Monse walking Pitu, Santiago, Chile ©2019, Cyndie Burkhardt

“We have an unlimited budget for whatever salad you want”

1024 799 Cyndie Burkhardt

Monse and her brother took their parents’ message to heart: “We have an unlimited budget for whatever salad you want, and sports.” Growing up in Santiago, Chile, they looked forward to eating as many vegetables as possible, thrilled to get anything they wanted.

Chileans eat lots of bread—for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between. In Santiago, street carts and vendors that line up around metro stations, office buildings, parks, churches, and popular sites compete with the many shops and bodegas that are filled with varieties of empanadas, sandwiches, and pastries. Monse’s parents (the name is short for Montserrat) didn’t discourage bread, they just took a novel approach toward their children’s health. Regular family meals and homemade food were important, and her maternal grandfather often cooked. Family time was about sharing and eating together.

Monse Sepulveda relaxing on her patio. ©2019, Cyndie Bukhardt.
Monse Sepulveda relaxing on her patio.

All photos ©2019, Cyndie Burkhardt

Exercise was another value Monse’s parents conveyed creatively. For example, when Monse and her brother got an A on a test her parents would rent a boat, take them a mile offshore, and the kids would swim to land. It was an adventure, a reward, and they loved it! Chileans typically have poor exercise habits, which aren’t part of the general culture but dominated in Monse’s family.

Things weren’t always so clear and sometimes didn’t gel. At an early age Monse trained professionally for the Chilean National Ballet and anorexic habits were condoned, if not encouraged. It was considered normal to skip meals and avoid things other people did regularly, like grocery shopping. It was intense and at 16 years old she quit, burned out. 

When I ask how healthy she is on a scale of 1:10 she answers “7.” She wants to exercise more and improve her eating. To this day she still eats little and doesn’t plan meals, shop for food, or cook for herself. The home cooked meals she gets are made by her brother who shares the family apartment with her. She did however invite a small group to her home to learn and prepare her family’s empanadas and salsa. She demonstrated with ease and the meal was delicious, which makes me think she’s more natural around food than she gives herself credit for. Hopefully the family time and lessons from growing up will serve her now.

“Health is a priority for how I plan my life,” says Monse today. “Being healthy isn’t just one thing, it includes mental health and exercise.” She continues, “to both grow a company and stay healthy requires discipline.” A 30-year old entrepreneur and owner of a small company Tours with Meaning, she admits to consciously compromising her health while building the business. She accepts it (temporarily) but is a little distressed about losing exercise, which she craves, especially biking and yoga. Physical movement helps ease her pain from fibromyalgia. After experiencing panic attacks she spent a year in therapy to address work stress, which helped. 

When I ask how happy she is on a scale of 1:10 she lights up and answers “10.” She has a small work team, a little more free time, and she’s happy with the business. “I love every part of it, even the days I don’t love.” She’s out of a relationship that didn’t work and she has an adorable puppy, named Pitu. “There’s something different every day. Routines are lethal, miserable, I loathe them.” She loves not knowing what will happen next week. 

“I appreciate the resilience that comes with not having a good day,” she says. I ask Monse how she’s so resilient. “People on the team, my dad is awesome, and there are no toxic people in my life. Basically, prioritizing self-care.” Her last words are refreshingly wise for a woman of her youth.

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