When Agnes Muljadi visited a naturopath a few years ago, she couldn’t believe what she heard.
“You don’t have time. You have to become vegan yesterday,” the naturopath told her.
Muljadi, an accomplished ballerina based in Los Angeles, was stunned. She didn’t know then that this advice would forever transform her life, her career and the lives of her hundreds of thousands of online fans.
A doctor’s diagnosis
Muljadi’s road to the naturopath was a long one. It started when she found a lump on her breast. Thankfully, tests showed the lump wasn’t cancerous. But what the tests couldn’t explain was why this benign tumor kept growing.
“My doctor said, ‘Don’t worry; we can do surgery,’” recalls Muljadi. “I’m a professional dancer. I couldn’t keep going back for surgery! I needed to know what was causing this.”
She saw doctor after doctor. The riddle remained unsolved. Finally, Muljadi was referred to the naturopath, who reviewed her records and gave her the order: Go plant based immediately.
It turned out that Muljadi had an extreme estrogen imbalance. Her naturopath believed it was linked to eating meat and other animal products.
“I didn’t know anything about being vegan,” Muljadi says with a laugh. She had no plant-based meals at home, so she drove straight to the store. She hasn’t looked in the rearview mirror since.
Plants with benefits
Muljadi’s new diet had immediate effects on her tumor and hormone levels. She also noticed something unexpected: a shift in every other area of her life.
“I feel like I got a brand-new body!” she exclaims.
Muljadi quickly rattles off a long list of the benefits she’s experienced. It starts with less sick time. Glowing skin. More energy, despite working longer hours than she used to. Amazing cholesterol numbers. The list goes on and on.
And Muljadi’s more than half-a-million Instagram fans can’t get enough of her vegan life.
Muljadi, under the handle @artsyagnes, posted her first Instagram photo in 2012. She was experimenting with photography as a way to break up her everyday routine.
“I’d be in the dance studio from 9 a.m. until midnight,” she says. “You do the same exercises every day with the same teacher and the same people. Repetition creates the art. It was very fulfilling, but I was getting tired of that lifestyle.”
One day, one of her ballet images went viral. As Muljadi’s online fan base grew, her career grew with it.
“I was able to ‘retire’ from full-time ballet,” she says. “I still go to class as intensely as before, but I found there are many other things that I can do, from photo shoots to ad campaigns. It has opened up a whole set of opportunities. I’m feeling very blessed.”
Muljadi is now one of Instagram’s most popular plant-based athletes.
“I’m not an activist,” she says. “I have friends who’ll post things like slaughterhouse protests, but that’s not me. When I became vegan I felt so much better, like I was born again. I just want to share that!”
There are still challenges that come with being a high-profile proponent of plant-based living.
“The challenge I very much welcome is talking to people who don’t know what being vegan is,” says Muljadi. Every day, she gets hundreds of comments and questions about the lifestyle. “Just the other day, someone from Colombia messaged me and said, ‘I don’t even know what to eat!’”
She responds to every fan, sharing her tips, meal ideas and favorite restaurants or products in the hopes of making a plant-based diet more approachable for everyone. “All these conversations are really important,” she says.
A day in the life of a vegan dancer
Wake up: Muljadi stretches and meditates for a few minutes. “This starts my body and mind,” she says.
Breakfast: Muljadi has a glass of sugar-free green juice and a glass of water and lemon. For breakfast, she’ll eat a colorful salad with olive oil. “As a dancer, I can tell when I’m not eating the right breakfast,” she says.
Mid-morning: “I jump into social media, emails and the business side of what I do, like meeting with different brands.”
Lunch: Muljadi cross-trains with Pilates, yoga or Gyrotonics, and then grabs a light lunch of berries and nuts.
Afternoon: She works the rest of the day, then heads to the ballet studio from 5 p.m. to at least 10 p.m.
Dinner: With her long to-do list wrapped up, it’s always Muljadi’s biggest meal of the day. “Last night, I had ramen. I try to stay away from soy, gluten and sugar,” she says.
Plants for the rest of us
Unlike Muljadi, most of us aren’t told by our doctors to go vegan yesterday. That doesn’t mean we can’t experience similar benefits.
“Cut your meat consumption from what you’re eating now to maybe once a week,” suggests Muljadi. “It’s not hard to make little changes. You don’t have to only eat salad. That’d be hard even for myself!”
If you’re an athlete like her, Muljadi warns against worrying you can’t get enough protein from whole plant foods. As a dancer, she made that mistake herself.
“I don’t know where the misconception comes from that veggies don’t have protein,” says Muljadi. “Quinoa, lentils and even broccoli have a ton of it!”
She adds, “If you want to be not just vegan, but actually healthy, try to replace anything processed with fresh, whole foods.”
Body by ballet
Ballet demands a lot from its dancers. The industry isn’t without its critics, who say it promotes an unhealthy body image. Researchers have also raised alarms over social media’s negative influence on body image.
Combine the two, as Muljadi does, and it’s easy to see how the pressure could add up. Muljadi agrees that being a dancer can be taxing, but to her, healthy body image goes deeper than simply appearances.
“If you feel great, if you feel strong and if you can do whatever you want with your body to express who you are, then I think that’s healthy,” she says.
“The conversation has to switch from not just body image, but [to being] about loving who you are and feeling good with what you’re doing,” she adds. “I want you to be healthy. Make that a priority. Without health you can’t do anything! I don’t eat the way I eat so people say, ‘Oh, you’re so beautiful.’ I want to feel good. That’s what’s important.”
Ballet class or barre workout—which is right for you? If you’re dreaming of pirouettes, graceful leaps and millennial pink slippers, you’re better off enrolling in actual ballet classes. But if you’re interested in pulsing, repetitive movements that zero in on particular muscle groups (and leave you panting), go for the barre workout.
“For general health, I take coenzyme Q10 to protect against free radicals, mushroom supplements for my immune system and resveratrol to support detox,” says Muljadi.
Want stunning ballet-inspired pics in your life? Follow @artsyagnes, and you’ll want to sign up for that dance class.