He Beat Depression, Became a Trainer. His Vegan Diet & Secret Move to Destress
Steve Pilot describes himself as a "normal guy" who dealt with major depression, anxiety, and devastating heartbreak and found a new way of living, eating and training that helped him recover from all three. His journey from a depressed, overwhelmed engineer to a magazine-cover bodybuilder involved changing the way he ate, worked out, and his career, and now he wants to help others live their best life. Pilot shares how he went from being a miserable, anxious round-the-clock desk jockey to a personal trainer and bodybuilder, including exactly what he eats in a day and his secret (simple) workout move that you can do anywhere that you have a wall and a clear floor space in front of it.
In his 20s, Pilot knew that he couldn't continue on his miserable path, working around the clock, eating garbage, and feeling both anxious and depressed. It was making him feel so inhuman that something had to give. He came home one day and told his then-girlfriend of two years that he needed to quit his job, that he had enough saved that he wanted to travel and he wanted her to come with him. The next day they decided they would set out on an adventure, back-packing around the world and supporting themselves on their savings. They traveled around Asia, visiting Nepal, Thailand, and China, and made their way to Africa, and eventually South America, enjoying some of the best meatless meals and meeting interesting people from all around the globe.
On this journey to be healthier, both mentally and physically he found out that the food he had been eating at his engineering job was contributing to his physical and mental distress. He watched the documentary Earthlings, which convinced him to try a vegetarian diet. He felt so much better but it was only the first step on his journey to a fully plant-based diet. Six months later, in Nepal, they attended the Gadhimai festival, which takes place every five years, which involves the sacrificial ceremony where animals are slaughtered to please Gadhimai, the goddess of power. That event prompted him to eliminate dairy from his diet and he became vegan.
Switching to a vegan diet was the best thing that's ever happened to him. He felt lighter, had more energy, and best of all, less depressed because he felt like a better person morally since he wasn't eating any animal products. He continued his vegan diet for the rest of their travels which took them to over 80 different counties, finally returning to Germany after living in hostiles around the world for five years.
When they returned from their travels, Pilot had no plans to return back to engineering, but nor did he see his relationship coming to an end. Just as they arrived back home to Germany, they split up after seven years. Pilot was devasted. He went to the gym and began to take all of his anger and frustration out by working out and he would spend 12 hours a day lifting weights and getting his body in shape. He began to feel good about himself. For months, his daily routine was the same: Wake up, head to the gym, come home, eat a vegan dinner, go to bed. He was perfectly fine with his schedule, but he needed some type of spark in his life. He decided to move to Thailand, his favorite travel destination that he had been longing to return to.
He packed up his life and began a fresh start in Bangkok, Thailand, where he fell in love with the beautiful landscape, spent time in nature, loved the people, and finally loved his own life all over again. In his new city, Pilot continued to workout and saw incredible results with the combination of heavy lifting and a plant-based diet. The only thing that was missing was a job. He wanted to do something he loved, so he started his own personal training company called Steve Pilot Fitness, which he grew over the years to help others meet their fitness goals and learn how to eat more plant-based.
Pilot has been on the cover of several magazines including Muscle and Fitness, and most people are shocked to learn that he has built his muscular physique without eating any animal protein. His client list is growing, and he teaches virtually and in person. One favorite class is a hand-stand class every Wednesday, to better his own hold time and introduce the strength concept to others.
He became known as the handstand trainer
He found that standing on his head helped his anxiety, calmed him down, "numbed his mental torment" and built upper body strength. Now he is known as the trainer who teaches others how to use handstands to help them feel better mentally and physically as well. You can watch his classes on YouTube. He does up to five hours of handstands a day. But you can start with a minute or two and build up your wrist strength with his easy tips.
We spoke to Pilot, now 40 and ten years into his vegan journey, about his incredible transformation, and he shared exactly what he eats in a day. He hopes his struggles inspire others to make small changes that add up to a happier life. He tells people how he overcame heartbreak, depression, and anxiety, and teaches them how to get in the best shape of their life, without any animal products.
The Beet: Why did you go vegan originally?
Steve Pilot: I was feeling depressed, stressed, and anxious for most of my life, and when I quit my job I wanted a healthier existence, so I researched all types of diets and came across the vegetarian diet and watched the documentary Earthlings. It was almost immediate when I decided to eliminate meat from my diet after everything I learned. Then, when I traveled to Nepal and went to the Gadhimai festival I had to eliminate every animal product from my diet including dairy so I went from vegetarian to vegan in less than six months. It's been about 10 years since I went vegan.
The Beet: What did you notice or how did you feel after you went vegan?
Steve Pilot: I felt amazing. I had more energy, my spirits were lifted, and I felt like a better person now that I wasn't killing animals or hurting them. Now, I feel my best. My entire physique has changed and if the diet actually helps me get stronger in the gym, I don't feel sluggish. My clients who switch their diets, all notice a difference in the skin as well as improved physical performance. I've had some women talk about how their acne cleared up once they went vegan and they feel so much better.
The Beet: What's the best thing about a vegan diet?
Steve Pilot: It has opened so many doors for me. It actually inspired me to go learn about the culture and the foods people eat around the world and that's when I traveled to almost 80 different countries. Eating vegan has also impacted my career because I feel so good about helping others eat healthier and also workout in a smarter way, without inflammation.
The Beet: What do you eat every day, on a vegan diet, as a bodybuilder?
Steve Pilot: I practice intermittent fasting, so my first meal is at lunchtime, unless I workout really early and I'm starving I'll eat a banana.
My lunch is always tofu, chickpeas, brown rice, broccoli, and pumpkin.
Then, I'll have a fruit smoothie at 4 pm and a coffee.
Dinner is always a homecooked meal. If I'm on the go, it's a big bowl of oats with different toppings and since I'm a single guy I don't like to cook big meals.
I actually have a favorite cookbook called Vegan for Beginners where you can find protein-packed vegan meals for singles.
The Beet: What are the secrets to better performance and building stronger muscles?
Steve Pilot: Well, I train on an empty stomach which works really well for me because when I'm lifting or doing handstands, I want to be in a balancing position and I can't tuck my stomach in all the way [if I recently ate]. I also don't eat as much as most people think. I keep it very simple and my body adjusts to my eating schedule. Intermittent fasting helps a lot with digestion so I never feel bloated or heavy.
Doing handstands every day has helped me get through a lot and people think it looks so easy but if you kick your legs up against a wall, it'll be hard to hold it for a minute straight, and I'm not using a wall. Handstands are really good for you because you're bringing the blood from your feet to your head and it helps with circulation. I think it also makes me a happier person. There are seven billion people in the world and only 100 people can do what I do with handstands. I hold them for several minutes for at least five hours a day.
The Beet: Do you have a mantra or words you live by?
Steve Pilot: Yes, a few. Improve your movement capacity daily, become the best version of yourself, and get fit, stay healthy, and eat plants.