AT JUST over 75kg, Penelope Chris was within a normal weight range when she consulted a dietitian on ways to feel more energised, improve her diet and lose a few kilos. While she was by no means overweight, Penelope found herself gradually gaining weight as the stress of daily life as a mother-of-two, wife and working full-time in a busy executive role began to take its toll.
Fast-forward just six months and with the right diet and exercise mix Penelope had lost a massive 12kg and found herself in her 40s healthier, leaner and fitter than she had been for many years.
While some important dietary changes did occur, including reducing her carbohydrate intake throughout the day in favour of more vegetables, salad and protein the biggest change to Penelope’s lifestyle was the role exercise and daily movement came to play.
“Being from a European background, I had always eaten pretty well but the issue in my life was the amount of time I was spending sitting down. With work plus driving kids around and then being tired in the evenings, my steps each day were generally very low, and so the biggest advice my dietitian gave was to focus on movement.”
She was surprised how easy it was to fit this into her everyday life.
“To start with I made it a priority to get up early every day and walk at least once around the park near my home. This change alone was enough to shift a good 6-7kg quickly. I was also pretty strict with my diet — keeping on track during the week and then allowing myself a meal off on weekends. It may sound relatively strict but my dietitian said I could easily still enjoy my weekly trip to the bakery for my favourite pastry and enjoy a restaurant meal out regularly as long as I kept my diet pretty stable the rest of the time.”
While the weight fell off quickly, Penelope knew she couldn’t revert back to her old life, or it would pile back on.
“Once I had lost a lot of extra weight I could relax things a little but I still get up early — before everyone else in the family rises — and get my exercise out of the way so I’m not thinking about it all day. Even if it’s a 20-minute lap around the block, it’s better than nothing.
“This also helped me manage work stress and allowed for creative and strategic thinking when it came to personal or work issues that I am navigating through at the time. I’m fortunate that I work at a company that offers a lot of flexibility. I work from home once a week which gives me more time in the day to exercise. If I can’t get my walk in, in the mornings I will leave work a little earlier and go for a walk before I pick up the kids (especially during daylight savings). Most importantly at work I use the fire stairs to move between floors for meetings as opposed to the elevator and at lunchtime I try to increase my steps by going for a walk up to the city and back. I even have walking meetings where possible so I can avoid being sedentary all day.”
Like many busy women, Penelope had found that the weight had crept on slowly over the years, and she was thrilled to be able to shift it.
“The good news is that now my weight is stable without too much hard work and I am much, much lighter than I have been since I was a teenager. Another key tip I can share from my experience is that food prep is essential — I do a big cook-up on Sundays to ensure I have meals ready for the week.
“I also freeze meals in portion sizes so I can easily defrost something when I get home. I have a couple of great lunch spots near work which I go to once or twice a week that offer healthy meals such as salmon, brown rice and salad, and the other days I take my lunch and I always make sure I have an afternoon protein snack and some fruit so I don’t come home starving.”
Her final tip? Go easy on the booze.
“I abstain from alcohol during the week (especially when I have work functions) and drink mineral water instead, and I found this to be key to helping me lose weight. I never would have thought that I could have lost over 10kg in the beginning and now I am so glad that I put my mind to it for the few months when I really focused because I look and feel so much better.”
Susie Burrell is a nutritionist. Follow her @SusieBDiet