Photographer: Tony Duran
Richard Lima has had an unusually long and successful career as a male model, having worked with the top photographers and fashion brands in the world. Now in his twenty-third year of modeling, Richard’s career continues to soar.
His longevity is no surprise when you hear about his extreme dedication to fitness—Richard regularly exercises for 4 to 5 hours a day. But his secret weapon when it comes to staying in top shape is his vegan plant-based diet. Richard is a passionate advocate for the vegan lifestyle, and after reading his interview, chances are that you, like myself, will be convinced to go vegan.
Richard also has a heart of gold and has dedicated himself to the cause of animal rights. He uses his social media as a platform to spread this message. In addition, he volunteers his time to care for rescue animals and has adopted several along the way. All animal lovers out there will be inspired and touched by his passion for this cause.
Special thanks to Q Management in New York for arranging this interview!
Hi Richard! It is such a privilege to get to interview you today! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
I know you have had a long and successful career as a model, working with some of best photographers in the business, such as Bruce Weber and Steven Meisel, and appearing in global campaigns for brands such as Versace, Brooks Brothers, Cartier, and Ralph Lauren. How did your career in modeling begin?
“I went from nearly dying in the earthquake to modeling about a month later.”
It began back in 1994. I was living in LA and the Northridge earthquake happened. It was a very scary event and I almost died. When the earthquake happened the shaking was so violent that it took our gas stove and pulled it away form the wall. I didn’t know this but it broke the gas line that went into the stove. We got out but I went back in to get our cats and all the sudden I started getting lightheaded. I tried to go back outside and ended up passing out. So some guy ran in there and pulled me out. After about a week of living in a tent in my dad’s backyard, my ex-girlfriend was like, “I’m done. I don’t want to live in California anymore.” The next day we packed up her car and we were gone.
We drove to Minnesota. It was the dead of winter, 20 below. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Two weeks went by and my ex-girlfriend says why don’t you try modeling? So we looked in the Yellow Pages and found a photographer and submitted photos to a couple of local agencies. They both wanted me. I chose one, which was the Eleanor Moore agency. About a week later, I booked my first job for Target. That’s where I got my start. From there it just grew.
What have been some highlights of your modeling career to date? Do you have any memorable shoots or shows that you have worked on?
This is my 23rd year of modeling. Every shoot is so different, so it’s hard to compare. I don’t really have one. You experience different things and they’re all so unique. Imagine you’re going on an amazing trip twice a month. How do you pick one? They’re all memorable.
For me, I just love to travel. I love to go to different places. I’ve been all over Europe to Hawaii to the mountains of Colorado to Mexico. You name it, I’ve been there. I don’t really have a favorite. I’ve shot with amazing photographers. I’ve shot with supermodels. I’ve worked with so many different people and they’re all so memorable to me.
You are in amazing shape and obviously take diet and exercise very seriously! Let’s start with diet. I understand that you are a plant-based vegan. Can you tell us more about that? How did you get into veganism in the first place?
It’s been almost 3 years now. I just woke up one day and said I need to change what I’m doing and be healthier. I’m an endurance athlete. I run ultra marathons. I mountain bike every single day. Everything I do is extreme and pushes my body to its limits. I was waking up every morning and hurting. I did some research and I found out that animal products, especially meat dairy and eggs, cause a lot of inflammation in your body. I thought if I cut out inflammation, I wouldn’t be as sore. I just went completely cold turkey one day and that’s where it all started.
Other than the benefits to the planet and animals, what benefits are there for someone to becoming a vegan? Do you look better? Feel better?
“When someone first goes vegan the first thing they say is, ‘I can’t believe the energy I have.’”
When I woke up a week later, I was not sore, I didn’t hurt, and I had no inflammation. I was like, wow this is incredible! On that same day that I went vegan, I cut out all alcohol and any kind of stimulant, such as caffeine. I went on all plant-based foods. Potatoes, rice, and legumes are the mainstay of my diet.
My energy level went through the roof. I was bouncing off the walls. I’ve never had so much energy in my life. There’s a great quote from one of the plant-based doctors, “It’s the food, stupid.” People don’t understand that most, if not all, chronic diseases can be cured by food. I’m going to be 45 in October and I can train 4 hours a day 6 days a week. I wake up every single morning like I’ve never trained and worked out. No joke. I’ve never felt like this before in my entire life. The food has completely changed my life.
Being a vegan has not only changed my life as far as food but seeing how animals are treated when they get slaughtered. Just to see how they are treated in these farms is mind blowing. It’s the best decision I ever made in my life not only for my health, but also for the planet and for these animals.
I am sure the number one question you get asked is how do you get enough protein as a plant-based vegan, especially for someone who is highly athletic like yourself?
This is the first question I get from so many people. First of all, it is nearly impossible to have a protein deficiency in our [modern American] diet. Dr. Garth Davis’ book Proteinaholic is incredible, especially for those who are worried about protein. As a nation, we are over-proteined and under-fibered.
Second, protein really comes from plants. That’s how the cows get it. Well, I’m cutting out the middleman. I’m getting it straight from the source: dark leafy greens, potatoes, and brown rice, and all the great fruits and vegetables that are out there. I’m 6’2” 195 pounds and I haven’t changed since I’ve become a vegan. People are amazed that I’m vegan with a body like that. I take no supplements. No protein powders. No stimulants. I take Vitamin B12 and that’s it.
This all sounds pretty convincing! What would you tell someone like myself who is interested in converting to a vegan lifestyle? How can I get started?
There are four documentaries you need to see: Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, and Earthlings. Those are the three that I highly recommend. You watch those and will start to understand the benefits of a vegan diet.
There’s a great book by Dr. Neal Barnard, 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart. After 21 days, it becomes a habit. You will start losing cravings. Your weight will come off. You’ll start feeling better and get in better shape. Dr. Barnard is the head of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has 21 days of menus for free. It is a great way for people to get started.
Marco Borges has the book the The 22‑Day Revolution which got Jay Z and Beyoncé to go vegan. Another book I highly recommend is Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die. It’s awesome! Dr. Greger’s website Nutrition Facts has lots of great free videos on nutrition. It’s a wonderful source for all things nutrition.
Rich Roll is a former Stanford swimmer who went plant-based vegan after battling with obesity and alcoholism and turned his life around. He has a podcast that is really popular right now. That podcast really guided me to where I am today.
That’s a great list of resources for someone who wants to get started on the vegan lifestyle. Thanks, Richard!
I follow you on Instagram and my mouth is always watering at the delicious vegan meals that you post! Do you have any favorite recipes you can share?
I come up with recipes on my own. I keep it really simple. I don’t make a special meal every single day. I have my staple foods that I always have around.
I should add that eating vegan is very inexpensive. I did an experiment to see if I could eat as a plant-based vegan for a week for 10 bucks. My staples were a bag of brown rice, beans, potatoes, and vegetables from a farmers’ market. People think that it’s expensive because they are going to these vegan restaurants. If you were to go to a grocery store in the middle of Anytown, USA, you could easily buy affordable plant-based vegan food. Potatoes and brown rice are full of vitamins and minerals and fiber. I could live off that and be totally fine.
Also, New York City is the hub of some of the best vegan restaurants. Being vegan in NYC is so easy. You have all those fruit carts full of bananas and berries.
Being vegan does not suck! Had this delicious Large Thai chili vegan pizza from Mellow Mushroom in Asheville, NC. Fresh basil, curry tofu , tomatoes, onion and cucumber. NO animals harmed, murdered or tortured for this delicious lunch. #animalslivesmatter #vegan #govegan #veganpizza #veganfoodshare #veganfood #pizza
How do you satisfy your sweet tooth? Do you have any favorite vegan treats?
Absolutely! There are actually a lot of options. There are some really great things out there. The company So Delicious makes vegan ice cream. You don’t have to use animal products to taste good. There are incredible vegan cookies, for example, Lenny & Larry’s is a really good vegan cookie that is sold at Whole Foods. My wife bakes the most incredible vegan brownies, cookies, and cakes.
People think that it’s going to taste terrible. Not only does it taste as good if not better, it doesn’t have that rich feeling when it hits your stomach. Vegan is much lighter because you don’t have the eggs, the milk, and butter that just weighs it down. It tastes just as good. It’s just as sweet. But it’s lighter.
When I want something sweet I crave watermelon. I almost eat one whole watermelon a day. It’s really good for men. They did a study with watermelon juice and it acted just like Viagra. It’s so healthy because of all the fiber, which overrides the sugar.
Now that we’ve discussed diet, let’s talk about your fitness regimen for a bit. I know from following you on YouTube that you are an Ultra Runner. (As a side note, I saw a video of you running from La Guardia into Midtown—now that’s one way to beat the traffic! Very impressive!) Can you tell us about that sport? How often do you train?
My training is 4 to 5 hours a day. I’m up at 3:30 in the morning. The first thing I do in the morning is to drink a huge jar of filtered water. I leave my house at 4:30 in the morning and I run to the gym, which is 5 miles away. I teach a spin strength class every single morning at 5:30. It’s an hour of really intense spinning with 10 to 15 pounds of weight. Then I leave there and I run home. I eat breakfast then I go for a 2 to 3-hour mountain bike ride. I come home to eat lunch and sometimes I go back to the gym and teach another hour of spinning strength class. If not, I’ll do a weight workout.
My weight workouts are not heavy weights. It’s a lot of reps. I do reps of 100. First I start on bench press. I won’t put on a lot of weight, say 135 pounds. I’ll do sets of 10 until I reach 100. Then on incline dumbbell press, I’ll do 35 pound sets of 20 until I reach 100. Then on chest press, I’ll do 5 sets of 20 until I hit 100. I burn everything out that way.
We touched on this a bit above, but I know you are passionate about animal rights and rescue animals. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement there?
My involvement is being a vegan. I put it out on Facebook and Instagram and educate people as much as I can about what happens at these factory farms and how animals are treated. That’s the way that I try to give back as best as I can for these animals. To see how these animals are treated blows my mind. I try to bring awareness to it as much as possible.
“People say they are animal lovers, but then I say do you eat them? Now I can call myself an animal lover and really know that I am.”
When I first went vegan I did it for my health. Then when I found out what’s really going on, it just blows my mind. I’m a big animal lover. People say they are animal lovers, but then I say do you eat them? You’re contributing to the torture of pigs, cows, and chickens. You may love your dog or cat. But I was buying steaks and meat and contributing to animal cruelty. Now I can call myself an animal lover and really know that I am.
I have two rescue cats and two rescue dogs. My cattle dog Rusty was about an hour away from being euthanized. My poodle Murphy and both cats were a day away from being euthanized. I rescued the cats as kittens and the dogs when they were about 2 years old. We give back to animal shelters close to us by walking the dogs and getting them out of their cages. This gets them socialized and gets them used to people.
Thanks again for your time, Richard!