Laila Ali is a world-class athlete, television host, cooking enthusiast and mother of two young children with husband Curtis Conway. Oh, and she’s also a killer ballroom dancer, which she proved in her third-place win on “Dancing with the Stars.” But did you know that Laila, who is the daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, is also all about the organic life? I didn’t either, until I sat down with the star of CBS Sports’ “We Need To Talk” and FYI’s “Late Night Chef Fight” to talk about Laila Ali’s transition towards a healthier lifestyle, in this Mommy Greenest exclusive interview.
Did you know that champion boxer and television personality Laila Ali is all about the organic life? I didn’t either, until we sat down to talk about her transition to a healthier lifestyle, in this Mommy Greenest exclusive interview. You’re a four-time undefeated world boxing champion. Where did those skills come from?
People often assume that my boxing success came from my dad, like there was some champion gene he passed on that made me stronger and quicker in the ring. But the genes alone would never have been enough to make me an undefeated world champion boxer.
Did you grow up in a household that was focused on health?
I always thought I was healthy. Both of my parents exercised, we at home-cooked meals, neither of my parents smoked—they were good role models.
But after I moved out on my own, I lived the life of the average American teenager. I ate processed food, fast food, sweets and soda—water was not my drink of choice. I signed up for gym memberships but stopped going after a few weeks. I didn’t think about food or fitness in terms of my health. The only reason I watched what I ate was so I didn’t gain weight.
I know that now you read food ingredients with a microscope. What changed?
I fell in love with boxing. A whole new world opened up to me and I set my heart on becoming a boxer. But not just any boxer: I wanted to be the best—just like my dad.
I had no idea what it would take to get to the top. At that point, I couldn’t even run a mile! But I was ready and willing to learn everything I could about optimizing my health and fitness so that I could succeed as a boxer.
I learned about eating carbs for energy and protein to build muscle. I started running and increased my distance until I could go non-stop for miles. I began weight training to build the strong core muscles that were essential for my sport.
What did your father think about you boxing?
My dad… He’s old school. He’s a little bit of a male chauvinist. And he definitely didn’t want his daughter boxing.
Did he eventually support your career as a boxer?
Oh yes! Once I started fighting, he came to my fights, he supported me, he was proud of me. But I’m his baby girl! My dad has eight kids—I’m the youngest girl. And none of his kids box. I’m the youngest girl and I decided to fight. As a parent, it was his worst nightmare.
And then you went on to become a world champion. Do you think that type of achievement is possible for everybody?
I believe that we all have the capacity to succeed beyond our wildest dreams in work, life and love. But we’re living in a world in crisis. Today, we’re in the fight of our lives.
Just think about this: More than a third of American adults are obese—that jumps to nearly 50% of African Americans, and more than 40% of Latinos. Our rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer are through the roof. We have the highest infant mortality rate and lowest life expectancy rate of all the developed nations.
So what can we do to get healthy?
Many of us have this image in our minds of what healthy looks like. Some feel that if they’re not considered obese—only 20 or 30 pounds overweight—and are able to get out of bed every day, that’s healthy. Others think hat if they’re thin and work out regularly, they can eat whatever they want and that’s healthy, too. But just because your body looks a certain way, that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.
We have to make better choices about the food we consume, the products we use and our physical activity. So many of us are chasing after dreams that we forget about our most valuable possession: good health.
What’s your secret to optimal health?
It’s simple, really. It starts with allowing yourself to ask questions and seek out knowledge. Allow that process to guide you, and take a lot of time to prepare. Believe in that preparation, and let it give you confidence. And above all, have faith in the process. That belief in yourself will lead you to success.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. These things don’t happen overnight. And as I said, we all have to keep evolving. There’s an old saying in boxing: You’re only as good as your last opponent. I apply that to my life every day. Nobody can say, “I won that fight, so I’m the champ for the rest of my life.” We’re all facing new challenges, each and every day. We all have to defend the title.