My mom said I was born with a “bushman’s bum”. From birth, she said it was round and protruding. Oh hey, baby Kim Kardashian! #blessed 🙂 Growing up I enjoyed my food, but my mom was super ahead of her time in terms of health consciousness and refused to stock our house full of sweets and sodas. I just wanted cold meat sandwiches like the rest of my friends, but she made me peanut butter sandwiches and weird salady sandwiches which I used to hide in my school bag until the end of the term. When they were discovered, it was hard to tell if they were part of a science experiment or were once bread with fillings…
For most of my childhood, I was very skinny. Not from any effort on my behalf, I was just boney and gangly, but with my round “bushman’s bum”. Some mothers expressed concern to my mom that I may have an eating disorder and so I was whisked off to some health expert who put me on a series of mass gaining shakes. I ate what I wanted when I wanted; did minimal exercise and I still stayed skinny…
Until puberty hit and my bum started to fill out a bit more along with my hips. The rest of me stayed slender though, but for the first time I started to think about my weight and dabbled in dieting. I remember being 15 and cutting out bread for a month and starting to count calories. Around this time I decided to become vegetarian – partly for ethical reasons, partly for health reasons, but most probably because I thought I could control my weight better that way.
That year, I also started practicing Muay Thai and fell completely in love with training. When I started competing a few months later, my training escalated to an unhealthy amount. I would go to school, then train from 5pm until 8pm Monday through Friday and sometimes for 3-4 hours on Saturdays too. If it was school holidays, I would sometimes go to gym or run in the morning and then train in the afternoon. I was obsessed with fitness, but I didn’t have enough knowledge, nor responsible trainers guiding me on proper recovery and nutrition.
When I started competing in Muay Thai, my weight had dropped below 45 kilograms. That became my fighting weight which I obsessively wanted to maintain at any cost. (I’m frustrated, but also glad that I can’t seem to find any photos of myself at that weight.) When I attended the Amateur World Cup in Thailand in 2002, my weight had increased by almost 2 weight divisions. The day before official weigh in, I panicked and spent the day in the sauna, not drinking water and abusing laxatives. By the time I had my weigh in, my vitals were so wonky that the doctor declared me “unfit to fight”. I kicked up a fuss and somehow managed to get them to let me compete, even though I should have probably been on an IV drip! Needless to say, the fight didn’t go well for me…
During this phase of my life, I started to read up on nutrition, but it was more a means of controlling my weight than for health purposes. I cut out something new every other week – masquerading my decisions as healthful, but now I see I was clearly suffering from ‘orthorexia’ if not borderline anorexia. My period stopped for over a year, but people told me I looked fabulous. My weight became something I could control and that was getting me attention. So on I went… During the week I was overtraining and under eating; come the weekend I would be binging on every possible junk known to man. If I felt that I’d binged too much or for too long, it was often accompanied by a massive purge. A couple of times the combination of eating far too much and then purging would leave me in a heap on the bathroom floor – cramping, sweating, kidneys, and stomach aching and heart pulsating. A few times I even feared for my life.
After many months of not menstruating, my mom took me to the Sports Science Institute to see a Sport’s Doctor, who then referred me to a dietitian. I remember putting small stones in my pockets so that the dietitian would think I weighed more than I did. The dietitian showed me the antiquated Food Pyramid and told me I needed to eat about 450 to 550 grams of carbohydrates a day for the amount of training I was doing. She said I should be drinking sugary sport’s drinks, like Energade, and eating gummy sweets for energy during my training. As if! I wasn’t going to take that kind of advice onboard and never went back.
Towards the end of Matric and just after graduating, I fell into a brief, but deep, dark hole of depression. My mom and I had moved out of our big, beautiful house while I’d been writing final exams, which felt like the end of my ‘perfect’ world. I had also decided to study fitness after school because of my love of training and because it would allow me to start working and earning money almost immediately – which meant that I could maybe relieve my father of some financial burden. I think I had doubts about this choice but didn’t want to change it – people expected me to “use my brain” and go study properly. I wanted to, but I felt lost. I think I was scared and wanted an easy way out. My love of Muayi Thai had also started to wane. The combination of depression and inertia led to a lot of emotional eating. Binge marathons… but now I wasn’t over exercising or purging to compensate, so I quickly gained weight – probably 10 or 15 kilos in a few months. My clothes didn’t fit, my skin broke out and I just couldn’t climb out of the black hole.
Luckily my fitness studies at the Exercise Teachers Academy commenced shortly after this dark spell and it wasn’t long before I was motivated to start training again and taking better care of myself. When I started working at a popular gym, my new routine kicked me back into gear and the weight fell off effortlessly. Well, not so effortlessly. I still kept a food journal – a hangover from my obsessive Muayi Thai days. I think in total I must have kept a food diary for at least 5 years non stop; keeping track of every calorie I ate or drank.
So at the age of 18 I was working at the gym, looking and feeling good and I fell in love. My relationship with food and my body seemed to be stable and healthy. Until my relationship slowly started to creep into dangerous territory. It didn’t become an abusive relationship overnight; it was a gradual chipping away at my sense of self and a subtle, but steady isolation from my friends, until I felt that he was all that I had – all that mattered. When we’d fight I’d often turn to food to soothe myself – emotionally eating my way through piles of junk. After our scariest and most serious incident though, I was so stressed and upset that I lost my appetite for weeks and became very thin once again. Finally, after 4 years, our relationship ended and I tried to glue back the pieces of my broken heart.
I didn’t realise what I was doing at the time, but I started to get into a habit of binge eating and emotional eating, except once again it wasn’t counteracted by a strenuous exercise routine or by any form of purging. I had stopped personal training and started a new career in the film industry. With that came a whole new exciting world, with lots of socialising with the crew after hours. My new found freedom made me the ultimate party girl. I would often go straight to set after a night of heavy drinking and smoking. The next day, a hangover could only be cured with a full fry up, toasted sandwiches and any other junk from catering. Long shooting hours meant exercise became nonexistent. I thought I was helping myself by having all this fun – fun that I’d missed out on for years – but I was also just abusing my poor body even more. When I wasn’t out and about, the pain and confusion of what I’d been through would creep into my heart and I’d try to eat all my feelings away.
I gained a lot of weight in a short space of time. My skin was bad; my clothes didn’t fit and I was very unfit. I think the extra weight was my way of creating a barrier between me and the world. I was so broken inside, that I didn’t want anyone to come close. I was ashamed and I wore that shame on my body.
Every so often, if I’d had a really bad binge or I had a special occasion approaching, I would step on the scale and be horrified by the number staring back at me. Then I’d make elaborate plans about how I was going to lose the weight. I’d go on the Atkins Diet, then the Zone diet, then a juice cleanse, then a liver cleanse and even the most extreme Master Cleanse. Sure, like any diet on this planet, if you stick to it, you will lose weight. I lost weight, I felt good, but then something would happen; I’d be triggered by something and I’d be face deep in a family size bag of chips. A lot of the time I would start binging again just when I was starting to look and feel really good – queen of self-sabotage over here! There were so many times that I’d just look in the mirror and cry. Sometimes I avoided mirrors for weeks at a time. I often felt like I would never break free of this compulsive eating cycle. I felt helpless and alone.
I’m trying so hard to pinpoint what the catalyst for changing these destructive patterns was. I think it was a combination of things. I had finally settled into the film industry – I felt secure about my position and capabilities and steady work started to come in, which meant less idle time in between shoots. Boredom was often a trigger for a spout of binges.
I also rediscovered yoga and started to practice consistently. Yoga is so much more than a physical activity. As my body started to open up physically – I started to open up my bruised and battered heart. Yoga satisfied my mind, body and starving SPIRIT. Once you become a ‘yogi’, you start to make subtle changes to the rest of your life. I felt a renewed interest in nutrition, my home, what I was putting on my skin and the environment. My life started to look and feel more whole. I was slowly learning how to heal myself. It may sound corny, but I felt like I was being reborn. I learned to love myself again. This love translated into what I saw in the mirror and the confidence that I projected into the world.
And lo and behold, I fell in love again. This time with the most gentle, loving and kind man. I wish I could say that I just magically never binged again and that my body was suddenly ‘perfect’ and everyone lived happily ever after. Nah. That didn’t happen.
In the six years since then, I’ve definitely had a few binges. Some of them were just ‘happy-couple-on-the-couch-eating-all-the-junk-together-because-fun’ type of over-indulgence, but some of them were all by myself in a funk of negative vibes that I didn’t know how to deal with.
3 years ago, my interest in wellness had become so great that I decided to study holistic nutrition and health coaching. I signed up to do a year long online course with The Institute for Integrative Nutrition(IIN), which is based in New York and boasts the title of ‘The World’s Largest Nutrition School’. The course included amazing talks and lectures from world famous doctors, health gurus and many other leading experts in nutrition and exercise. I learned and grew so much in that year. IIN encourages you to experiment and be your own health detective. It was through this detective work, that I figured out dairy was not my friend. Once I cut cows milk out of my diet MOST of the time (I’m no saint), I felt and saw a vast improvement in my skin and my immune system was so much stronger! No more phlemmy sore throats! Yay!
I’ve been qualified as a holistic health coach since mid 2016, but I feel like I will never stop learning and experimenting. I have figured out some things that definitely work and ‘bio-hacks’ that I will keep in my routine for a long while; but just like my body is ever evolving, so are my nutritional and exercise needs.
The biggest turning point for me on this wellness journey occurred in the last year. I found the missing link in this mind, body connection: a strong spiritual practice. I’d felt a longing to experience a deeper connection to ‘source’ for so long, but I’d never actively pursued anything. Sure I’d been practicing yoga and dabbling in meditation, but nothing was really feeding my soul. When you grow up with a very spiritual mom, you kind of take things that are right in front of your nose for granted. My mother is a Master yoga teacher – specialising in Kundalini yoga. So I’d done many Kundalini yoga classes since I was a teenager, but it had never really resonated with me. Until I experienced three super powerful Kundalini classes over one weekend at a yoga festival and something within me shifted. Since then I try to do Kundalini classes and workshops as often as I can. I have also attended a 10 day Vipassana meditation course, which turned me into a twice daily meditator. I’ve been exploring crystal healing, moon ceremonies, sound journeys and many other modalities that I would have once dismissed as ‘hocus-pocus’, but now I can’t get enough!
Through these new spiritual practices, I feel like I’ve undergone 10 years of therapy. Every day I am learning to love myself and my body more and more. I am learning to deal with my emotions and life’s ups and downs on a much deeper and profound level, instead of burying my feelings in a cheesecake. I still love to eat and have a good time. I love my vegetables, but if you offer me a doughssant from Jason’s bakery, I’m not going to turn it down! Sometimes I have very indulgent days or weeks, but I don’t feel angst or guilt anymore. I know that what I do most of the time, is what counts and life’s too short to stress about counting calories! I will always have wider hips and my ‘bushman’s” sticky-out bum, with a smaller, bonier chest and that’s totally cool. I know how to train my body so that I feel strong, toned and sexy. I know how to eat to look leaner, but I also know the sacrifices that that entails. I approach wellness in a way that’s sustainable and enjoyable. The most important thing to me these days is that I FEEL fit and full of energy. I also feel so much gratitude towards my beautiful body, for not giving up on me and for being so resilient and capable after all the abuse I’ve put her through.
So that’s been my journey so far, I’m still a work in progress – I think I always will be. I know that I have so much experience, knowledge and tools to guide people to heal their relationship with their bodies. I’ve been through the fire; now I’m ready to help you.