I spent my 20’s identifying as a mother and by my 30’s I was a wife as well. I did the one thing I promised myself I would not do once I got married – I let myself go. I never thought it would happen to me – I wasn’t the type of person who would no longer care about how I felt or looked. The problem though was that exercise was never high on my priority list of things to do and my busy lifestyle of being a wife and mother, working full time, the long commute and everything else in between led to some unhealthy lifestyle choices and an even unhealthier diet.
I’d be too busy to eat breakfast in the morning, at best I’d manage a cup of tea and a milk arrowroot biscuit. The day would be well into the afternoon before I remembered to eat again and by 4pm I’d be so starving I’d grab the first thing I could to eat and whatever it was, it was always out of a packet. I ate fairly well at dinner, but it was the snacks and sweets that were my downfall. My share in a family block of chocolate would be consumed in one sitting – every single night of the week – along with a couple of scotch and cokes. If I wanted it, I ate it with pretty much no regard to my health or my waistline.
I was happy enough, comfortable and married! It didn’t matter if I put on a little weight. I mean it wasn’t like I woke up 10 kilos heavier in a few weeks. It took years to happen, but slowly and surely the weight creeped on. I hid it well – friends told me I looked ‘healthy’ but I really wasn’t. My face was reminiscent of my pubescent teenage years and my body looked like it belonged to an 80 year old. There was no tone, no definition anywhere. I was jiggly and cellulite covered my legs, arms, bum, stomach. I had tuck shop arms and a pancake butt. I was 33 but I looked like I was 53. I was self-conscious of how I looked and that affected me mentally. I had a fringe cut to hide behind, because I didn’t want people to see me – the girl who I had become. I was buying clothes a size bigger and telling myself that I’d lose the weight but soon enough my ‘fat clothes’ were too tight as well.
It took me a long time to realise just how unhappy I was, that I was empty on the inside and that I was using food to fill the void. I was addicted to processed sugar and I probably drank too much – never in excess but almost every night of the week. I no longer felt attractive and I missed the attention from my husband and from others – the kind of attention I got before I was married. I was invisible. I felt defeated, like I was done and that my best years were behind me. I had peaked and I was on my way out. I had lost my confidence, my drive, my mojo but most of all I had lost my self-respect. It was a hard lesson to wake up to, to finally look in the mirror to see what I had done to myself, to really see what I had become. The years of not taking care of me, of not making myself a priority were staring back at me and it HURT. I half-heartedly tried to do something about it a few times over the space of a year. I enquired about Pilates, I tried Zumba and I even made it to a few 6am boot camps for a bit but I always went back to my old habits. Life would get in the way and the effort would always taper off.
It wasn’t until I was 5 months out from my 35th birthday when I finally made a conscious commitment to put myself first and make my health an actual real priority that I really started to get anywhere. I didn’t want to turn 35 looking and feeling the way that I did. I didn’t want to be a doormat anymore. Enough was enough, I had hit my rock bottom. I set a goal to look and feel the best that I could by my birthday. I weighed myself, took some photos, asked some girls in the know for advice and took my first step. I started with my diet by removing all sugars and as much processed foods as I could. I stopped drinking alcohol completely, along with cool drink. The stuff that I had been eating that I thought was healthy actually wasn’t. I tracked my food intake. I suddenly became aware of how much crap I was putting in my body on a daily basis - I went from having 3 sugars in my cup of tea to none because when you're drinking 4 cups of tea a day, that’s 12 teaspoons of sugar alone – twice the recommended daily sugar intake for an adult by the World Health Organisation and that was only in my tea! All the muesli bars, cereals, sauces, condiments, bottles and jars in the fridge had to go. There was so much sugar in everything. My diet was pretty basic for those first few months but it helped me kick start the weight loss that I wanted. I meal prepped, stuck to eating carbs, protein and fats with each meal and probably most importantly, I was eating breakfast every single morning. My diet was clean and it was healthy but I never felt hungry after a meal or felt like I was being deprived of anything. I would wake up hungry for breakfast and that helped set me in a healthy routine of eating nutritious meals at the right time of the day. My metabolism picked up and the weight dropped.
After a month I felt that I had my food intake under control so I decided to incorporate some exercise. I had heard good things about a guide you could do at home with minimal equipment so I started that. I went from doing no exercise at all to working out 6 days a week for half an hour to 45 minutes. I used a cray pot as a bench, I had an old set of hand weights and my medicine ball was a watermelon but it was everything I needed to workout.
Was all of this easy? Absolutely not. It took constant, continuous and mindful daily action on my behalf in those first early months to make it happen. I had to schedule in workout times, I spent less time on the couch in front of the tv, I annoyed my family because they would have to wait until I had done my work out before I would cook dinner (It took them about 3 months to figure out they would get dinner quicker if they helped) and I lost some ‘friends’ along the way. I faced opposition from family, “it will never work’' '‘as soon as you stop you will put it all back on again’' '‘you’re only doing this because you are so unhappy, what are you going to throw yourself into when you can’t lose any more weight?” “If you lose any more you will look like a drug addict.” oh yes, these are all quotes from my nearest and dearest. But I continued on because it was important to me to reach my goal and for the first time in, forever, I was actually doing something positive for myself and I was putting myself and my health first and it felt good. I felt good. Finally.
By the time my 35th birthday rolled around I had completed one round of the workout guide I was using and decided to do it again. I was confident, happy and proud of everything that I had achieved in those 5 months, but I wasn’t done, not by a long shot. I wanted more for myself and to keep on going. I didn’t want to go back to the old me or to my old life. I felt like I was in control of something and it was making a difference. What was once a chore of mindful, deliberate and conscious decisions was finally feeling a little more second nature, my new routine was sticking. I had created healthy habits.
Over the next year I worked on creating healthy habits that would be sustainable in the long run. If I had stayed with the exact same diet and routine that I had in the first 3 months I would have quit soon after. I knew that if I wanted to make this a sustainable long term and achievable lifestyle I would need to balance it out a little more. I increased my food intake, relaxed the restrictions a little and kept on working out. What I had created for myself was a lifestyle that allowed me to work on my goals (my goal at that point was to build more muscle) while still enjoying nice food, dinners out and the occasional drink if I felt like it. Chocolate is still a daily treat, except now it is a couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate and not a whole block of Marvelous Creations.