Since 2005 I have been asked to recite my “story” to more people on more occasions than I can remember. I have spoken in front of audiences of varying sizes, expectant faces waiting to hear about some never heard of before, quick fix weight loss solution. In the beginning I was absolutely terrified. The prospect of holding a conversation with even one person in a familiar social gathering was challenging enough. The last thing I ever expected to do was talk to numbers of people at any given time, let alone have something to say that anyone would actually want to listen to. Even now, after witnessing the ways in which revealing my very human and certainly not unique experiences have moved some people into action and others to tears; every experience is unique, but without the fear.
At the end of 1999 I weighed just over 80kg at 1.63m and at 32% body-fat. This was just another part of the never-ending cycle that was my life.
In 1994 I weighed 49kgs, not due to exercise or healthy nutrition but due to a self imposed bout of malnutrition in desperation to feel acceptable and worthy. When I couldn’t take it anymore I pigged out on anything that stood still long enough.
I have always been extremely active. A competitive figure skater and dancer since a very young age, swimming, diving, spinning and riding horses. No amount of activity could control my weight, in fact it seemed to make the problem worse.
What I now realize is that it wasn’t my weight that was out of control, it was a sense of who I was that simply - wasn’t.
At the age of 5, I became conscious of the fact that I was different. My ballet instructor told my mother that I would never be a ballerina as I was too FAT! I was just 5 years old! Looking back at photographs now, I was a perfectly normal child, far from over weight.
This woman implanted a paranoia that would have lasted for the rest of my life and from that moment forward I was convinced that I was never good enough. The flip side that came out of this was that if anyone dared tell me I couldn’t do something, have or be something I took it as a personal challenge and made it an all consuming mission to prove them wrong, even if it meant self destruction in the process.
Unfortunately it created a highly competitive streak that had nothing to do with sportsmanship and everything to do with annihilating the opposition. I was going to be the best at all costs, but who was I trying to please?
It did not make me a popular person at school. I did not make friends easily and I did not get on with women until well into my late 20’s save but a few strong personalities. I could not concentrate at school and really couldn't be bothered to study. Which confounded my teachers as this contradicted my supposed “genius” IQ. I realised only many years later the impact of trauma in early childhood and its correlation with social interaction and inability to focus. But that is a whole other chapter.
When I began dancing competitively at around the age of 16, I had no idea about nutrition, or for that matter moderation on any level. I stopped eating days before a dance competition in the hope of losing a few grams, but made up for the energy deficit minutes before going out onto the floor with chocolate bars and a couple of shots of vodka (to calm the nerves). As a result, minutes into the event or stage show my glucose levels spiked and then dropped so fast I could barely function. This was followed by more vodka and more chocolate. A recipe for disaster in the long term.
All my body knew how to do was how to store fat in case of an impending famine. Pure survival, I was good at survival considering what I put myself through. The weight simply piled on and with it grew a morbid sense of self hate. I became severely depressed because I literally did not know where to turn or what to do about it. I assumed that exercise alone would keep me in shape, because the "wisdom" of dieticians most certainly did not. And believe me, by my early twenties I had seen a number of these people. The depression turned into self destructive behavior and eventually became bulimia. I was prescribed Prozac and liposuction when all I really needed was an education.
At around this landmark time, my mom decided that we should both join a gym and enlist a personal trainer. If only I had known that the gray-haired drill seargent was possibly the one person to whom I should pay attention to the most, who could possibly save me from a lifetime of pain. My first trainer, who set the benchmark for how I exercised forevermore was none other than world famous Mr Universe, Reg Park , mentor to none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had no idea who he was, I simply trained with him three times a week and blatantly ignored his nutrition advice to eat skinless chicken breasts and broccoli as often as possible. Sometimes alternating with steamed fish!! I am exaggerating, but only slightly. I will never forget the day he told me muesli and honey were sugar and that I needed protein for breakfast.
Of course, not a gram budged. Everything that the liposuction removed came back in abundance. Worse of all, the surgery had re-shaped my backside which although originally too large was a really good shape! Now it was an awful shape and still LARGE!
Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I was genetically destined to be over weight, “big boned” and round in shape and there was nothing I could do about it. Eventually, as many overweight people do - I convinced everyone around me that I was happy and that I really didn’t care. But on the inside I was dying. I hated my body with bitter venom. It took hours to get dressed, I was uncomfortable in everything and I hid underneath extra large clothes preferably black in color that made me look even frumpier than I was.
One classically fateful day at the gym I noticed a poster advertising a body transformation challenge. I didn’t give the information on the poster too much thought because I did not think I was capable of transforming like the people in those pictures. And anyway aren't they fake?
The poster remained on the wall at the gym and silently nagged at my subconscious every single day.
Eventually I asked said personal trainer if he knew what it was all about. He had a sketchy idea, knew that it was a 12 week competition and suggested that I enter it - okie dokie!
I had test driven so many fad diets by then and I simply was not interested. In the days that followed a friend of mine mentioned this incredible book that he had found with a fabulous weight loss program (yes, the transformation challenge on the poster was haunting me in another format). I remember thinking: Lets wait and see if it works on him.’ I really didn’t have much faith in anything. But three weeks later my friend began looking like a different person. All he did was eat every three hours and was exercising far less than I was! My curiosity was at least piqued! I bought a copy of the book and read it from cover to cover in one day. It all seemed way too easy and it flew in the face of every sacred cow that I had adopted. But then the sacred cows and I were liberally grazing happily in some fat and sugar filled pasture. The book was Bill Phillip's Body-for-Life. Little did I know at the time how that book would change my Body and Life, forever. This was the the turning point, the place where the pain is so great you have no choice but to start challenging conventional dogmas.
I don’t remember why, maybe it was the unbelievable despondency that I was filled with? Maybe it was the all consuming rage? My body was not my own and I was letting my lack of self esteem destroy my life. Something convinced me to give it one last try. I honestly do not believe that I would be here today if it were for that need to keep looking for the truth! By far the most challenging part was convincing myself that regular eating would make me lose weight. I had nothing to lose except kilos and decided to march blindly into the hands of the experts. Considerable, since all the other experts in my past experience had been utterly useless.
I also had to come to terms with the fact in order to lose fat I would not have to exercise for hours. Quality rather than quantity. Within two weeks I had lost 3 kilograms of fat. By week six I had lost 9 kilograms and by week 12 I had lost a total of 15 kilograms of fat. It was easy, I was enjoying food and I wasn’t burning out. I had energy, it was amazing! The positive feedback that I received from people was unbelievably encouraging and all I wanted to do was share my experience with the whole world. I wanted to tell every human being that the suffering and torture could end! I bought a stack of books and handed them out to anybody who stopped long enough to ask if I was starving myself, as I had lost so much weight.
I had reached 64 kilos and 24% body fat. I swore blind I would never revert back to the person I was before. Life often has a dark sense of humor.
Soapboxes are funny things. They go soft and collapse if you stand on them for too long. Take your eyes of the mark for a minute and well, old patterns have a way of creeping back, onto your thighs, your butt and everywhere else. I was sure that I was still following the program.
I must pause here to emphasise that I did not put all the weight back on, 6kgs in total, but psychologically it was way too much!
I crashed! I wanted to die. I blamed everything for my weight gain, except myself of course. I harassed my doctors; challenged the dieticians, spent hours on the internet researching everything from the glycemic index to cortisol. I read a book a week on nutrition and supplementation. I challenged the experts and did battle with the gurus. I religiously wrote down my goals, visualized my ideal shape and refused to accept anything but my vision. I studied the brain, biochemistry and the science of nutrition itself. Did battle with my lecturers and proved wrong, theory after theory what some believed to be the facts. I became an expert in every sense of the word, able to argue for and against every theory from bodybuilding supplementation to fat metabolism. I finished my doctors sentence for him, instructed him what to prescribe and selected my own blood tests on the lab form. I must have been a real pain in the arse, but hell I was so determined!
I was going to get to the bottom of this, or die trying AGAIN. I recruited another dietician, I journaled my eating habits. I threatened the medical fraternity with pain and suffering if they did not get to the root of the cause.
Eventually I found a specialist endocrinologist who took me seriously. Probably because he is slightly left field and not one to go along with commonly held belief systems, especially when evidence to the contrary is so glaring. He was the first person who made any real sense. He promised me we would fix it - and we did.
Aside from hypothyroidism, inulin resistance and everything working collectively to store fat and cannibalise muscle. The greatest piece of advice that I was given was to never follow the advice of a dietician or conventional dietary protocol ever again. But wait - isn't that how its done?
By now, after thousands of hours of research, I realised that conventional dietary protocol is in fact collective stupidity. Propaganda funded by the very organisations who manufacture processed foods.
Have you ever visited a dietician who's shelves are not lined with boxes of low GI cereal, cracker breads and margarine tubs? (Apologies to the dieticians who have evolved beyond the diet-heart hypothesis. And congratulations.)
This time the journey really began to take off. The real “drama” began in February 2004. I don’t remember the details leading up to the event. I just remember that I was in pain, larger than life, all consuming, mind-numbing ,dumb-founding, pain; of both the emotional and physical kind. I had symptoms of Malaria or was is fibromyalgia? Every inch of my body ached. I was either boiling or freezing. My eyes felt as if they were about to explode, my mouth was dry and it hurt to breathe. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I had every blood test one could have but they revealed nothing.
At a loss for explanation it was diagnosed as a non-specific viral infection. Medical terminology for "we don't know". But I knew different. What kind of a virus hangs around for weeks, getting progressively worse and then pops off without a trace? No, this affliction was borne of something much deeper. I simply stopped seeing the light. I was tired of trying and utterly miserable.
I had had enough and I wanted out. My body knew that I hated it - truly hated it and it was fighting back. At some point in the never ending hell of hours that did not want to end I made a deal with “God” - not that I am a religious person in the least. It was a long conversation, but in short, I demanded to know what in the name of all things holy was the point of it all? And if this was the way life was going to be than I didn’t want any part of it. So, all knowing - all conscious Universe of divine wisdom, if you are what they say you are, then do something, do it quick - or I am out of here. And I really, really meant it!
Then I added as an addendum, that if the true meaning of my life is revealed and this anguish and agony took on a deeper meaning and I would be able to crawl out of the pit that I had dug (for myself) then I would most certainly be willing to devote the rest of my existence to helping others who were in the same position. It had to work for both parties surely?
I kid you not, everything went hazy and for a long time I felt a sense of inebriated comfort. I have a vague recollection of sleeping solidly for the first time in many days. It must have been a very deep sleep, because I woke up two days later. So as fate would have it (as many stories go) the mystery virus cleared up, over night, without a trace. And here I am talking to people - many, many people every day. It seems that The Universe is making sure that I fulfill my end of the deal! And for that I will be eternally grateful. I can’t think of anything that I would rather do.
Maybe it was that night in February when I lay awake seriously contemplating the different ways one could dissolve off the face of the earth and striking holy deals? I woke up in every sense! I don’t really know at what point I realised it, but I finally woke up and knew that my health was my responsibility. There was no magic bullet, diets were rubbish as are the pedlars of these diets. There is no quick fix, the body does not count calories like an accountant and there was no one to blame. It was a sweet and bitter victory.
And so the work began. Besides high blood sugar, inability to metabolize iron, an under active thyroid, seriously low serotonin, adrenal burnout, elevated cortisol and low testosterone, I was perfectly healthy - well I didn’t have a terminal disease, other than a toxic dose of denial from which I was finally recovering!
I did have a satiety level that was off the charts though - all of this due to years of crash dieting and pigging out. The satiety level is level at which you experience a sense of fullness. Many decades ago the food that we consumed contained higher levels of nutrients, healthy fats and more fibre. Mostly due to the fact that it was not processed and generally denatured. There was also a lot less toxic load as animals were not factory farmed. They roamed their pastures and ate actual pesticide-free grass. As a result had more lean tissue and greater levels of omega three fatty acids, crucial for optimal hormone function. Exactly the same thing that happens when we eat natural foods and exercise. There was of course, very little refined sugar. Therefore you would feel satisfied on far less food. Added to which, the gut was able to actually absorb the nutrients as there was adequate intestinal bacteria present.
Nowadays one has to consume three times more in volume, if you live mostly off factory made foods to achieve the same level of satisfaction. We are conditioned to let the supermarket or franchise takeaway cook our dinner. We eat larger portions, restaurant portions are often enough for two. Once this perfectly logical piece of information was revealed, I worked out just how many calories I should be consuming in a day. I down-loaded a meal planning program which worked on calorie consumption and spent more hours inputting data. And then someone did me a favour and said the words I will never forget as long as I live: ‘you are destined to have the shape you were born with, its genetically predetermined and there is nothing you can do about it.’ I was furious! All this work to nothing?
Not one to back off from a challenge, I was determined to change my body shape entirely and proved that the “big boned” theory was a bunch of bollocks. Epigenetics - the science of how the environment influences genes, has proven that the human genome is geared for adaption. We are not as hard wired as we once liked to think we were. In fact it is now a widely accepted norm that we are only around 3% hard-wired. I like to call the remaining 97% “Pure Potential”.
Science has also demonstrated that this re-wiring is well within our control. What is required is conscious awareness and the will to change.
Think about this logically: Underneath it all we have a skeletal frame.
On top of the skeletal structure lie the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Which as we know can be shaped any way we choose, using the right combination of weight bearing exercise and stretching. Just ask any bodybuilder - the masters of the plasticine body. Any muscle on any human being can be moulded to a desired shape over time and with the right strategy. We may as individuals have a tendency to favour certain muscle groups while under developing others. This can be corrected by tailoring the contracting of weight training with correct and disciplined stretching. You cannot change your shape without lifting weights, light ones and heavy ones (even women). Anyone who still believes they bulk up by lifting heavy weights is misinformed.
The final layer is the fatty layer, which covers the finely honed, custom built shape. Again it is your choice as to how much of this fatty layer you wish to have covering your bones, regardless of their size. The primary way of controlling the fatty layer is and always will be food. More so the types of foods rather than the amount of food. Gone are the days of calorie in calorie out thinking. However, eat too much of the wrong foods (processed sugar containing foods) and you will increase your body fat. There is no such thing as big boned or small boned.
Just over two months later I weighed 52kgs at 16% body fat. Yes it was drastic. A very special person once told me that if you want to change the world, don’t do it quietly. No one notices when you sneak in through the back door. If you want to smash perceptions and get the world to wake up and take you seriously, be a living, breathing example.
For the first time in many years I was truly healthy. For the first time since childhood I wore a bikini on a public beach. Something billions of people do every day, but something I never dared to consider, and it felt so good!
I remember looking back humbled, thinking about what I had put myself through. I starved, binged and beat myself up, mentally, emotionally and physically. And how with just a little self respect, and divine intervention the pieces fall into place. The human body is so forgiving. Miraculously, if you give yourself the basic resources it will reward you with healing and abundant energy. I have a respect for myself and a real sense of empowerment now that cannot be taken away.
Shortly after my transformation a friend who does training coaching for extremely large international organisations asked me to join her in designing a wellness program for 60 candidates. I knew how to fix myself, but I had no clue as to how to help others. After several weeks of modeling the process, specifically the mind-set required to make permanent behavior change, the first draft of the Re~Invent process was born. This was mid 2007.
Following the success of the first program, I found my way into dozens of other companies, large and small. And Implemented numerous successful programs.
Today I run a personalised nutrition and functional health coaching practice, working with individuals. As well as a corporate and executive wellness company through which we mentor people though healthy lifestyle changes.
Over the past ten years I have won awards, (Body for Life 2005 being one of them), appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Spoken at events and written course material. The journey, I am grateful to say - continues.
And to everyone who has ever trusted me with their demons, I know how hard it is. I have learned that we are all so alike. The human spirit is remarkable, if only more of us could use it for good. Life is a gift - just know that you are worthy of accepting it.