Written by: Alinafe Thupa

My 30th year was a major turning point in my life – I had spent my 20s pushing my career and living it up while treating my body and my mental health with indifference and frankly neglect. They had both always come through for me – I wasn’t always at my best but I functioned relatively well and was OK looking so I did not spare it more than a passing thought. When something felt wrong, I always had an expert on hand to figure it out – Therapists, nutritionists, trainers, etc. I was solving for managing or finding medical solutions for the parts of my being so they would not get in the way of my career and lifestyle.

But it was unsustainable because progressively more parts were not working. Eventually, it took a such a massive toll on my mental and physical toll on my body that by the middle of 2019, I reached total and complete burnout – I was really struggling with my mental health, I felt like absolute crap physically and I was just going through the motions with no real direction. I was working over 80 hours a week. I had developed many unhelpful habits and coping mechanisms for my general misery and dissatisfaction. So when I hit a wall, I was not surprised. Frankly, I was relieved.

It allowed me to a few months off work to actually do the real work I needed to do myself – Work through all the trauma clutter I had accumulated but was avoiding facing, make some very tough life decisions (e.g., taking a detour in my career, going completely sober, etc.) and start learning to live differently.

By the time I got to the end of 2019, I was in a much better space mentally. However, I was still struggling with my body and weight – I was still hooked on sugar and carbs; I was not active at all and I was at my heaviest. My body felt incredibly unwieldy and was still struggling with my joints. I had made a few half-hearted attempts to eat better and start working out but I had not been truly fed up until that moment. So I put a very clear aspiration on my 2020 vision board – to “build a strong, healthy body”, “manage my energy better” and “look snatched” (I kid you not, these are sections on my vision board).

I started with a keto diet mid-January to jumpstart my transformation and it is frankly one of the best lifestyle decisions I have ever made. Once I got past the sugar and carb withdrawal (which is a real thing) and found keto meals that I liked, eating well became a form of self-care for me. The lockdown in South Africa also meant I had to really put in effort to eat and completely eliminated the option of takeout our eating out. I live mostly sugar and carb-free (except for the Woolies chocolate chip cookies and eclairs which are to die for) but I do not restrict myself too much especially when I go out.

Once I got into a groove with my eating habits, I started to extend the same level of intention into other things – I started on a real adult skin and hair care regimen, which was not easy to get into but has yielded amazing results. Again, I was grateful for the lockdown because I had to engage – I could not outsource it to professionals once every couple of weeks and call that self care – I had to build a consistent routine and really figure out what worked for me.

I’m not sure when I hit my goal weight because I stopped weighing myself four months into the diet – I found the normal weight fluctuations really stressful to keep track of and I did not feel like continuing to torture myself. One day my clothes just started fitting better and I just kept going. I still have not fallen into a consistent workout routine, even though I can definitely vouch for the physical and mental benefits of being active. What I have done, though, is to become better at listening to my body, especially when it needs me to move a little more. That may mean starting my morning with yoga one day, wrapping up the week with a HIIT session or power-walking around the neighborhood. I prioritize sleep above almost everything else and have developed rules on how to maintain balance, even when work requires late nights once or twice a week.

The only way this lifestyle works is because I am doing the spiritual and emotional work to deepen my self awareness and my relationship with myself. The better I am at listening to my own body, understanding my emotional states and my desires at the level of my soul (vs. chasing the superficial stuff), the more choice and freedom I have to create the life I want. I find that my poor lifestyle choices often come when I fall into a victim mindset (my life is so stressful so let me reward myself with…) or when my resiliency reserves are depleted (e.g., if you ask me to order from a menu at the end of a long day, I will probably choose the greasiest, most hearty meal on it).

So I have built a few habits to keep me on track – For example, I avoid grocery shopping when I am hungry. I also prep most of my meals over the weekend so I don’t have to think about what to eat during the week. And I try to keep a flexible routine that I make sure I balance out by the end of each week. I also try to start my mornings with spiritual practice and maintain self awareness and mindfulness throughout the day so I can deal with stress and triggers as they come and proactively manage my energy.

I’m finding that the more I practice this way of living, the easier to make more positive choices than negative ones. And although the results are obvious to everyone who sees, me for me its much deeper than that. I feel good.