I was born huge! Literally a 12-pound baby, which is roughly 5.4kgs. Unfortunately my early memories regarding weight are of being dragged from doctor to doctor with my mom pleading “but what’s wrong with her”. I didn’t even consider myself a very overweight child so I was rather confused. Exercise was never emphasised as important when growing up. Education, learning and working hard was instilled in us at a very young age, but exercise was never a factor. In fact, I was made to give up tennis in Std 9 so that I would have more time to focus on my studies.
So in my adult life, I have struggled with this work/life/exercise balance because it doesn’t come naturally to me.
I struggled with my weight all through high school and college but I “finally got skinny” when I was about 19 years old, thanks to a ‘lettuce leaf, sniff of tuna and a laxative’ diet. Don’t make as if you haven’t been there! Healthy I was not, but I had skinny arms!
The wheels fell off when my partner died unexpectedly. I wanted my life to end and actually almost walked in front of a car hoping it would knock me over. I was 21 years old and I sought solace in the wrong food, the wrong drinks and the wrong company. I left for London for just shy of 3 years and came back enormous. Damn you 2am Burger King for £1! I felt like a failure, not just in terms of how I looked but that I had done nothing with my life and opportunities presented to me. Those dark thoughts entered my mind again. I was an emotional wreck. I heard the whispers, felt the disappointment from my family, the pointed stares and giggles from friends, the “Hayi shame” and “Oh my God, look how huge she got”. I used to cry myself to sleep. Cried in the shower. But I didn’t value myself enough to want to make a change. I just accepted this as my lot in life. “I have my father’s family genes”, I told myself.
I settled into a routine back home. Got a job in the media industry, got headhunted. Became an overworked, underpaid corporate slave who regularly worked until the early hours of the morning, and on weekends and survived on work-supplied food (pizzas), Woolies ready-made meals, Steers, whiskey, wine and the occasional carrot. I felt crap, looked crap, slept crap, had no life and occasionally saw some vaguely familiar people I think were called family. Going through the motions. But I was working hard and making my way up the ladder, right? Nope. After 6 years, I was retrenched. Erm, thanks for that, guys. More crying.
I was 35 years old. It had been 4 months since my retrenchment and here I was lying in the Emergency Room in agony. And the nurse was pestering me with questions and eventually blurted out that unless I made some drastic changes, I was setting myself up for a stroke before I turned 38. Horrified was not even the word. I had been trying halfheartedly before, but something switched on that night.
Where it All Changed
I decided the pity party was over and it was time to stop with the bullshit and the excuses. I come from middle class privilege and there are people out there with real, actual life problems and life-threatening situations. I used some of my retrenchment money as an investment in myself, and sought out the services of a trainer and dietician. I really did give it my all, and I saw some initial changes but it took some trying new things, changing coaches and methods, to finally find my groove in the last 12 months.
So first and foremost, I do Flexible Nutrition via calorie counting, or more specifically macro counting (macros or macro-nutrients are proteins, carbs and fats). I follow a high-carb, low-fat ratio and I have a set base of calories which are called Maintenance Calories which is what I would eat if I was at goal weight and had nothing to lose (or gain). This is quite a lot of calories, definitely no starvation mode here.
In order to lose weight, I cut calories (a percentage of my maintenance calories), commonly known as cutting or dieting down. I weigh my food, and track it via an app called MyFitnessPal. I don’t have set meal plans.
Secondly, I follow Intermittent Fasting while I am cutting. Mostly to cope with my lesser calories. There is science behind burning fat in a fasted state, etc but my reason is much more simple. Shorter eating window = bigger meals. I follow 16:8 which means fasting for 16 hours, and eating during a 8-hour window. So my eating window is between 1pm-9m, therefore no breakfast. I do this 6 days a week, and don’t fast on a Sunday when I do my long distance training run (or half marathon race). It takes a bit of self-control but I found this has also helped me make good decisions when I am out and surrounded by not so nutritious food. I am able to hold out on hunger pangs until I get home to my prepped food.
Thirdly, I don’t have any food restrictions. No, this does not mean I eat doughnuts for breakfast just because it fits my macros. I stick to wholesome, nutritious food 85% of the time and allow for the ‘good-for-the-soul’ foods in the other 15%. So I eat a lot of lean protein, veggies, fruit, rice and seeded wholewheat bread and wraps. Potatoes are my soulmate so I often do baked white or sweet potato with a mince or tuna topping. I don’t handle milk, cream and yoghurt very well so I eat the lactose-free versions but I do love me some cheese!
People say calorie counting is obsessive but I think more people need to be aware. The freedom and flexibility has in fact stopped my bingeing episodes, shifted my mindset completely and often sees me choose fruit over sweets and my own food over a quick take-away. I’m not a habitual grabber anymore just because Susan baked brownies over the weekend and they’re now sitting on the communal table. I can now go to movies and actually don’t *need* to get popcorn and coke. I don’t know when last I’ve had KFC, I don’t know when last I’ve had chocolate pre-shark week. Give me a home-cooked meal with potatoes over Steers any day.
Training involves running 3-4 times a week. I am running half-marathon distances now (from someone who huffed and puffed her way through a 5km three years ago!) so my training always revolves around races I’ve entered. I do HIIT (Interval, Strength) training twice a week with my coach and boxing once a week. I train once a day, first thing in the morning, and have one rest day a week.
I’ve always had support from my family, who may have raised their eyebrows at my methods but the results speak for themself. We’re now (ironically) quite a sporty family – I run, and my brother and sister cycle, and we’re always at the big events cheering each other on. A kind word, loud cheer and a fist bump goes a long way when the muscles start aching and the mind begins to waiver.
I am worthy. I am capable. I am stronger than I give myself credit for. I sometimes put my underwear on inside out but I have the power and the right to put me first and affect change. And knowledge really is power.
The Bug Bites!
Your first always stands out. So my first half marathon, the Gun Run 2015 will always have a special place in my heart. I started crying just before turning into the final turn… I couldn’t believe what I had just accomplished. I actually had to stop to pull myself together – no way I was getting a snot-en-trane photo for my first half! But my first Two Oceans half marathon (2016) is what ignited that running spark inside and really made me think that I was Zola Budd. With shoes. And longer hair. And eeeever so slightly slower.
It’s Not a Straight Line
This has been my journey for almost 3 years. And the initial weightloss was fantastic. I lost about 13-14kgs (I think it was in 8 months) via LCHF. And then I plateaud. I was told this was normal so I hung in there even though it was very demotivating to be putting in 110% and not seeing any results. My training and recovery also wasn’t great but I figured this was because I wasn’t a ‘natural athlete’. And then I started gaining weight. Despite eating as I had done before, I even went to a LCHF dietician to see if I was doing anything wrong but I managed to gain back 7kgs of the 14 I had lost. It was now over a year and I was beside myself and saw myself slipping right back to where I started and possibly worse. I was in a very dark space because I couldn’t understand why it worked before and had now stopped. Why it was working for other people, and not for me. It took a lot of soul-searching and crying to forge a new path and seek the services of a professional. I had been so conditioned to think that carbs are bad, and this included things like apples and potatoes so to do the mental shift that I needed carbs, that I would lose weight with carbs was a mind****, to say the least. I cried some more (why can’t you lose fat via crying?!) but eventually learnt to trust the process and my coach and the results have been fantastic. Again, not linear, but still… good progress.
It’s Not Just the Weight Lost
My skin has improved leaps and bounds. I look younger 37 years old. My hormones have corrected itself and I am completely regular each month. My period cravings have all but disappeared which I think is nothing short of miraculous. My mindset has shifted and I am a lot more aware and no longer do things out of habit (drink just because I’m at a pub, or eat all the food at a picnic just because it’s in front of me). I still enjoy myself – but I can totally have 1 glass of wine instead of 4. I have a lot more confidence which manifests through my work and relationships. And I have so much more energy and I’m doing things I never ever thought I would have done before, like zipsliding and stand-up paddling. Oh, and getting up at 3am to run races in forests 488km from my house!
My Tips for Success
1. Plan. A dream without a plan is just a wish.
2. Write sh*t down. I have a diary and a notebook. I write my races that I’ve entered into my diary so it’s a commitment and I plan my training schedule around that.
3. Do your research and get involved. I have found that when I was spoonfed a meal plan and didn’t really understand the process, that success was fleeting. Asking questions is great but there comes a point where you need to step up and take responsibility and own your path.
4. People underestimate how important it is to get the mind right. It’s easy to follow a meal plan or a training schedule but when things don’t happen as expected this is where the mind comes into play and is a strong factor in success or failure.
5. Find what works for you. Weightloss is as emotive as religion and politics and everyone is convinced their way is the only way and the right way. We’re all different.
6. There is no quick fix. Stop with the 14-day detox water! There is no secret. There is no miracle cure. It really is a combination of hard work, discipline, commitment and consistency.
Something my parents always tell me: The only place Success comes before Work is in the dictionary. And success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out. And above all else, love yourself.
"Falling off the wagon"
What if it was actually an important part of the journey?