Health and Wellness

Why Whole Foods CEO never snacks, barely drinks water and travels with a rice cooker

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey juggles apples as as he's photographed in one of his stores on New York's Upper West Side.
Richard Drew | AP

When John Mackey was growing up in the 1950s and '60s in Houston, Texas, TV dinners were the norm.

"My mother was very taken by processed foods. [She] could fix dinner quickly," Mackey tells CNBC Make It.

Among his childhood food staples were Cocoa Puffs for breakfast and boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Today, Mackey, 65, won't touch a frozen meal or anything processed.

In fact, the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods only eats only three organic, vegan meals a day, barely drinks water and never snacks — or eats dessert — except for an occasional Medjool date.

Mackey estimates that he eats about 15 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

"A plant-based diet is pretty high in water," Mackey says, "so, the actual truth is I don't need to drink water most of the time."

And if he did snack outside his three meals, he says he would get a stomach ache.

Mackey is so dedicated to his rigid diet and wellness routine that when he travels for work, he typically packs a rice cooker with him (to make his morning steel-cut oats) to ensure he doesn't slip while on the road. And when possible he tries to book a hotel next to a Whole Foods Market so he has his lunch covered.

"Then for dinner. Everyone knows I'm vegan so they'll go out to a vegan restaurant. It's not like it's torture for them," Mackey, author of "The Whole Foods Diet," says. However, he does admit to an occasional beer or alcoholic drink "once in a while."

Since the age of 23, Mackey has been eating a vegetable-based, healthy diet which he credits in large part to his success as an entrepreneur. He co-founded Whole Foods Market on September 20, 1980, along with three of what he calls his "hippie" friends. In 2017, Amazon bought the organic grocer for $13.7 billion. Today, Mackey has an estimated net worth of more than $75 million, according to Forbes.

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Mackey's daily routine

At 5 a.m., Mackey wakes up and does his spiritual practices for about 30 minutes to an hour. That includes meditation, reading an array of spiritual literature and daily affirmations (short, powerful statements designed to manifest a specific goal).

"Affirmations give me a clear and intentional path of what I'd like to see happen for myself and the people that I love every day," Mackey says.

At 6 a.m. Mackey either has one of two breakfasts: a smoothie or steel cuts oats (the oats are usually for when he's on the road). Mackey says his smoothies typically consists of seasonally fresh fruits, almond milk, raw cacao, flax seeds or walnuts for omega-3 fatty acids and either kale, spinach or collard greens.

After breakfast, Mackey exercises by going on a short walk followed by some yoga.

Mackey heads into Whole Foods' corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Mackey says he eats lunch early, at about 11 a.m., to beat the crowds at the Whole Foods' buffet line, which is connected to its corporate offices. There, Mackey makes himself a "big salad" with a bunch of different chopped vegetables and uses a dressing that he makes at home and keeps stored in a refrigerator at work.

After work, Mackey heads home at about 7 p.m. to make dinner with his wife, Deborah.

"We'll chop up a bunch of different veggies and throw it in the steamer," he says, "And then we'll have some kind of lentil or beans with it and a nut sauce."

Mackey puts down his phone for the night at 9 p.m. and sets it to "do not disturb"; he does not answer work emails and texts until 7 the next morning. All his employees know that he is unreachable for those 10 hours.

"People know not to email me," he says. "My wife [is the only one who] can get through to me. She's got the code."

Mackey reads for bit and then heads to bed at 10 p.m.

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