The IIFYM Diet – My Review

I’d noticed a hashtag floating around on social media, and I was curious what it stood for. IIFYM is short for ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (macronutrients), also known as flexible dieting. The concept is you have daily targets for fat, protein and carbohydrate intake based on your goal – whether it be weight loss, weight gain or muscle gain. There’s less focus on the actual food you eat (hence the flexible part) as long as you strictly adhere to those numbers, and an overall daily calorie intake. 

The diet was appealing for a few reasons. I’d been influenced by programs like Eat to Perform, which has a philosophy of ‘Athletes don’t starve themselves – neither should you.’ I’m not an athlete but I’m active, and in particular I wanted adequate fuel for my weekly 10K run. While I’d gotten great weight loss results with the 5:2 Diet (a form of intermittent fasting), it was a struggle to lift weights or run the next morning – essentially leaving me with indoor cycling. Combined with the busy Christmas period, it became near impossible to schedule a fast day that fit with my gym routine and end of year commitments.

In all honesty, the photos of athletic women talking about 1800 calorie a day diets were pretty influential too. Having largely restricted myself to 1200 cals/day for the past five years or so (a number I pulled from Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation, without ever doing the program), I was curious whether I too could eat that much and still lose weight. 

My guiding principles for any diet are you should be eating a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, quality protein, whole grains, nuts and seeds (unless allergy prevents you). I’m lactose intolerant but dairy is also good source of nutrients. In that sense, flexible eating seemed to tick a lot of boxes. I could eat whatever I wanted and enjoy a higher calorie intake, provided I balanced the carbohydrates, fats and protein in my foods. In mid-January this year, I decided to give IIFYM a go!

calculating my macros

Typically I’d see a professional before embarking on a new diet, but IIFYM was hardly drastic – I was just going to increase how much I ate and ramp up the protein. After spending some time researching macronutrient calculators, I decided on this one from HealthyEater because it factored in age, gender, height, weight and different goals with a good amount of detail. There are some scholarly references below it, but the website is essentially one guy.

My data of 31 years old, female, 162cm (5′ 3″), 63kg (138 pounds) in “lose” mode (20% calorie deficit) resulted in this:

  • Sedentary (basic day): 1250 cals, 124g carbs, 114g protein, 35g fat
  • Light Activity (200-400 calories female): 1450 cals, 158g C, 114g P, 40g F
  • Moderate Activity (400-650 cals): 1650 cals, 193g C, 114g P, 46g F
  • Very active (650 cals +): 1800 cals, 228g C, 114g P, 51g F

I typically burn 130 calories in a yoga class, 250 in BodyPump (weights class), 350 in RPM (indoor cycling), 400 in BodyAttack (cardio) and 650 cals on a 10K run. I burn an extra 200 daily walking to and from the gym. In essence, most days are ‘moderate activity’ but running or my Super Saturday of BodyAttack and BodyBalance were ‘very active.’ Explains why I was always ravenous on a Saturday evening! 

I was already tracking my calories using MyFitnessPal, so that was nothing knew although anyone trying this diet who hasn’t kept a food diary before might find the task onerous at first. Below are my notes from from day one to today, two months later.

week one

Day 1

I struggled to hit 100g of protein as my leftovers of stuffed capsicums only had 8g protein in total. I ate half a Clif Builder’s Bar (10g protein), four tablespoons of PB2 (10g), and a protein shake (22g). Made it to 105g for the day, when I rarely have more than 80g! I was very full. I couldn’t believe how much I was eating. Today’s exercise: BodyPump and yoga, plus walking (approx. 500 cals).

Day 2

I’d logged my food for the day the night before to ensure I’d hit my targets. Unfortunately, I woke up feeling constipated and I had a breakfast date to go to. It was a hot day too. I skipped my usual mushrooms on sourdough and matcha latte for the smoothie bowl. While I had to guess the calories and macros, ingredients included avocado and peanut butter which used almost my entire daily fat allowance. 

I changed my planned meals to stay on track and went to work. I felt really drowsy but it may have been the humidity than overdosing on protein. I got home, had dinner then before bed realised I hadn’t had my textured vegetable protein (TVP) snack or protein shake! I consumed 46g of protein  at 10pm, and my fat intake for the day was 55g, 20g over! I was missing chocolate, nuts and oatmeal. And it was only day two! I cooked lupin flakes to add to tomorrow’s lunch. I was starting to realise why body builders eat all the time. 

Day 3

My first day of IIFYM without any events or leftovers to use up, yay! I had a great night’s sleep and felt challenged but strong at my 6am gym class. I was still only eating when I was hungry, but my tummy was rumbling much less than I was used too. A side effect so far? A bit of unpleasant gas. 

Day 4

Today was going to be challenging. I had already booked into a beer event that night and would be likely having dinner out. I allowed for a burger and two pints, then built the rest of my day’s meals around that. Lupin oatmeal with apple and walnuts, Asian tofu salad, a protein shake – and I’m hitting 105g protein! My first estimate for fat came in 30g too, the first time it was below my goal. The beer event turned out to be a brilliant night, and while I consumed too many overall calories – I met my macros. I drank more than I’d planned for and couldn’t resist the beer nuts, but it was somewhat offset by an extra 20 minutes walking on top of that day’s workout (RPM and CXWorx), putting me into the ‘very active’ allowance of a bonus 200 calories! I could get used to this.

Day 6

My biggest challenge yet… a daytime house party. I definitely felt like drinking. I had sour beer and a bunch of snacks, but somehow I didn’t blow my macros too badly. I didn’t quite meet my protein goal and I was over my calories limit by 200 or so. But in the scheme of a day’s drinking – it was minimal damage! It helped the hostess had vegetable sticks and low calorie dips like salsa, and the crackers were healthy, wholegrain ones too. 

Day 7

This was the first day I couldn’t eat enough. I felt so full. I almost wished for a fast day, just to give my stomach a rest and feel empty for a while. I managed to eat 1400 cals when aiming for 1600 as I’d done BodyPump, yoga and 60 minutes of walking. I was drinking a lot of water but still felt thirsty all day. I drank more than three litres (100 fl. oz) plus tea that day. I was worried about what would happen when I stepped on the scales. 

Week 2

Day 8

It was rest day! This was definitely the most challenging day to hit my protein goal without blowing other macros, and stay under my 1250 calorie limit. It took careful calculations, but as long as I prepared in advance and all my favourite high protein, low carb foods, I could do it. I had to keep urinating today – I wondered if body was holding onto fluid yesterday for some reason? My stomach and body were feeling much better, I wasn’t as full as previous days. I decided I’d weigh myself the next morning, as try to avoid the scales when I’m feeling down. I’d almost gone through an entire bag of lupin flakes in a week! Being rest day, I finally had some time to do solid meal preparation too – I made a warm broccoli salad (there’s 5g of protein in half a broccoli head!) and a tempeh vegetable curry. I’ve been missing big, vegetable packed dishes. 

Day 9

I put my gym clothes on and prepared to weigh myself. My pants felt tight around the waistband and I wasn’t feeling optimistic. I’d been eating so much more than normal. I felt this had been a bad idea. I waited for the numbers to show… I’d dropped 0.5kg! I was 62.2kg! I couldn’t believe it! I was eating so much food, I was never hungry and I’d lost weight. Hallelujah, church of IIFYM!

That day, I even balanced my macros in anticipation of eating gnocchi at an Italian restaurant that night. Except the restaurant messed up my dish, telling me the white sauce was ‘definitely’ vegan. A few mouthfuls, and I knew it was cheese. I felt sick. I was worried about the effects. I didn’t feel like eating afterwards and for the first time in 10 days, I didn’t hit my protein goal (only 78g). I decided to persist with flexible dieting for two straight weeks.

Day 11

I’d been hungry on day 10, probably because I didn’t eat much after my dinner time dairy encounter. I was craving salads and I made a huge one – three quarters of a can of lentils contains 12g of protein for only 150 cals. Add some roast pumpkin, leafy greens and cherry tomatoes – it was huge! But my lunch made up only a fraction of my overall food intake.  Crisis struck when I forgot to take protein bar to work (Clif’s Builders Bar contains 22g!). Soy yogurt and peaches kept me full until dinner time but again, I had to eat 20g of protein before bed to reach my target. I’ve stopped waking up hungry. In fact, I’m rarely hungry in the truly empty way I’d felt during fasting or after a big morning workout. I still miss my daily handful of nuts, but it’s been impossible to include those without blowing my fat or overall calorie limit. Need to work on my macros better to incorporate them – they’re too healthy to exclude in your diet!

Day 13

I FELT SO STRONG! I thought I’d picked up the wrong weights in my Pump class, I was lifting them so easily! Don’t get me wrong, I was cooked by the end of it. But wow, I felt good! I was beginning to think this ‘eat to perform’ and ‘fuel your workout’ thing was a winner.

Day 14

I wanted chocolate. I wanted nuts! But a 1/4 cup serve of almonds contains 14g of fat when my daily allowance was about 40g. Even 1tbsp of flaxmeal contains 3g of fat! And who knew my nightly square of 90% Lindt dark chocolate had 6g? Sure, they were all healthy fats. But avocado, nuts and chocolate were not going to happen in the same day on this diet.

Week 3

Day 16

I blew my calorie limit at an function. I was having so much fun, I stuck around for an extra glass of wine… and when I found out the gelato was chocolate AND vegan, I wasn’t going to miss that chance! Again, I wasn’t drastically over my calories. It’s scary how gelato is only 90 cals or so, low-ish fat and then just pure sugar. 

Day 17

I was missing fats so much! I wanted a big avocado fix and a raw ball – I planned to have both in the morning (pre and post-workout) and have a low-fat, high-protein tofu quiche for lunch. I was lovely my afternoon tea of soy yogurt (with 2tbsp of lupin flakes!). Just 80 cals and 8g of protein, and lots of healthy bacteria. 

I had another event that night, but I was grateful for a vegetarian protein option of Indian chickpea curry. Between my RPM class, CX Worx (core work) and walking, I’d burnt more than 650 cals so I increased my daily calorie intake to 1800. Normally I would’ve freaked out at eating so much, but I felt reassured knowing I was on target. My weight had unfortunately gone back up to 62.6kg, making me think the precious half a kilo loss was a fluke. I considered returning to fasting, but I want to see what results I could get after a month. I was eating so much, it was impressive I hadn’t gained any weigh! 

Day 18

A day later, my weight back was back to 62.2kg. Thank goodness! I may have been imaging, but I thought my arms looks just ever so slightly more toned. My skin, however, had broken out. I made a note to eat more vegetables, even though my stomach was full from protein all the time!

week four

Day 21

I was still aiming for 114g protein each day and mostly reaching it, now that I’d figured out my rough daily eating plan (lots of tofu, legumes, greens, daily protein powder and lupin flakes). I figured my breakout must’ve been caused by the desserts (refined sugar) which I never normally have. However, I thought my stomach may be showing the slightest hint of definition, despite drinking on the weekend and a bit of late night snacking (thanks shift work) – but all within my macro and calorie limits.

Day 23

Maybe it was the previous day’s stand up paddle board yoga class, but I swore my abs were changing, very very slightly. I felt incredibly strong during my BodyPump class, and have sustained my heavier weights for triceps. I wasn’t being as strict with my macros as the first fortnight where I gave myself just 2-5g leeway. Today I was 20g over for carbs but still achieving about 110g protein daily. I decided to give IIFYM a full month.

one month in

After four weeks of trying IIFYM, I was largely enjoying it. I was hungry before meals but not constantly feeling underfed like I was with a 1200 calorie limit. I used to eat lunch then grab my afternoon snack 90 minutes later. Not so with IIFYM! I wasn’t sure if it was the protein or simply eating more. I’d had some slight weight loss (0.5kg/1 lb) but gained a little bit of definition on my quads, arms and abs. I took some photos but it’s so slight, I’ll keep them on my own camera reel. I figured I’d stick with IIFYM for another month, despite going through protein powder and protein bars like crazy. 

2nd month

The first two weeks were filled with birthday celebrations and visitors, and my macros largely went off the rail. I still exercised daily and hit my protein target, but I exceeded calorie and fat limits. The following two weeks were messy too – I worked long and irregular hours before taking a five day holiday interstate to Sydney and didn’t log my food at all (nor the cocktails). But I defaulted to my usual vacation strategy – be active, eat only when hungry and enjoy yourself – with minimal damage (I came back weighing 62.5kg). I returned to the gym and resumed eating my prescribed macros. And now, here I am after eights weeks of very flexible dieting. Here are my reflections: 

Pros 

  • I thought I’d have to give up bread and banish all other carbs from my diet. But the HealthyEater formula above was actually quite generous, and I realised I’d unknowingly been following a low carb diet for years already. I was relieved I could still enjoy oatmeal and my post-workout weekend brunch of avocado on toast! 
  • I was rarely hungry. As mentioned, I wouldn’t eat lunch or dinner until my tummy rumbled. But I felt satiated for hours and could often forgo my afternoon snack of fruit and yogurt, because I was still so full. I did often eat later at night though, which I didn’t like.
  • There were several workouts, weight training especially, where I felt stronger. I could push myself harder. Running wasn’t easy, but it was at times easier than I was used to. 
  • I never felt socially deprived, as I could attend dinners or events and not limit myself to salads or other low-carb options. 
  • I could still drink alcohol (this may be a con!). While I don’t drink often, the nights where I wanted a glass or two of wine or drank a few pints of cider at an event – it was no problem if I’d met the activity level! 
  • The changes to my diet weren’t drastic, in that I still bought the same foods at the grocery store and farmers market. However I did buy a lot more protein and protein products each week (see cons, below).
  • I lost a little bit of weight (0.5kg/1.1 lbs) and saw some very slight improvements in toning in my arms, abs and legs. Whether this can be attributed specifically to my macro formula, eating 50% more protein or simply eating more calories, I’m not sure. I certainly feel like a larger but stronger person overall, compared to the peak of my fasting days.  

Cons

  • You need to keep a meticulous food diary, and pre-planning my meals was essential on lower activity days. It was frustrating when I couldn’t balance my macros for the day, but for example I had high-carb leftovers that needed eating or a brunch date with limited options.
  • It was a daily struggle to get enough protein and keep my fats down. I had to eliminate my daily treat of dark chocolate in order to have a tablespoon of nuts or seeds, and my paper thin slices of avocado were depressing. I eventually managed to balance these better, but restricting such healthy foods didn’t feel right.
  • Similarly, I was determined to eat real, whole foods wherever possible but it was tough. My occasional Clif Builder’s Bar became an almost daily snack on top of a protein shake. I attempted to make a TVP porridge (it was vile) and if it wasn’t for lupin flakes, I would’ve struggled to meet the targets on a mostly vegan diet. This wouldn’t be an issue for anyone eating eggs or meat, as even a small can of tuna would get you 17g of protein for under 100 calories, with zero carbs and little fat too. 
  • I also felt my fruit and vegetable intake was lower because there simply wasn’t room in my stomach. On 1200 cals/day, I’d become skilled at eating high volume, low calorie foods (hello zucchini) to feel full. I just couldn’t fit an entire carrot, tomato and roast pumpkin as well as 200g of tofu or a can of beans – so the vegetables were cut back.
  • I ate all the time. I packed snacks and often realised I’d forgotten to have that protein shake or yogurt as I’d gotten busy and my tummy didn’t rumble. Not a bad thing, but at times I actually longed to feel that hollow, deep sense of hunger I got during fasting. 
  • What I really disliked what that this diet doesn’t provide any guidance on sugar (in fact, on any actual nutrition). I try to limit my sugar intake to naturally occurring ones such as fruit, and rarely use honey or maple syrup. But unfortunately, sugar is a low fat ingredient, and I found myself using it as a shortcut in some recipes (such as honey in my lupin mug cake) as it didn’t blow my fat content. Dried fruit too was an easy but risky way of meeting my carb intake – although it was usually limited to sprinkling raisins on my oatmeal (and I’d forgo them on a low activity days).
  • This diet also became quite expensive. I was eating more than double my usual amounts of yogurt and tofu, plus going through protein powder like crazy. Protein bars weren’t cheap either, but maybe I’d been previously underspending on groceries. 
  • Did I mention I had to restrict avocado, nuts and dark chocolate but wine and gelato weren’t macro-speaking a problem? 

What helped

As a vegetarian (and dairy-free), the biggest struggle was hitting my protein target without blowing my carb or fat limit. Here are a few things that helped me get over the line: 

  • Protein powder: For 100 calories, I get 22g of pure pea protein. My favourite brand is The Healthy Chef’s vanilla protein powder with nothing nasty or stomach upsetting. I had it in smoothies, added it to turmeric lattes and made the occasional late night protein mug cake.
  • Lupin flakes: Possibly my favourite health food discovery of 2017! Lupins, from the legume family, are high protein, low carb, low fat and packed with fibre! Four tablespoons contains 16g of protein for 130 calories. It’s affordable too! Read more in Five Ways with Lupin Flakes
  • PB2: I’ve been a fan of this low fat, low calorie peanut butter substitute for years. It’s great on toast or crackers, in a satay sauce or (confession) just off the spoon. A 2 tbsp serve contains 50 calories and 5g of protein. Read more in My Favourite Protein Products.
  • TVP: Textured vegetable protein may not sound attractive, but it’s a very affordable and easy meat substitute. It works well in any dish that uses mince meat, such as lasagna, burritos, spaghetti or meatballs. A 1/4 cup serve contains 80 calories, 12g of protein and almost zero fat or carbs. It’s only about $5/kg too from bulk food stores and still good value from iHerb
  • Nutritional yeast: The most unappealing name for a food item, but give your dishes a cheesy but vegan flavour with 1tbsp of this (20 calories, 2g protein and a host of vitamins, including 40% of your vitamin B12 intake). The small amounts of protein add up! 

will i continue?

There are some aspects of IIFYM I want to continue. It’s helped me to eat more so I have the energy to work harder at the gym, and therefore get better results. But I disliked my reliance on processed protein to hit my daily quota, and I longed to just have a rich pumpkin soup for lunch with (gasp) no added protein. If you read last week’s post 15 Ways to Measure Your Health, you’ll know I planned to have a body composition test to analyse my slightly heavier, tighter clothed self. And guess what? Since my last assessment at the naturopath about 15 months ago, I’ve gained 2.5kg (5.5lbs) of weight overall but wait for it – I’ve lost 2.8kg (5.2lbs) of body fat and gained 5.5kg (12lbs) of muscle! I’m going to be still hitting the gym at 90, hoorah! 

But the main reason I’m hitting pause on flexible dieting? My naturopath, who I’ve seen for years and is continually studying, cautioned me against a high protein diet. He said the latest evidence in tests of worms, rats and other animals is that while a high protein diet makes you leaner – it can cut your life expectancy by 30 per cent (which equates to 30 years for humans!). You may look better, but you won’t live as long. It’s the last thing I want my healthy, active life to achieve. So for now, avocado and nuts are back on the menu and I’ll stick with my daily protein shake. I’m even going to eat a bit more each day (1400 cals), and I’ll eat a lot more when I run 10K (1600 – 1800 cals). But the processed bars and late night lupin mug cakes can go. It’s timely, as I’m about to have surgery on my finger that will unfortunately keep me away from the gym for a few weeks. Rather than worry about weight gain, losing fitness or counting carbs – I’m simply going to give my mind and body the best recovery it can get. Sleep, vitamins and glorious walks by the beach!

QUESTION: Tell me about a diet strategy you tried – what was it, and what were the results? 

15 Ways To Measure Your Health

I’ve been beating myself up over my weight lately. I’m only 2.5 kilograms over what I feel my ‘ideal’ weight is (where I feel lean but strong) but damn, it’s like I’m carrying a layer of Jell-O around my stomach. A trip to China (hello noodles), Christmas and last month’s birthday celebrations have been a series of wonderful but unfortunate events for my waistline. I’m hoping (okay, praying) that the weight gain is actually muscle thanks to hill running, heavier weights and increased protein intake. I plan to book in for my annual body composition assessment in coming weeks, but in the interim I’ve been reflecting on other ways to measure my health. 

For example, I can recall a time when I was a few kilograms lighter but I was sleep deprived, my skin was inflamed and my nails were constantly breaking. I also remember a time when I had a smaller build but I was injured, almost anaemic and my emotions were all over the place. A friend of mine has bemoaned her apparent recent weight gain but her energy levels and vitality are the best I’ve seen in years. Her face no longer looks drained. 

Below are 15 ways to measure your health, both inside and outside. I’m not saying to keep a diary of each of them, but by scanning through old photos or reflecting on recent months you may remember a time you felt your strongest, prepped meals brimming with fresh produce or simply slept through the night. Regardless, this list may just make you realise you’re doing better health-wise now than you think.

1. Weight

I’m putting this at the top of the list to get it out the way. Weight is a big part of your health, although it’s by no means everything. Ideal weight ranges differ based on your gender, ethnicity and stage of life. However, occasionally standing on the scales (or trying on those old jeans or a particular dress) can indicate whether you’re losing, gaining or maintaining weight. Increasing your muscle mass will lead to weight gain (it’s heavier than fat), as will water retention (hello, flying) and some medications. Your weight is just one measure of health, but it’s an easy one to track.

2. Waist

A better indication than weight perhaps, but still not flawless, is your waistline. Measuring your waist (and wrists if you’re really keen) is an effortless way to check your risk of obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. I use the tape measure from my sewing kit to keep an eye on my waistline (currently 67 centimetres/ 26 inches). The Australian government guidelines are:

  • For men, have a waistline below 94cm (37 inches)
  • For women, below 80cm (31.5 inches)

3. Blood pressure/cholesterol/blood glucose

Unless you or a relative is a nurse, it’s unlikely you can assess these in your own home. However you can head to a pharmacy or local doctor to get them tested! Similar to your waist measurements, these tests help identify your risk of developing certain diseases. I’m able to get a free test each year through my private health insurance, but some work places also offer free testing. Ideally, your assessor will make recommendations (such as diet or lifestyle changes) based on your results if needed. 

4. Diet

A sign that I’m having a hectic week? I’m eating baked beans on toast, buying sushi and drinking Diet Coke. When do I feel at my best? Giant salads, stir-fries, fresh fruit and wholesome dinners brimming with vegetables. Of course, diet is linked to time – getting to a grocery store then also preparation – but setting aside an hour each week to roast some vegetables or make a curry will save hours during the week! If I’m having two serves of fruit, a giant plate of vegetables and avoid processed foods each day, I’m happy. 

5. In the bathroom

If you’re regularly running to the bathroom or feeling backed up – it’s not a great sign for health. There are plenty of charts on the Internet indicating what your toilet business should look like (and checking the colour of your urine will show how hydrated you are). Normal will differ from person to person, but if your bathroom habits in line with medical guidelines – give yourself a healthy high five! 

6. Skin

I’m no dermatologist or beautician – but my skin will tell you whether I’m refreshed, sleep deprived or eating too many store granola bars. I can recall a particularly stressful time in my life where I was a few kilograms lighter than now, but my face was inflamed and infected. It took a lot of courage to walk five minutes down the road without make-up to visit a beautician, who was shocked when she saw me (I haven’t gone back). When I was seriously overweight, I had acne as well. My skin isn’t flawless now but reducing stress, eating of a variety of fresh foods and having flaxseed each day have done a lot more than that once-off facial. 

7. Nails

In recent months, I’ve noticed my nails are much stronger than they used to be. They used to flake and break almost daily but the only change I can think of is that I’m actively eating more protein and trying to reduce stress. I suspect my calorie restriction (which resulted in successful weight loss) had a side-effect of inadequate nutrient which manifested in poor skin and nails. You could probably include hair in this category too – is it strong and shiny or dull and breaking? My hairdresser has noticed an improvement in my hair too. 

8. Immunity

If you’ve ever been seriously ill or injured, you probably didn’t care about how your jeans were fitting. You wanted to recover, be pain-free, regain strength and mobility. On a lesser note, you may have had times where you were just plagued by cold, flu and infections or generally felt rundown. But perhaps a virus went through your office and you escaped it? Or you’ve been injury free for 12 months! Immunity and resilience are a sure sign your health’s on track.

9. Sleep

How much sleep are you getting and how good is it? My New Years’ resolution in 2017 was to get seven hours, seven days a week. It didn’t always happen (and sorry to any parents reading this) but I try to go to bed at least seven hours before my alarm. A good nights’ sleep changes everything and I’ve invested in good quality sheets, duvets and pillows to try make that happen. I’ve also promised myself ‘don’t fight the tired’ – if my eyelids are drooping, abandon the task and go to bed. Yes, that’s why this blog post is late and there are piles of laundry strewn across my apartment. 

10. Energy

Closely linked to sleep, but worthy of its own category. Do you feel charged up or lethargic? Alert or hazy? Another measure: how often do you grab chocolate at 3pm? Again, parents and shift workers are likely to have tough days. The time I crawled back into bed after a Spin class (sweaty shorts and all) and slept for two hours or nearly concussed myself on my office keyboard are not good indicators. But I feel most energised when I’m fuelled by adequate sleep, good nutrition and exercise. 

11. Strength

If you lift weights, strength is an easy measure of health to track. I’m definitely lifting the heaviest weights of my life (although nothing compared to CrossFitters). Maybe you’re doing push ups on your toes, lifting groceries more easily or carrying a child for longer? Can you squeeze harder or lift higher in Pilates? If you’re in any way stronger than you used to be, congratulate yourself! 

12. Endurance

For runners and cyclists, endurance is another aspect of health that’s easy to track. I’m running 10K weekly post-injury and am increasing the intensity by including more inclines. You may be a regular walker and noticed you’re less puffed or walking for longer than when you first started. Your dance class might leave you less exerted, or you’ve doubled your treadmill time. Your ability to do an activity has improved, and therefore so has your health! 

13. Flexibility

This is perhaps my most valued measure of health. One of the main reasons I hit the gym is to future-proof my body against ageing. I want not just strength and endurance now, but I want to be agile and mobile in my old age. I did yoga yesterday for the first time in two weeks and was shocked when I attempted a deep Hindi squat – my hips refused to lower or loosen at all. Whether you’re a yogi, do Tai Chi or just occasionally stretch, are you gliding or grimacing? 

14. Stress

I could dedicate an entire post or even a blog to stress, but I’m not qualified or overly passionate on the topic. We’ve all had times in our lives where we’re waking during the night, running on adrenaline or feel sick to the core. It could be a specific problem – money, relationships or health – or sometimes it’s simply a build up of being busy. No task is stressful on its own, but the quantity can seem overwhelming. My solution is having a ‘GSD’ (get sh*t done) day, where I power through every essential or irritating errand on my to-do list. Otherwise, I generally try to reduce stress by making time for things that I know calm me – getting my nails done, baking, spraying a scent or even just breathing while a cup of tea brews. There will be calm and chaotic flows in life – but you’re no doubt in better health during the more restorative times. 

15. Emotions

This is related to stress, but I think it’s worthy of its own category. You may not be stressed, but how often do you feel peaceful or joyous? Are you more confident, less anxious or feeling better connected to people or communities around you? Can you recall the last time your face hurt from laughing so hard? Are you proud of yourself? Sure, I want those extra kilos to leave my body. But I haven’t seen a counsellor for two years, my skin is no longer a horror movie and I hiked a mountain last year with the man I love. That sounds pretty healthy to me, although I’m still going to have my annual health check – because while I know my body, I don’t have a medical degree. It’s all about balance! 

QUESTION: How do you measure your health? 

Overcoming an Injury

It’s been six years since I suffered a serious sports injury. It was completely self-inflicted – in my quest to lose weight, I was exercising 10 to 12 days straight without a break and doing minimal yoga or stretching. I was typically doing two gym classes a day, running 10 kilometres weekly and walking anywhere I could to burn extra calories. My body was constantly sore which I took as a sign I was working hard. 

It’s little surprise that after increasingly upping the intensity and frequency of my workouts, my body began to protest. I rolled my ankle in a boxing class, I was waking during the night with restless legs and eventually, my right knee buckled. You can read the full story in The Dangers of Overtraining, but essentially I was left limping, depressed and completely depleted. I finally accepted I needed help. 

The months that followed were painful, frustrating and expensive. I was in such denial about my injury, it took two attempts to address the problem as I rushed my recovery. The second time round however, I was determined to get stronger and rebuild my fitness. There were several things during my recovery that helped me progress and stay positive. Here’s how I overcame my injury: 

Initial assessment

The first step was booking a physiotherapist appointment. She identified my knee pain as coming from a tight ilitibiol band. The ‘IT band’ runs along the outside of the thigh, connecting your butt to your knee. IT Band Syndrome is a common injury among runners, especially from overuse. I was actually relieved to get a diagnosis. I had private health cover, so appointments only cost me around $40 or so after rebate. I got massages on my leg every few days and felt relief almost immediately. I also learnt to use a foam roller to loosen my IT band, and the physio even did some acupuncture. She told me to take it easy at the gym, so I kept going daily but just used lighter weights.

Changing footwear

I also saw a podiatrist based in the physiotherapy complex, who, identified I had flat feet and overpronated my foot – meaning it rolled inward when I walked and put additional stress on my knee when running. I got custom-made orthotics, which set me back around $400-500. Thankfully, I again got a part rebate through private health insurance. On the podiatrist’s recommendation, I also changed my sneakers to Asics’ Nimbus range, which is designed for runners and has a neutral sole (so would fit my orthotics). While orthotics felt strange at first, my feet quickly adapted to the new support and cushioning. I even started running again, although I did one minute of jogging and one minute of walking which I could sustain for 7km. Believing I was cured after new shoes and a few weeks of physiotherapy, I quickly increased intensity on everything. 

Don’t rush recovery

My symptoms rapidly returned. I tried running after work one day and couldn’t even do 2km before I limped home. The outside of my knee again felt like it had a burning gumball inside it. I was upset, angry and refused to do anything that involved eating or drink because I had no way to burn off the calories. Apart from my morning oatmeal, I wasn’t eating any carbs for fear of weight gain. I’d invested so much time and money in trying to fix the issue which made my failure all the more frustrating. At this point, I knew my injury was serious and needed more than massages. 

Second assessment

I saw a different physiotherapist, recommended by a friend of my boyfriend’s who’d also had knee problems. My new physio (Phil at Energise Physiotherapy) said if he couldn’t fix my knee after three appointments, he’d refer me to a specialist. I appreciated the honest and upfront approach. I had more massages, was given some stretches and exercises to try strengthen supporting muscles and felt optimistic but ultimately, I didn’t recover as much as either of us would’ve liked. True to his word, Phil referred me to a specialist sports doctor. 

Seeing a specialist

The sports doctor didn’t mess around. He did a quick assessment, poking my knee and asking how painful it was. He recommended I stop all exercise immediately apart from brisk walking – he was the first professional to ask how I felt about that. I was petrified. If I didn’t cry during that appointment, my eyes certainly filled up with tears. He then recommended I get a cortisone injection to help reduce the inflammation and kickstart recovery.

Cortisone injections

I was warned that cortisone is a semi-serious treatment, with injections limited to three per year. I did research online about the procedure – there was a lot of discussion about side effects, how effective the treatment was and the risks. But I trusted my doctor and having had little results with less invasive options, I went ahead. From memory, it cost around $300 which was almost as painful as the actual injection.

Getting a cortisone injection is like shooting adrenaline directly into your body. I hate needles and having one go into the side of my knee was awful. I was told to limit movement for 24 hours to maximise the drug’s effectiveness but I should otherwise feel an improvement within a few days. I went to work, I went to an end-of-year function, I went out for Chinese food after the function and then rested later that night. 

Guess what? The injection didn’t work. My knee was in agony (a cortisone ‘flare up’ I later learnt) and when that subsided, the same old pain remained. I had a follow-up appointment with the specialist who arranged for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to pinpoint the exact problem area.

MRI scan

If you haven’t had an MRI, it resembles something from a 1950s sci-fi movie. Think a tiled room with a tunnel-like machine in the middle of it. You’ll lay on a bed, be given headphones and the body part being scanned will be wedged into place with cushions or foam. You’ll be gently slid into the machine and then everyone leaves the room. For the next 30 minutes, you’ll hear loud, unsettling sounds akin to an electronic jackhammer, but with varying pitches. You absolutely cannot move or the scan will need to be redone. My experience was uncomfortable but overall, not too bad apart from the $700 price tag. I got about half back from Medicare. 

Just three weeks after my first cortisone injection, I had a second one. I began crying as soon as I walked into the room, knowing how vital it was this one worked. If not, would surgery help me? The man administering the injection saw how upset I was and asked if I had a competition or event coming up. “No,” I told him. “I just really want to exercise again.” He was puzzled. The injection was extremely painful and all I could do was wipe away tears. 

I was determined this second injection would be the last. I’d stocked my fridge, my sister drove me to and from the appointment, and for the next 48 hours I didn’t move. When I did get up from the couch to go to the bathroom or make some food, I winced. At the time, I described my knee as feeling like a burning hot chopstick had been driven into the side of it. Every time I moved, it burned. I discovered insomnia was a side effect of cortisone too. But eventually, the pain subsided and even better – my knee finally felt relief.  

Support & strengthen

I wasn’t going to mess up my recovery the second time. I followed everything the doctor recommended and returned to physio, diligently doing every exercise he’d prescribed to strengthen supporting muscles. I’d been so worried about gaining weight by not exercising – but I actually found I wasn’t constantly hungry like I was when training. I was surprised how little food my body needed when I was only going to the bus stop and my desk job. 

I’d already changed my footwear and gotten custom made orthotics which had made a huge difference. I bought a foam roller and used it almost daily to massage my IT band at home, which was extremely painful but effective. I hadn’t worn heels in months, but I bought some semi-wedge shoes I hoped to wear for special occasions. 

Gentle exercise

My permitted exercises were walking and light activities that didn’t involve my knee. That didn’t leave me with a lot of options, but I developed a newfound love for power-walking on flat ground. In my supportive sneakers, I’d walk as fast as I could around a lake for an hour. Just months before, I would’ve deemed the exercise wasn’t worth my time – burning a measly 200 calories. But now, it felt like liberation and victory. I was out of the house, I could wear my gym gear and I could get my heart rate up without pain. I was also doing basic exercises such as clam shells and squats against a wall to try strengthen my glutes. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. 

Personal trainer 

While I was grateful to be pain-free, my newfound passion for walking and at-home exercises quickly waned. I wanted to do more and felt my body could handle it – but I was too afraid to try anything else on my own. By chance, I met a personal trainer who’d had the same injury as me (although her’s wasn’t from overtraining). I had PT sessions with Sharon from Uplifting Wellness once a week, and I was surprised how much I could do at a gym without using my knee. She showed me low-impact options such as the cross-trainer (elliptical machine) and seated leg press machine, which would help strengthen my glutes. I did body weight exercises, used free weights and other equipment like kettlebells, fitballs and TRX suspension. 

I really encourage anyone with an injury to consider a personal trainer. On top of the physical benefits, having a positive, qualified professional guide my recovery was invaluable. Sharon helped me focus on what I could do, referring to my ‘stronger leg’ rather than my ‘injured’ leg. It was empowering to learn new things at the gym and while my lower body activity was limited, my upper body became the strongest it had ever been! Having a coach truly helped me develop and maintain a positive mindset. 

Slowly increase intensity 

It felt agonisingly slow, but in coming months I increased the intensity of my workouts. For example, I returned to BodyPump but did the squat and lunge tracks without any weights. I didn’t care I wasn’t working out as hard before – I was simply grateful to be back in group fitness classes. Around this time, I rediscovered my passion for the indoor cycling class RPM. I was able to get a cardio fix with far less impact than running. 

I started doing one of my all time favourite classes BodyAttack again, although initially I marched instead of jogging and I did slow, body-weight lunges instead of the plyometric kind. I even returned to running, but with extreme caution. I would alternate between jogging and walking, and slowly increased the distance I ran. My first non-stop, one-kilometre jog felt like a bigger achievement than the 12K City to Surf I’d done two years prior. My boyfriend was extremely patient and supportive throughout this time, and I recall how happy I was when we ran 4K non-stop together (of course, he could’ve run much further). Little by little, I slowly returned to where I’d been been when I was forced to stop exercising. It probably took me around 18 months to fully recover from my injury, whereby I could comfortably run 7K – although this probably would’ve been quicker if I could’ve afforded more coaching. 

Ongoing management

Six years on, I still see my physio every couple of months – not because I’m in pain, but to prevent it. I’ve fully returned to my fitness routine and feel even stronger than before. I lift heavier weights, incorporate functional training like CXWorx, and I do a lot more yoga to loosen my muscles – especially my hips. I force myself to rest one day a week (even though I still don’t usually want to). I still hate walking downstairs as this one of the main triggers of pain when I had my injury. This is still true of recent hiking trips in Italy and China, when despite the exertion, I preferred going upstairs! 

New mindset

I still push myself physically almost daily but the difference is I no longer work through pain. If I set off for a 10K run and feel a tinge in my knee at 6K, I’ll stretch, try again, but stop if the pain persists. Particularly if I’m tired, my form slackens and my IT band inevitably gets a little tight. I massage it, stretch it and most importantly – I don’t push it. I’ve accepted there’ll be times in my life where I won’t be in peak form (illness, holidays or shiftwork) and that’s okay.

The lessons learnt from my injury will be particularly relevant in about two months’ time when I have surgery on my little finger. I’m told recovery should only take two weeks – and while the prospect of a fortnight without the gym would’ve previously been petrifying, I now know to focus on the movements I can do and show my body some sympathy. My attitude now days? When I’m at my best, I’ll give my best – and when I’m not, I’ll give it what I’ve got.

QUESTION: What did you do to manage an injury?

The Dangers of Overtraining

Whether you hit the gym, play sports, dance or run, exercise a good thing. But is it possible to do too much? Absolutely. I’m not talking about a spontaneous 10K charity run or being sore after an extra long bike ride. Rather, I’m focusing on continuously exercising too much over a long time period. While there’s no consensus on the exact definition of overtraining, it generally refers to increased exercise with inadequate rest. It can be with or without psychological symptoms. 

I shared last week How I Lost 30kg, essentially by moving more, drinking less alcohol and making healthier food choices. But after five years of progress, my weight loss had stalled at 66kg (145 lbs). I was determined to get below 65kg. I drew a table with the next six months on it and wrote my fortnightly weight loss targets next to each one so I could track my progress. I wanted to be 60kg by Christmas. Where did I get the numbers and timeline from? Just my head. But I was completely committed. 

Increased Exercise

Going to the gym had helped me lose weight up to this point, so I increased how much I was exercising. My weekly routine became:

  • Monday: Body Attack & BodyPump (60 mins cardio, 60 mins weights)
  • Tuesday: BodyCombat & BodyBalance (60 mins boxing, 60 mins stretching)
  • Wednesday: Run (up to 10km)
  • Thursday: Yoga (60 minutes – my “rest” day)
  • Friday: BodyAttack (60 mins cardio)
  • Saturday: BodyPump & BodyBalance (60 mins weights, 60 mins stretching)
  • Sunday: BodyCombat (60 mins boxing) or run (up to 10km)

I realise there are plenty of fitness enthusiasts who workout 10 hours or more each week. The difference was my attitude towards exercise. If I had an unavoidable commitment one night such as a birthday or a late meeting, I believed I “owed” myself a workout and had to make it up the next day. I had strict weekly quotas for each class (BodyAttack x2, Body Pump x2 and so on) and if I couldn’t reach my target because of events or bad weather, I felt like the week had been a failure. The irony is I wasn’t satisfied even when I did meet my goals – I told myself I could do more exercise, run further or lift heavier weights and so I adjusted my targets accordingly. I was never happy. 

Inadequate recovery

I knew it was important to rest, so I did yoga once a week. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it much. I wanted to work my abs, sweat and feel like I’d had a workout. So I pushed myself, challenging my legs during warrior poses and focusing on upper body strength during sun salutations. While I did BodyBalance as well as yoga, I didn’t do any stretching specifically for running. This would haunt me later. 

Notably, the biggest problem with my exercise regime was I didn’t have a true rest day. I was occasionally hungover on a Sunday so I’d skip that class or drag myself to a later session. It was years before I learnt exercise causes micro-tears in your muscles, and they can’t repair and grow unless you rest. 

restricting food

What I recall most about this time was how hungry I was. I didn’t count calories but I did restrict my intake of carbohydrates like bread, rice and potatoes. I had oats for breakfast as my naturopath had recommended, a vegetable soup or salad for lunch and dinner was usually a stir-fry or curry (without rice). I snacked on fruit or plain crackers and I only ate bread on weekends, but eventually I cut that out too. Going low-carb wasn’t based on any science, but a false instinct gained from magazines, the media, and chatting with colleagues. 

The truth was I didn’t know much about nutrition. I assumed I got enough protein from soy milk, tofu, beans and nuts. In hindsight, I was probably getting less than 50 grams a day – far below the recommended protein intake for moderate intensity exercise. I ate lots of big salads that were full of vegetables, vitamins and nutrients, but they didn’t give me enough energy (calories) to fuel my workouts. 

limiting Social Activities

Working full-time and spending an hour or two at gym every day didn’t leave much time for socialising. I started to get angry when I received a last minute dinner or weekend brunch invitation, especially if it conflicted with a gym class. I’d often say no, turn up late, or reluctantly attend if it was a special occasion like a birthday. But I’d make up for my skipped workout by exercising twice as much the next day. 

I was in a relationship at this time too, and my boyfriend and I would often meet friends for drinks on a Sunday afternoon. I loved seeing everyone and chatting over a wine or beer, but over time these catch ups became a dilemma. I knew the alcohol was undoing my gym work (even just a glass or two) but I didn’t want to seem anti-social by ordering water or soft drinks. I also didn’t want to be the person in the group who skipped dinner, despite wanting a healthy meal at home over a pub meal. My weight loss goals had begun to seriously impact how much I enjoyed seeing friends.  

Skipping Rest Day

After a few months of increased exercise and restricting certain foods, I finally got my weight below 65kg. I was ecstatic. The weight loss assured me my methods were working, and that I’d lose even more weight if I intensified my workouts. I wanted to reach 60kg, telling myself that’d be “the perfect weight” and it’d be the “final goal” in my weight loss journey. I stopped doing yoga on Thursdays and replaced it with cardio. I further restricted what I ate, scrutinising everything that went into my body. 

Because I could weigh myself, count gym classes and tally up consecutive days of exercise, I kept trying to beat my previous records. I would see how many days in a row I could workout, each week trying to go longer without a rest day than the week before. My record was 13 days. Often, it was a party or special occasion that prompted a rest day, because I was hungover. Although I was drinking far less than I used to, alcohol seemed to be the exception in my strict food regime.

My body once hurt so much after eight days of straight workouts that I heeded the ‘listen to your body’ message. I slept in until 9am on a Sunday and it was glorious. But then I felt guilty. I could’ve gone to the gym. I didn’t really need the rest. I was going to gain weight. My sister called and invited me to brunch, but I told her “I hadn’t earnt it”. I sat in bed and cried until lunchtime. 

Restless Legs Syndrome

It’s one thing to have DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) but another to wince each time you sit down, raise your arm or simply walk. I was exercising so much, my body constantly ached. Sometimes it was my quads or glutes, other times it was my shoulders. My hips were extremely tight from running.

I also craved the ache in my muscles and took it as a positive sign I was pushing myself. But I became worried when I started waking up during the night with my legs shaking. It happened a few times and I knew, deep down, that something was wrong. I didn’t see a doctor as it wasn’t painful, but my symptoms most closely matched “restless legs syndrome.” My quality of sleep was significantly affected because of it. 

Illness

With inadequate nutrition and rest, it’s little surprise I got sick. I had a cold for a month, I started having naps on the weekend, and I developed a painful stomach virus where even tomatoes made my tummy turn to knots. I had to take time off work and I was in immense pain anytime I ate anything other than toast or tea. I lay on the couch in tears one afternoon with my stomach twisting and wringing. 

I didn’t see a doctor as by chance, I had an annual check up booked with my naturopath. He identified I had an iron deficiency. As a female in my late 20s, who was vegetarian and exercising vigorously, I was in three high-risk groups. An iron deficiency explained why I’d been so sick and so tired. I began taking iron supplements which also had Vitamin B12 (a vitamin your body can’t make, so it needs to be obtained through animal sources, like meat or eggs, or fortified foods). Deficiency in Vitamin B12 can also lead to mood swings, which I thought explained my frequent crying. Soon after taking supplements, I stopped napping and my cold and stomach illness passed. It was a temporary improvement.

Ignoring injury 

I’d had some minor injuries from exercising like a rolled ankle, but I’d managed to escape anything serious. However, running had started to get tough. The outside of my right leg (iliotibial or “IT band”) would get really tight, and I’d have to stop and stretch before continuing. The problem didn’t go away and within a few weeks, my right knee started to hurt as well. I refused to get medical help, despite suggestions from friends and family. I was too afraid a doctor would tell me to stop exercising. 

I had to modify how I ran to manage the pain and tightness, and eventually I reduced my distance. Soon, BodyAttack became too painful and I stopped doing BodyCombat as well. I replaced the classes with lower impact indoor cycling classes. My running distance dropped from 10K to 7K, then 5K. But the reduction in exercise over a few wasn’t enough to let my injury heal. I reluctantly reduced the intensity of all my workouts, but kept doing as many classes as I could. 

breaking point

It was 2012 and I weighed 63kg. I should’ve been overjoyed as I was just 3kg (6.5 lbs) from my target weight. But my right leg felt like there was a crank between my knee and hip, growing ever tighter. I was going to the gym everyday but doing the lowest impact option possible. On one Saturday morning during BodyBalance, pain surged through my right knee and my eyes watered. I knew I was in trouble. 

I was about to leave for a trip to New York, so I decided to get help when I returned. I spent three glorious weeks with friends in my favourite place on earth, relaxing, shopping, eating, and doing light weights and yoga. It was wonderful! On one of my last days in NYC, I attempted a run believing I’d given my body “a break.” I was staying in Gramercy, and I jogged through Stuyvesant Town and along FDR Drive. But I couldn’t even hit 3K before pain struck through my knee one more. I limped back. I was defeated. 

I returned to Australia and finally made an appointment with a physiotherapist. I was so upset, and petrified an enforced rest period would result in weight gain. But part of me was also relieved that I didn’t have to keep pushing myself anymore. The funny thing is, the pressure was only coming from myself.

In coming weeks, I’ll share how I overcame my injury and found balance between working out and living. Sign up to my weekly newsletter to get notified when it’s posted.

QUESTION: When have you had too much of a good thing?

How I Lost 30kg

If you look at me in the street, you’ll see a 30-something year old blonde who’s around 163 centimetres tall (5′ 3″) and average build. I don’t look athletic, I’m not slim and my skin doesn’t glow despite regular exercise and a good diet. 

What most people don’t know is that in my 20s, I lost one-third of my body weight or about 30 kilograms (66 pounds). I was a chubby baby who grew into a healthy but chubby child, so it was little surprise I became an overweight teenager. It’s not that I ate badly – my mum always cooked healthy dinners for my sisters and I, and we only had junk food or take away on special occasions like birthdays. I just had a good appetite and I didn’t like exercise.

When I was in high school, I tried skipping lunch to lose weight. I became so hungry I felt nauseous, and the sense of guilt at throwing away my sandwiches was terrible. Another time I tried to make myself vomit like I’d read in magazines but it didn’t work. I was outgoing and had lots of friends, but I was self-conscious anytime there was a swimming carnival or pool party. I loved shopping, but I only wore dresses or skirts because regular jeans didn’t fit me. The boys at school didn’t talk to me either.

my heaviest weight

 2007: I'd lost some weight but still loved partying.
2007: I’d lost some weight but still loved partying.

I went backpacking for a year when I was 18 and the lifestyle of drinking beer, eating pasta and fast food exacerbated my weight. By the time I was 20, I weighed 93kg (205 lbs) and wore size 20 jeans. I had stretch marks on my stomach, sides and thighs and my skin was terrible too. I knew I was overweight but it was the sight of my ankles in the mirror one day that prompted a change. It was 2006 but I still vividly recall the moment I decided to take charge of my health.

Here’s my weight loss journey: 

increase activity

The first thing I did was to start walking. I didn’t have any sneakers so I just walked in casual pants and skate shoes. I was so self-conscious, I would walk around the block at night so less people would see me. But it was a start. I only walked for 30 minutes or so and used the time to call family or friends. It was an easy change to incorporate into my day and I always felt good afterwards.

limiting alcohol

I realised my backpacking habit of drinking beer almost daily wasn’t the best for my health. I liked having a drink while cooking dinner and I often had a second one with my meal. A beer felt like a good reward after a busy day at university, work or doing assignments. I decided to replace my drink with a diet, non-alcoholic ginger beer that came in a similar shaped bottle. I realised my habit had little to do with beer itself, but more about having something cold to drink while cooking. Over time, I phased out my weeknight dinnertime drink routine. Just by walking and reducing alcohol, my clothes got a little baggy and people started commenting that I’d lost weight.

regular exercise

I’d made some small lifestyle changes and felt an improvement, but the most profound change was joining a gym. A franchise gym had a stall at a university Open Day and I approached a staff member for some information. They didn’t take me very seriously, probably assuming an overweight person wasn’t serious about their health. But they took my phone number and arranged for someone to call me. 

I toured the gym a few weeks later and took a complimentary class. The workout I tried was BodyBalance, which is a mix of tai chi, yoga and Pilates. I immediately loved it, except for the sun salutation routines which were very challenging. I told a friend I almost felt high after the class! I was still reluctant to sign a contract as it was for 12 months, around $30 a fortnight and I was on a tight student budget. I asked my mum for her advice and she told me you can’t put a price on your health. 

I joined the gym and never looked back. I kept doing BodyBalance before exploring other classes like the weights focused BodyPump, and boxing class BodyCombat. I stayed in the back row and was terribly unfit, but determined. The group fitness format worked for me as there were regular, scheduled classes and you could have the expertise of a qualified professional without the personal trainer price tag. I also realised I didn’t hate exercise, I just disliked team sports. A big milestone was buying my first pair of sneakers.

vegetarian

After a year of regular exercise, I’d lost around 8kg or nearly 10% of my body weight. My clothes were looser and I loved the feeling of buying new ones in smaller sizes. Friends and family were so supportive and positive about my weight loss, it was a huge confidence boost. I still partied and drank a lot, but exercising a couple of times a week made a noticeable difference. 

I decided to go vegetarian, not to lose weight but for taste preferences. I already disliked chicken and pork, and when travelling I often went vegetarian to avoid mistakingly eating them. A vegetarian diet alone isn’t the answer to weight loss, however it can make you lose weight if you cut out convenience foods like burgers and pastries and instead increase your fruit and vegetable intake. For me, switching to a vegetarian diet sparked the beginning of my interest in health and nutrition. 

professional advice

After two years, my fitness levels had drastically improved. I was going to the gym three times a week and doing a mix of cardio, weights and flexibility training. My skin had less breakouts, and I felt stronger and much more confident. I hadn’t seen a doctor since a compulsory medical check up for travelling a few years earlier, so I decided to visit a naturopath a friend had recommended.

I was still overweight so I was nervous about seeing a health professional. However, my naturopath at Essential Health was welcoming, positive and provided lots of helpful nutrition tips. He suggested switching my regular breakfast of toast or a bagel to rolled oats, eating a square of 85% dark chocolate each day for iron and antioxidants, and gave me recipes for healthy snacks like zucchini fritters. I’d been raised in the low-fat diet era where nuts were forbidden, but my naturopath told me about the health benefits of nuts and seeds. He did some tests, including body composition analysis and a blood test. I got a print out of all the data and was fascinated by the numbers. I could track my progress! 

improving diet

Visiting a naturopath changed how I thought about food. It was 2008, and trends like #cleaneating and #rawdesserts weren’t around (neither was Instagram, in fact the first iPhone had only been released a year earlier). I was studying and working a few jobs, often finishing at midnight or later. I occasionally grabbed cheap takeaway when I finished late, but this became less and less as I discovered more meals on the go that didn’t need a refrigerator. I baked healthy banana muffins, often carried a small tin of baked beans and sometimes I just made a peanut butter sandwich. I made my own budget trail mix with sunflower seeds and raisins too. Eventually fast food was gone from my diet. I also cut out the teaspoon of sugar I’d been putting in tea each morning. I didn’t miss it.

running

By now, it was 2009 and I’d lost around 20kg (44 lbs) to weigh 72kg (158 lbs). The difference was extraordinary. I could buy regular sized clothes, and I’d often try something on to realise I could wear the next size down. At one point, I took a pile of my old clothes to a local alterations store and asked them to take everything in. They did the whole lot for $100. I finally felt normal, and it felt so good – especially when I went out to bars and clubs. But I wasn’t done yet. 

The more exercise I did, the more energy it gave me. I could lift heavier weights, kick higher and jog for longer. I tried some new classes to keep challenging myself. I tried a dance class and hated it. But I tried BodyAttack and loved it! Jumping jacks, sprints, grapevines, lunges and burpees – it was extremely difficult but I liked the new challenge. Around this time I started running too. You can read more in my post Learn to Run, but essentially I began by walking and jogging for small intervals before working up to a 3.5km (2.17mi) run. I now do 10K (6mi) weekly. 

 2006 to 2014: the difference between more than 90kg and approaching 60kg. 
2006 to 2014: the difference between more than 90kg and approaching 60kg. 

living in the USA

By the time I moved to the USA to study in 2010, exercise was a non-negotiable part of my life. I weighed just under 70kg (154 lbs) and was incredibly proud of what I’d achieved. My college had a mandatory meal plan for international students and I was determined not to sabotage my weight loss. The dining hall was surprisingly healthy, with plenty of salads, fruit and vegetables and a dedicated vegan section, and all foods had nutrition information next to them. I still loved bagels, but limited them to twice a week. 

I joined the college gym and made friends through the group fitness classes. I even signed up to do a 5K run for Thanksgiving, the longest distance I’d ever attempted! The school also had a dietician who I visited each month to track my progress. Incredibly, I lost weight while living in the USA despite eating pumpkin pie, a lot of Mexican food and partying hard. 

returning home

I returned to Australia in 2011 weighing 66kg (145 lbs). The fact I can remember this number six years on shows how seriously I was taking my weight loss. I should have been proud but I was determined to get below 65kg. What followed in was injury, isolation and illness. You can read the next post here: The Dangers of Overtraining

 2015: Loving cycling through New York City's Central Park.
2015: Loving cycling through New York City’s Central Park.

me today

For now, I’m a self-confessed gym junkie. Exercise is a crucial part of my life and I run, cycle, do weights, BodyAttack or yoga six days a week. I don’t have a car so I also walk at least 3km (1.8mi) daily. I love that I can run for the bus without losing my breath. 

My weight hovers around 60kg but it quickly creeps up if I don’t watch what I eat. I still love food, but I have wholegrains like rolled oats for breakfast, big salads or soups for lunch and my dinner is usually a stir fry, curry or healthy Mexican. I love making lasagne with layers of roasted eggplant and zucchini. It’s all about the vegetables! Take away and dining out is usually Japanese, Thai or Indian, and on the rare occasion I feel like sweets – it’s homemade healthy cookies, apple pie, chocolate pudding or luscious fresh fruit like berries or pineapple. I’m still a peanut butter addict and I continue to eat a square of dark chocolate every day. 

There are no shortcuts in losing weight. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or make drastic changes, but it does take discipline, commitment and a lot of work. For me, losing weight has given me the freedom to go to the beach or a pool party without feeling self-conscious. Everything from walking uphill to carrying groceries is so much easier. I didn’t realise what a burden my excess weight was until it was gone.

My weight loss journey isn’t over as I want to get leaner, but that means losing body fat and increasing muscle mass rather than reducing overall body weight. I also want to start trail running, do a half marathon and I’m tempted to try a triathlon too, although I haven’t swum laps since school! Good health doesn’t have an age limit and I’m proud to enter my 30s knowing I’m doing all I can for a healthy lifetime ahead.

QUESTION: What health or fitness achievement are you most proud of?

My Immune Boosting Soup

Winter seems to bring sniffles and sore throats no matter how well you look after yourself. I try to avoid getting sick in the cooler months by paying close attention to diet and exercise, even when it’s dark and rainy outside. I still get a cold or two each year, but I tend to fight bugs quickly and get back to normal within two days. 

When I do feel a cold setting in, I head straight to the kitchen and make tea with lemon and raw honey. I’ll also make a big batch of vegetable soup packed with fresh herbs and a hint of chilli. It’s both nourishing and comforting, and convenient if you’re at home unwell for a few days. To treat a sore throat, I gargle warm saltwater a few times a day and also have a spoonful of raw honey. Salt helps reduce bacteria growth and unprocessed honey also has antibacterial benefits. These are easy remedies to find if you’re suddenly struck down at work or travelling too. 

My boyfriend recently got a winter bug and the doctor’s advice was simply to stay warm and rest. I turned to our humble apartment kitchen to try find a remedy. We had carrots, fresh ginger, garlic and a packet of dried shiitake mushrooms. I cooked this soup within 30 minutes and it was too good not to share! It’s delicious, nutrient-packed and has a serious ginger kick.

How does it help you in winter? Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A (330% of recommended daily intake in a medium carrot), which is vital for immune function. Ginger and garlic have antimicrobial benefits and add a strong, medicinal flavour to this soup. Dried shiitake mushrooms have been shown to boost immunity, and they also add umami which is known as the ‘fifth taste’ after salty, sweet, sour and bitter. You can find dried shiitake mushrooms for around $3-4 a packet in the Asian section of most grocery stores, either whole or sliced. Enjoy!

my immune boosting soup

Serves 2 | Gluten-free | Vegan | Low calorie | Budget-friendly 

Time: 30 minutes (5 mins prep, 15 mins cooking + 10 mins soaking)

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 cups water (1 cup hot , 1 cup room temperature)
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed or roughly chopped
  • 1cm (half-inch) fresh ginger, sliced
  • 5 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp salt-reduced soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)

STEPS

  1. Place shiitake mushrooms in a bowl with 1 cup of hot (not boiling) water. Let soak for 10 minutes, then let them continue soaking while you start on the soup. 
  2. Heat oil in a medium sized saucepan.
  3. Sauté garlic and ginger for 2 – 3 minutes, until fragrant.
  4. Add sliced carrots and remaining 1 cup of water, plus half the shiitake mushroom water.
  5. Bring to a boil then simmer on medium heat for 8 – 10 minutes, or until carrots are soft but not soggy. 
  6. Blend 3/4 of the soup using a hand held mixer or machine (I use my Vitamix). Be careful when blending hot liquids as they can explode when you remove the lid. 
  7. Return the blended mix to the saucepan and add soy sauce and remaining shiitake mushroom water (keeping mushrooms separate). Stir and reheat if necessary.
  8. Slice the shiitake mushrooms. They should be soft but slightly chewy. 
  9. Divide soup into two bowls, and serve topped with the mushrooms and fresh herbs.

Leftovers will keep a day or two in the refrigerator. This recipe is easy to double too. It’s so delicious, I’m going to recreate it all winter! Next time, I’ll try topping it with roasted chickpeas for a protein boost.

QUESTION: What’s your favourite cold and flu remedy?

My Pre-Holiday Checklist

Jetsetting around the world may seem glamorous but any traveller knows it takes a lot of work. Even if you’re on organised tours, there’s still the real life stuff at home to take care of before you fly out. Will someone watch your dog? Check your mail? Will your medications last the whole time you’re away? Have you got a miniature toothpaste for the plane? 

My boyfriend and I have been home from Europe for a month but it’s almost like deja vu as we prepare for our next trip. We’re going to China in just 60 days! On top of planning the holiday itself (five cities in three weeks), we need to get our visas, check whether our travel insurance will cover some pretty intense hiking and organise foreign currency.

But there’s all this other stuff too. Like freezing my gym membership. Making sure I have enough iron tablets for the journey. Putting our mail on hold. I’m determined to avoid the last minute rush and panicking. My weapon? I’ve created My Pre-Holiday Checklist! You can download a printable PDF of this list at the end of this post too.

ASAP after Booking Flights

1. Check your passport expiry date

Some countries will refuse you entry if you have less than six months remaining on your passport. Don’t risk it! The current fee for renewing an Australian passport is $277 and more if you need a rush service. Read more on the Department of Foreign Affairs website.

2. Check visa requirements

Depending on your destination(s), you could need a plethora of visas to gain entry. Find out visa applications specifics by visiting Consular websites in your country of residence. Note how far in advance you need to obtain your visa, along with fees and any necessary documents or photo requirements. For example, our China visas require us to submit a full itinerary and apply one month before arrival. I’ve also heard of Australians forgetting to apply for their ESTA under the United States Visa Waiver Program when visiting Hawaii. If you have a criminal conviction such as drink-driving, you may be ineligible for visa-free travel in some countries so be sure to read the fine print. 

3. Check bank card expiry dates

Order replacements now if any of your debit or credit cards expire while you’re away. Be careful if you used any of them for bookings – you may need to show the original card at your hotel or when collecting tickets, for example. 

4. Organise vaccinations (if applicable)

Some vaccinations are recommended for all adults in general, but you might want extras depending on where you’re travelling too. Be aware some vaccinations can require repeated doses over several months to be effective, others may need a booster after 12 months. Vaccinations can also be expensive, so that’s another reason to plan ahead. You can read more on the World Health Organisation website or have a chat to your GP. 

One month before departure

1. Buy travel insurance

Whether I’m going away for a week or a month, I always have travel insurance. Except for one time, when I forgot to activate cover on my credit card before departing. This horrible realisation hit me while my boyfriend and I were sitting on the runway at Athens International Airport, where we were stranded after a flight diversion. Thankfully we had alternate cover but I’ll never forget to activate my insurance again! Be sure to check your chosen policy covers things like car hire, riding a motorbike or quad bike, and even cycling if applicable. 

2. Order foreign currency/ travel cards

I suggest organising foreign currency a month in advance for a few reasons: 1) you’ve ideally saved most of your holiday cash by now, 2) you’ll need some time to compare rates and fees and 3) foreign exchange bureaus can have horrible hours. While you might be fine grabbing cash from an ATM when you land, you’ll likely end up with big denominations and you probably won’t be familiar with what each note looks like. Travel cards can also take a few days to compare, activate and load. Obviously, buy your cash earlier or wait if you expect a better exchange rate. 

3. Check your medications & prescriptions

It could be asthma, vitamins or birth control. Check your quantities and visit your doctor or pharmacist now if needed! 

4. Put your mail on hold

This may not be necessary if you’re just going for a week, but most of my holidays are three weeks or longer. If you’re in Australia, it’ll cost you $24 to hold your mail for the first week and $8 each week thereafter. You can do it all online too via Australia Post. Alternatively, enlist your neighbour to mind your mailbox.

5. Freeze memberships & subscriptions

I freeze my gym membership each time I go overseas and I used to get the newspaper delivered, so I’d put that on hold too. Other examples could include grocery deliveries, language or music lessons, sports club memberships, etc. Scanning your bank statements for regular debits is a good way to remind yourself of ongoing commitments. 

6. Grab travel essentials

The sooner you get your non-perishable travel essentials, the better! My shopping list includes mini-toiletries for the flight, travel-size toothpaste, dry shampoo, baby wipes, a good book and of course some travel-friendly snacks. Don’t forget electronics – check you have travel adaptors, power packs, camera cables and so on.

7. Birthdays? Special occasions?

Have a look at the dates you’ll be away. Any birthdays or special events? Organise cards, gifts or flowers now. The same neighbour watching your mail might be able to post items closer to the special day, or why not give your little brother or sister a pile of presents and delivery instructions? Yes, I’ve done the latter (thanks sis!).

8. Donate blood

Travelling overseas can make you ineligible to give blood for a short time afterwards. Before I’m treated to the wonders of the world, I like to roll up my sleeve and give something back to the community. I hate needles and dread the appointment for days, but I always feel proud afterwards. Bonus: you can book an appointment online via the Australian Red Cross website.

One week before departure

1. Share your itinerary

I use TripIt to easily send my travel plans to friends and family electronically. If you’re Australian, register your holiday with Smart Traveller so authorities can try locate you in case of an emergency.

2. Clean out your fridge

If you’re going away for any length of time, you’ll likely be out for dinner with friends or family the week before you fly out. Eat or freeze anything that won’t last the distance. 

Download a print-friendly PDF of this checklist by clicking here.

QUESTION: What would you add to this pre-departure checklist? 

7 Post-Workout Rewards (That Aren’t Food)

What’s the first thing you do after a big workout? I usually exercise in the morning on an empty stomach so my first priority is breakfast. I love a big bowl of oatmeal and a cup of Earl Grey. After a weekend sweat session, I upgrade to avocado, wholegrain toast and beans. Better yet, I’ll go to one of my favourite cafes and have a long, leisurely brunch. A shower is second on the list. 

While I absolutely believe in refuelling after exercise, I’m trying to broaden my post-workout rewards beyond breakfast. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll run 10K for a bagel and demolish an Acai bowl after BodyAttack. But I wanted to find more ways to nourish my body, without in turn hurting my wallet.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: 

1. Treat Your Feet

 Foot soak: budget-friendly and effective! 
Foot soak: budget-friendly and effective! 

Taking your sneakers off after a workout is a great feeling. Looking at your feet may not be so great. Every few weeks, I’ll soak my feet for an hour while I work on my blog or read a magazine. It helps relieve tension, soothes dry skin and best of all, it’s relaxing! My favourite product is The Body Shop’s Peppermint Foot Fizzies*, which is made from effervescent salts and has a gorgeous cooling effect.

Here are some other ideas, depending on your budget: 

  • Save: Soak your feet in hot water. Add epsom salts, essential oils or a bath bomb.
  • Spend: Sephora’s Foot Masque ($6) comes in single-use socks you wear for 20 minutes. The Almond (Comforting & Repairing) formula is softening and has a nice, nutty smell. 
  • Splurge: My favourite treat for my feet – get a pedicure! 

*Unfortunately when researching this post, I discovered The Body Shop has discontinued its Foot Fizzies. They were $2.95 for a two-pack, so I used to buy in bulk.

2. Hit the Beach

Whether you’re covered in sweat or want a relaxing afternoon, hitting the beach is always a treat. I live 10 kilometres from the coast and conveniently, that’s my current running distance. The route has some serious hills but I’m re-energised when I get my first glimpse of the ocean. A post-workout swim is super refreshing, but you could also cool down with a barefoot stroll in the sand. If you’ve been at the gym, why not grab a towel and stretch by the beach on the way home?

Best of all, the beach doesn’t cost a thing (except maybe parking). 

 The beach: perfect for a post-workout swim, stroll or stretch.
The beach: perfect for a post-workout swim, stroll or stretch.

3. restorative/yin yoga

 Yoga: thank your body by moving slowly & stretching.
Yoga: thank your body by moving slowly & stretching.

Taking a yoga class might sound like more exercise but hear me out. I used to treat yoga like a workout, pushing my body to the limits to try build strength and burn as many calories as I could. But then, guided by various teachers, I realised yoga was a chance to listen to my body. What’s tight? Where are the aches? How can I release that tension?

Changing my approach from cardio to kindness helped me identify problem areas and most of all, learn to slow down. I do an hour class straight after my workouts a few times a week. It really helps with recovery and feels like a luxury in today’s busy world. Read my post on Your First Yoga Class if you need. 

  • Save: Do yoga at home. My favourite app is Pocket Yoga, where you can choose from three styles and 30, 45 or 60 minute sessions.
  • Spend: Head to a dedicated yoga studio. I love MindBody to search and book nearby classes.
  • Splurge: Go to a yoga workshop or a weekend retreat. 

 Coconut water: one of my favourite post-workout rewards.
Coconut water: one of my favourite post-workout rewards.

4. Coconut water

Technically this is a drink, not food, so I’m putting it on the list. Coconut water is my favourite way to hydrate after a long run and perhaps because it’s so lusciously tropical, it totally feels like a treat. Bonus: a 250ml (8.5 oz.) carton only has around 60 calories!

  • Save: Grab a one litre carton from the supermarket ($4-6) and enjoy all week.
  • Splurge: Buy a fresh coconut from the supermarket or Asian grocery store. Put in a fancy straw and savour the electrolytes. 

5. Massage

This is my ultimate post-workout reward. I recently had a massage booked for a Thursday night and all week, I trained SO hard. It felt amazing! But you don’t need a masseuse or lots of cash to enjoy a massage. A good friend or partner and essential oils will do the trick. Other ideas include: 

  • Save: Give yourself a massage. Try Lush Cosmetics Wiccy Magic Muscles ($14.95) which heats up the area you apply it to.
  • Spend: Get a remedial or sports massage. If you have private health cover, you may be able to claim a rebate. I got a 30 minute massage this week and only paid $10.
  • Splurge: Hit a day spa. If you’re in Perth, I’ve had excellent massages at Keturah Day Spa (multiple locations) and Crown Spa (Burswood).

     Lush Cosmetics massage bars: affordable, natural and they smell amazing!
    Lush Cosmetics massage bars: affordable, natural and they smell amazing!

    6. fresh flowers

     Fresh flowers: they make me smile all week!
    Fresh flowers: they make me smile all week!

    This won’t directly benefit your aching quads or hamstrings. But occasionally I go to a gym which is close to several florists. I love buying a fresh bunch of flowers on the way home! Maybe you prefer magazines, visiting a farmer’s market or heading to a craft store. Pick up something after your workout that will make you smile later in the week. 

    and finally…

    7. sleep

    It’s a sad reflection of modern life, but sleep and rest are a precious commodity. After five days of alarms going off to hit the gym at dawn, knowing I can sleep in the next day is one of the best rewards I can get.  

    QUESTION: What’s your favourite post-workout reward? 

    Perth’s Top Health Food Stores

    Remember going to the movies as a child and standing in awe of the pick and mix candy? It was a rare treat during school holidays for my sisters and I, who would carefully scoop a few freckles, raspberries, a milk bottle or two and a snake into our paper bags. As an adult, I still love to go into a store and select my favourite goods from the endless rows of tubs. I prefer to scoop up healthier treats nowadays like nuts, dried fruits and unusual flours but the experience still has the same childhood magic. 

    Below are my favourite stores in Perth where you can buy health foods in bulk. It’s much cheaper than buying packets from the supermarket and better for the environment too, as it’s less packaging. If you don’t live locally, some offer online shopping and deliver across Australia for reasonable prices. One store even has outlets on the east coast. Enjoy!

    1. The Clean Food Store – Subiaco

     The Clean Food Store: outdoor dining on a quiet street.
    The Clean Food Store: outdoor dining on a quiet street.

    Nestled in a suburban street in Perth’s west, you’ll find the prettiest health food store you’ve ever seen. The Clean Food Store opened in March 2016 and is light, bright and minimalist. You’ll find cookbooks and cleaning products, organic and non-organic foods and some refrigerated items along with the bulk buying section. The Clean Food Store stocks Honest Goods Co baked treats, Clean Slate candles and beauty products and Loving Earth grocery items among other brands. There’s also fresh bread and a barista if you fancy a coffee or matcha lattes. If that’s not enough, there’s a cabinet stocked with treats (raw, paleo and vegan options), paninis, patties and NOOD meals to enjoy in store or take away.

    I dropped by on a recent Saturday morning and staff were happy and welcoming. It was quite busy but largely because of people grabbing coffees. Despite being fairly small, the store never felt crowded. I loved choosing my health foods and scooping the items into paper bags, weighing on the scales if needed. The Clean Food Store has a good variety of nuts, flours, dried fruit and more plus lots of organic options too. I can’t wait to return!

     The Clean Food Store: the cleanest, prettiest health food shop I've ever seen!
    The Clean Food Store: the cleanest, prettiest health food shop I’ve ever seen!

    My prized pick: a team member recommended the dark chocolate coated goji berries ($2.90/100grams), which barely lasted the journey home! My 500g of raw walnuts ($22/kilogram) were fresh and delicious, and good value too. 

    Unfortunately, The Clean Food Store doesn’t have online shopping or delivery options. However, it’s open 7am to 6pm, 7 days a week!

    Address: 214a Nicholson Road, Subiaco WA | www.thecleanfoodstore.com.au

    2. The Source Bulk Foods – Various locations

    I love having healthy family and friends! My sister introduced me to The Source Bulk Foods at The Park Centre in Victoria Park. This health food franchise began in Byron Bay, New South Wales in 2007 before expanding across Australia. You can find the store’s other West Australian locations at Clarkson and Floreat, and there are plans to open The Source in Cottesloe, Fremantle and Subiaco too.

     The Source Bulk Foods: a warm and welcoming interior at its Victoria Park store. 
    The Source Bulk Foods: a warm and welcoming interior at its Victoria Park store. 

     The Source: affordable, natural cleaning and beauty products.
    The Source: affordable, natural cleaning and beauty products.

    On my visit a few months ago, I was greeted by two lovely women who explained how The Source works. Grab a paper bag, write down the product code and fill it with your desired amount. Easy! I slowly walked along the rows of tubs, reading labels and imagining recipes. I was fascinated by the more unusual ingredients, such as native Australian herbs and flours I’d never heard of. About 30 minutes later, my basket was filled with everything that had inspired me including puffed buckwheat, vegan caramel buttons and natural cleaning products. While the Make Your Own peanut butter was incredibly tempting, I abstained for fear the tub wouldn’t make it home. 

     The Source: one of two walls lined with spices, slices and things nice! 
    The Source: one of two walls lined with spices, slices and things nice! 

    My prized pick: The Source’s cinnamon is by far the best I’ve ever bought, as it’s really fragrant and flavoursome. The Lemon Myrtle cleaning products ($9.33/500ml) have transformed housework, as I now look forward the fresh, cleansing scent every time I clean!

    The Source offers online shopping with delivery across Australia. Prices start from $9.95 for up to 5kg to New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT, $15.95 for up to 5kg to South Australia and Tasmania and $18.95 for up to 5kg to WA and the Northern Territory.

    Locations: Victoria Park, Clarkson & Floreat WA | thesourcebulkfoods.com.au

    3. Kakulas – Northbridge & Fremantle  

    Established in 1929, it’s quite likely Kakulas Brothers in Northbridge is Perth’s oldest and original health food store. The large sacks of legumes, rice and flours with cardboard signs are an unsung Perth icon and the store has a distinctly sweet smell of coffee beans. You’ll find an exceptional variety of bulk ingredients, and those with a sweet tooth won’t be disappointed as there are plenty of chocolate coated fruits and nuts. Kakulas Sister opened in Fremantle in 1994 and despite being much younger than its sibling, it still has the classic Kakulas feel. 

    The Northbridge location was my go-to for health foods when I lived in Northbridge and whenever I’m in Fremantle, visiting Kakulas Sister is a must. On top of an excellent health food range, the variety of imported groceries is exceptional. From antipasti and pastas to teas and tahini, you travel the world on their shelves! 

     Kakulas Sister: every shelf and aisle is a journey of discovery! 
    Kakulas Sister: every shelf and aisle is a journey of discovery! 

    My prized pick: a few squares of crystallised ginger, covered in dark chocolate, always make their way into my basket. Occasionally some chocolate coated macadamias follow them! Dried dates are a bargain at around $3/kg and when buying beans, I always grab some chickpeas to make my own hummus.

    Unfortunately, neither stores have online shopping. And given Kakulas Brothers was cash-only until last year, it’s likely to remain strictly bricks and mortar for some time! But then, that’s half of Kakulas’ charm. 

    Address: 19 William St, Northbridge & 29-31 Market, Fremantle WA | www.kakulassister.com.au

    4. 2 brothers Foods – online only

    I’ve been regularly buying my health foods from Perth website 2 Brothers Foods since 2012. Every few months I order a few kilos of essentials – nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruit and flours – along with grocery items like pappadums. It’s so convenient! Their products are excellent value, with raw almonds at $16/kg, spelt flour at $4/kg and raw cashews for $19.50/kg to name a few. The choice is exceptional, particularly for less common spices and gluten-free flours. 

    The website is simple and easy to use. I like being able to choose from 250g, 500g, 750g and 1kg quantities and enjoy browsing each category for inspiration or new items. Best of all, delivery is fast and affordable! Shipping is a flat $3.50 within WA and SA, and from $6.95 for up to 5kg to capital cities in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. It’s $7.95 for up to 5kg to Tasmania and $10.95 for the NT. Gift vouchers are available. As with any online checkout system, you can keep track of your total spend which isn’t as easy when shopping in bricks and mortar stores. 

    My prize pick: the textured vegetable protein (TVP) is an effortless, high-protein replacement for mince at $4.50/kg. I can’t imagine life without quinoa either (white organic $16/kg). The wasabi peas will make your nose sting every time, but less so if you mix in the yummy Chinese rice crackers. 

    Postal address: PO Box 1152, Nedlands WA | http://2brothersfoods.com

    Need some recipe inspiration? Grab some oats, buckwheat and quinoa and get into Breakfast With Benefits!

    QUESTION: Where do you buy your bulk health food items? 

    Your First BodyPump Class

    A 100th birthday is a rare and special occasion. New Zealand fitness giant Les Mills recently celebrated 100 BodyPump releases, which translates to 20 years of weights, sweat and, in the early days at least, Lycra. In an era where fitness crazes come and go, it’s quite an achievement. 

    Pump, as it’s more commonly known, is one of the first group fitness classes I tried. It was my first time using weights and I instantly liked how strong I felt. Combined with moves like squats, lunges and push ups, it was the start of my fitness transformation. Nearly a decade on, I’m leaner, lifting more and still loving it. Depending on my schedule, I try do two to three Pump classes a week.

    Weight training (also called resistance or strength training) is great for strengthening and toning muscles. It helps protect your joints from injury and aids weight management, as when you gain more muscle your body burns more calories when resting. Weight training improves bone density, increases stamina and I find it boosts my self esteem too. If you’re worried Pump will turn you into The Hulk – don’t be. The focus is on lots of repetitions with light weights, rather than short sets of heavy weights, to build lean muscle mass. 

    Class Overview

    Have an extra weight or two to use as free or “hand” weights.

    BodyPump runs for 60 minutes, although there are 45 and 30 minute express versions too. You’ll do a warm up, then eight tracks of about five minutes each focussing on a specific muscle group before a cool down. The music is a mix of cover songs, usually pop, dance, some R&B and rock.

    The tracks (in order) are squats, chest, back (clean and press), triceps, biceps, lunges, shoulders and abs. Most of the work happens in the first half where you’ll work bigger muscle groups but at the three quarter mark, the lunges track is never easy!

    Les Mills is built on pre-choreographed workouts and they’re taught worldwide. This means you can go to any gym offering BodyPump while the music and moves will differ slightly, the workout is essentially the same. You make it harder by increasing your weights and improving your technique, such as going lower in squats, engaging your core in crunches and so on. It’s great for anyone with injuries, as it’s low impact and you can modify the weights to suit your ability.

    1. Before you leave home

    This could well be a rule for every workout, but do NOT moisturise your hands! You’ll be lifting your arms a lot too, so have a peek at your underarms. There’s no need for any special food or hydration before a class unless that’s part of your routine. Pump is one of the few workouts I can actually eat up to 30 minutes beforehand and be okay (some fruit or crackers, not a burger!).

    2. What to wear

    The dress code is pretty relaxed. Pants are good if you’re self-conscious, as you’ll probably do wide-legged squats and crunches. My Pump shorts debut was unintentional on a laundry day years ago, and seeing my pale, unshaved thighs in the mirror for the entire five minute squat track was confronting. But I’m fine with shorts now! Wear sneakers but know that you won’t be jumping or running. Some people wear gloves for Pump, but it’s not necessary for your first class. 

    3. On arrival

    BodyPump is offered at thousands of gyms. If you already belong to a club, great! If you’re joining a friend or visiting the gym on a casual pass, allow 10 minutes for paperwork and putting your bag in a locker if you need.

    Pump involves a bit of set up, so give yourself five minutes for this too. Start by introducing yourself to the instructor, who should give you some tips and point you to a bar, weights and step. If you’re running late or the instructor isn’t there, grab what people in the front rows have (because they’re the hardcore Pumpers). If you’ve never done weights, you can do an entire class with just the smallest plates. If you’re familiar with weight training, I’d suggest keeping it light as well because you’ll be doing a LOT of reps. 

    Where should you set up? While it’s tempting to hide in the back row, you’ll struggle to see the instructor on stage and more importantly, it’s harder for them to see you. Again, stand behind those fit looking people in the front rows. 

    4. Equipment

    As mentioned, there’s a bit of gear in Pump. You’ll need:

    • A bar: with clips, to keep the weight plates on. The bars aren’t heavy, but you can use them without weights if needed too. 
    • Step/risers: you’ll lay on this for the chest track, possibly triceps and abs.
    • Weights: get a few different sized pairs, as you’ll likely used loose plates in your hands during triceps, shoulders and possible abs. 
    • Mat: put this on top of your step to lay on during the chest track, otherwise it’s handy for push ups on your knees or crunches. 

    Like any workout, bring a towel and water bottle. You can find my favourites in My Must-Have Gym Gear

     My favourite gym gear: a Camelbak waterbottle, Lululemon hat, backpack & towel and a foam roller.
    My favourite gym gear: a Camelbak waterbottle, Lululemon hat, backpack & towel and a foam roller.

    5. Terminology

    A new workout, a new language right? Here are some common phrases you’ll hear during a class. Remember to watch your instructor to get visual cues as well.

    • New release: this refers to a fresh quarterly mix from Les Mills. It’s a great time to start Pump as everyone else will be learning it too. 
    • “Mixing”: the instructor is using old and new tracks after teaching the new release for a month. 
    • There’s a whole dialect around timing, which is eight counts. Specifically:
      • Slow: lower the weight for four counts, then up for four counts.
      • 2 and 2: two counts down, two counts up.
      • Singles: one count each direction. 
      • Bottom-half: Single time as above, but reduced range. Think of doing a squat, only coming half way up and then doing another squat. Yes. ouch. 
      • Pulse/”double time”: Fast, intense, micro moves. Common in push-ups, biceps curls and triceps.

    There’s lots of lingo around moves too, such as planks, hovers, kickbacks, flies, dips and power presses. Don’t worry about it for now. Watch the instructor and you’ll be fluent in no time! 

    6. The day after Pump & beyond

     BodyPump: 1.25kg, 2.5kg & 5kg weights.
    BodyPump: 1.25kg, 2.5kg & 5kg weights.

    You WILL be sore. It might be your butt, maybe it’ll be your triceps. You might ache everywhere. The most common “OMG PUMP!” moment is when you sit down to go to the bathroom in the morning. Even if I’m away from Pump for a month because I’ve been travelling, I still feel that first class back! Go for a walk, stretch and you’ll survive. 

    If you enjoyed Pump, go back that same week. It’ll be much easier as you’ll know what to expect and you can focus on technique, before gradually increasing your weights. You want to reach the end of each track feeling like one more rep would be impossible. Fatiguing those muscles makes them grow baby! 

    Les Mills recommends doing no more than two to three Pump classes a week, which I think is a realistic target. Any more than that and the music and workouts could become repetitive. I love following Pump with yoga afterwards – the strength and stretch combination is heavenly! Once you’ve been doing Pump a few times each week for a month or so, give yourself a high five. You’re a Pumper! Increase those weights, buy those gloves if you want and go claim your place in the front row.

    QUESTION: Do you prefer freestyle workouts or pre-choreographed ones?