Chantelle Mc Namara
When people ask me how my weight loss and health journey started, what triggered it and how I kept it going, I sometimes struggle to find an answer. Some people have a “moment” of clarity – they see a photo of themselves that triggers a thought process or action plan, or they feel the effect of their lifestyle on their bodies and want to make a better future. Personally, I did not even realise that I was overweight or unhealthy.
I have struggled with my weight throughout my life. I was often called “the smart sister” and my sister was “the beautiful one”. My weight would fluctuate drastically from overweight to underweight to somewhere healthy in the middle. In High School I was first team hockey and all we did was fitness. I dropped weight and ate so much that I cannot remember a moment in Matric where I wasn’t eating.
However, my relationship with food was strained. I ate when I was hungry, and ate whatever I felt like eating, but I was exercising enough, and stressing enough over final exams, that it did not matter.
My best friend and I decided to join Weight Watchers together. I lost a little bit of weight and then lost interest. Then I asked my mom to rejoin with me. My mom lost a lot of weight, I lost hardly any.
I do recall feeling unhappy at times, and feeling a lack of confidence. This was never a huge motivation for me though, and I also remember looking in the mirror more often and being happier with what I saw then, than I do now. When I look back at photos of myself in High School, I truly do believe I had a beautiful body. I was healthy and fit, and I was by no means overweight. That is easy to see in hindsight, but as a teenage girl, that is also the hardest thing to see in the mirror. I have suffered from body dysmorphia the majority of my teen and adult life, and as a young adult trying to find her way into the world from a sheltered private school existence, my self-image truly became a battleground.
The gap year spread
After Matric is when my struggle with weight truly began. I went on a gap year to Israel, and essentially ate my way around the country. I came home 12 months later, and around 12 kgs heavier. My clothes did not fit, my mirror was persona non grata, and I distinctly remember the comments that were made about “not gaining as much weight as I had expected” when I walked out of the arrival gates at the airport.
Divorce and demons
I am not sure what triggered it from there, but my weight steadily climbed. I was married very young, and divorced shortly thereafter. When I got divorced, I was in a terrible place – severe depression, anxiety, OCD and self-loathing were the order of the day, and I did not think I would ever get through this combination that seemed to be me waging war against myself. And perhaps this is where my journey started.
As I was forced to face my demons, I became acutely aware of the damage I was doing to myself. Subconsciously I was eating to manifest the way I was feeling for failing (I have never failed in my life, and my family lovingly call me their overachiever). As I started battling the illnesses that had been diagnosed, I started becoming more aware of what a healthy lifestyle entails.
I started getting a handle on the illnesses, and as I did, I started wanting to take care of myself more. I started running because post-divorce there was zero money for a gym contract and my bruised ego had moved back in with mom. I could not ask her to sponsor one more thing for me, and running could be done without spending money. I did not necessarily follow a plan or strategy beyond “get up, tie your laces, and go”. It was HARD. I had not run at all since my hockey days. And every step was torturous.
Despite this, I kept going. On my first “run”, I couldn’t run for more than 20 seconds without stopping to cough up a lung. Then it got easier. I started out by running 3 times a week. I moved it up to 4. I started working and got my own gym contract, and began training three times a week, with 2 short runs thrown in and a long one of between 12-18 kms on Sundays.
I started seeing a dietician because I wanted to be able to eat appropriately for someone who was exercising the way I was. I lost around 20kgs from following this routine of gym, running and an eating plan which was balanced and included a little bit of everything.
I have no idea what my heaviest weight was, I assume around 92-95 kgs, as I had already lost weight when I began seeing my dietician, and she weighed me in at 88kgs at my first consultation. Funnily enough, I do not remember being mortified. I do not remember thinking “OH EM GEE HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!”. I think I had reached a point of complacency.
I know – I hate it when people write their stories like that too. “I started running and POOF! I was a running fairy doing long runs on Sundays!” Let me clear the air – it was so hard. I would wake up some mornings and the motivation would be so strong that I couldn’t get my running shoes on my feet fast enough. There would be days where the inner demons would rear their ugly heads and I basically had to be pushed out the door by my mom.
Because that’s the thing, my family are wonderful, and they saw the difference in me when I started exercising. Endorphin rushes are real people. And yes, the ‘runner’s high’ is real too – but it is as elusive as a unicorn. I did not run for the runners high or even the weight loss, which were wonderful side effects that arose. I ran because I needed to make sure that my lifestyle was one that did not allow for me to be in a place as dark as the one I had been in when I got divorced.
Of course, my friends were also extremely supportive, and once the compliments started rolling in, it started to feel really good. I became aware of how capable I was of achieving goals, so I began to set more of them. I ran races, I took part in competitions. I lost the competitions. And it was absolutely ok – because I had done something that I never ever thought would be possible for me. During this time, I had stopped seeing my dietician. I had received the fundamental building blocks of nutrition from her, and I began to eat a bit more intuitively.
As I became fitter, I was exposed to different forms of exercise, including pole dancing which was wonderful for my confidence, and I eventually developed a love for functional training. Monkey bars, rope climbs, running, weights, and everything that entails.
Crossfit & 30kgs down
Two years ago I joined my CrossFit box (gym). And I have never been happier. I have learned more about my body and nutrition in the last two years from my wonderful coaches, than I have in my entire life. I lost the remainder of my weight (from around 68kgs to 61kgs) following the “Zone diet” (popular in the Crossfit community) and training CrossFit 4 – 5 times a week. I have lost a total of 27kgs from the first weigh in with my dietician, so probably closer on 30kgs total weight loss.
The milestones I have hit with CrossFit never cease to amaze me. My first team competition was mind blowing, the second one even better. Every time I hit a new Personal Best (PB) on weights I feel elated, and cannot believe that I am capable of lifting that amount, let alone sometimes putting it overhead.
I can do a handstand and sometimes even squeeze out a handstand push-up. How is that even possible?! I am so proud of my body, and perhaps that is the best part.
Yes, my weight fluctuates. I do not always eat on point, and sometimes my training takes a back seat because, well, life. Part of my health journey has been the realisation that we cannot always be the idea of perfection we have in our heads. The closest I have come was last year, when for 6 months prior to my wedding I ate on point 24/7 and trained like I was being paid to do it. There is no motivation like a wedding dress. And mine showcased my tummy. The wedding came, I felt amazing in my dress and in my own skin, and then the wedding was over, and I slid a little.
But that is ok. It is so absolutely ok to have bad days, weeks, months. Life is not linear, there are a million climbs and falls contained within it, and each and every day there will be some of those testing you. I do not always have the strongest mindset, and sometimes I really do struggle to find motivation, but the truth is that I always remember what a balanced lifestyle has done for me, and I know that I need to do this for myself.
I am human. I do not like knowing I have put on weight, I do not like knowing that my fitness is not where it was a few months ago. What I love knowing is that I have the knowledge and the ability to make the changes I need to, to get back to where I was. Every single day I remember that I made these changes for myself because I needed to, because I likely would not have survived had I not, and I promise the girl that battled all those demons, that I will do everything within my capabilities to keep them away. When you realise the gift you are giving to yourself, you realise that there is no greater reward.
My tips for getting started?
- Just do it. We all have that party/wedding/office shindig next week. Those are also just excuses not to get going. If you eat off plan for one night, it will not ruin everything you are working towards. We are human, we fail and we try again. So just start.
- Research, talk to people who are professionals, educate yourself. There is no one-size fits all approach to health and fitness. I learn continuously and adjust my approach accordingly. Example? I CANNOT eat oats. I know how good they are, but they make me nauseous and I struggle to shake the feeling all day. Find what works for you, and do not be scared to try more than one thing in order to do that. This is equally true for exercise and nutrition. This is a lifestyle, find one that works for you.
- Do not punish yourself. Remember that this IS a journey, it is not a sprint. We all do things we probably “shouldn’t” but hey, life. Don’t stress about it, don’t punish yourself. Just move on, on track, from that point. There will be setbacks, but as long as you can get back on the path you want to be on, it will not be permanent. Be gentle, we are only human after all.
- Recognise what you are capable of, and what you are doing. Your body is a beautiful thing, and capable of so much more than we could ever begin to imagine. Celebrate that. Take a moment to recognise that that thing you just did, you couldn’t do that last week. You go you little rockstar you.
- Do this for yourself. If you are doing this because you want that girl to think you are hot, or that ex to regret his decision, it is not going to work. YOU are the most important in your world. Act like it. You are not selfish for making your health and wellness a priority. You are being kind to yourself. You are making sure you are taken care of. And everything else is just a bonus that comes with it.