Aim for balance with food: I allow myself a YOLO (you only live once) meal once or twice a week. But the rest of the time I eat clean, enjoying lots of plant foods, fresh produce, grass-fed meats, wholegrains and unsweetened beverages. I try to eat carbs, protein and healthy fats at every meal to keep me full and energised. The one thing I minimise is dairy – it makes my skin break out. I also avoid foods high in sodium, saturated or unhealthy fats, chemicals and preservatives, additives and colours.
Lose the rules: Going on diets or strict meal plans just doesn’t work for me. I always crave the foods I’m missing out on, and once that ‘diet’ is over, I want to binge on the foods I was restricting. Over time, I’ve learned to eat in a balanced way – that way I no longer have crazy cravings for junk food that cause me to binge and feel guilty.
Avoid extremes: When I was prepping for my bikini competition several years ago, I was put on this crazy diet of only eating about 1000-to-1200 calories (around 4, 200kJ) a day while I was working out for four hours a day! As a result I felt tired, irritable, angry and frustrated. My mind was foggy and I couldn’t concentrate. I was labelling food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and felt like I was trapped in food jail. For eight to 10 weeks I endured this crazy plan. I did the bikini competition with my new, lean body, and then I decided to go back to ‘normal-healthy’. But when I tried to introduce a variety of foods back into my diet, like brown rice, quinoa and different types of protein, my body did not like that at all. It acted like a sponge, soaking everything up.
For the next three years, I gradually gained weight. And there was nothing I could do to stop it. During this time, I was still working out really hard for about one hour a day, but my body just didn’t respond. It rebelled. It was seriously frustrating because in my mind, I was doing everything right. Diet and exercise should equal weight loss or at least weight maintenance. But because of the damage and stress that I put my body under during that bikini prep, my hormones became unbalanced and I am still getting back to normal.
Aim for more sleep and less stress: I learned a lot from my bikini comp experience. Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases when you significantly lower your kilojoules, over-exercise and/or don’t have enough sleep. And cortisol plays a role in increasing abdominal fat, more specifically, lower-belly fat. This stress also decreases leptin, the hormone that controls your appetite. So you feel extra hungry all the time and it’s likely that you may crave those carbs and high-fat foods. That’s exactly what happened to me. Getting enough sleep, eating sufficient kilojoules and taking time to de-stress and relax are really important for your waistline and wellbeing.
Treat yourself: When you deprive yourself of cake or ice-cream, you start to think about them all the time and that leads to bingeing. Instead, I allow myself treats – in moderation. And because I know I can have them from time to time, I don’t crave them or eat more of them than I should.
Focus on health, not weight: I rarely step on the scales anymore because I know that my weight does not tell me how strong or fast I am. When I’m at my healthiest, I can tell by how I feel. When I am consistent with my diet and workouts, I am happy, motivated and energised. When I start to feel sluggish and drained, I know that my eating habits may be off and my workouts aren’t as routine – so I address that.
Use the seasons: What I love about the changing seasons is that they allow me to prepare myself for fresh beginnings four times a year. So with each season I see a chance to refocus and find a new rhythm and routine to optimise my health goals. I also try to rediscover delicious seasonal flavours to keep my clean-eating habits on track.
Keep exercise simple: You don’t need big shiny equipment to work out. Simply walking or taking the stairs can help you lose weight and maintain a healthy body. There are also endless exercises you can perform at home to sculpt your best body. For my POP Pilates exercise I just use a yoga mat to cushion my body against the floor. Then all the exercises use my own body weight to stay fit. If you’re not enjoying your exercise routine, try something else. Exercise should never be a chore – it should be something you always look forward to and then you don’t want to skip it. You shouldn’t have to work for hours a day to enjoy results. When I started combining HIIT with POP Pilates in my new PIIT (Pilates intense interval training) program my body strengthened and increased endurance like never before – and it’s only 28 minutes a day!
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