That Itsy Bitsy Kayla Kid With, Like, 5 Million Followers

Men can often be quite dof but they can also be pretty sharp… When we were at university, my friend had a crush on a male model. (Literally). Her sister’s boyfriend was encouraging the crush, so my friend felt she should show him the competition: the male model’s girlfriend, who was also a model. She duly pulled up a picture of the Spanish schmodel online and said “See? Isn’t she stunning?” He took a good look and then responded by saying that whilst she might be considered attractive to most, he had to point out that she didn’t appear to have nostrils…

My husband’s response to my discovery of Kayla Itsines on Instagram was similar. “How is that BODY?” I wanted to know. “Mmm,” he mused, “great stomach but her legs are too skinny”.

Smart move, babe.

I had no idea who Kayla Itsines was, when I created an Instagram account in January. I was on a mission to shed a few kilos after the holidays and I started following a lot of fitness-type people. The hashtag “bbg” was all over Instagram. In fact, it was so widespread that it became very difficult to uncover the actual meaning behind the acronym – it had become part of the everyday lexicon of approximately 4 million people by then. After some digging, I discovered that it stood for “bikini body guide” – a workout and eating programme that one could purchase online if one wanted to look like Kayla. And one does – want to look like Kayla, that is. Skinny legs and all.

According to interviews, Kayla dropped out of university to become a certified personal trainer. Her rise to female fitness stardom began when she started posting pictures of her clients’ body transformations. When I started following her, I was inundated with “before and after” photos of women in bikinis, underwear or skimpy active wear. There were a fair number of Brazilian-style bikini butts: those bathing suit bottoms that aren’t quite dental floss but that don’t leave much to the imagination either.

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With her beautifully bronzed bod, a name like “Itsines” and a bevy of transformed online clients, posing in next-to-nothing, with the kind of sass that I imagined only South Americans can muster, I assumed that Kayla was Brazilian. Not so: she was raised in Adelaide, Australia, by Greek parents, hence the olive skin and year-round tan.

In my early Instagram days, when I was only following a handful of people, I saw a lot of transformed bikini butts but I also saw a lot of Kayla:

Kayla in itsy bitsy gym shorts with her head cocked to the right:

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Kayla in itsy bitsy gym shorts with her head cocked to the left:

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Kayla’s bicep looking impossibly large for her tiny frame

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Kayla’s bullet-stopping abs:

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Kayla’s bullet-stopping abs sore from “period pains”:

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After a while I didn’t think I could, er, stomach another Kayla selfie… Those legs… those abs… they were just too nauseatingly perfect. (And did I mention that she doesn’t drink alcohol at all, ever?) The interesting thing was, however, that many of her online clients around the world, looked about as good as Kayla in their “after” photos: ripped stomachs, defined arms, toned legs. Obviously, for every successful transformation posted, there must be hundreds or even thousands of drop-outs who bought the Bikini Body Guide and didn’t get anywhere near to achieving their dream bodies. But tons did. And I am pretty sure I know why – besides having an online Greek goddess for inspiration.

In 2006, I was attempting to lose weight for my wedding with Weigh Less. There was a free personal training session up for grabs for the person who lost the most weight in a particular week. I dutifully showed up at the next meeting, climbed on the scale and hadn’t lost a gram, but I was in the fortunate position of being the only person who actually attended the group meeting, so the personal training prize was bestowed upon me. I pitched up at the gym all eager for my freebie workout. Instead, I was subjected to a body assessment (hooray) and sales pitch. The monthly cost was way beyond my budget at the time, but I decided to go ahead. It was a turning point in my life, in the sense that the trainer got me from doing zero exercise to working out at least two or three times a week. Since then I’ve seen a personal trainer twice a week for the better part of ten years. I can recall eight different trainers offhand. (Almost all were good, I just like to mix things up). The thing is, not one of them handed me a nutrition plan and told me that if I didn’t largely stick to it, I would wouldn’t see results. The fact that transformations are at least 80% diet, is not new to anyone, but personal trainers don’t seem to recognise that if they don’t devise eating plans – even generic ones –  and spend five minutes of every session monitoring diet, most of their clients will never see results. In my opinion, personal training in the traditional sense needs to radically change.

As for Kayla’s 28 minute home work-out session, I thought it was devised for people with time-consuming careers, long commutes, no childcare etc. But going for an early morning run in winter is ridiculously hard and even making it to the gym before the school run is a challenge in the cold and the dark. So last week I decided to do Day 1 of Week 1 of the Bikini Body Guide. I was literally stiff for five days..

Why Group Aerobics Classes Are Sort of Like High School

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I started participating in group aerobics classes about half-way through high school. “Body Concept” – aptly named for its era – was the local gym in George, at a time when it was wholly acceptable to work out in a g-string leotard over a pair of cycling shorts. (At least this was thought to be cool in George, in the mid-nineties.) My high school was hockey obsessed and seeing as I couldn’t really run in my teens – let alone run while connecting a hockey bat to a ball – going to aerobics classes across the road from my boarding school was a welcome escape into the anonymity of the adult world. Or so I first thought…

Because before long, I recognised that the Kingdom of Aerobics possessed all the hallmarks of a high school class – except without the boys. If you were an unpopular instructor, you were toast. No-one spoke to you, no-one wanted to hang out after class and worst of all, group exercise goers would simply boycott your class. If, God forbid, there was a last minute change to the regular roster and one or two unsuspecting souls hadn’t called to double check who was giving a particular class, they would arrive and, the moment they saw the uncool instructor walk up to the teaching podium, they would walk out. The poor instructor might be left with one newbie, or no-one at all, to teach.

The popular instructor, on the other hand, wielded untold power. She commanded a following which would arrive up to thirty minutes before, marking their territory with their sweat towels, thereby staking a claim on their favourite spot on the sprung floor. By this stage, I had found a space off to the side, where I could safely head before every class, not yet claimed by any Smug Regulars who had come before me and who would therefore have held a position of greater seniority than I. Here, in this space on the side, I would be free to break out into a grapevine with confidence.

During my university years, I graduated to the Health & Racquet Club in Cape Town’s Mouille Point. This was the big leagues and competition for spaces in the popular group exercise classes was stiff. We’d arrive, well in advance, and request a numbered ticket at reception. If you got there too late, there would be no tickets left and access to the class would be denied. By this stage, Step Aerobics had gained massively in popularity and participants were expected to be able to move around, over and across, their steps, according to the instructor’s signals. Heaven help you if you moved in the opposite direction to what what was instructed and put yourself on a collision path with the participant to your left. The Smug Regular would then have every right to look at you with the utmost condescension as if to say, “How dare you come to the Advanced Class if you cannot perform at this level?” You would then gingerly pick up your Reebok step and shuffle off to the back of the class, to join the other rejects who were unable to keep up with the routine.

Unlike George, in Cape Town and Joburg, you might get the odd male participant. Amongst these, there were usually one or two who would engage in a “simply Step” routine. This literally means that they were simply present to step up and down. They made no bones about the fact that following a routine was completely beyond their capabilities and so they just stepped for 60 minutes, to great music and a good vibe. Amongst this grouping, one might have come across The Class Clown. The Class Clown liked to try to provide entertainment for his fellow participants. His idea of doing so would be to deliberately go right when everyone went left, thereby creating mock collisions and ceremoniously roaring with laughter at his own joke. He was tolerated by those around him, but not seen as a serious aerobics contender otherwise.

In recent years, after a hiatus of some time, I returned to Step aerobics. I was a little rusty, but felt inwardly that my years of dedication to the cause afforded me certain rights: the rights to a good spot (not right at the back with the rejects), for example, fairly close to the front with a view of the instructor plus a bit of mirror space. But nothing in my years as an aerobics practitioner, had prepared me for Patronising Peggy. Completely unsolicited, this stranger turned to me at the end of the class and told me to “keep on coming and trying my best” since I would “eventually get the hang of it”. I stared at her, in her fluorescent headband. I actually think she may have been wearing leg warmers. I wanted to say: “well maybe if I’d been alive as long as you have been doing aerobics, I would have reached your level of proficiency.”

Long live group exercise with its Smug Regulars, Class Clowns and too-cool-for-school instructors!

Diet Diagnosis: The Get Fit Challenge

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THE BACKGROUND: POST CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY SELF-LOATHING

By late December, the amount of holiday headspace that my weight (about 3kg more than my new normal) was occupying was unacceptably high. I was spending an inordinate amount of precious sea, sun, sand and family time thinking about how tight my pants were. It had to stop. I needed an intervention and I needed to be invested – financially and emotionally. That’s when I found The Get Fit Challenge. I’d come across a year or so before in a fitness magazine or on Facebook but I’d decided that Peter Place was too far to travel for an exercise class. Fast forward to January 2016 and I was willing to to commute…

90% DIET, GIRLS. (AND SAY BYE BYE TO BUBBLY)

A few days before the challenge started, we were invited to a briefing. Lesley, the female trainer, looked us in the eye and said that getting in shape was 80% diet. She added that for women, it might even by 90% diet. She told us that was no allowance for alcohol during the challenge. Not one drop. We all looked at one another in shock with our post holiday bellies and diaries full of dinner plans. What? No alcohol AT ALL? (I lasted consecutive 34 days before succumbing to a glass or three of Cap Classique. 34 out of 84 days. Not even halfway).

THE GET FIT CHALLENGE DIET

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It’s spartan

The Get Fit Challenge was started in Durban by two personal trainers from Virgin Active who wanted to help their clients actually see visible results. The key is obviously the diet. I’m only able to review it from my perspective, obviously, but also only from a female perspective. Without giving away Get Fit’s intellectual property, I’ll give you an idea of how the diet works. In short, it’s what I call… ahem… “spartan” – i.e. light on content (but probably contains sufficient calories for health purposes).

Say cheers! (to your social life)

I won’t lie, I found it very challenging (but I would say that about every diet). It’s simplicity suited me though. Travel/ holidays and social engagements made it much, much harder for me. I don’t have a hectic social life, so that helped, especially with the “no booze” policy but I found myself making fewer plans which involved drinking or eating out. As a result, my lame social life went from below average to pathetic.

There is sugar in, like, everything

If you stick to the diet to the letter, you consume: no dairy, no fruit, very specific, healthy carbs only and no carbs after lunch. (I didn’t even attempt cutting out milk in coffee and I ate some fruit, but tried not to eat lots of it and tried to choose lower sugar/ lower calorie fruit like strawberries, blueberries or melons though I sometimes went a bit wild and consumed banana or apple).

Breakfast

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For breakfast they tell you to have protein and carbs, but ideally no bread as breads off the shelf contain sugar. (I’ve never really understood before why bread is evil unless you are gluten intolerant. Now I know.) I either ate three scrambled eggs with 100% rye toast or Oats (the original ones that are really, really bland as a result of having no crap added to them) with some whey protein. Let me tell you now that I cannot stand pills and potions (aka supplements and shakes). I often eat my breakfast post work-out while driving kids to school. One morning Chiara’s classmate was sitting behind me in the car when he got a whiff of my whey protein. “Eeeeuwww!!!! What’s that SMELL??” he shouted so loudly I think the whole of the Sandton CBD could hear. Chiara then gave a good sniff and together they began a cacophony of mock-vomiting noises from the backseat. I kind of agree. Whey protein is fake and gross.

Snacks

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Mid-morning and afternoon, you’re supposed to snack on biltong or protein shakes or half a can of tuna or such-like. I tried to avoid this: I don’t think biltong is healthy and it makes me even thirstier than usual. I also loathe drinking my “food”. But if you’re on the run, it’s not so easy to carry around your half handful of smoked mackerel for your 3pm snack…

Lunch and dinner

For lunch and dinner you eat a very small portion of lean protein with veg and/or salad. At lunch you need to have some brown rice or sweet potato and somewhere in the day you throw in a tiny morsel of healthy fat. I don’t like nuts so I would have half an avo at lunch which was like manna from heaven and at night I would half choke on my bone dry chicken breast or piece of fish pan-fried with Spray and Cook.

In short, the diet is a riot but it obviously works if you can stick to it.

THE GET FIT CHALLENGE EXERCISE CLASSES

You sign up for a 6-week/ 8-week or 12-week challenge. (I did the latter – it was the one that started the soonest in January and that’s why I chose it). You pay up-front to attend a Get Fit class once, twice or three times a week. If you work it out, you pay about R180 per class so the cost is similar to a Sweat 1000 class, for example, if you’re able to attend all the classes you pay for. I signed up for twice a week at a cost of R4,200. During the twelve weeks, I was out of town twice for a total of two weeks. I also got gastro which put me out for a week. So I ended up wasting about 7 sessions which I wasn’t able to catch up because of times/ location/ traffic/ other commitments etc.

The classes consist of intense resistance training for short intervals at a time. Not totally dissimilar to “The Grid” at Virgin Active, but what sets the Get Fit classes apart is the awesome, super-fast paced music. I found I could cope fairly easily with some of the exercises in a class and others were really challenging for me. Some people were super fit, in great shape and were coming to class purely for fitness maintenance purposes, others were trying to start exercising after a long break, it appeared. The theory is that you can sort of go at your own pace. I battled to remember what to do at the different stations (it gets explained up-front before the class starts) so I would also try to pair up with at least one other person which made the experience easier and more fun.

RESULTS & RECOMMENDATIONS

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BEFORE: Jan 2016: 64kg. AFTER: April 2016: 61kg

For me, it was a great kickstart to shed the extra 3kg that were really bugging me. I’m bummed I’m not able to put up a picture of a six-pack. According to Get Fit’s assessment, I am a mere 4kg away from body fat of 18%, which would be “excellent” for my, ahem… age (37). So close and yet so far… For real inspiration, check out the Challenge’s winners and finalists here.

I would definitely recommend the Challenge if you live or work close to Coachman’s Crossing in Peter Place and you need to have something to lose like your time, money or dignity, when you don’t stick to a diet after Day 2. I lost all of these in spades in those 12 weeks but am happy to report that at least I lost a few kilos too, so I consider the experience worth my while.

(The next challenge is a 12 week challenge and it starts on 9 May. You can sign up here.)

(I wrote this post entirely independently with no payment or input from Get Fit. These are purely my views and my experiences).

Some Home Truths About Losing That Baby Weight

Home Truth No. 1: Meet the Prolactin Hormone

After I gave birth to my daughter, I “shed” around 8kg in the first two weeks. This should sound ridiculous to you because it is. I believe the cause was acute anxiety and severe insomnia. As the acuteness of the anxiety wore off, I took to comfort eating and – surprise! – the weight piled on swiftly. With my second child, I was calm and and after 10 days, I had “lost” my son’s birthweight almost to the gram – nothing more. Knowing that I would be at home alot with my infant and that it would be tempting to reward/ comfort myself with food, I took myself off to Weight Watchers when he was two weeks old. I followed their breastfeeding formula (when you can eat WAY more than a member who is not breastfeeding, but way less than I would otherwise have eaten). Some weeks I was really good about sticking to the programme, other weeks I wasn’t as good for as many days. It didn’t seem to matter. Each week I would step onto the scale and I would be 200g lighter. “It’ll creep off,” the Group Leader would smile encouragingly. Awesome!

At my 6 week check-up with my gynae I relayed my experiences. I found his response utterly liberating. He explained that during the first 12 weeks after birth, your prolactin levels are high and this meant that weight loss would be slow during this time. Obviously, my gynae wasn’t suggesting that I ate whatever I liked during this time, so I carried on trying to stick to Weight Watchers but was no longer disappointed with my weekly 200g loss as I believed this would improve after 12 weeks – which it did. (I have also read that prolactin can stimulate appetite – no doubt because it is connected to milk production and on a basic level it is egging the body on to store up fat reserves in the event of famine which would endanger the baby.)

Home Truth No. 2: Newsflash: Breastfeeding Does Not Cause Weight Loss. Get Over It.

My GP told me this long ago. My dietician told me this after my first child was born. But despite hearing it from trained professionals, it still felt like the whole world was declaring that “breastfeeding causes weight loss”. Even the pamphlet at the hospital where I gave birth to my son listed weight loss as one of the advantages of breastfeeding. Based on some high level research, anecdotal evidence and my own experiences, these are my thoughts on what I believe to mostly be a myth.

Let’s be honest – it is not in the best interests of medical professionals to actively dispel the myth that breastfeeding will make you thin. On a basic nutritional level, experts agree that “breast is best” so if women think of breastfeeding as a calorie quaffer, so much the better.

Here’s why I think that so many women (incorrectly) attribute their post-baby weight loss to breastfeeding:

Experts seem to agree that if you’re breastfeeding, you need to eat about 500 calories (about 2,000kj) more per day than you would otherwise need, to maintain your weight. (This may sound like a lot but if you are stuffing your face with cakes, macaroons and muffins, 500 calories is nothing.) I suspect that there is a significant category of women who continue to eat roughly the same as what they ate before breastfeeding – or maybe just slightly more. They would then automatically create a calorie deficit and therefore lose weight. One study calls such women “restrained eaters”. On the extreme end of “restrained eaters” we have the Heidi Klums and Angelina Jolies of this world. Classic examples of the post hoc fallacy (I knew that Economics course would come in handy): they breastfed and then they lost weight and so they concluded that breastfeeding caused the weight loss. I can’t attest to what these women did or didn’t put in their mouths, but my guess would be that a) they were super skinny before they fell pregnant and gained the minimum amount of weight possible during pregnancy  and b) they ate very, very carefully post birth. A simple case of “calories in” versus “calories out” rather than some breastfeeding miracle.

Home Truth No. 3: Comfort Eating Leads to Self-Loathing

I thought I’d start out with some tough love on this topic, because it really is that simple but oh-so hard to put into practice. If you’re prone to comfort eating, try to do it in moderation because when you’re housebound and you have so little time to yourself and you’re up half the night, you could find yourself virtually comfort eating around the clock. Find something that’s realistic and practical to do in its place, like watching a DVD series while you feed – without a bag of chips next to you. For me, walking around my neighbourhood became my refuge. These are things that don’t require pre-planning and that you can fit in at the last minute (essential with small babies) and which you can do more than once a day. And they don’t involve food.

Home Truth No. 4: Walk! (or something)

I fully agree with Scary Mommy who said that she can’t relate to people who claim to have lost weight from “running after their children“. Like Scary Mommy, I only mix running with child-rearing if I hear something like a loud thud signalling imminent danger for my offspring. Child rearing is exhausting but it probably doesn’t burn as many calories as we’d like to think and that’s why if you want to boost weight loss attempts, I believe it’s best to do some dedicated exercise. I don’t really count vacuuming although it certainly can’t hurt, but I don’t think it should replace a brisk walk – or if you’re a Sporty Spice then whatever you do for exercise. I’m advocating walking because you can do it with your kid in a pram and for most of us, there’s really no excuse to open that front door and go for a walk.

So How Do I Shed This Freaking Weight, Then?

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not a “restrained eater” and you probably find it hard to listen to women who say “just eat normally!” Personally, I need a framework – even if I don’t stick to it entirely. Weight Watchers is great because it’s really flexible in terms of what you eat plus they have a specific breastfeeding programme. I also love the app MyFitnessPal which my friend Megan introduced me to after she had her third child. It takes a little getting used to and some discipline to input everything that goes in your mouth, but after a while you should have an idea of what you need to eat to create a calorie deficit – which, as well all know deep down, is the only way to lose weight.

(PS: My girlfriends and I finally quaffed that “goal weight” champers a couple of months ago)

One (Wo)man’s Fat Jeans…

…might just be another (wo)man’s goal weight jeans…

In my post Is Your Body Lotion Making You Fat? I joked about how that diet’s literature counselled users not to use body lotions as the creams could be “absorbed by the skin as fat”. I still find the statement hilarious. As to its veracity, I can’t say I bothered consulting with anyone in the medical field (apart from the medical practitioners you pay to give you the diet) so I have no idea if it’s true or not. It just sounds ludicrous. Nonetheless, since I first started eating meals that looked like this:

A typical lunch or dinner on "the body lotion diet"
A typical lunch or dinner on “the body lotion diet”

on the body lotion diet, I’ve lost 13kg – with the application of body cream (believe it or not).

This is me at 71kg in mid-March:

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The head that goes with the body to prove it really was me
The head that goes with the body to prove it really was me

I look drab because I dressed drab and I dressed drab because I felt drab. I didn’t have “no energy” and sure, I wasn’t morbidly obese (although, technically, I might have been had my body fat percentage been taken) but my new favourite Country Road pants were cutting into me at the waist and I just felt kak. I hated getting dressed in the morning, I hated catching sight of my body in the mirror. And it pissed me off that I had gained enough weight to technically make me need to buy size 14 pants – all in the space of a few months (not that I was skinny before).

I felt like I needed to do something really drastic and different to change the central role that food and eating was playing in my life (and has always played ever since I can remember). I was also pissed off that my weight was taking up so, so much of my headspace. I mean – what a serious waste of brainpower and energy, right? Because I knew that it didn’t have to be this way. I knew I could look – and feel different. I was the only thing standing in my way.

Fast forward four months. This is me last night just before a rare and wonderful date night with my husband:

58kg on 13 July
58kg on 13 July

I’m stoked, to put it mildly. I now weigh 58kg (butt naked, first thing in the morning “pre-coffee and post-wee” as Susan Hayden once elegantly put it). I am 1.66m tall and according to Weight Watchers I should weigh between 55kg and 69kg. That’s based solely on height, not bone structure but I know I’m not a mesomorph (Serena Williams) so I shouldn’t weigh 69kg and I know I’m not an ectomorph (Kate Moss) so I doubt I need to weigh 55kg. I have tiny wrists but I have child-bearing hips (as my first ever personal trainer was frank enough to put it), my mother’s non-existent arse, her broad back and my paternal grandmother’s “problem” thighs. And thanks to my recent weight loss I no longer have boobs. Yip, I am officially an A-cup. But I have two skinny friends whose boobs disappeared after breastfeeding so I have been well counselled in the way of push-up bras. And my very generous husband is happy to buy me boobs. And I am more than happy to accept his generous offer. Feminist shock horror, I know. I actually do consider myself somewhat of a feminist – albeit a far less fervent one than I was in my “youth”. I’m just a vain feminist and if buying boobs is on offer, then I’d like a pair. Thanks, Babe.

Despite exercising 4-6 times a week on average for the past 5 years (including resistance training twice a week with a personal trainer), my tummy and thighs are still – even at 58kg – soft and spongy. But for the 3 weeks a year a spend in a bikini in public, I can totally live with that. Or I can train harder for a harder stomach. Whatever. Life is short.

As for other (wo)mens’ fat jeans… I distinctly remember my neighbour letting slip what she weighed when we were both around 6 months pregnant with our second children last year. 53kg. I think I might have weighed that in Standard Three – before I got boobs. (I used to have boobs). I am now very proud to say that I am wearing her “fat” jeans. Okay, they are incredibly low and I can’t bend over but whatever – they’re Replays and they once belonged to someone who weighed 53kg when she was six months pregnant. Who needs to bend over? These are them jeans:

Proudly wearing my neighbour's fat jeans
Proudly wearing my neighbour’s fat jeans

Naturally, I am so thrilled with my new body that I could get slightly evangelical about the body lotion diet. But I am not here to punt it at all. I found it soul destroyingly difficult at first – yes, soul destroyingly difficult. I have no other words. The extreme deprivation was literally soul destroying. I didn’t (couldn’t) follow it nearly as closely as I was advised to by the doctor and nurse who counselled me. I didn’t really enjoy the fact that you’re advised to only do light cardio a few times a week owing to the low calorie intake. (I’m a stay at home mom – I now LIKE going to the gym). And I didn’t fully listen to that either. I took breaks from the diet many times which wasn’t advised. I gained back a bit of weight when I took my first two week break but when I took the second two week break, I exercised alot, ate a bit more carefully and didn’t gain back the weight.

I can honestly say that getting down to even 60kg has been sort of life changing. I like looking in my full length mirror. I like getting dressed in the morning. I enjoy shopping for clothes. And I don’t really mind what the size tag says – as long as they fit. (Okay, I won’t buy a size 14 even if it’s a Lilliputian size 14 but maybe one day I’ll get over that too). The nude coloured spaghetti strap top in the picture above is a top I bought from Witchery yesterday. It’s an XS and I truthfully I am just teensy bit stoked. (I have a medium-sized bone structure and I am not really an XS and Woolies is really generous with their sizing but whatever. The label says XS, okay? I might frame it…)

I feel on top of the world writing this post. I know there is a very real risk that I could gain all the weight back and more, but that is one of the reasons I am putting this in writing and making my experience very public. And it’s a very vain and shallow post to write but I am a stay-at-home mom and/or a housewife and it’s taken me years to utter those words out loud so I’m okay with calling myself vain and shallow.

But I’m not really fundamentally vain or shallow. Which is why I want to end off this post with something written by Amber Jones from Go Kaleo. Leigh – a close friend of my sister’s and a trained nutritionist “introduced” me to Amber Jones by posting a comment about her on my blog when I wrote about the deprivation of the body lotion diet. I don’t identify with absolutely everything Amber says about diets and food and weight but she sounds highly intelligent, I do relate to many things she writes and I have no doubt that she’s changing lives as we speak. This is an extract from something she wrote recently. It is so magnificently written and so profound, that I get a lump in my throat every time I read it. Despite the vain and shallow things I’ve written above, I agree with every single one of Amber’s words below:

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This picture of me does not tell you how happy I am. It does not tell you how much value I bring to the lives of others. It does not tell you how many people love me. It does not signify that I am better or worse than anyone else. It does not convey the works I create in this world.

Being fit is awesome, because it keeps me healthy and strong so I can go out in the world and do awesome things. Being fit, itself, is not the goal. Being fit is a means to accomplish my true goals. If your goal ends at ‘being fit’, think bigger! The world has so much more for you!

This is one of many links to Amber’s full article. To my fellow Fat to Fit challengers on Gaelyn Cokayne’s programme, entering Week 5 of the challenge, think about Amber’s words when you feel guilty for sharing a pizza with your toddler.

And to the love of my life: thank you for your unwavering support on this journey. You inspire me to be better – in every way. I look forward to so many runs, hikes, rides and adventures with you and our beautiful children.

Is Your Body Lotion Making You Fat?

When I started Weight Watchers five months after Chiara was born, I resigned myself to the fact that no matter how long it took, I wanted this to be the last “diet” I ever went on. A year later, I was 13kg slimmer. I wasn’t super skinny but I was within a few kilos of the lower end of the healthy weight range for my height and build. Then I fell pregnant with Joe and I used this as an excuse to indulge. By the end of my pregnancy I had packed on nearly 14kg.

Thanks to an easy birth and a wonderful night nurse, I was back at Weight Watchers 10 days after giving birth and back at personal training when Joe was two weeks old. My gynae explained to me that it would be difficult to shift weight in the first 12 weeks following child birth and he was absolutely right. It did get slightly easier after that and by the December holidays, I had managed to shed close to 11kg of the 14kg gained in pregnancy. But then came Mauritius, overseas guests, Christmas, New Years, my birthday, kiddies’ birthday parties… Every excuse in the book for me to gain back 6kg out of the 11kg I had managed to shift. And if you deduct Joe’s birth weight from the equation, it meant that 8 months after his birth, I was exactly 1.7kg slimmer than the day I gave birth.

Enter severe self-loathing and the decision to do something drastic.

I knew of someone who had shed a fortune of weight very quickly through one of these expensive medical slimming programmes. I generally don’t like diets that make me drink my food instead of eating it, nor do I like ones where I can hardly eat anything. This diet had both of those elements plus one added bonus: a daily injection in the arse. Awesome.

Nonetheless I made an appointment, had a big fat pizza the night before and went to the consultation prepared to starve myself to thinness. I had to smile. The questionnaire wanted to know why I was overweight, as if it were one of life’s great mysteries. “I eat too much,” I wrote.

The briefing with the nurse offered some good news and some bad. The bad news was that the hormone we were to inject daily would take a week to arrive. Psychologically I needed to start immediately. So this was really bad. The good news was that exercise wasn’t really encouraged since you’d be eating basically “eff all”. I could work with that.

Another bad sign was that I was asked three times, by three different people (therapist, nurse, doctor) whether I’d done this before.

“No!” I felt like screaming, “if I done this before I’d be skinny, right? Right? RIGHT?”

Of course the worst news of all was the daily meal plan:

– 30ml of skim milk
– 2 small fruits (excluding bananas and grapes)
– a shake for breakfast
– lunch and dinner: 75g of lean chicken/ fish with 120g of steamed veggies but not the yummy ones like butternut
– 3 provitas (and boy do I look forward to those three bad boys)

The theory behind the programme is that when you inject yourself with the hormone that is activated when humans actually face potential starvation – the HCG hormone – your brain tells your body to attack your fat reserves. But you can’t trick your brain into thinking that you’re starving if you’re not – hence the fact that you can barely eat.

Although I haven’t felt starving on the programme (supposedly the hormone means you don’t feel hungry) I have felt utterly deprived and at times miserably depressed. It has honestly been the hardest diet I have ever been on – and boy, have I been on plenty in my life. However, I have managed to shift 5.5kg after 20 days of (more or less) sticking to the regime in a 30 day period. So, I would argue that it has been worth it, even if I do gain back 1kg after eating one Easter egg this weekend.

Having said this, winter is not the most ideal time of year to go on this diet, because, according to the programme’s literature, you could be giving up cupcakes only to have your starving body guzzle up the calories in your cocoa butter. This is the warning:

“Body lotion and body butter: You will be surprised at the amount of calories body cream, oil, body butter and lotions contain. During the initial 6 week period, it is advisable not to apply any body lotion or cream or oil to your body. The absorption of fat by the skin can make a difference to the total amount of calories consumed…”

So with the beginning of winter and Joburg’s high altitude, I look and feel like a crocodile but at least I’m a slightly skinnier crocodile than I was a month ago…

The Middle-aged Man in Crisis: The Age of Endurance Sport

He was not a carouser or a sportscar guy, and he already had a shed full of high-end bicycles – that other refuge of the middle-aged man in crisis.

Tim Lewis, “Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team”

I suppose it’s no accident that, as a 35 year old suburban mom, most of the men I come into contact with are… ahem…”middle-aged”. They are the spouses or partners of my friends and fellow mommies and they are in their late thirties or early forties. As to whether these men are “in crisis”, I can’t presume to know, but what I do know is that more than a handful of them have taken up endurance sports with the zeal of semi-professional athletes.

When The Princess was born, two dads we know ran their first Comrades Marathons within months of the birth of their first children.

Holidaying in Mauritius in December, we met a dad who had recently run the Otter African Trail Run and become obsessed with the sport. In fact, he was scanning the Mauritian landscape during our transfer from the airport and was considering doing a race whilst on holiday. His wife and I looked at one another knowingly. He responded by asking if she’d rather he found himself “a blonde from Benoni”. She said yes, she would actually prefer that, as he would’ve tired of the blonde more quickly.

I think she may have had a point.

Over the past several years, it feels to me as though The Iron Man and the “Half Iron” have become buzzwords. And I think David starting feeling left out. In December 2012 he took part in his first triathlon in St Francis Bay (a sprint distance triathlon).

But it wasn’t until about six weeks ago that he started talking seriously about the Buffelspoort Triathlon on 9 March. He would pop to the gym a few times a week to swim, he did a few slow runs with me (which I blogged about here) and kept up his cycling. Not being well versed in the in’s and out’s of triathlons, I assumed he was talking about a sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) or perhaps an Olympic distance triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run). But when I stopped to confirm the distances about 3 weeks ago, he was referring to a…gulp…ultra triathlon: 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run. The same as the Half Iron Man event. A few weeks ago his training dipped when he was travelling for work and he told me that he was having second thoughts about doing it. I completely encouraged him to laugh it off. When I was “training” for the 94.7 I wanted to be talked out of it when I moaned to my spouse so I figured it would only be fair to make him feel better about opting out. A week later he was still contemplating what to do. And then he said the key words:

“I’ll be in such a bad mood on that day if I don’t do it.”

“You should definitely do it,” I said immediately.

The night before Sunday’s event, he was literally cramming for the swim by studying an article in Triathlon magazine on common mistakes that triathletes make with respect to their swimming techniques.

The next day, our alarms went off at 3:30am, we were on the road by 4:15am and we arrived at Buffelspoort Dam in the North West Province by 6am for race registration.

Receiving a competitor body marking from the high school girl volunteers - possibly not the worst experience for middle-aged men in crisis
Receiving a competitor body marking from the high school girl volunteers – possibly not the worst experience for a middle-aged man in crisis

Once David had his body marking, it was time for him to set up his cycling and running gear in his transition area. Ever the light traveller, he just packed a few essentials:

All the gear...
All the gear…

Unfortunately, we were to discover that a triathlete’s transition area is not quite the same as a walk-in closet. You were not allowed to bring along a plastic version of a suitcase.

The next challenge was for him to put his newly purchased wetsuit on. We learnt that there is a special technique for this but fortunately, the lovely Carol from Troi Sports (herself an Olympic paddler, I believe) was there to help:

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She also told David that he should try to relax. She had no idea that he’d have had a better chance of giving birth at that juncture.

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Finally, at 7:11am the ultra competitors were off. David had said he’d be breaststroking the swimming leg (not his sporting forte). I thought that there was no way he would have the balls to do breaststroke in front of a bunch of cool, fit ultra triathletes.

But apparently, he did. Out of 170 swimmers, I could identify David as the only swimmer whose head bobbed up and down and whose arms did not exit the water. As a supporter, it was very convenient in terms of identification.

After two laps in the Buffelspoort Dam, David was out of the water and in his transition area to get kitted for the cycle. Here, it would be safe to say that Oscar nominees probably take less time to get dressed for their event. His transition time clocked in at no shorter than 6 minutes and 57 seconds. To give this some perspective, the winner took 1 minute 37 seconds, whilst most people took between 2 and 3 minutes. A few were slower and took just over 4 minutes. I even saw David folding his clothes and placing them in special, individual bags at one point.

But then he caned it on the cycle leg and also did very, very well on the run.

In the end, he came 60th out of 170 ultra competitors who finished the race. Not bad for a middle-aged man!

The 60th of 170 finishers
The 60th of 170 finishers
David's youngest supporter
David’s youngest supporter

Little Girls & the “F” Word

I don’t know how long we’ll be able to maintain this, but for now, the “F” word is banned in our house. “Fat” is not a word my daughter – nearly three – has ever uttered. I know this will change but when it does, I’ll pretend not to notice. We still read Jack Sprat to her and she sees the picture of the morbidly obese Mrs Sprat in her Richard Scarry nursery rhyme book, but I don’t think she has any negative associations towards the poor woman who could “eat no lean.”

I was in no way conscious of body size when I was a little girl. That is, until I went to school. I turned 6 a few weeks after starting Sub A. (I never went to play school or nursery school). Shortly thereafter, and ever since then, I have thought of myself as some form of “fat” – overweight, slightly overweight, downright fat – somewhere on that spectrum. I am pretty sure it began when the Std 5’s chose mascots for inter-house Athletics. I wasn’t picked and it wasn’t hard for my 6 year old brain to figure out why. The girls who were chosen were tiny – short and skinny and just miniscule and adorable. Those of us who were taller – and perhaps chubbier but not necessarily – were not destined to be mascots for the Blue Team. And that’s how I knew I was fat and that fat did not equal cute.

At the age of 6 I had come face to face with the concept of body image in the Western world. I was probably fortunate to have this realisation relatively late. But I lived in a seaside village with a generator and no TV and I can’t see how I will be able to protect The Princess in the same way that I was sheltered for so long.  Still, I would like to try and keep the “F” word as a banned word, for as long as possible. And I would more or less like to put into practice exactly what blogger and university student, Sarah Koppelkam, wrote last year in her post, “How to talk to your daughter about her body.” Sarah’s article was picked up by The Huffington Post and it quickly went viral. I came across it randomly when a London-based school friend of mine shared a copy and paste version of it on Facebook – one that had initially been posted on Facebook by a personal trainer in New Zealand – to give you a sense of just how viral we’re talking. I think it went viral because so many women identified with it. It is also incredibly beautifully written. If you haven’t yet come across it, here it is, with a link to the original post on Sarah’s blog below.

How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.

Don’t say anything if she’s lost weight. Don’t say anything if she’s gained weight.

If you think your daughter’s body looks amazing, don’t say that. Here are some things you can say instead:

“You look so healthy!” is a great one.

Or how about, “you’re looking so strong.”

“I can see how happy you are – you’re glowing.”

Better yet, compliment her on something that has nothing to do with her body.

Don’t comment on other women’s bodies either. Nope. Not a single comment, not a nice one or a mean one.

Teach her about kindness towards others, but also kindness towards yourself.

Don’t you dare talk about how much you hate your body in front of your daughter, or talk about your new diet. In fact, don’t go on a diet in front of your daughter. Buy healthy food. Cook healthy meals. But don’t say “I’m not eating carbs right now.” Your daughter should never think that carbs are evil, because shame over what you eat only leads to shame about yourself.

Encourage your daughter to run because it makes her feel less stressed. Encourage your daughter to climb mountains because there is nowhere better to explore your spirituality than the peak of the universe. Encourage your daughter to surf, or rock climb, or mountain bike because it scares her and that’s a good thing sometimes.

Help your daughter love soccer or rowing or hockey because sports make her a better leader and a more confident woman. Explain that no matter how old you get, you’ll never stop needing good teamwork. Never make her play a sport she isn’t absolutely in love with.

Prove to your daughter that women don’t need men to move their furniture.

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

http://hopeave.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/how-to-talk-to-your-daughter-about-her-body/

Running with Husbands

A couple of years ago, The Husband suggested that we start running together again. I agreed – albeit somewhat apprehensively as he tends to take his sport very seriously. I reminded him that I hadn’t run in a long time and asked him how far he wanted to go.

“An absolute minimum of 5km. Anything shorter and it takes you longer to get dressed,” he replied.

“Not necessarily,” I said, “depends how long it takes you to run 5km”.

More recently, The Husband announced that he will be doing a triathlon on 9 March. A day or so later, he announced that he had begun his running training and had run 1km on the treadmill.

I burst out laughing. The man has spent more hours on a bicycle in the last five years than French people have spent at their desks and he was proud of himself for running 1km?

“A lot of people laughed when I told them that, but I have a plan!” he said. “It involves increasing your mileage in small increments.”

The following Saturday he wanted to know whether I cared to join him for a 2km run?

I took great pleasure in replying that it would take me longer to put my shoes on than it would to run 2km.

Then, on Sunday, he invited me to join him for a 3km run. Since the beginning of the year, my new running buddy, Judy, and I, have actually gone on a few very slow 5-6km trots, so I felt that I could continue to push myself beyond the 3km mark. I told The Husband that I knew a 5.5km route but that he was welcome to cut it short and run his 3km while I carried on. He agreed. Monday morning came along and off we set on our run around the neighbourhood.

I think I would have actually eaten my running shoe had The Husband waved goodbye and turned around after 1.5km.

We did 6km on Monday.

On Tuesday, we started to plan our Wednesday run.

“How far can you go?” he wanted to know.

“Um, since I’ve only actually been on about 5 runs in the last year and none of those have been further than 6km, I can run 6km.”

“That’s not far enough” said the man who, only three days before, had invited me on a 2km run. “What about 8km?”

Clearly, the man had a hearing problem but I didn’t feel like arguing.

“Fine, whatever, but what happened to your planning of adding 1km every run?”

“Oh no,” he said, “I ran out of time so I decided to add 1km every day, but if I miss a day of running then I still add another km the next day.”

“Right,” I nodded. “So, according to your custom training programme, how far are we supposed to be running tomorrow?”

The answer was 11km.

And I almost got bullied into signing up for the 21km route for the Hyundai Rock The Run on 16 March. Then I remembered announcing that I would ride the 94.7 cycle challenge last year and how tough it was to train for that race. So I stuck to my guns and declared that I would do the 10km route or nothing at all.

10km should be a breeze – in terms of The Husband’s training schedule we should be on about 39km a day by mid-March.

On Khloe Kardashian, Self Esteem, Liz Hurley & White Jeans

Having a new baby means being awake at all sorts of ungodly hours. Thanks to The Husband’s generosity and pragmatism, we have a night nurse. I say “pragmatism” because he knows how grumpy I get when I am sleep deprived and he knows there is a practical – albeit costly – solution. Her name is Precious. She taps me gently while I am sound asleep and says with urgency:

“He’s awake!”

I fly out of bed in response to the urgency in Precious’ voice, dash to the nursery and then flop into the feeding chair and sometimes even fall asleep while Precious changes The Prince’s nappy and readies him for his feed. And then I generally sleep through the feed until she prods me and tells me it’s time to change sides. I can safely say that I would trade in my car if I had to, for the luxury of a night nurse. I feel human the day after Precious’ shift and like a dead woman walking the day after her night off.

Most nights I crawl back into bed and pass out after the feed, but some nights (and, fortunately, so far, not many) I simply can’t get back to sleep. This was the case a few nights ago. I was so wide awake that I eventually crawled out of bed at 4am and crept to the TV room.

I happened to turn on M-Net just as a show called The Talk started. It featured a bunch of women sitting around a table. Amongst the women, I recognised Sharon Osborne. As the introductory music ended and the audience applauded, one of the women introduced the first topic of the talk show with the solemnity one would expect were she reporting on a grave political crisis: Khloe Kardashian’s poor self esteem.

khloe-kardashian-279718138

The camera then cut to this round-table of female presenters looking traumatised by the news and brimming with empathy for the reality TV star. In order to give viewers a real taste of the emotional hardship endured daily by Khloe, the presenter quoted Khloe who had said that “being compared to somebody else every day does sort of beat up your spirit and soul.” Apparently Khloe reported that she had been called the “heavier” and “less attractive” of the sisters. Luckily for Khloe, Sharon Osborne was the first to comment with a statement that is bound to reverse all her psychological trauma:

“I just think she has the BEST personality out of everyone!” Sharon gushed, to rapturous applause from the in-studio audience.

Thanks, Sharon. You do know that you basically just called her ugly? When my dad was at university in the sixties, the prevailing catch phrase for an unattractive woman was: “She sure can cook!” With the emancipation of women and Woolworths microwave meals, the modern version of this maxim has morphed into: “She sure has a great personality”.

I konfess that I just kan’t watch Kris, Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie Kardashian/ Jenner and their show at the best of times, although I can’t think of a better cure for insomnia than Khloe Kardashian’s complexes. If only I’d been able to keep the TV on for an extra minute or two, I would have been able to pass out from absolute apathy.

Aside from bad TV at 5am, the weeks following the birth of a child can be tough. Especially when they happen to be the very weeks when Hyde Park and Sandton City go on sale. About a week after The Prince was born, The Husband’s favourite Hyde Park store was offering 50% off all their merchandise and he was looking to spoil me. What could I do under the circumstances other than engage in aspirational acquisitions? I was immediately drawn to a gorgeous pair of white, skinny jeans with gold zips. Tres, tres St Tropez or tres, tres Sandton. But as I picked them up, I was reminded of something a friend told me last year. She told me that it had been said (by some famous and fabulous male stylist, I think) that if you’re a woman and your name is not Liz Hurley, you simply should not wear white jeans. Sorry, honey. Although I agree that I am not Liz Hurley and that I should not wear white jeans, I have always loved white pants and am delighted that white jeans have made a comeback. So I now have this pair – that cost 50% less than usual – hanging in my cupboard, staring at me and taunting me. I should somehow sticky-tape them to the fridge…

Liz Hurley Leaving Her Home London June 17, 2008

But since that’s not terribly practical, I decided to re-join Weight Watchers instead. I polished off a cupcake in the car on the way there and arrived ready to take a deep breath and step on the scale. The last time I attended Weight Watchers was before I found out that I was pregnant with The Prince – a time when I weighed a lot less than I do now. For this reason, I made a point of mentioning to the Group Leader that I had stopped Weight Watchers because I’d fallen pregnant (they don’t allow pregnant people to follow the programme) and that I was returning because I’d just had a baby. Clearly, however, I did not place enough emphasis on the word “just” because a few minutes later I climbed on the scale to hear the Group Leader say (raised eyebrow and all):

“I see… yes… well…your weight has gone up quite a bit.”

“I literally just had a baby eleven days ago!” I snapped.

To this, my fellow members responded as one would hope the Sisterhood would respond with remarks like:

“Oh my gosh, I’d still be in bed!” and

“You look amazing for someone who just had a baby!” (From my observations and my own behaviour, women say this to one another post babies, no matter what, but somehow it’s still nice to hear even if you know it’s a big, fat lie.)

I automatically felt better.

But sisterhood or no sisterhood, I still have to find a way into those designer white jeans before they go out of style again.