MY JOURNEY TO A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
Standing in the gym yesterday afternoon I looked at my reflection in the mirror and noticed the changes to my body the last 8 weeks of training have brought about. The muscle tone and definition that was not visible before (side note: gym mirrors are there to feed your narcissistic tendencies). The thought that came to mind was how long it has taken me to get here and how much further I still want to go. I realised that this is a lifelong journey that I have embarked on that requires consistency and has taught me to value my health above all.
My journey has been a long and complicated one. Anyone who has asked me how I stay fit or 'how they can get my body' is severely disappointed at the answer. There has not been any quick fix or magic potion, if that is what you are looking for, you have come to the wrong place.
My friend Shathiso aptly said once, "If I could write a book on fitness and living a healthy lifestyle it would have a single word on every page - CONSISTENCY!" I could not agree more.
My weight loss (and gain and loss again) started when I was about fourteen years old. I started to gain weight when I was 8 as I became an emotional eater, and as a consequence was relentlessly teased and bullied at school.
This continued into my teens and eventually morphed into yo-yo dieting, abusing diet pills, anorexia at 15 and then eventually bulimia by the time I was 17. Needless to say, the weight never stayed off regardless of what I did.
Just before my first marriage at age 20, in an act of desperation, I went to a Doctor who gave me a weight loss tonic; and whilst I have no idea what was in said tonic, I was so desperate to be thin on my wedding day, that I took it. The weight came off over the three months that followed, and I was a few sizes smaller on my big day. This however was short lived. Within the first year of marriage I piled it all back on again, and then some. By now I had started to feel that maybe it was my genes, maybe I was just a ‘big girl’ as people called me and that this was how I was always going to look and feel. I was convinced that genes were what made you fat or thin. I cannot stress how untrue that is. (I will write a separate blog post on why I strongly believe this). Yes genetics can play a role in what you are able to eat and how you metabolise certain foods but I do not believe it is the cause of being overweight.
Five years later I fell pregnant with my first son. During my 37-week pregnancy, I gained an impressive 25 kilograms! Well done me! - all it took was eating a box of Oreos with a glass of milk every night in bed. Because you know…Oreos! After giving birth to a beautiful, feisty little boy, Post Natal Depression set in. Badly. Add to that a baby with severe colic, lactation issues and a constant lack of sleep and you have a recipe for disaster. My self-esteem plummeted me even further into the deep dark depths of my own dark hole.
12 years, 2 kids, 4 dogs and a second marriage later - here I am, still standing and a size x-small. I went from 76kgs at my heaviest to my current approximate 55kgs (I don’t weigh myself anymore so that is a guesstimate).
To everyone who said it’s not about the label on the back of your jeans, I completely agree… now that mine says ’26’. Jokes aside though, truth be told it isn’t about the label on the back of your jeans. I say cut that goading little sucker off if it makes you sad. What it is and should be about is health. I grew up believing that I was not worthy of love because I didn’t look like the women on the covers of magazines, or the other girls at school; that I wasn’t fit or strong if I didn’t have a flat tummy and that I would never be called pretty or considered beautiful.
Hindsight being the best teacher, what would I have done differently? I would have learned to focus on my health because when you do that - make your health a priority instead of your weight, the weight comes off naturally anyway.
What did I do to finally and permanently changed my weight and my life?
Hard work in the gym, lots of sweat & tears, (crying is optional but chances are you will cry at least once on this journey).
Consciously ditching the fad diets & adopting healthy, sustainable eating habits.
Sheer determination (or stubbornness in my case).
Consistency, consistency consistency; I cannot stress this enough.
Working on my self-esteem.
Building a support system.
A healthy, fit and strong body is not built in a few weeks in the gym or eating grilled chicken salad. I know this is discouraging but there really is no shortcut to a healthy lifestyle. You have to exercise and eat healthily for the long haul. If you are trying to lose weight, you have to do it for the right reasons (your health) and then be determined enough so that even when you hate it, even when it is hard and you don't feel like it, you keep at it. Don't let your self-hate and low self esteem set you back. It has taken me blood, sweat and many, many, many tears. Many. I have cried me a river in the last twelve years that could flood the Nile and all of Egypt.
The Journey of a Thousand Kilometres Began With A Single Step
Six months after the birth of my son, I started running. If you want to call it that. More like suffering through some sort of excruciating death march. I absolutely hated it! My lungs burned, I was out of breath, my legs cramped and every part of me hurt like hell; but I kept going.
Determination and consistency have been the key to my success.
Trust me on this.
I started out on a couch to 5km plan and eventually, slowly but painfully built on from there. A few months later, I hired a personal trainer. If you can afford it, I highly recommend a PT. Paying someone to plan your routines makes life a lot easier and it also means you get your butt to the gym because they charge the price of a kidney. I tried my best to eat healthily which proved to be an immense challenge for me. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I LOVE food. I mean who doesn’t? Crazy people. That’s who. I am NOT one of those girls who ‘forgets’ to eat, or looses their appetite when they are stressed – stress just makes me eat more.
18 months later I had lost most of my baby weight. I dropped down to 51kgs. Which unfortunately is unsustainable because after a second kid, and when you’re approaching 40 - your body tends to not be as cooperative anymore; but that’s okay too.
My journey didn’t end there, I suffered from terrible bouts of depression, binging and purging and a myriad of other health issues which eventually led to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an auto immune disease that affects your metabolism (subsequently making you fat! YAY! All these crazy methods to lose weight and this was the joke the universe plays on me?!?)
The biggest hurdle in resolving 80% of my issues was my self-esteem. Even though the scale said I was 51kgs, I still hated my body.
Oh, the irony of it all…
Losing 25kgs didn't make me any happier. Sorry to break it to you but it probably won’t make you happy either and it won’t make you love yourself or your body any more than you do now.
Building a Support System
The only way I could learn to love myself was to get help. I surrounded myself with a support system of positive people; people who affirm me and lift me up when I get down. My husband, bless his heart, has played a huge role in increasing my self-esteem and helping me regain my self-worth. Another key person in this was my life coach and hypnotist, June Stone. Therapy and seeing June forced me to work through a myriad of emotional issues that helped me deal with my eating, more especially the bulimia. Of course, my friends too, who stood by me even at my worst. This is probably one of the best things you can do for yourself because let me be honest if your environment, the people around you, your family, your partner and your friends aren't on board with your goals to be healthier then this is going to be a hundred times more difficult for you.
Reading the book, “Brain over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn't Work, and How I Recovered for Good” by Kathryn Hansen, helped me understand my Bulimia better and lead me to a solution to stop the binge/purge cycle. I slowly started eating better and began Sarah Wilson’s ‘I Quit Sugar” 8-week program. Since I wasn’t eating 4000 calories of junk in a sitting, the urge to puke up healthy food was less enticing. Plus who binges on broccoli?
At some point the binging and purging stopped. I replaced the self-hating mantras in my head with “I am strong; I am beautiful’, in an attempt to crowd out the negative self-talk. I repeated that to myself as many times a day as I remembered to say it. I started listening to Kelly Robert’s podcast - Run Selfie Repeat on my runs. Kelly has been an inspiration to me and her podcasts showed me how not to take myself so seriously or worry so much what everyone else thinks. Her witty take on her weight loss journey and road to self-affirmation spurred me on many hard days. Kelly inspired me to see that strength, fitness and resilience is not a model on the cover of a fitness magazine, it comes in all shapes and sizes. As I followed her journey, she inspired me through mine and I eventually joined the #sportsbrasquad by running my first marathon in a sports bra; which I never would have previously dreamed of doing! And no, I did not have a 6 pack or a flat stomach, I did it, ‘mum tum’ and all.
I certainly am not cured of my self-loathing or body dysmorphia, but I am much better than I have ever been. I still have difficult days where I am overly critical of my flaws, rolls around my belly from pregnancy and fleshy bits under my arms. We all do it sometimes. I have just made it a point to not let that be my norm. I subsequently started eating a plant-based diet and this was the best thing I could have done for myself. My health improved substantially and so did my emotional state. I completely stopped obsessing over the number on the scale and don’t even think of weighing myself anymore. I threw my scale away which has been extremely liberating psychologically. I eat healthily every day and I feel GOOD. If I over indulge once in a while I don't punish myself or my body for it, I take it as something I needed at the time to feed my soul (usually with cake or chocolate) and move on. Guilt never does you any good so I have consciously worked on not feeling guilty about what I eat or the days when I haven't eaten as healthily as I would have liked.
I might not be the thinnest I’ve ever been, but I am definitely the happiest and most confident in my (slightly less than) 40 years of life. I hope my journey will inspire someone else as all those around me helped and inspired me along the way. In writing this Blog, I aspire to invite my readers to celebrate a woman’s body and beauty in all shapes and sizes. It is important for me to stress to every woman and person who reads this that how healthy you are is far more important than how skinny you want to be.