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Toni Cavanagh Success Story

She hovered above my desk; her large frame gracelessly dressed in a damask two-piece which reminded me much of my Grandmothers tapestry curtains. The heavy set ones that never let any light in, or air for that matter. She was an austere woman with a brittle smile – she was my English Teacher, a harsh woman, who would berate my best efforts and I would spend the better part of my high school career seeking her approval; which was hard won. I could blame this woman with her stiffly coiffured Queen Mother hairdo who peered across her 1960’s Nana Mouskouri spectacles; I could blame her for my over-achievement, anger, regrets and finally habitual over-eating; but that would be naïve of me. For she was just one of the many excuses I sought to explain my failures and eventual self-destruction. You’d be forgiven for looking at my pictures now and thinking that I’ve always had it together. The truth is; that I hadn’t. My life was reminiscent of a roller-coaster ride. Very thin, thin, okay, chubby, fat, very fat, OMG!, chubby, almost thin, fat again …

In 2007 I joined Weigh-Less and lost 18 kg. I was normal, happy and could get on with my life. I was playing competitive golf and I was finally doing more of what I wanted to do. I still hadn’t gained the confidence I craved. But I didn’t care. I was thin. 2010 World Cup Happiness – 52 kgs Before ‘The Fat that Broke the Camels Back’ In 2011, my own personal ‘Hiroshima’ as I called it, hit. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Degenerative Disease and presented with Multiple Sclerosis. I hit the jackpot!

There was no backing out of this. You just sit, and listen to a barrage of medical jargon that mean absolutely nothing and you know that your life will never be the same. Disc replacement surgery, cytotoxic drugs – my weight ballooned to 83 kgs. Now I looked like my Aunty Audrey. The one who baked those fancy cakes and drove the Morris Minor! I won’t look good in a Morris Minor, I thought. But people feel sorry for you, you’re tired all the time and your hair falls out and you start to look like Morticia from the Addams Family without meaning to – and you eat; lots.

The pain became unbearable and for a while I withdrew into a space in my head where I could curse the universe for giving me this and spend all my time wishing it away; but then I’d wake up from a drug induced sleep – still the same. I didn’t like who became. So I stopped taking the medication, all of it, for 6 months and for the next 8 months I was in and out of hospital, critically ill. A product of my own doing. I hadn’t given up; I’d just had enough! And that was the end of it – I didn’t want to live like that anymore. So I told my Doctor I – wanted – to – change… But changing wasn’t easy, because I became everybody’s favourite ‘fat’ friend, the smiley one, Ms Reliable! That was me. I wanted so badly to control my life that I tried desperately to control everything around me – I could just as well have written that on my forehead. Because people took advantage of me; and I didn’t ever say, No. But to change, I realised that I needed to learn how to say NO! and be okay with it. In September, 2014 fuelled by a glass or two of Haute Cabriet I swore to do the 2015 Two Oceans Half Marathon. I’d never run further than 200m before and I hated running. I made a promise to run that race. Not any race, but that premier race. I told my doctor that I planned to run; “People like you don’t run”, she said. “Let me try”, I said. The very next week I started Banting – my friend was Banting and she swore it was the best thing since Errol Arendz Stilettos. I love stilettos, so I started Banting. It was hard but within 3 weeks I noticed some improvement in my inflammation and the weight started dropping.

This same friend introduced me to Sleek Geek SA. I’d heard about Sleek Geek SA before when another friend had very successfully changed her lifestyle and lost over 15 kgs. I didn’t think too much at first, but spent some time reading posts of fellow Sleeks, more importantly Elans’ story. That’s the thing about us, we’re attracted to success and can almost see ourselves there. But not everyone has the ability to self-motivate; and that’s why I love Sleek Geek SA. For its ability to drive, motivate, inform, educate and just basically offer a platform for you to share your story to inspire and be inspired. That and the fact that it’s available 24/7! Ongoing reality – And I finally have a space that is non-judgemental, that is familiar and truthful. On the 4th October, 2014 I ventured out on my first 5 km walk/run. I wanted to do this alone. I downloaded the Nike + App and set out on my route, and for the next few weeks, I became that lone chubby chick training along Wynberg Hills.

For two months I was Banting and training religiously and by then I’d lost 8.5 kg. I entered my first 10km Race before Christmas. I didn’t have a cooking clue where to go or what to do. I entered online, arrived at the race looking very much the pro in my newly bought kit and techno gadgets, and I waited at the back of the herd. I didn’t know what to expect – just a gunshot I thought, then run or walk. The gun went off alright and I walked and walked. I hadn’t checked the route. I didn’t realise that the first 3 kilometres were uphill. I didn’t know how to run uphill, but I did know how to walk so I did, and then I ran and I cried and I ran. I made it to the finish and I felt like Sophia Loren on the red carpet. My first 10km medal is my most prized possession. It’s an affirmation that the decision to change was mine, and I had it in my hand. From that moment I knew what was possible, but I also started to understand what hard work was – and this wasn’t going to be an easy journey. Not by any means. Training alone wasn’t going to get me to where I wanted to be. Nutrition is important, something I’d neglected for a long time. Because I’m lazy, I travel, I don’t have to cook, I make excuses and that’s the truth. The fact is that nothing beats fresh and preparation and I needed to get that into my head fast if I was going to get my body healthy again.

The turning point for me was cutting out inflammatory foods, no sugar, no wheat, and no refined foods. I started to experience ‘pain-free’ for the first time in years. At first I was hell bent on being 100% perfect, 100% of the time. That’s when things fell apart for me, slowly. A bite here, a nibble there, guilt, wagon wheels off. Change of plan – calories, proteins, understand my body type. I’m 75% Mesomorph. I got to know what nutrition my body needs, what exercise it needs and more importantly more about my limitations and accepted what I can and can’t do. Slowly my body is changing on the inside and the outside; but at a pace that I can cope with. And if I falter 20% of the time – I’m clean 80% of the time and mean 100% of the time.

Golf Tour 2014 vs. 2015 Performance Visible! What I truly wanted was to be off my meds. Off the steroids, and the anti-inflammatory medication and hopefully one day off the Chemo and Biologic treatments. With every doctor’s visit we slowly weaned off the steroids and anti-inflammatories, until in April 2015, I was completely off them! Happier I couldn’t be! Happy and healthy after weaning off Prednisone and Celebrex! Moving along, I still had the Two Oceans to run. By Easter Saturday, I’d already run two half marathons and I was training hard for my biggest goal yet. It was no longer about the race, or the running for that matter. On the left – At the height of Medication On the Right – A week before Two Oceans Half Marathon.

It was about what was possible, about knowing what I could do. One of the most important lessons I’d learnt was that my own reality was different to that of everyone else, that my journey was my own. My race time didn’t matter. The fact that I step onto the start line matters and running across the finish for me is a win, something I’d never done before. Understanding my body and its needs has improved every aspect of my life. Saturday 4th April, 2015 – Two Oceans Race Day. I’d been Banting, switched to the Nordic Diet, added low carbs, weaned off steroids and antiinflammatories and lost 13 kg. At the start of my journey I didn’t imagine I’d be able to do this, but I did imagine I could try. Trying is all you need to – Imagine what you could do, if you knew you couldn’t fail? 2015 Two Oceans Half Marathon 13 kgs Lost Off Steroids and Anti-Inflammatory Drugs!

Where to now … For me maintaining this lifestyle means raising my bar all the time and that means putting strategies in place.

I’ve lost weight, I’ve got more to lose.

I’ve run a Half Marathon, I’ve got a Marathon to run.

I’ve cut all inflammatory foods out of my diet. That includes sugar, simple carbs, refined foods, alcohol, Trans fat, white foods and I maintain that as close to 90% as I possibly can.

I train 5 days a week – a combination of running between 30 and 45 km/week, boxing and Pilates.

I play golf competitively

I accept what I can’t do I do my best and accept that my best is good enough

I accept that not everything is about me.

I accept that my journey is my own

And Finally, when the uphill stretches of this journey become a little too much, I turn to my cyber friends on Sleek Geek SA for encouragement and pull, and in turn when I can, I offer a gentle push.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY AND WIN R500 Wellness Warehouse Voucher

Toni wins a R500 voucher courtesy of our sponsor for the “YOU CAN live life well” series Wellness Warehouse to be spent on their online store with free delivery nationally.

I believe very strongly that ordinary every day people like you and I derive great inspiration from the achievements of people who seem similar to us. If they can do it.. damn.. so can I! Right?

So through this program we will continue to tell people’s personal stories.

I want to great an archive of hundreds of stories of people who have changed their lives while others believe they cannot.

Submit your story to with the Subject line “You can live life well”

We require:

  • Your story in your own words covering at least (How you got to a point of change, how you made the change, tips and advise for others)
  • A selection of before and after photos
  • As many words as you need to tell your story

In advance, we regret that not all stories may be published. Your story is as important as anyone’s story but we can only publish one a week and the editor will make decision on this.

If your story is published you will receive a R500 voucher to the Wellness Warehouse online store with free national delivery.

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