I had an aggressive form of breast cancer in my 20s, and had a rollercoaster few years of surgery, gruelling rounds of chemotherapy, recovery, followed by drugs to keep it at bay. I felt like while all my friends were out living life, I was just preoccupied with staying alive.
That was 18 years ago, and while I’m grateful for every moment, the fear of it coming back never really leaves you, especially as I have lost a few friends along the way to cancer.
When my best friend, Kate, died in 2018 of cancer, it really knocked me, and I struggled. I found myself drinking more than I should, as a coping strategy. At my worst, it would be a bottle of wine a night. It can be surprisingly easy to do: you think you’ll have a couple of glasses, then you might as well finish the bottle. It wasn’t a good place to be.
On top of this, my normal healthy-eating and fitness habits went out of the window and my weight started to creep up. It wasn’t helped by the fact that I was going through the menopause (a bit early, thanks to the chemo depleting my ovarian reserves).
I wasn’t super-heavy, but at 5ft 6in and weighing up to 10½ stone, I had tipped into the overweight category for BMI, and I could feel more fat around my middle. I thought to myself, I’ve got to make some changes, or it would have just been a downward spiral of no return.
Find a new fitness routine
I have always loved exercise – I’m a PE teacher and have always been active – but I needed a new fitness routine to kick-start me again. I found Joe Wicks during lockdown; everyone was doing his PE with Joe thing. I started doing his workouts at home: 30-minute, high-intensity online workouts, with exercises such as burpees and star jumps and press-ups. All very simple, but just what I needed to get back into a fitness routine.
After following him on Instagram, I found the trainer Lilly Sabri, and I started doing her Pilates YouTube videos, some of which are about 15-20 minutes long. She has a physiotherapy background and is all about your whole wellbeing, from nutrition to mental health.
It felt like the right fit for me: I’ve learnt that you don’t always have to throw yourself around doing burpees to get results. Some Pilates moves are really hard and work on your core muscles from the inside out.
Focus on nutrition
Though I have always been active, I’ve never really concentrated on nutrition before: I’d always managed to eat quite healthily, but without thinking too much about it. However, I had developed bad habits, such as often eating portions that were so big, I felt bloated afterwards.
Joe and Lilly both have nutrition guides and meal plans, and they helped educate me on portion sizes and the importance of cooking for yourself. Joe doesn’t really talk about calories, but he does emphasise eating lots of vegetables, and how important protein is for repairing and building muscles (which I now know is even more important for those of us over 40, as our muscle naturally starts to decrease). I now make sure that I have a palm-sized portion of fish or chicken for lunch and dinner, instead of just veggies and carbs.
I cut out my weekly takeaway and, of course, I cut back on the alcohol to no more than a couple of glasses at the weekend, which has done wonders for my sleep, as well as for my anxiety.
I have found that taking weekly pictures of myself and measuring my body has been more motivating for my weight loss than using the scales, because it’s more visual.
I’ve lost about 1½ stone, and about 24in from around my body, including 5in off my waist. I am now at a place where I feel comfortable again in my own skin, and feel good about my lifestyle habits. It’s important for me as a teacher and a mother of a little boy to be a role model.
My workout week
I do some form of exercise 4-5 days a week, which could be HIIT or strength training for 30 minutes, playing netball or occasionally going for a run. I like to mix it up.
What I eat in a day
Breakfast: Protein pancakes, which I make with added protein powder, served with berries and maple syrup.
Lunch: I take leftovers, such as chilli con carne, to eat at work; if I’m at home, I’ll make something like a burrito and have bacon, egg, peppers, avocado and grated cheese in a wrap.
Dinner: I have to cook something that works for everyone in the family, but Joe Wicks has lots of family-friendly recipes, such as his healthy chicken chow mein, or mac and cheese.
Snacks: Protein bars are really handy; I love fruit and it’s easy to take to work; or Ryvita and hummus.
Carbs: Yes – I eat everything in moderation – but I just don’t overload on them anymore, and I don’t eat too much bread, as it makes me feel bloated.
Caffeine: I don’t drink much, just a couple of cups of tea.
Alcohol: I don’t tend to drink during the week – just a couple of glasses at the weekend.
Sleep: My sleep’s not great, thanks to the menopause. I listen to a meditation app and try to concentrate on my breathing.