So what exactly qualifies me to dole out advice on health, fitness, diet and nutrition? I’m not a personal trainer, nor am I a nutritionist or a fitness model. What I do have is a hell of a lot of personal experience, former body image & eating issues, and my own personal transformation story. Most people always assumed that I was slim under my baggy clothes because I was really good at hiding my flabby hips, tummy and butt (I do work in fashion after all!). A lot of my close friends (who know the truth) have been asking how I lost over 10 kilos and 16% bodyfat in two years. The short answer is that it’s been a learning process. Had I known at the outset what I know now I could probably have changed my body in just 6 months. But that’s hindsight for you.
I’m going to tell you the long story. Because I think every woman wants to be at her best and we are all at different points on the curve from unfit to fit. And I’ve been at many different points of that curve since I was a teenager and I have a feeling a lot of you will be able to relate.
I was a very skinny kid and teenager – my knees were like a knot on string. I actively played hockey, tennis and I was on the swim team. I was made fun of for being so skinny. Then, when I hit 17 I suddenly sprouted hips and boobs. At first I was joyous but when they grew disproportionately large compared to my stick legs and my small upper body I accepted it as ‘genetics’ and was told that ‘child-bearing hips are sexy’. I’m 5’6 and my hips measured 42 inches compared to a 23 inch waist.
Through university and right through to my early years working in an ad agency I lived on coffee, alcohol and a lot of greasy delivery food. At the time I hadn’t yet been diagnosed as gluten-intolerant and so I often ate pot noodles, pizza, burgers and sandwiches. I was constantly ill and despite my crummy eating habits I was actually losing weight. I knew something was wrong when my weight plummeted to just 45 kilos (Note: the hips didn’t budge in size at all!). When I cut gluten out and started eating a lot of rice I quickly gained weight. So much so that by the age of 27 I weighed 61 kilos and had a bodyfat % of 33% (Another note: You see? Eating gluten-free is not necessarily a good weightloss strategy – unless you actually have coeliac disease or are medically diagnosed as intolerant, don’t cut gluten out of your diet!). It’s been really hard to find photos to share as I got really good at untagging myself from photos on Facebook and rarely let people take full body photos of me.
I didn’t grow up with fitness as part of my culture. Neither of my parents ever worked out and as I’d been a skinny kid I’d never really understood the relationship between food, exercise and your body. I always had it in my head that I was a ‘small’ person. It wasn’t until I saw a photograph of myself in a bikini that was taken by a friend that I realized I was, in fact, unfit. I had a proper big bouncy belly (my boyfriend at the time thought it was ‘cute’), flabby arms and butt and tons of cellulite. My self-esteem was crushed. I got really good at dressing to hide my flaws: silky asymmetrical dresses with swathes of fabric, or skinny jeans with a really baggy top.
For 3 years I did what most women do when they want to lose weight: yo-yo diet. I was flying blind. I tried everything from the Master Cleanse, to the South Beach Diet, to Atkins. Rinse and repeat. I’d lose 4 or 5 kilos and then quickly put it back on. Sound familiar? I felt like I was constantly battling with my body and that it was impossible to eat things that I like and be the size I wanted to be. I had a love-hate relationship with both my body and with food. It was an emotional rollercoaster and deep down I felt very insecure about how I looked.
I decided to get a personal trainer, spent a ridiculous amount of money and lost 6 kilos in 6 months. I was down to 27% bodyfat. But I couldn’t afford to keep paying for the personal trainer and I still didn’t have the results I wanted and had expected. So what did I do? Go back to yo-yo dieting of course. I did manage to get down to 52 kilos with yo-yo diets but boy was I flabby. I was the definition of ‘skinny fat’ and my % bodyfat didn’t drop. Neither did the size of my hips which were still 42 inches wide. I looked ok with clothes on but I was embarrassed in a bikini – which is rather problematic when you surf.
When I turned 30 I realized it was all downhill from here. The slim body that I always thought would somehow happen was nowhere on the radar. It was now or never. I needed to take charge and get in control of my health and fitness. My colleague Julia (the other Fitness Dork) suggested I join her at a Bikram Yoga Class at RAW Yoga in Media City. I didn’t like Bikram, nor the smelly, sweaty environment. As my wobbly belly was what I really wanted to get rid of fast I suggested we take up pilates. Julia and I attended 6 months of classes at Exhale Fitness Studios in JBR and while I didn’t see much visible change in my body I did get into the routine of regularly exercising 3 times a week. I was making healthier eating choices and Julia and I would take turns to cook lunch and bring it in to work. I felt frustrated. Here I was eating quinoa salads and holding planks for minutes at a time but I still had a flabby tummy and my weight hadn’t shifted at all.
Browsing Facebook one afternoon I came across an ad for The Body Challenge. It promised to get you your dream body in just 8 weeks. I’m a sucker for quick fix type marketing and so I immediately signed up. I even recruited Julia and several other friends to join me. The program comes with an eating guide and for 8 weeks I went down to Safa Park 3 times a week and did an hour of grueling circuits, tabatas, ab work and sprints. I ate eggs, chicken, more eggs, and then even more chicken for the entire two months. It was my first real experience of actually putting in hard work with food and exercise. In just two months I got down to a bodyfat % of 23% and a flat stomach. I didn’t have much muscle yet, nor tone – but I was within the ‘healthy’ range for bodyfat %. And the results got me hooked on fitness.
Eager to try as many different sorts of exercise as possible, Julia and I did everything from Reformer Pilates to Flywheel and Flybarre, Ashtanga Yoga, Kettlebells, Weight-lifting, Physique57, got a personal trainer; we just went completely and utterly fitness mad. But I wasn’t getting any further results. I hadn’t yet worked out the ideal combination of activities that would keep shaping my body and lowering my bodyfat %.
I signed up for another 8 weeks of camp and also started lifting weights at OP Lifestyle Centre where Julia and I had become members. I read voraciously about food and nutrition and started getting all my meals delivered from KCal where they had designed a gluten-free low calorie and high protein diet for me. I started drinking protein shakes after my workouts, logging alcohol and snacks on MyFitnessPal (those ‘little’ treats really add up by the end of the week!) and researching as much as I could on muscle-building, toning and fat loss.
But I still stayed at a plateau of 22% bodyfat for almost a year and it was only very recently that I found a system that works for me. Everyone is different and while pretty much everybody needs to do resistance training, cardio and eat balanced to get results – you may need slightly different combinations of those things to get where you want to be. In my case what got me the biggest results was cutting out alcohol completely, adding more cardio and lifting much heavier weights. These days I walk for 40 minutes per day and do HIIT cardio 4 times a week in addition to 3 heavy strength training workouts per week.
A lot of people ask me how I find the time to do all of that. So I wrote an article on that too.
I also finally understood how food plays a role in transforming your body. I had actually been eating too few calories and not enough carbs (those ‘no carb’ diets are pure evil). You need to ensure that every meal has some healthy carbs in it to give you the power to do your workouts and to stop your insulin levels from fluctuating. It pains me to see some of my friends cutting out whole food groups, eating too little, or going carb-free. I currently eat 1600 calories per day with a macro nutrient breakdown of 30% carbs, 25% fat and 45% protein. To calculate how many grams of each macro you need every day, use this tool. I use the MyFitnessPal app to keep track of whether I’m hitting the percentages correctly every day. The general guideline for macros is 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbs.
I know what you’re thinking: that’s too much food! I’ll gain weight! I want to stay low carb! It’s too risky! Believe me, I thought that too. But my results speak for themselves. I’m living proof that when you finally give your body the nutrition it really needs, and not starve or deprive yourself, it will reward you. Eating the correct combination of food is 80% of the results you’re going to get – no matter how hard you work out. Yet just eating right and not working hard in the gym won’t get you tone and shape. So you really do need to get both sides of the equation right.
I get a lot of questions from people looking to get fit as to whether I recommend doing yoga or pilates or other low-impact exercise. To me personally, no – those things will not get you the results you are looking for. They are nice ‘extras’ to add to your fitness regime to get a good stretch, flexibility, a mind-body connection and balance. But your fitness regime should be made up of a tough circuit training or weights training program along with cardio. There’s no two ways about it, sorry ladies. Julia and I sometimes go to yoga, Flywheel and pilates because we enjoy doing them – but they don’t make up part of our core fitness regime because they simply can’t produce the results we are after.
So where am I at now? Firstly, I no longer look at the scale as a measure that I rely on. Instead I take progress photos of myself and I take my measurements weekly. My hips measure 36 inches, and my bodyfat % is 17%.
It’s been a journey. But I’ve learnt a lot about food, exercise and my body along the way. If you want to start on your own journey I highly recommend you read this article.
The bottom line is this: if you do some form of resistance training 3 times a week, do 4 sessions of cardio per week (I do this in addition to walking every day) and strictly follow your macro nutrient % breakdowns you will get the body of your dreams in less than 3 months. Please don’t go on fad diets, cut out whole food groups or overtrain – you’ll waste months of your time – just train hard and eat balanced and you’ll get there. I promise.