Matt James on living authentically after starring on ‘The Bachelor’: ‘That was something I did, but that’s not who I am’

·5 min read
Matt James talks about his
Matt James talks about his "healthy habits." (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life's well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Matt James hasn't slowed down since his time as The Bachelor. Instead, the North Carolina native has only seemed to take on more, as he travels the country with girlfriend Rachael Kirkconnell by his side, working with charities he's passionate about and now prepping to compete on Dancing with the Stars — the very things that he says makes him happiest.

"I just think it's important to be authentic, and that's true to who I am. I'm just a generally happy, positive person. And I want to share that aspect of my life with people so that they can see that you can do all these things and be the person that you want to be without compromising," he tells Yahoo Life. James, whose reality TV debut broke barriers and led to serious conversations about racism and how the ABC franchise perpetuates it, adds his public work isn't what defines him. "That was something I did," he says of The Bachelor, "but that’s not who I am"

Here, he talks about how he makes sure to incorporate wellness into his daily life while traveling, working and preparing to dance.

How are you managing to take care of yourself these days?

One thing that I don't compromise on in my travels and life and anything I have going on is rest and exercise. So with this travel schedule, I'm very blessed with the ability to be able to fall asleep anywhere. I can sleep on a train, I can sleep on a plane, I can sleep on a bus. In transit, I'm resting. And I'm not a big partier, I'm not a big drinker. So I'm usually in bed relatively early wherever I am and I'm up early to exercise.

What motivates you to workout on a daily basis?

It's just something that's ingrained in my head and in who I am just through sports. I've played sports as long as I can walk. If you continue to do anything for a period of time it just becomes habit. I like to call them healthy habits. And exercise for me is healthy because it keeps my schedule in order, it keeps my life in order because everything is kind of based on that. That exercising and eating healthy and rest is what fuels me through bouncing all over the country.

How did you discover that daily movement positively impacted your mental health?

Well, it's different for everybody, right? At times I wish it was reading because I wish I was more well-read. So for a lot of my friends, their release when there's just a lot going on or they just need to escape is a book. And then for me, there might be a long bike ride, there might be a long run. Just things that I divert back to that have done me well in the past. And I think we saw a lot of that during quarantine.

A lot of people were pent up in their houses, gyms were closed, restaurants were closed, your office was closed. So you've got to creatively find ways to exhaust those pent-up emotions and feelings. For me down in Florida, it was going on really long bike routes. I had my AirPods in and I'd listen to different podcasts, listen to calming music, and I'm getting my workout in. I'm just not thinking about anything, just relaxing, all the while doing something that's keeping me mentally where I need to be, because the best place for me is when I'm exercising daily.

When did you develop an interest in healthy eating?

My mom put an emphasis on healthy eating at such a young age. I don't know why it was so important to her that we ate healthily, but it was, even while her schedule didn't allow for us to be eating healthy meals. She was a single parent, she worked all day and there wasn't really any way for us to go get our own food. We were kind of at the whim of whatever she was preparing. A lot of the meals that she prepared were in a Crock-Pot. She'd put stuff in the morning and then by the time they got home, it was ready and it was pretty healthy for the most part. And when she would get home, she'd always make a salad. And I love my mom's salad — I enjoyed salad because she put things in them that I liked, so it hasn't been something for me that like I've kind of put my nose up against.

You're bringing these practices and your positivity to students across the country. Where does your mentality come from?

I think it comes from my mom and my aunt and my faith. My mom as a single parent, I saw where she put her faith and her hope and her trust and being a Christian and being faithful in her pursuit of living life the right way and never making excuses. Ultimately, she found the good in every situation. And I love that. It's one of the most important qualities and character traits that I look for in a person — friends, significant other et cetera — because life is a series of unfortunate events. At times, there's a bunch of obstacles that you're going to face. Everyone goes through hardships like losing a job, losing a friend, everything COVID-related, but it's a matter of how you handle those things and the approach you take towards doing it. And when you're around a positive person, it just makes life easier.

Why is it important for you to share the work that you do with ABC Food Tours and Lettuce Grow to help students learn and have access to healthy habits?

There's already enough people talking about the negative things on the news and on social media. There's gotta be more people highlighting the cool stuff and positive things that people are doing. And I just want to be a part of that culture, as opposed to bashing people and not creating that space.