Sanctuary’s Health Recipe
"Carefully rinse away all doubt. Mould courage into large chunks. Then, add a pinch of patience and a dash of determination. Mix well and repeat as necessary."
His decision to become a vegan was intuitive, but little did he know, this diet would later help him avoid serious health complications.
Carefully rinse away all doubt. Mould courage into large chunks. Then, add a pinch of patience and a dash of determination. Mix well and repeat as necessary. This simple recipe has never failed Romell Bennett, a soca artiste better known as Sanctuary. That’s why greatness is always within his grasp, whether he is on stage or off. The self-described perfectionist has come to be known as a dynamic performer, singer and songwriter. During his rewarding career, he’s whipped up hits like Switching, Mega Monday and Pick Me Up, for which he was crowned the Starcom’s Network People’s Monarch last Crop Over. He’s also written for popular artistes like Mikey, Biggie Irie, TC, Alison Hinds and Mr. Blood. In a recent interview, Better Health learned key ingredients to his success – a healthy lifestyle and wholesome diet.
“I became a vegan when I was 17 years old. I had started to educate myself about the dangers of what we’re eating and the diseases associated with the foods that we eat. I started to get scared because a lot of different diseases run in my family – there is diabetes in my family, there’s glaucoma in my family, there’s pancreatic cancer in my family, and there’s obesity in my family. So I did not want to follow in the bad footsteps. I dared to be different. I am the only vegan in my family,” he revealed.
Before age 17, Romell said he ate “everything”, lots of pork, beef, lamb, fried foods – you name it. Now, you could not pay him to eat that way again. For the 38-year-old, the sole purpose of eating is to sustain his body: “I don’t crave food. I believe that when you become a vegan, you eat because you have to or you will die”. His decision to become a vegan was intuitive, but little did he know, this diet would later help him avoid serious health complications.
For many years, Romell experienced an unexplained discomfort in his stomach, which started while he attended the Garrison Secondary School (now Graydon Sealy Secondary School):
“I was in pain from secondary school until about 33 years old. Doctors could not tell me what it was. Everybody was telling me it was air.
“I had always felt discomfort throughout secondary school. Being from the country (St John), you have to get up early, skip breakfast and rush to school. But I figured it was air so the first time I had the extreme stomach pain, I went to the doctor and they gave me an injection and baralgin (pain reliever). I took it and went home but it was no help.
“I went back to the doctor and they prescribed diovol tablets. And then for years and years, every single night I would be in pain. The pain used to come on mainly at night – sometimes during the day, but I would ignore it. It would be a nagging pain during the day but at night, when my body was resting, I would feel that pain more than anything else.”
…I think he is the reason all of these songs come to me. It may be a crazy idea, but I know he’s the reason why I will never quit. This is why I do this. This isn’t for me. It’s for him.
Rinse away doubts
At age 23, Romell experienced immense pain of a different kind; it was the traumatic loss of his cousin Henderson Collymore, who had been in a motorcycle accident. The two were like brothers – when you saw one, you saw the other. Henderson, who was also 23, was musically gifted and dreamed of becoming an artiste. When Henderson’s life was cut short, Romell, a carpenter by trade, dared to keep his vision alive.
“…He used to write songs but I could have never gotten a song written. And when he died, I decided that ‘No, I can’t let it die there. I have to carry on what he wanted’. So when I was 26, I started going to voice lessons. It was something out of the blue; when I told my friends, everybody laughed at me.
“…I think he is the reason all of these songs come to me. It may be a crazy idea, but I know he’s the reason why I will never quit. This is why I do this. This isn’t for me. It’s for him,” he said, noting that he is also motivated by his son Akija, who was born in 2001.
In 2010, Romell closed down his landscaping company and focused on music. He did not believe that he had mastered song writing or performing at the time, but he was confident in his ability. While working with legendary bands like Xtatik (led by Machel Montano) and Krosfyah, he was able to perfect his craft. It was not long before word of his talent spread, and his writing skills were in high demand.
Due to his busy schedule, the Fete Loan singer was not always able to eat properly or on time. While on the go, he was surrounded by fast food establishments that did not cater to his vegan lifestyle. Every once in a while he was forced to “compromise” and eat a few fries, for example. However, mainly fruits and veggies made it past his lips. Despite this, he continued to suffer from occasional stomach pain. Eager to find relief, he sought a natural remedy.
“I went to a naturopathic doctor and he prescribed garlic and ginger. It seemed like it was working and then it got worse and worse and worse. I went to another naturopath, they said I have some worms in my system. I took medication for that and it made the pain even worse.
A pinch of patience
“[In 2013] I went to the FMH Emergency Medical Clinic and the doctor told me ‘This is acid reflux’. That time I had no clue what acid reflux was. He told me to cut out certain foods, all the acidic foods like ginger and garlic.
“I had a hernia. The doctor explained that although I transitioned from eating meat, I was still creating enough acid in my stomach to digest meat, which is too much acid. Meat takes everything out of a person to digest and it never all gets digested.
“He told me that because it went so far, still take this tablet, I can’t remember the name of it. The tablet lines the stomach and stops the acid from reaching the hernia and causing it to worsen.
“So the tablet he gave me lined my stomach and then gradually the pain went away. After the pain stopped, it never came back again because I never ate any of that stuff again. The doctor said that if I used to eat meat with all the stomach problems that I had, I would have developed pancreatic cancer.
“I realised that eating properly would solve a lot of my problems like my stomach problems and my eczema. I started to research the foods that I was eating, figuring out what is alkaline, what is acid, what acidic foods do to you, and what alkaline foods do to your body,” he said.
A dash of determination
Now that he has grown wiser, Romell leaves nothing to chance. In addition to meat and acidic foods, he avoids gluten, sugar and salt. Every day, he rises with the sun and meditates. Then, he drinks water and eats a fruit, for example a banana or raw plantain: “I find raw plantain is more filling and more of a breakfast meal compared to frying it and putting all the oil in it.
“For lunch, I cook and I usually use a lot of lentil peas, a lot of spinach, a lot of beets, all natural food. There are no fried foods in my lunch or dinner.”
To ensure that he eats healthily while working, the entertainer began planning meals more carefully:
“I started cooking and focusing on myself. Before I go in the studio, I would cook. I would take food in the studio and put it on the fridge or take a stove in the studio. I made the studio like home to facilitate my diet.”
A vegan diet has worked wonders for Romell; it has helped his stomach to heal and allows him to function at his best. He believes that self-care and confidence begins with what we put on our plates:
“We are what we eat. If we focus on what we eat, we would be what we really want to be. We would see who we really want to see in that mirror. We would feel how we really want to feel at a young age, at a middle age and at an old age.”
The artiste has unlocked the recipe to a healthy lifestyle. No doubt, he will use it as he travels the globe, and of course, continue to make his cousin proud.