Six years ago, Nicole was stuck in an unhappy relationship and, ultimately, an unhappy life – but she knew she deserved better. Deciding to tackle her problems head-on, Nicole confronted her unhealthy relationship with food by focusing on her health instead of weight loss. This is how she changed her life.
Occupation: Social media manager
Weight before: 110kg
Weight after: 68kg
Time required to reach current weight: 6 years
Secret weight-loss weapon: Choosing to focus on being healthier and fitter – rather than weight loss.
Having always been a bit thicker than her friends, Nicole admits that her relationship with food has never really been healthy. Fast-forward to adulthood: “I found myself in an unhappy relationship and an unhappy life.” A self-confessed emotional eater, Nicole was using food to numb the pain she was feeling. Food had become her crutch.
Her diet consisted mainly of carbs and traditional Cape Malay foods, such as curries, rotis, breyani, stews with rice and potatoes, and the occasional takeaway. Coupled with bad eating habits, Nicole wasn’t exercising. She struggled with even basic movement, and tells of one occasion where, at her heaviest, she tried hiking up Lion’s Head with friends, but was unable to make it past the 50m mark.
Realising that her inward unhappiness was causing her weight gain, Nicole started the emotional work required to rebuild her life. “I made a pact with myself to stop letting myself down. If I promised I’d get up and run, I kept that promise – no matter what,” she says. “I developed a much healthier relationship with myself – and my body.”
Her first dietary changes included cutting out simple carbs, like rice, bread, pasta and potatoes, and saying bye-bye to fizzy drinks. Next to go was sugar: “I was basically on a high-fat, low-carb nutrition plan.” She also started walking and jogging three to five days a week. With determination and consistency, Nicole was getting healthier and happier by the day.
As her strength grew, Nicole upped her exercise intensity, providing the room to reintroduce good carbs to her diet. “I brought back quinoa, sweet potatoes, butternut and rye bread.” Now she tries to maintain an 80/20 balance – 80 percent of the time it’s all about healthy food; as for the other 20 percent, homemade ice cream and burgers are allowed.
Having shed most of the excess weight, Nicole can be more flexible with her eating – “I eat a lot of fresh green vegetables and limit fruit [to limit her sugar intake].” She also ensures her diet is high in legumes and nuts, both of which are a great source of good fats and other nutrients.
Her workout routine is also more varied: “I run, hike, lift weights, do yoga, take long walks and do high-intensity interval training (HIIT).” She works out five to six days a week, and says she’s always ready to get out and do things.
Nicole never made being healthier about losing weight. Instead, she focused on her happiness, health and self-worth. “Being slimmer hasn’t really changed my life – besides finding nice clothes in my size! But being healthier and fitter has dramatically changed my quality of life.” This year she ran her third 21.1km race and completed her first Two Ocean Marathon. She’s gone from a size 18/20 to a 10/12, and can hike up Lion’s Head in less than 40 minutes.
Nicole proudly exclaims that she can do 50 burpees in one training session without “dying”! But, ultimately, the biggest reward is her health: “I’m able to do more, get involved in all kinds of physical activities, and I have a lot more confidence in myself and my abilities.”
Don’t focus on losing weight: “Focus on becoming healthier and the weight will drop off.”
Be kind to yourself: “Unlearning is hard. Changing your entire lifestyle is hard. You will struggle and probably cry. But the rewards are absolutely worth all your hard work.”
Do the emotional work: “Look at your reason for gaining weight. Do the emotional work to feel better and then start moving.”