Bernise Bannister finds her happy place

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My name is Bernise Bannister, I am a proud mom to 3 beautiful children and wife to the most amazing husband!

My journey started about 5 years ago and it has by no means been plain sailing. I’ve had a few storms along the way and make no mistake, I still have days where have to adjust my sails in order to get to calmer waters!

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I was a resident couch potato for most of my adult life & along with that, also a self-confessed yoyo dieter…. If I wasn’t on a diet, I was definitely starting one the very next Monday! You name the diet, I guarantee you I had tried it! And sure, I lost a few kilograms doing these “diets” but guess what? Yip….The weight always came back, PLUS SOME!

There is nothing worse than that feeling of utter DESPERATION to lose weight…it seriously makes us do ridiculously stupid things! I actually shudder to think about not just the amount of money I have wasted on shakes, pills, injections & goodness knows what else, but what damage I did to my poor body in my endless pursuit of that “MAGIC PILL”!!!

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I used to try justify to myself why I looked the way I did! At that point in my life I was 39 years old with 3 children, flip surely it was ok to cut myself some slack?! Uuummmm…… my youngest was already 4 …. So actually, NO …..The “I’ve just had a baby” excuses was no longer valid and let’s be honest, it should never have be used in the first place!

THIS is where it all started for me, this is the picture that finally hit home…..!

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Enough! 

I often sit and wonder, what was it about this picture that made me have that “enough is enough” moment…? Maybe it was the double chin, or perhaps it was the fact that once again there was booze in my hand? Whatever it was, I am thankful that I had that defining moment and that I was finally able to gain control of my weight, because I can assure you behind that smile was a very unhappy person.

The days of me hiding under big baggy clothing to hide my weight needed to end…. The drinking wine every single night needed to end. I needed to be someone other than that girl that was the life and soul of the party thanks to copious amounts of alcohol… Reality was no amount of alcohol was going to fix the depressive person I had become all because I was so desperately unhappy in my own skin!

After seeing that photo I was more determined than ever to try again…. And even though I felt terribly intimidated every time I set foot inside the gym, I forced myself to go at least twice a week. My sessions consisted of me jumping on a treadmill for about 20 minutes and then off to the sauna! Eventually after a few weeks my gym visits became, drive around the parking lot for 10 minutes until I could find a parking close to the entrance then dash in, swipe my card and then dash out again….…Because you know, Discovery special!!!

Run Forrest! 

I then decided to try running… Perhaps I would stick to that because I wouldn’t feel so intimidated like I did in the gym! I entered the Spar Ladies 10km race and let me tell you I hated every single minute of it until I crossed that finish line, then BOOM that feeling of “I did it” hit me and I was hooked! I did a few more small 5 & 10km runs and thought, ok this isn’t so bad… I’m not very good at it, but I can put my earphones in and just go and so it became my place to get away from my day- to-day stress.

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About a month after me becoming a “runner” while having some friends over, I bravely (once AGAIN due to excessive alcohol consumption) agreed to enter my first half marathon…. BUT it was no ordinary race, my first half marathon would be The Sani Stagger! The thought of running 21km down Sani Pass was extremely scary, but yet despite my friend having to pull out of the race two weeks before, I went ahead and did it alone!

I struggled every step of the way, BUT I crossed that finish line! The sense of accomplishment finishing that race is something that I simply cannot describe! I truly believe that was the day, while descending that mountain that I discovered my “NEVER GIVE UP & BELIEVE YOU CAN” attitude. Those that know me well will tell you, it’s an attitude I live by to this day! I have since conquered that mountain another 4 times and on the 26th November this year, along with some fellow Sleeks I will be going back for my 6th medal…. watch this space for loads of pouty selfies down that mountain pass!

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Even though I was running, and enjoying it I may add the weight was still not coming off! I decided it was time for a personal trainer. At my first meeting with her, I told her I just want to lose weight and firm up and heaven forbid she must not make me look like a man with big bulging muscles! She assured me she wouldn’t, so with that out the way I started going to her twice a week for weight training and ran twice a week on my own. I continued to eat what I wanted because hey, I had a personal trainer so that was going to fix everything right?! WRONG!

Eventually after about 4 months of very little progress she sat me down and told me to stop wasting my money and her time, it was the wake up slap in the face I needed! So we decided perhaps I needed a goal, something to work towards…. A challenge! So I entered a challenge run by the gym and got to work. I got slightly more focussed and ended up making the top 10, which I was happy with as I was finally getting rid of some of my weight, and I could see the results….thanks to the challenge progress pics! Yes we all hate taking them, but they really are an important part of the journey!

Almost my 40th! Time to do a bikini show

My 40th Birthday happened to be fast approaching and I really wanted to be in the best shape of my life when that happened… midlife crisis maybe? I really enjoyed having the challenge as a goal because it helped keep me motivated, but now it was over, so now what?!

My trainer suggested we set a new goal, so we started throwing some ideas around. With her being an IFBB Pro Bikini Athlete, we joked about why not “end my transformation” by getting me on stage in the beach bikini line up of a body-building show?! The joke ended up being the goal we decided on….YIP…..Midlife crisis for SURE!!!! Hey, don’t laugh…. We all go through it & if you aren’t there yet, wait…. It’s coming!!!

With the new goal decided, now it was REALLY time for me to focus, because seriously….have you seen the size of those bikini’s?! There would be NO place to hide any wobbly bits! I knuckled down, and worked my ass off in the gym (literally). I followed the nutrition plan 100%….and guess what? That’s when the magic truly started to happen! I soon learnt that with consistency, comes progress!

By then I had gone from 90kg’s to 60kg’s….30kg’s gone by the time I hit the big 40, so to say I was over the moon would be an understatement! After years and years of trying, I had finally got control of my weight!

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Sadly, not everyone around me shared in my excitement. My 15 year friendship with my bestie was in tatters, and at the time I just couldn’t understand why she would not accept that I had changed my lifestyle and be happy for me?

I’ve since come to realize that just because I had that “aaaah haaaa” moment, didn’t mean that everyone else around me had it too! She was still where I used to be, and I simply could not force her to be on the same page as me. At the time, I also couldn’t see just how obsessed I had become in achieving my goal. My life revolved around preparing for this show…. EAT, SLEEP, TRAIN…REPEAT!
Eventually things came to a head and the inevitable happened….seeing my best friend of 15 years walk out of my life was heart-breaking.

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With just 12 weeks before my planned show, I just buried my head deeper in the sand and threw myself further into my prep…..Training was stepped up to twice a day 6 days a week and the dieting was on another level… My cooler box was my new best friend, it never left my side. Prep consumed my every waking moment, but I was happy (well at least I thought I was at the time). Show day arrived and by then I had dropped another 5kg’s. Seeing 55kg’s on the scale that morning was just mind boggling for me, and I had abs for the first time in my life!

I really loved the whole experience of show day, so what started off as I’m only doing one show became I may as well do the next one, I was hooked!

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Cancer and a very tough time

In the midst of my competition prep, normal life still continued so off I went for my yearly gynaecologist appointment and as per usual was told “We will let you know if there is a problem”. I left the appointment expecting to not hear or see my doc again until I went back the following year. That was not to be….. A week later and just 3 days out from the next show, I got that dreaded call!

We never think something like this will happen to us! I have honestly never been so scared in my life! All I remember hearing was “positive cervical cancer cells” and the rest is a blur. When I got to the doctors rooms, I asked her “can I die?” and without hesitation she replied “If not treated early enough, yes”. How could this be happening to me….? This happens to other people not me!

Theatre was booked for 2 days later in order to remove the affected cells. I remember having to go fetch my eldest daughter from school directly after I left the doctor, how I drove there is beyond me. I cried non-stop, I could hardly see out of my eyes so there was no way of hiding the fact that something was wrong from daughter. We got home and she spent the rest of the afternoon comforting me. At about 6pm I received another phone call, this one from my ex-husband’s father.

It would be a call that turned the 25th March 2014 into one of the worst days in my life! My daughter who had been there to comfort and console me all afternoon, would now need me to do the same for her. How do you tell your child, her dad is gone? It was one of the most heartbreakingly difficult things I have ever had to do! It’s times like these that one realises who and what is REALLY important in life, because in a heartbeat it could be gone! As a family we slowly day by day started picking up the pieces.

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I was petrified of what lay ahead for me, but I forced myself to put a smile on my face and to be positive! My surgery went ahead as planned, but two weeks later I was rushed back to theatre to try stop a massive haemorrhage. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does…. Almost two weeks later to the day, I was back on the operating table, this time for a hysterectomy! Finally…. 6 weeks and 3 surgeries later, this nightmare was coming to an end!

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But, in the midst of all this chaos, came some peace….. That from a broken friendship. When this all happened, my bestie Tanya was one of the first to be at my bedside, because no matter what had happened in the past that bond was still and would always be there!

All in all I spent pretty much 3 months either in hospital, or recovering at home in bed. Now having been at a point where I was training twice a day 6 days a week, this lying in bed unable to do anything sent me into the worst depression imaginable! I once again turned to food for comfort (funny how we all do that hey..!). The problem was, my body was so used to low calorie comp prep diet and here I was eating anything and everything in sight! The binge eating coupled with zero training had devastating consequences…. an ALMIGHTY rebound!

Back to square one

The depression just got worse and I started hiding at home, embarrassed to go out (even to gym) in fear of what people would say! Yeah, I know we shouldn’t worry about what people say, but we do! I once again found myself in that “desperation mode” so was back searching for that quick fix, magic pill! I was eating “clean” and taking as many fat burners that I could safely take! The problem was I would “be good & eat clean” during the week, with the intention of have “one cheat meal” on the weekend….yeah right…. It became an all you could eat buffet ALL WEEKEND, and even worse, I started eating in secret!!! This carried on for over TWO years!!!

Enter Sleekgeek! 

It was in another one of my desperate attempts to find that quick fix that I stumbled on the Sleekgeek Facebook Group and as if by divine intervention, I won a Buddy Team entry into the Sleekgeek 8-Week Ultimate You Challenge! By now Tanya and I had been working on rebuilding our friendship and she was ready to give this healthy lifestyle thing a go. So there we were on the 18th Oct 2015 taking our before pic’s for our first Sleek Geek challenge!

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The pic’s horrified me… it was the first time in over two year and a half years that I had taken pics, so it was extremely difficult for me to see just how badly I had actually rebound…. How did I go from being in THE BEST shape of my life, to almost back to, if not worse than I was before?! No, I may not have been as heavy on the scale, but my body composition was just as bad as it had been before!

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I had been so restrictive for so long, that food had become something I feared! BUT…. When I did eat, it was like I had no “off switch”. Eating ANYTHING “off plan” would make me feel so guilty, even something like a banana… because you know, too many carbs!

If I had something “bad” I would end up telling myself “oh well you’ve stuffed up, you may as well just go for it and get in as much as you can….quickly!” It became a vicious cycle of binge, starve, add more cardio….REPEAT!

For me, restrictive low calorie eating had given me an eating disorder, plain and simple! I had to find a solution because the consequences of this eating disorder had sent me deeper and deeper into depression and I wasn’t a very nice person to be around!

Making progress again 

With the help and support from the Sleekgeek community, I managed to get rid of 8 of the 15 or so Kg’s I had regained. I was finally on the road to recovery…. Or was I? I automatically signed up for my second 8-Week Ultimate You challenge, but this time no matter how hard I tried, my progress had stalled and I was just not seeing any results. Reality was my body finally saying “enough is enough!”

Again as if by divine intervention, Chennel from Fit Guru Consulting attended the Sleekgeek dinner in March this year, and it was after a long chat with her that the penny finally dropped…. Things needed to change or else I would end up back to square one again! I needed to stop being scared of food in order to fix a very broken me!

The next Challenge 

On the 15th of May I entered my 3rd Sleekgeek 8-Week Ultimate You Challenge. BUT from the outset of this one I made the decision that this would be the one I would give my absolute all too! It was just 8 weeks of my life that I would need put my head down and just do what needed to be done in order to find my mojo again & with that find my “happy place”.

After hearing about Flexible Nutrition or “If it Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) from Chennel at the dinner, I decided to give it go for the challenge, and can without a doubt say that I have FINALLY found what works for me! I made use of the weight training plans in the Challenge Vault for the first 4 weeks, and then switched over to powerlifting style training for the remaining 4 weeks, which I now currently still follow. For the full 8 weeks I trained 6 days a week, twice a day….Cardio at 5am and weight training at 6pm. Some may say this is extreme, but for me it was about leaving no stone unturned in order for me to achieve my goal!

I became like a sponge on the IIFYM SA FB page and thanks to my amazing stalking skills (I kid you not) I discovered my new coach. I did things VERY differently this time around…. The only supplementation I used was whey protein, in order to assist me with reaching my daily protein goals. No magic fat burners or pre workouts, just a biiiiig cup of black coffee before my training sessions! I achieved what I set out to achieve and that was to FIX me, not just on the outside, but on the INSIDE!

Second place! 

Regardless of the outcome, I had won. The cherry on the top was receiving the email from Elan with the news of my placing! I am very humbled that the judging panel found my transformation worthy of 2nd place in the Ladies Transformation Category of the Winter 2016 Ultimate You Challenge.

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For me though, the REAL challenge started the day I submitted my final results for the Ultimate You challenge, because that’s where the battle was…..maintaining!

It’s now been almost 3 months since I submitted my final results and I am proud to say that with the help of my coach, there has been NO REBOUND…in fact, not only am I looking better but I am physically getting stronger each and every week!

This journey really has been one hell of a roller coaster ride, but it has made me the strong, determined woman I am today!

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I have always believed that things happen for a reason….

Without competing I would never have met another very good friend of mine Jocelyn and without me going through the health scare my friendship with Tanya may not have been restored.

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Community rocks! 

My rebound lead me to Sleekgeek, a community that welcomed me with open arms. It’s a place where I have made memories while bravely conquering fears! I have made friends with some pretty special people, who have been there for me and lifted me up when I was at my lowest! Truly special friendships have been formed in the close knit Sleekgeek KZN community….. KZN Sleeks rock! #justsaying

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This journey has taught me to be humble and never to take my health for granted! I have found what works for me and I no longer feel like I am “on a diet” which makes me so happy, because I know for sure now that this is truly a way of life for me now!

I am so proud that because of me changing my lifestyle, there has been a ripple effect with my husband and children….. What does the future hold for me..? Will I compete again? I don’t know…. Right now all I want is to continue making memories with my precious family while enjoying this balanced life where I am no longer afraid of food.

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It’s amazing how, now that I am mentally in a better place with food and happy in my own skin I don’t feel like there HAS to be a goal to work towards…it’s a wonderful place to be! Yes I still have goals but I train because I want to now, not because I have to! Right now my goal is to get STRONG and I’m super excited to see what improvements my coach and I are able to make moving forward, not just on my physique but more importantly on my strength!

If I could give any advice to those that are in that dark place that I once was, it would be firstly loose the word DIET…changing your lifestyle is what is required, pure and simple! Take it one day at a time, one meal at a time! You have to find what works for YOU! We are all different, so what works for me may not work for you…. Once you find what works for you, start chipping away to become that popcorn that pops. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t be the person that judges & hates on those that have already popped, be patient…. Your turn will come!

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Find what you are able to stick to constantly without effort, and the results will naturally follow! Remember….In order for us to change, we MUST make permanent changes or we will simply go back to how we were before! Never EVER stop believing, because you are capable of achieving ANYTHING you set your mind to!

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