A dancers’ lifestyle...
There are two things I’ve always had a love of as young as I can remember: dancing and food. So naturally when I was 9 years old, my mum took me to a ballroom dance class and I immediately fell in love. Fast forward years later and I was sucked into the competitive world of dancesport. Any dancer will tell you of the strict regime of being fit and more importantly thin. It's a glamorous world but with huge expectations. For me this wasn’t such an easy task. With PCOS on my side and of course my love of food, I was forever kept on strict diets, almost to the point of starvation to try and keep my weight down, so I could look amazing in my skimpy, diamante encrusted latin dresses. With intense training routines and my diet strictly monitored by all around me, my weight was forcibly kept under control.
Around the age of 19, I decided I had had enough of this life and yearned to be a “normal teenager”. So I made the choice of leaving competitive dance to go back to university, get a degree and have a job like everyone else. You can imagine, for someone who, up to that point, lived and breathed dance, to just quit cold turkey, was quite devastating. I felt lost and went into meltdown mode fast.
Enter food, my dearest old friend…
Meltdown for me meant this cycle: I would eat and eat and eat until I could eat no more. I would wake up and think of the bakery down the street and imagine all those delicious croissants and pastries. I would go to sleep with eaten McDonald’s wrappers and an empty tub of ice cream beside my bed.
Then feeling disgusted with myself, I would try to get on the straight and narrow through countless fad diets (like Atkin’s or Cabbage Soup). That would last all of about 2 weeks before a pizza slice, or cheese burger would be in my hands again. I also stopped all forms of activity, with the justification of “I’ve trained so hard for so many years, I need a break”.
As you can imagine, a body used to very little energy intake combined with intense physical activity, which suddenly received the opposite, I put on weight. Lots of it. Pretty quickly. Fast forward 6 months and I was 55 lbs heavier. That may not sound extreme but before all this started I weighed 110 lbs, so in reality I actually put on half my body weight!! And being a shorty at only 5 ft 2, some people didn't even recognise me.
The funny thing was (ok maybe not funny at all) during the time i was doing all this eating, I would tell everyone I was on a “diet” and was just finding it hard to lose weight. This behaviour developed in my mind as something I labelled “secret eating”. I was being a fraud to the detriment of not only my body, but just as importantly my mind. This was my lowest point.
The Tipping Point...
I couldn’t hide behind my fake smile anymore, I was emotionally and physically drained, unhappy and felt really unhealthy. I didn’t like the choices I was making and where I was heading. I had an absolute negative mindset, and this was impacting on everything in my life.
I like to think some of us going through a challenge may be fortunate enough to experience a “tipping point” or “wake up call”. Its that slap in the face moment that we probably all need but are not all lucky enough to get.
My moment was hardly severe, in fact really it was a typical teenage issue. But in life, we all have to understand each other’s context. A huge issue for one person may be seen as a non-event for a bystander, but I believe we should never dismiss anyone’s problems, no matter how small they seem to us. So, back to me being a teen and heading into my twenties, I still had yet to have a boyfriend, but wanted someone in my life. There was someone I really liked. I tried hard to get his attention, however he didn’t reciprocate, at all. Which at the time, was really devastating to me.
Internally I pinned it down to the fact that I was overweight. But in retrospect the fact that I valued myself so poorly and came across with so many insecurities, would not have helped my cause in the least! Just quietly, I wouldnt of liked me either.
So this was my slap in the face, have you had one of your own?
Small Steps to Big Change.
Once I wanted to change, I knew my journey would have to begin with addressing the elephant in the room. Food and my poor relationship with it. The problem was I really didn't know where to start.
So I did the only thing I knew, which was to revisit the foundations I learnt as a dancer:
- Actions speak way louder than words, so:
- show up everyday and
- make small steps towards your journey.
You will notice this common theme throughout everything we write here at Up to the BEat. Small steps to big change. I believe it, because I’ve lived it. So what was my first small step? Well I did a simple but difficult. I cut the portion size of everything I was eating in half. I would still eat the same things, just half the amount. I still had all the fast food but I would throw away the other half of the pizza, the other half of the burger, the other half of the ice cream tub.
These small accomplishments led to tiny bumps in my motivation and a slow but gradual improvement in my mindset. I started to become positive and believe that I could actually do it. And therein lies the power of small steps to big change. If I would have tried to become a water drinking salad lover overnight, I would have last maybe 1 week. Instead, the slow but gradual journey, allowed my mind to grow in tune with my body. So they worked in harmony, not against each other.
So as time progressed I started to become more informed about how to make better food decisions. I learnt to eat real whole food but not obsess over any particular food group. I started to eat fresh vegetables at every meal and drink water (yes that clear stuff that I think I forgot what it looked like). I always kept an eye on my portion size.
At the same time, I gradually cut out the junk from my diet. Pizza and cake aren't the enemy, but the additives, preservatives and artificial sweeteners like HFCS in fast food are! So I would still have pizza, but I’d choose the best woodfired sourdough kind made in front of my eyes and watch my portion.
So I kept this balance in my life because I always have and always will love food. Anything more would be unrealistic for me. I was starting to feel healthier and accomplished for the first time since I quit my dancing so felt less and less likely to revert to my old ways. But I still felt a hole in my heart...
Shortly after commencing my journey, something great happened. I was invited to fill in for another teacher at a local ballroom dance studio.
Now I know some people believe in luck or serendipity, but I think you can increase your chances of luck by showing up everyday. I believe that invite came because I was getting myself healthy again and was putting out awesome positive energy to all the people around me. They could see it and feel it.
The minute I stepped back onto that dancefloor, I realised how much I missed being active. I had heard about a new fitness craze called Zumba, I took one class and I was hooked. The music, the dance, the energy. So much so, I became an instructor and I credit this for my initiation into the fitness industry.
Moving to music was my happy place (still is everyday) and I found a new direction in my life where I was able to use my dance skills in a different but exciting way.
I would create my own workouts at home, do dance fitness group classes or just go for long walks outside with friends. As long as I did workouts I enjoyed, I knew I would stick to them and as we’ve said above, consistency is key. I started to love the body I was given again by eating well and making it move. This is where the big shift happened, in my head.
Ultimately looking back the most important shift was within my mind. As my mindset shifted from imposter and failure to commitment and accomplishment, this motivated me to take those small steps every day towards my greater goal of change. Was i successful everyday? Of course not. But I had the mindset to get myself through the tough times, because you know what, change is damn hard.
Where I am now?
It’s been about 15 years since this journey of mine started. Besides maintaining my weight at a happy place, I’ve earnt my university degree, become a group fitness instructor, become a certified personal trainer and of course, proud creator of UP to the BEat Fitness!
I have stayed happy, active and most importantly consistently honest with myself. Am I perfect? Of course not! My weight has fluctuated and I have some negative days here and there. But I know I can rely on those foundations that I’ve developed over these past 15 years to get me through the tough times and back on track.
I do workouts everyday that I love (which almost always involve dance and music in some manner) but rest when my body tells me to! I’ve made peace with food and eat a balanced diet with plenty of water but will include the odd cookie and pizza from time to time.
Over the past 15 years, one of the most amazing things that has happened to me was realising how I could use my skills as a dancer. I discovered a passion for fitness, to inspire others around the world to be a healthier and happier version of themselves! That’s something I never saw coming from this whole experience. I still pinch myself that I get to do what I love, everyday.
But the real happy ending to this tale... I met the love of my life through this journey, who I now call my husband and I definitely feel it was because I was finally right within myself in mind and body.