as mental health and depression. She has been on a plant-based diet for many years, so we sat down with her to discuss her life and her thoughts on the link between diet, overall health, and mental wellbeing.
Why did you decide to start a plant-based diet? What inspired you?
I haven’t eaten red meat since I was a teenager. I’m intolerant to dairy and I’m also coeliac so am on a gluten free diet. Think of all the 'frees' - gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, meat free. It all began when I developed breast-implant illness a few years ago. I initially started to feel very tired and generally unwell. It got worse and worse with nausea and vomiting and then I developed autoimmune issues plus an egg allergy because of the condition. My doctor advised me to take my breast implants out, after which I went on a detox and began a plant-based diet. I loved eating vegetables and began to feel weird about eating chicken, fish, and meat in general.
How long have you been plant-based?
I have been on a plant-based diet for five years now. Although I started for health reasons, those reasons have expanded and now I also follow this diet for ethical reasons, because I love animals and want to protect our environment.
Are you the only member of your family who is on a plant-based diet?
Yes. I’m married to an Italian chef, and he initially found it hard to get his head around me being plant-based when I started. It was also hard for him to get his head around me not eating red meat in the beginning of our relationship. Food is his love language and how he shows love. He is now more open to it however, and for the most part accepts that this is a part of who I am. He will even occasionally eat a veg dish with me sometimes!
How do you physically feel being plant-based?
I feel generally more energetic. Organising events is a lot of work, long hours, late nights and tiring, but eating plant-based food helps me with endurance where I’m able to last the long days and still feel great. I’m more consistent with my energy levels. I have also actually cut out coffee and being plant-based gives me enough good energy to start my day and get through without caffeine.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of following a plant-based diet?
The benefits are endless. I find I have reduced inflammation. My diet has helped me recover from toxic poisoning due to breast implant illness. I also believe it has helped me look younger, and people always comment on how I have glowing skin. Fuelling your body with good plant-based food such as vegetables, fruit, seeds, and nuts really shows from the inside out.
Do you find there are any disadvantages?
It can be hard dining out occasionally depending on where you go, especially in different countries around the world, although it is getting much better these days. My go to request is to “just let the chef know to make up anything that is veg”.
What has helped you maintain your lifestyle?
Feeling so much better physically and mentally has been a game changer for me, you just can’t go back. Also, the thought of consuming animals makes me feel sick and I have no interest in doing it. I don’t find it hard or feel like I’m missing out on anything by being plant-based.
Is there anyone who has had a strong influence on you?
Not particularly. I became plant-based for personal reasons, although I find the community that attends the events I am organising so inspiring. For example, NZ Spirit Festival is an alcohol-free and plant-based event. The consciousness of people who choose to live this way is on another level, they are so connected to the earth, themselves, and other people.
What do you say to people about your lifestyle and why you choose this diet?
I don’t push it into people’s faces and only talk about it if people are interested to listen. I try and keep an open mind and not judge people no matter where they are on their journey. Most people are supportive, sometimes I get the odd comment, but I just brush it off. I prefer using the word plant-based rather than vegan because I feel that’s more inclusive and there is a weird connotation that comes with the term vegan. At the end of the day it’s my personal choice and I don’t care how people feel about it.
Being a mental health advocate, do you believe that diet and mental health are related?
Absolutely. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 15 and have been suicidal at times. I know that there’s a link between diet and mental health from personal experience. I find the less processed and junk food I eat, the more stable my mood is. I don’t drink coffee, alcohol or use substances to mask my feelings. I believe that diet as well as exercise, including meditation and yoga, are crucial to long term overall health and mental wellbeing.
To find out more about Michaiah’s story and the events she organises, check out her website: www.michaiah.com. There you’ll also find plant-based recipes for savoury food as well as snacks and sweet treats.
By Ina Babic – NZVS Marketing & Communications Manager | Editor, Vegetarian Living NZ
NZ Spirit Festival: https://www.nzspiritfestival.com/
NZ Yoga Day: https://www.nzyogaday.co.nz/
Resolution NYE Festival: https://www.resolutionfestival.co.nz/
Al Volo Pizzeria: https://www.alvolo.co.nz/