Looking back over the years I’ve had a bit of a rollercoaster ride with my health. I’ve gone through three periods when I was extremely strict with my nutrition and exercise and became super fit and was happy. What was the reason those three periods started? If I sit back now and think about it, it was after I reached a point where I saw a photo of myself and was so sad at how unfit and unhealthy I had become.
The first time I became so strict I was not very healthy and would rely on scaling down the portions I ate to minute ones, and I would drink Coca-cola to give me a boost when I was feeling flat. This first period took place in high school. I’ve always been pretty tall and was teased for that, and I felt like the ugly duckling most of the time. I don’t know what made me scale down my portions of food, but I did, and coupled with weekly hockey training, the weight fell off. I probably went too far as my Matric farewell date told me that I was far too skinny. At that point I was the skinniest I had ever been and looking back now, I did look a little ill.
Years after that, I went to varsity and discovered new unhealthy habits and slowly put on weight. Thank goodness one of my oldest friends in hostel convinced me to join yoga (something that was completely foreign to me) and we went to classes 5 times a week. I remember dying in the classes and being super stiff, but I loved it! We also started going to swim in the public pool in the mornings before classes and work, and tanned a bit, and I rediscovered my love for being in the pool. I had been a competitive swimmer in primary school and later high school, but after tearing muscle in my arms I stopped swimming and never went back. I have often wondered if things would have been different if I had continued swimming …
Bi also introduced me to the gym in varsity and I was glad I had her at my side for that. I had never joined one or been in one as I had grown up playing outdoor sports so it was a whole new world to me. I remember the guy that signed us up at Virgin Active and how he worked out a routine for each of us so that we would know what to do when we went to work out. I quickly grew to love the gym and apart from working out on my own, started trying out classes. Katabox / Kick was the one class that really got my attention. It was quite popular back then and I even remember doing 2-hour marathon Kick classes on Saturdays at Virgin Active in Hatfield. What an adrenaline rush! Soon after I fell in love with the gym, my routine started changing again. I made sure I was in the gym every morning before work, for at least 2 hours. I later swopped that out for the afternoons when I got a new job, but I still kept up the momentum and would not go out for drinks with friends at night or even on the weekend before I had been to the gym. I didn’t follow any new fad in nutrition at that stage and was super healthy until I went through a messy relationship and ended up neglecting my gym routine and stopped looking after myself.
Years later I had moved to JHB and got a new job that I loved. I went back to Virgin Active, this time in Cresta where I lived, and soon found a Kick class I loved, as well as spinning. I had always wanted to try out spinning, but was so overwhelmed by the bikes and the settings and being a novice I didn’t want to go in alone to try figure that all out. My brother luckily took me to a class one Saturday in Pretoria and it was amazing! The instructor’s playlist was perfect and I enjoyed trying out something new. I then built up the courage to do spinning at Cresta and even got up at 05:00 a week before the class to make sure I got a booking in the Friday afternoon class that was majorly popular.
My relationship with my health was a bit hit or miss after that and I ended up getting really ill with meningitis and spent 2 weeks in hospital. It took me a long time to recover from that physically, and even thought I lost 10kg when I was ill, I had lost all my stamina and muscle. The years went by and I didn’t get my fitness routine back and then I discovered Sleekgeek Reboot on Facebook. I had seen a photo of myself shortly before that and knew I needed to get my life on track again. I spent a lot of time reading up on the tips and guidelines in the group and I started Paleo eating and went back to the gym. 12 month’s later my health was better than ever, I was fit and eating well and felt amazing. I managed to keep that up for a few years, but after another failed relationship which left me feeling emotionally battered, I gave that all up again. Looking back I am kicking myself because I had put in so much hard work and effort, and I allowed someone to break me down and make me hate myself.
Keto became the new nutritional “fad” and even though I hate calling it a fad, in a way it is I guess. I started doing Keto which is not too different from Paleo that worked for me and I learnt a lot about my body. I read 2 books on Keto and Cameron Diaz’s Body book and learnt so much about different types of food and how they can affect you. I’ve definitely learnt now that carbs don’t work for me, even though they are yummy. Sugar is definitely my weak spot and go-to when I am having a rough day at the office. I have switched to Coke Zero which isn’t as bad as I remember it being when it first came out and don’t buy chocolate every time I feel like I am anxious, or having a bad day. In the past, I would go through a full day at the office on 2 cups of coffee, a 500ml coke, and then after leaving the office at 19:00 would go past Spar and buy a slab of chocolate and eat that, have some wine and go to bed. Needless to say, the next day I would wake up feeling washed out, lethargic and moody. I’ve also learnt in the last 2 years that my emotions really do derail me at times with my nutrition and fitness, and that is something I have to work at daily.
High cortisol levels have also plagued me the last 3 years and I have picked up a lot of weight. My hair has fallen out in clumps, my period stopped and my nails were soft and tear when you try do anything. I also read a book on cortisol and again learnt the importance of sleep, good nutrition, and moving and exercising. My personality type is that I want to change everything right now and want instant results. But my friend Jane once told me that I didn’t pick up these habits and weight in one day, so how do I now expect to lose all of it in one day and see results. She’s also taught me that walking for 15 minutes on a treadmill is okay, I don’t need to kill myself for 1 hour. I just need to start small and be consistent. (Thank you Jane ;-)).
I started off 2020 on keto and was doing really well. I couldn’t see any results, but people started commenting and asking what I was doing. I had my nutrition on track, but not my fitness yet. I just couldn’t get motivated to go to gym after work. Then, COVID hit South African shores and we went into hard lockdown. Level 5 meant I couldn’t leave the house or go to gym and I had to stay indoors. I started worrying about my health as I do struggle with allergies / hayfever a lot and often get chest infections when travelling by airplane and staying in hotels. Aircons are just not my friend! So, the first thing I did when lockdown started (besides having major anxiety about getting ill – which I’m not going to get into now) was buy some gym resistance bands and a kettlebell and be positive about working out at home.
Honestly, it didn’t last long. I discovered Les Mills and the workouts on YouTube were exactly my style with lots of cardio boxing … but I just didn’t do them. I tried a few workouts and got disheartened by how unfit I was. I also didn’t think lockdown was going to be more than 1 month so I kind of just let go again. Then, one day I saw YogiPaige was doing a free yoga class on Instagram Live and I decided to get my mat out and attend. I had done 2 of Paige’s rooftop yoga classes and loved them! So, I closed my laptop early, lit some candles and incense and attended the class. During the class I found a part of me that I had forgotten. I felt so free during the yoga session and that night was the first time I had slept for a long time without Covid nightmares. I continued doing Paige’s classes every Wednesday on Instagram and soon watched my body strengthen, become more flexible and my mind became calmer. I also signed up for paid classes with Paige which she does on Zoom and loved that the classes were longer and more challenging.
I will never forget 1 May when we could go outside and exercise for the first time since lockdown started at the end of March. My brother called me to get gym clothes on and meet him for a walk, and little did he know that I was already dressed and locking up my door to go out on my own. Every day since then I went walking and made a point of doing 5km. I was so unfit and it was hard, but again I watched as after a month my body got stronger and this killer hill in Bryanston no longer killed me. I loved being outdoors, seeing other people running and walking and appreciating my health and freedom. I also started running the 5km and really enjoyed pushing myself.
Then winter hit in June and it got cold and going for walks become harder. I hate winter and being outdoors in the cold didn’t work for me so I slowly stopped walking, but continued yoga and made sure the heater was super close to me. Then July rolled in and it was still cold and I just wasn’t as motivated as I had been in May. I also got the news that my landlord was selling my flat and went into a flat spin with anxiety. Instead of going for walks, I ended up packing boxes. I find moving incredibly stressful and unsettling and I hate it. I moved into my new place on 1 August and was so excited to live in the same complex with my brother so that we could go out walking and running. Not my Parkrun started and we even started doing some of those along the Parkrun route we loved. But then he got a new job and I was exhausted from moving again and the fitness routine stopped.
As much as I loved exercising outdoors, I missed the gym and group exercising. I have always done well in classes and when I am being pushed by an instructor – especially on the days when I feel super lazy. I missed spinning classes and swimming laps and Pilates and yoga. And then, we finally got the green light that we could go back to gym. The first day that they opened, I was in there and attended a Pilates class. I was nervous, but so excited to finally be back in my happy place. At that point I had also started rotation at work and would work some days at home and some in the office. This played havoc with my fitness routine as I now had to find a new one to accommodate my new haphazard routine. I’ve struggled quite a bit with rotation, but am hoping to get a better grip on things this week. At the gym I started out doing cardio and now I have gone back to classes.
Many of my friends froze their memberships and that’s okay. If you don’t feel comfortable going back, then stick to what works for you. I know that I had to go back and get moving again. In May when I was walking and running every day, I found the old me who loved the gym and never missed a workout. I loved the endorphin rush and sense of accomplishment, and I slept far better than I had in ages. I’ve also gone back to keto as it just works for me. My body prefers the foods I eat on that and I actually eat properly when I do meal prep.
Lockdown has been super stressful, but I have seen many changes in my mind and body. After deciding to now focus on my health and wellness, and lowering my stress levels by putting myself first, my hair has stopped falling out, my nails are growing, my period finally came back after not having it for 6 months, and I feel stronger and happier. I also started sleeping for an average of 9 hours a night and what a change that has made! On the days when I work from home, Jack and I get up at sunrise and I make coffee and sit with him on the porch for 30 minutes before I start my day. This is something I want to now do every day, regardless of if I am working from home or the office.
I also have learnt that this is a lifestyle change and not something that you can change overnight and see changes immediately. I have to consciously make time for myself and talk to myself when I don’t to figure out why I am not putting my health first. It has really been bugging me that I don’t walk in the suburbs anymore and I used to love it so much. So, on Friday I closed my laptop at 17:00, put on my gym clothes and went for a walk for an hour in my neighbourhood. I came home feeling much happier and my head was much calmer. Today I went for a walk again with my brother, and even though we only did 3km because Jasper got tired, it was 3km more than lying on my couch and watching TV.
I am excited for a new week and have booked some gym classes and will balance that out with walks through the neighbourhood too. If there is one thing that Covid has taught me, it’s that you should not take your health and freedom for granted. I am so glad I have chosen my health and wellness and look forward to getting stronger and healthier day by day. I also want to say thank you to my body for everything it does for me and for being as strong as it is. I also want to say thanks to my sibling for motivating me and being my sidekick on our neighbourhood walks.
*Sidenote: I am not a nutritionist or fitness instructor. Everything I have learnt is from reading books, chatting to professionals like Jane, and attending classes.*