Total Health: Leslie Danford of Vitaminis On How We Can Optimize Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
13 min readNov 25, 2023

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Better nutrition for everyone. I believe that food is medicine, so what you put in will be what you get out in terms of better health and wellness outcomes. But even more than that, I believe food is healthy because when you are well-nourished, you have the energy and the motivation to pursue your dreams, to be your best self, and to fulfill your life’s purpose, and that’s critical.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing? As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Danford.

Leslie Danford, founder and CEO of Vitaminis, a clean-label functional food and beverage brand. She has always been passionate about nutrition, but she is not a foodie. For her, it’s like a math equation, and it’s important to cover all of your nutritional bases. In 2020 she combined her personal interests with her formal business training to launch Vitaminis. Previously she worked in beverages and consumer products at large corporations. She earned her MBA from Harvard University and her BA from the University of Chicago.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in a family where my dad was the primary caretaker, making the meals. My dad is a scientist and meals were always very mathematical in terms of protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, etc. I think I’ve taken some of that into my adulthood. That’s still how I think about my nutrition today.

I also have had an entrepreneurial bent since I was a little kid. My mom loves to tell a story about when I was seven years old I wrote a book about a princess, borrowed money from her to make copies of it, and then sold it outside the local drugstore in the town where we lived.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I’ve always thought that businesses are what drive impacts to make the world a better place because they have the scale to make changes, and they’re often what drives innovation and change.

This feeling has always inspired me to go into business because I wanted to have a positive impact on the world. In the case of my business — Vitaminis, a food and beverage brand — I have the opportunity to positively impact the health, wellness, and nutrition of a broad audience, which makes me so happy.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

While I was in consulting, there was a practice there to give feedback to all the employees. You get feedback from managers, teammates, and peers about how you’re doing, how well you’re doing, and how you’re doing versus everybody else, but there’s one conversation I remember in particular with a senior partner that I was working with. He told me that I was never going to be the best consultant and that I should think about what I would be the best at and go do that instead.

It sounds harsh, and at the time, it really hurt to hear that, but I look back on that conversation, and it was such a valuable push because my heart was not in being a consultant. It was my calling, and I needed somebody to tell me that because otherwise, I was just going to push and push and try and try as hard as I could when the reality was I needed to follow my passion and go after something where I could shine.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I remember early in my career, I was taking a red-eye flight from Seattle to Chicago. The flight departed late in the evening, lasted 4–5 hours, and landed first thing in the morning. Exhausted, I fell asleep in the chairs while waiting for the plane. When I woke up, the plane’s doors were already closed. It was fully boarded, and the staff at the counter had left. I thought I had missed my flight and ended up begging to board. They allowed me on, but I had to walk down the airplane’s aisle in front of everyone, which was very embarrassing. So, it’s become a somewhat funny story, but the lesson I took from it is not to push yourself too hard. I had been working long hours, trying to maximize my time by taking a red-eye flight and only sleeping for 4 hours, and it ultimately resulted in suffering.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I read Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’ when I was in high school, and that book had a significant impact on me. I know now, looking at it, I think it can come across the wrong way. But what I took away from it as a high schooler is that you have to be true to yourself, take care of yourself, and be who you want to be, and that is how you’re going to add the most value to the world and the people around you, and to some extent, I still think that’s true.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

I love this quote, and I have it up in my office. It’s ‘The Man in the Arena’ by Theodore Roosevelt, and it says, ‘It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.’

I love this quote because it pushes you to think. You have to try, even if you’re scared, even if it’s easier to sit back and criticize, point fingers, or talk about other people.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am currently working on a couple of things. One is launching a new product called Daily Greens, which includes all of the great vitamins from dark leafy greens, such as vitamins A, E, D, and folate. It will be a green fruit juice with no added sugar, and no mystery ingredients, just like our other products. No refrigeration is required, and it tastes delicious.

I’m also working hard on expanding in retail, so I’m talking to a couple of big retailers at the moment, and I’m hoping that we can bring Vitaminis to a broader audience sometime in early 2024.

The last thing I’m working on is an online Summit called the Nourish and Flourish Summit by Vitaminis, where we are hosting 20 expert speakers talking about Integrative Health and Wellness and Holistic Solutions to surmount the challenges in your life. I’m excited that it’s coming up here in November, and I can’t wait to hear how it is received.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives: Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

The first one that I can think of is sleeping and eating. I find that often if I’m feeling agitated, worried, frustrated, or just generally off balance, it’s usually because I need more sleep or I’m hungry. I try to check and correct those things first or stay ahead of them as much as I can. I think that goes a long way for mental wellness.

The second one is to try to live in the moment. What that means for me is to take deep breaths and try not to worry about what’s coming next or the future. Likewise, try not to dwell on or think about what I could have done better in the past. Instead, maximize where I am today and keep my focus there.

My third tip would be to pause and respond versus react. I think this is much easier said than done. But to the extent that you can do the first two things, make sure you’re sleeping well and eating right, and stay in the present moment, you have to have those first. Try to take a moment and think about how you want to respond, as opposed to simply reacting based on your initial emotional response.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I love yoga. I’ve been doing Bikram-style and hot yoga for about 18 years. I love CorePower Yoga Studios. Vitaminis is currently piloting with CorePower Yoga studios, and we hope that we can expand the product to all the studios nationwide shortly.

I have found yoga to not only release stress and tension in my body and keep me physically fit, but the breathing exercises also help overcome discomfort, stay in the moment, and calm the panic response when feeling physical discomfort. It’s extremely helpful in various contexts.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

I would mention doing exercise as the first one. I make sure to work out every other day, and however I can, I try to stay super flexible with how I fit it in. Sometimes it’s a run, sometimes it’s working out on a machine, especially if I’m traveling and have access to equipment. It could even be doing jumping jacks in my room sit-ups in my hotel room, swimming, or whatever. But every other day, I make sure to get that 30 minutes in, and I find it to be a really easy thing because it’s a habit. I don’t question, ‘Am I going to work out today or not?’ I just do it.

Number two, I try to balance my diet by the week. What I mean by that is, if I have an off day one day, I just make up for it the next day. Instead of trying to be perfect all the time or beating myself up over eating well or not eating well on any given day, I try to think about it every week, and I find that helps with staying on track and not getting discouraged.

My third piece of advice is to treat myself occasionally and try to live in the moment. If I really would love an ice cream, I’ll have an ice cream or, you know, get a massage or that kind of thing. I believe that treating yourself takes some of the pressure off and can add to your overall happiness.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

I find that cooking at home is very, very helpful. And while it is intimidating and can be a lot of work, there are a lot of hacks for quick meals, even super simple things like buying pre-chopped vegetables, if that’s helpful, or even a rotisserie chicken. But, eating and preparing food at home, I think, helps with making sure you’re not overeating, making it more about family time, and reducing a lot of the processed food ingredients and downsides that you might get with eating at restaurants or fast food.

My other thought on this is to make small changes, one small change at a time. So maybe you start with Vitaminis at breakfast, and that’s your small little step to healthier eating. Or maybe it’s just integrating a fruit, which can double as a snack instead of a bag of chips. So that’s the other tip I have, to just try to make incremental changes and again, not beat yourself up, just take one small step at a time.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

For me, the first one is connecting with others. I think this helps give you perspective when you’re able to listen to someone else, be there for them, share what you’re going through, and just feel like you’re not alone. Sometimes, just having a laugh or taking your mind off things is important. I think connecting and being with others is helpful. Sometimes, when you’re feeling bad, your default is to want to be alone, but often connecting with others can help you feel better.

The second one is to just kind of sit and feel things rather than trying to get rid of a bad feeling. If you feel sad, angry, or frustrated, I find that just sitting and feeling it is beneficial. They say that the average emotion lasts 90 seconds, so if you can just sit and feel whatever you’re feeling, it will go away faster than if you frantically try to avoid it.

The third one is to take time for yourself, whatever recharges you. Maybe that’s being in nature, spending time with a pet, doing some hobbies, and spending time with loved ones. Make sure you take that time. It may sound selfish, but you need to take time for yourself to be emotionally well for everyone around you.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

I think smiling impacts your brain, like the muscles. I’ve heard that the muscles in your face when you smile, can make you feel happier, which is sort of interesting. But I also believe that what you put out into the world, you tend to get back. But you can’t fake it. You have to find something that you legitimately want to smile about. This comes back to thinking about seeing the best in people, being grateful, and finding gratitude. If you can find something to truly smile about and wear that smile, you will find that you get back more good things as well.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

To me, gratitude is essential. I like to think about a couple of things I’m thankful for at the end of every day.

The second one is looking for the best in everybody. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and everyone struggles, so trying to acknowledge and see what people are doing right whenever possible is a great spiritual practice.

Lastly, I believe that everything happens for a reason, and even things that feel very difficult or scary, or you wish they weren’t happening, often have a good outcome in the end. A great example is my getting laid off and starting Vitaminis.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

I think this helps me with mindfulness because nature is quite simple. The wind blows, the flowers wave in the wind, and the birds fly back and forth. It’s very simple and very calming, and I think that can help with just being in the moment, to notice those things and appreciate them. Appreciate that little bug, as it’s working hard to do its job or whatever it is. I also think that if you combine this with some movement, like going for a walk, getting out in the sunshine, having the sun on your skin, getting your vitamin D, all of those things, I think it feeds a sense of being part of something bigger.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Better nutrition for everyone. I believe that food is medicine, so what you put in will be what you get out in terms of better health and wellness outcomes. But even more than that, I believe food is healthy because when you are well-nourished, you have the energy and the motivation to pursue your dreams, to be your best self, and to fulfill your life’s purpose, and that’s critical.

One of my goals is to help contribute to better nutrition for a broader number of people through Vitaminis, which is a small, tasty, and easy way for folks to start adding more nutrition to their diets.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

I would say Sara Blakely. I follow her on social media, appreciating her messages of hope, grit, and encouragement as a founder. Sometimes it’s easy to lose hope, but when I hear her story and see her inspiration, it reminds me of what is possible and that it’s not always easy for people to reach great heights. There are always challenges.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can check out my website and find me on Instagram or Facebook.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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