Tired of seeing unrealistic ‘fitspo’ models or hearing about quick-fix diets that promise the world? We are too! Discover how ordinary, everyday people achieved their health goals. Prepare to be inspired!
Before and after weight-loss photos have been around for decades. But how helpful are they? Do they really celebrate hard work and progress, or do they trigger negative emotions? Here at HFG, we know there’s so much more that goes on behind the scenes with these kinds of images.
We met with two women who courageously shared their stories in the hope of motivating others. And whose health goals and strategies differed vastly.
For Alice, shedding 35 kilos helped her find a new self-confidence and career. As for Edwina, it was never about weight loss at all. She just wanted to start a family. Read on to find out what happened beyond the before and after pics.
Alice, 33, Ocularist, photographer and yoga teacher-in-training
“My confidence in who I am now is the best part of my weight-loss journey”
Ultimate health goal: Lose weight and get my energy back
When Alice was 30, she weighed 109.5 kilos. She was working 60–hour weeks in hospitality and was feeling burnt out. Enough was enough. Something had to change.
“For years I struggled with work-life balance, self-criticism, diet, self-worth, patience with myself, healthy loving relationships and not following my talents or passions. But I didn’t know where to start to change. I was lost and overwhelmed,” she recalls.
Alice explains that, growing up, she was always a sporty kid. But when she started puberty, being teased for having “big disgusting thighs” triggered her first eating disorder. “I started restricting myself to an apple and a slice of cheese a day!
“I then gained weight in my late teens, which I put down to self-esteem issues with school performance, getting my driver’s license, making poor food choices and the introduction to alcohol.”
These unhealthy lifestyle habits continued into Alice’s late 20s. But she admits that her weight gain baffled her. “When I was at my heaviest, people still would’ve described me as someone who was relatively active and enjoyed healthy foods.” This left her feeling confused and she turned to fad diets.
“I’d go on health kicks and exhaust myself doing extreme circuit training, but nothing would stick past two weeks. I felt like a failure as I never saw the results I believed I was putting the effort in for.”
Alice was determined to change her lifestyle, so she quit her job to get a better work-life balance.
“My first step was to see my GP, who ran some blood tests. The results indicated I had polycystic ovaries, so I was referred to an endocrinologist.
I also had an old ankle injury, so was referred to a physiotherapist and got an MRI on my ankle.”
Alice realised she was serving up larger than normal portion sizes. She was also eating processed foods without knowing just how kilojoule-dense they are. “I was eating out too much and not cooking at home enough,” she reflects. “I learnt a lot about nutrition and decided I was going to make my own meal plan with foods I loved. I focused on that for a fortnight and lost nearly four kilos!”
Recognising she was struggling with mental health issues, Alice decided to see a psychologist, which she says was crucial to her weight loss. “She really helped me confront painful, deep-seated issues.” Alice soon discovered new passions on her journey to better health. “I walked into a yoga studio, unfit, with an ankle injury and with low self-esteem and, based on what I physically looked like, thinking I had no place being there. But even though I worried I’d be rejected, this was not the case. The yoga community welcomed me with open arms and zero judgment.”
Fast forward three years and Alice is proud of the lifestyle she’s created. “I’ve lost 35 kilos and gained the quality of life I knew in my heart I always wanted. Even though I don’t think the number on the scales is the only factor that defines one’s ‘health’, it was a way for me to measure my goals and progress.”
For the first time, Alice is not afraid to be who she wants to be. What started as a weight-loss journey became a long road to self-discovery. “My confidence in who I am is the best part of my journey,” she says. “I don’t shy away from going after my dreams, putting myself first and believing I’m worthy of all my love and efforts. I’m also fuelled with purpose to share what I’ve learnt. I had never felt successful in anything, so to be able to share my experience in an area that many people struggle with is something that will forever keep me motivated, open and ready to help.”
Alice’s holistic approach
Recognising that health is more than weight alone, Alice shares the four areas she worked on to create a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Seeing a psychologist was an important step, both emotionally and mentally. I learnt about perspective, and that meditation is necessary for me to calm self-sabotaging thoughts.
When I saw an endocrinologist, she gave me a really helpful food guide. It outlined whole foods and how to pair proteins with complex carbohydrates. This was the biggest game-changer in terms of how I prepared meals. I also used the ‘My Fitness Pal’ app, which helped me understand how calorie-dense certain foods were. I realised I needed to fill my plate with fresh vegetables and portion-control my proteins and carbs.
For a long time, I was afraid to be seen in public. But once I found something enjoyable — yoga, walking and ocean swimming — I could appreciate how incredible it is to move daily. I felt alive and started to love my body. When you get that feeling, you’ll move every day. Exercise doesn’t have to be hectic, intense or horrible — I lost all my weight without stepping into a gym.
I knew it was going to take years to achieve my weight-loss goal, so I needed hobbies outside of losing weight. I had to figure out my purpose in life. This meant defining who I am, exploring new interests and truly enjoying them. Weight loss can get very boring and strategic. There’s more to life than that.
Edwina, 39, Nurse Educator
“My priority was never to lose weight and be a size 8, it was to have a heathy baby”
Ultimate health goal: Have a healthy baby
After years of trying to conceive without success, Edwina decided things had to change.
“My husband and I had been trying for a baby for five years, with help from an endocrinologist and dietitian. But we were still having miscarriages, which was put down to my BMI being over 30,” explains Edwina.
Frustrated and fed up, she turned to the internet for quick fixes, but this only left her more confused. “I self-medicated with supplements and went on fad diets, such as drinking celery juice, in an attempt to lose weight and fall pregnant,” she recalls. “Everything I read on the internet was contradictory and, in turn, nothing worked!”
At the age of 18, Edwina was told she had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) but it wasn’t until more than a decade later that she was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis and an endometrioma in one of her ovaries. She had surgery and the operation was difficult. Edwina felt her dream of being a mum slipping away.
In an attempt to take a different approach, Edwina set out to find a dietitian whose ethos matched her own. “I connected with fertility dietitian Stefanie Valakas on Instagram (@the_dietologist), shortly after the surgery in 2018. She helped me shift my focus away from weight loss and towards optimising my overall health instead.” Realising weight loss was not the be all and end all was the change Edwina needed. “My priority was never to lose weight and be a size 8, it was to have a heathy baby.”
Edwina worked closely with Stefanie to make dietary changes to support a healthier lifestyle, all the while optimising her egg quality. She ate more fruit and veg, and included good quality extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and customised supplementation to her diet. Even her husband made positive changes to his diet to support their fertility journey by reducing his caffeine intake.
Edwina ended up conceiving in June 2019, which resulted in another miscarriage. She conceived again in October 2019, and now has a healthy 18-month-old daughter, Alexandra. “Without changing from a restrictive low-fat food approach for weight loss to a more holistic approach for good health, my baby girl wouldn’t be here today.”
Edwina and her husband want to expand their family but, as she approaches 40, she knows time is not on her side. However, she’s hopeful their dietary and lifestyle changes will put them in the best position to fall pregnant again. “Even if it doesn’t occur, I know Stefanie’s recommendations are supporting not just hormonal health, but our general health and wellbeing for the long term.”
Edwina says seeking advice from a fertility dietitian has provided an unexpected bonus.
“By changing how and what we eat, I now realise I’m setting up life-long, healthy habits for my daughter, which is an incredible feeling.”
Q: Should you see a dietitian?
Want to make changes to how you eat? First of all, you’re in the right place! HFG is packed with expert advice to help you get healthier and stay that way. But if you’re looking for personalised advice, it might be worth making an appointment to see an accredited practising dietitian.
Many people think dietitians only help people who want to lose weight. While they do deal with weight loss, dietitians help all kinds of people — of all ages, genders, nationalities and financial circumstances — with a range of goals. This could be having more energy, coping with uncomfortable tummy issues, preventing or recovering from illness, having a healthy baby or just growing old gracefully. To find a dietitian ask your GP for recommendations.