Meet a Health Hero: Lia Belardo

Lia Belardo

Lia Belardo

» You can vote for Lia here September 22nd through 28th. Mark your calendar! 

Name: Lia Belardo

Role: Leader of the Team Humane League Meatless Monday Running Crew

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?
Being healthy is more than just waking up and going for a run. To me, it’s about being kind to myself and my body. I view my health as a gift that must be tended to, and while I know that I am so fortunate to have the ability to push myself, I also know that it’s my will that fuels the fire. 

Describe a health or fitness related turning point in your life.
I was a competitive skier in high school, but by the time I was 30 I had completely lost touch with health and fitness. In 2009, at over 210 pounds, I found myself on vacation in China. I felt like an alien: I was physically so much bigger than all of the Chinese people, so out of breath walking around the city of Beijing, so exhausted hiking the Great Wall; I even felt fat in my airplane seat, which was extremely uncomfortable on the long flights. I actually hadn’t even realized how much I had let myself go until I saw other tourists running up the steps to the Buddhist temple in Hong Kong while I had to sit down after walking up half of them. While I was there, I also experienced live meat markets where people were buying dogs and cats (and snakes, turtles, chickens) for their dinner. Seeing the same animals we associate as pets being sold as food really made an impact on me and one month later I adopted a high energy pitbull/beagle mix that I named BaciBall. Baci was the reason I started running. We started a one-mile loop down the west side highway bike path; it was what I called “my longest mile.” Little did I know that those short runs with Baci would be the catalyst for huge changes in my adult life.

What “policy” would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
The Humane League, the charity I am fundraising for, worked with public schools in Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore this past year to implement Meatless Monday programs. As a result of their efforts, 3.2 million vegetarian meals will be passed out in public schools this year. It’s incredible to think of all the wellness benefits that switching from “Mystery Meat” to nutritious vegetable options will have on the students of these schools. My policy would be to extend that to vegan Mondays. By limiting our intake of all animal products (including meat/poultry/fish/eggs/dairy), we are taking an invaluable step towards improving overall health. It’s time we acknowledged that veganism is the simplest way to live healthfully, and what better place to do it than in Philadelphia.

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?
Community and consistency: The Meatless Monday Running Crew I lead has enabled me to make running such a large part of my social and personal life, it’s become integrated into my regular routine and I’d be lost without it. Some friends meet to go shopping or watch a movie; I meet up with people to go running. We only missed one run this year due to downpour and lightning, and one run when it was below zero — 50/52 is not that bad! We are a support system for each other, we meet up for cross training, we go to our runners’ birthday parties and we have formed a unique bond that is more like a family.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice?
Stay Weird. Stay true to your authentic self, don’t water down your personality for anyone. People can tell if you’re being genuine and true to yourself, and you’ll be happier in general. As far as advice goes, I only feel comfortable speaking about my own experience: what works for me is honesty. Once I became extremely true to myself, I was able to make my values my priority. I taught myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and I am no longer scared to push myself. Following a vegan diet has been my way of life for 18 years, so now I work on minimizing junk food and focusing on the healthiest vegan options available to me. I’m still on my journey and I recognize that although I have a long way to go, I can appreciate how far I have already come. Also a little yoga goes a long way.

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