Understanding of my own body changed a whole bunch over last decades, so much so that I find it hard to comprehend some of my previous thinking patterns, no matter how sanctioned they were/are by the health and wellness industry. People often ask me to share my tips on staying slim yet I don’t know what to say because I don’t have a regiment, at least not in a traditional sense of the word - all I can share with you is the road that led me to my current mindset, including the many traps I got stuck in along the way.
Perhaps stereotypically for a girl, I spent most of my teens and twenties picking myself apart. Without the meta cognition of understanding why I was so obsessed with my “imperfections” aka, anything that differed from the images in magazines, I just never felt good enough. It didn’t start off like this - I was a skinny tomboy that no boy looked at like that, always on the go, with a big appetite and zero self-awareness of body having an aesthetic appraisal benchmark – my flesh was just this instrument that ran, dug for worms and climbed trees – a vessel which I’d push to its limits, revelling in breaking important personal records such as - how far can I jump off the swing when it’s at its highest point? - of which I was the neighbourhood record holder. It was the 80/90s, the last vestige of that blissful era when mums yelled out: “come home before dark! “as kids skipped outdoors to roam uncontactable and wild. Meanwhile at home, my beautiful curvy mum would occasionally sigh: “I’m so fat, I must go on a diet” - before embarking on a miserly 7-day intake of only apples one day, carrots the next then cucumbers and so forth. Watching her starve herself whilst I munched on crispy pork rind, I wondered when the terrible curse of needing to worry about what I eat was going to strike me too.
The move to New Zealand from Croatia at the tail end of my 14th year, left me with crippling depression as I pined for my first love left behind in the old country, drowning my tears in a family sized tub of ice cream every day, stacking on 12 kgs. in the process. The truth, as it turned out, wasn’t that my metabolism was miraculously fast, but that eating huge amounts of sugar whilst huddled in blankets E.T style piled kilograms on me just like most humans’ bodies naturally do. Here is where my sojourn into nutrition, dieting and body shame starts. As an avid reader of Girlfriend and Dolly magazines, as well as more adult ones like Cosmopolitan, I started getting my dietary advice from their resident dieticians, whose opinions from today’s perspective leave much to be desired. It wasn’t the magazines’ fault per say, the scientific world, paid off by the sugar industry, had gone insane demonizing fats in the 90s so I bought low fat everything, cut out meat and dairy fat and joylessly nixed dressing on my salad.
Man, looking back at those days I cringe at myself – feeling extremely sure I was so much more science based in my newfangled food education, I would turn my nose up at delicious slow cooked lamb and veggie stew mum made, and instead cook myself a pasta with tomato paste, low fat processed cheese and preservative loaded low fat ham, when in reality, the fresh meat and veggies combined with bone broth was a much healthier and nourishing choice. At least I took up focused exercise after not moving my body at all for months and running 5 km every day like a determined female version of Rocky Balboa I imagined myself to be paid dividends; three months later, I fit into my old clothes again.
The joy of triumph was short lived – this was only the beginning of the War On My Body. If that conflict had a game plan, it would’ve carried a banner saying: “You Will Never Be Good Enough, Ever”. Strictly a losing play of course, but I didn’t know that at the time – besides, my body was back to a size 8-10 and all my clothes fit again. I was a winner, a person able to discipline myself and produce results I desired – and boy is there something very addictive about that feeling. Through today’s lens I see a young girl tight fisting perfectionism and an overidentification with the external to cope with all the undealt trauma she refused to acknowledge and didn’t know how to unpack. Back then though, it seemed that if I could just focus on this one small part of my life I could control, everything else would feel manageable too.
One year later, after being scouted by a modelling agent in a shoe store in Auckland, New Zealand, the War on My Body intensified even more. Now, size 8-10 was “too large” and people wanted me to lose even more weight. The thing was, I was already eating a low-fat diet and exercising every day – to get down to a size 6 I would actively need to starve myself. So, I tried not eating but kept failing and feeling guilty – I suppose the Balkan in me isn’t able to pick a career over food or get so excited over fashion that I forget about steak. In retrospect, thank goodness for that programming, because without it, I could’ve really damaged my reproductive system like a lot of young models back in the era of “heroin chic look” did. This dark underbelly of modelling became apparent when I started travelling internationally for work - arriving into places like London and New York, I was put into agency provided shared accommodation for international models and the things I saw there made me want to leave those apartments as swiftly as I could. Often there would be remnants of vomit in the toilet bowl because girls were bulimic, one of them tried to teach me how to eat cotton buds to lose weight, another boasted about not eating for 5 days straight, her calves as skinny as my arms, spine painfully protruding, so tiny she looked as if a gust of wind would send her flying into the air. Some couldn’t remember when they last had their periods but still managed to do 14 castings and an exercise session on 1000 calories per day. Gym bros have nothing on desperate young models – I've never seen such gritty determination and dedicated self-denial. These qualities I'd found so inspiring and motivating in losing my ice cream weight all of a sudden looked extremist, harmful and insane. I promised myself that I would never become like that.
Dreading the days when the agency made me go in for a tape measure – a way to see if my body was still sized 34”-24”-34” as stated on my modelling card, I would eat a miserly salad the day before, in a deluded hope that one day of dieting would undo the previous week of relatively normal eating. Getting older meant my narrow child pelvis widened into woman’s hips– now it was really impossible to keep my old measurements - often the unforgiving tape found my hips to be 36” or even 37” inches around. Of course, this is still darn tiny but in the runway world back then, it wasn’t good enough. My agent would tell me to get a gym membership and do that on top of my running regime, but I couldn’t be bothered- it wasn’t that I was lazy, I was already jogging 6kms and walking to all my castings, often raking 15-25 kilometers worth of steps in one day. I didn’t find emaciation in any way appealing, not as an action or as a look – I grew up on early 90s supermodels and loved how strong they looked in comparison to the new breed of early '00s model. Deep down I wanted to be more voluptuous than thin, even though my body shape was less hourglass than rake.
Subconsciously I felt this was my hips at my tiniest healthy weight, yet still berated myself- swapping my normal muesli, fruit and yoghurt breakfast for a can of Slim Fast and a Parliament cigarette, or a ham and cheese salad sandwich lunch for a bagel with low fat cream cheese. Thank goodness my Greek Australian boyfriend at the time often cooked dinner, completely ignoring my no fat fad or I would have suffered malnutrition. Misguidedly swapping real food for empty calories, I relied on artificial vitamins to fill the gaps in my diet, then suffered painful, long periods, cyst pimples around my jaw and candida infections as a punishment for my work hard, play hard lifestyle on a crappy low-fat diet full of preservatives, empty additives and hidden sugars. Basically, just a clueless kid making money and having fun, usually down at the Twilo super club dancing the weekends away to house music and drum ‘n bass in the throes of ecstasy.
Admittedly, I wasn’t very nice to my body back then; I spoke to it awfully, always picking faults, expected it to be ok with a whole bunch of stupid behavior, lack of sleep, toxins and overexertion, generally driving myself into the ground without listening to any messages it was sending. In reality, I wasn’t really tuned into myself, constantly rushing, obsessed with how I looked, my livelihood relying on others’ perceptions of my face and body.
One day, walking down 8th street, I entered a crystal shop to browse for a new nightstand friend and found books that outlined natural, food-based ways of curing many diseases and ailments. Curious, I started taking stock of registering how certain foods felt in my body, making sure I was mostly eating the sort of sustenance that would encourage healing, avoiding vices such as sugary cocktails, “white death” bread or processed sweets. Then, my boyfriend developed a skin condition and, in my quest to help him, I visited health food shop naturopaths for advice and started buying all sorts of herbs I never even knew existed. The Universe clearly thought I was ready to learn some stuff about these wonderful meat suits we all wear because all of a sudden information bombarded me from every direction. They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears and boy was that right in my case. Once curious about a topic, I tend to become obsessive, yet it still took decades of learning and unlearning to get where I am today.
Fast forward 6 years and I’m pregnant, standing in my obstetrician’s office getting tested for gestational diabetes because I put on 30 kgs. It wasn’t that I ate a crazy amount of food or ate badly and yet my body just kept stacking weight on. By this point, I was hooked on learning about a new and exciting emerging field of medicine called the microbiome and its interconnectedness with our mental and physical wellbeing, often experimenting with fermented foods as a part of my diet. Books such as Gut and Psychiatry Syndrome and Weston Price’s Natural Traditions led me deeper into appreciating properly prepared nutrients and food grown without pesticides and GMOs.
Turns out I didn’t get diabetes but I did develop a bit of a delusion when it came to the perception of my body, amusingly in an opposite direction of anorexia. Once I gave birth, I felt like I had magically sprung back into shape within a month so I went shopping for new jeans. The shop keeper asked me what size I was and I said – “Well, I’m not sure, perhaps 2 sizes bigger than I used to be, maybe a size 12?”. She looked at me as if I was mad and brought out a size 16 – “I think these are more your fit” she said, leaving me in the changeroom jaw dropped, eyes swelling with tears. Turned out I had only lost 10kgs when I gave birth and now here was all this other weight just hanging around.
I was determined to embody my female Rocky Balboa avatar again but things weren’t so easy this time – my baby had terrible colic, only slept 45-minute naps day and night and needed to be held to sleep around the clock. I was a walking mess, a tired, wired, emotional mess with no time to shower, let alone exercise. It wasn’t until a year later, when my daughter weaned off the boob and started sleeping through the night that I felt I had energy to spare for myself. Whilst over that year, 8 kgs. melted through breastfeeding and baby rocking, another 12 hung around so my partner, at my request, gifted me a personal trainer for my birthday. Her regime stated one was to wake up in the morning and immediately have 2 large glasses of water with lemon, along with an espresso, then walk to the gym for 25 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weight lifting, followed by a 5-minute stretch twice per week for 6 weeks. No carbs or starchy vegetables were allowed after midday, food had to be fresh, protein had to be palm sized and I wasn’t to look at sugar apart from 80 or 90 % dark chocolate or low sugar fruit such as strawberries as a treat practiced in extreme moderation. On some of the other days I wasn’t training with her, I’d go for a 30-60 walk instead. Miraculously, by the end of that month, I had lost 10 kgs whilst eating balanced, nutritionally rich meals. I would like to say that it was just hard work and dedication but frankly, it was also finally sleeping and feeling settled as a mother and human, stepping into my own power again after the chrysalis of infanthood.
In the years that followed I became obsessed with Pilates, which I did twice per week, reveling in the range of movement and isolation of individual muscles I was never aware of before, then discovered Power Plate training , whose short sessions and quick muscle gain gave me a rush. Reading a book by Louise L Hay called “You Can Heal Your Life” introduced a radical idea that our emotions and thought patterns directly influence our health and wellbeing into my consciousness. Mirror work and affirmations felt so uncomfortable and weird to do at first – I had an aversion to saying nice things to myself because after years of putting myself down, the words felt phony. Yet, the more I persisted in doing this work, the more something started expanding and healing inside me, bringing ever more compassion and love into all my abandoned parts, cracking me open to a new perception grounded in self-acceptance.
Life was good, I could eat in an 80/20 fashion, exercise 2-3 times per week and be healthy and happy.
6 years later, everything changed when the relationship with the father of my child began unravelling. Crohns disease symptoms I’d never had before flared up- suddenly in pain, losing weight and having major intestinal issues, I wondered if it was all somehow related to the stress I was experiencing. Doctors said I’d most likely need to just live with this now, recommending corticosteroids, but I refused to accept this as my new life.
In hindsight, attempting to resolve my health at this time became the second springboard into learning more about this flesh suit , deepening my appreciation for the wisdom of nature. Naturopaths, diagnostic tests and kinesiologist visits found my body was reacting to gluten, dairy, and empty sugar, even in small amounts plus I had low adrenal function and an impaired thyroid alongside my autoimmune disease. On the inside, my body was falling apart, but on the outside, I was skinnier than ever and getting amazing compliments in the fashion industry : “Oh My God! You look FABULOUS! So tiny! What’s your secret? “– people would say as I wished my gut would stop hurting , notwithstanding my disappearing butt.
I had to become a lot more disciplined about what I put inside me– before, I’d rarely worry about gluten, now, avoiding it was more a matter of choosing comfort over pain. Reading ingredients in an obsessive manner, learning about fillers and sneaky toxins, I started putting together a plausible puzzle of how my body could be overreacting to my lifestyle choices and sending assassins to attack itself.
Even though I was told no one knew why my body turned on me, I couldn’t accept it was inherently unintelligent, instead, it seemed to me too many bombs were going off on too many fronts and it was exhausted, trying to cope the best it could. Through my decade long research into the microbiome up to that point, it was clear to me that something was going on with my gut flora so I started suspecting that even something previously innocuous such as citric acid derived from GMO black mold could act as an allergen and set my recovery back.
People often laugh at humans serious about their health to the point they become nitpicky about ingredients, but it’s often those same teasers that are so disconnected from their body that they refuse to heed its signals, choosing instead numerous synthetic medications with many inconvenient side effects to treat lifestyle preventable disease. Reinventing everything about my life was hard , I’m not going to lie, but it did work –no more whipping the dead horse with coffee and wine, now I was hawkishly watching every ingredient I put in my mouth, parasite cleansing with strong herbs followed by probiotics, smoothies and juices, frequent naps, deep meditation sessions, affirmations, healing binaural beats, gentle walking, yoga and breathing exercises. Some months later, pain in my gut stopped and that satisfaction I once got from keeping myself a certain weight returned, this time, as relief for the healing miracle I was blessed with due to my vigilance and purity.
Soon after, I met a new man and fell in love with him quickly, missing the many red flags he waved, too hypnotized by the sweet words he spoke to see the lack of his actions. Turned out years down the line he was emotionally and physically abusive, but I still kept seeing the world through rose coloured glasses ,hoping things would go back to how they were in the honeymoon stage . During the relationship, my body would often send me signs in the form of illness, such as a really bad kidney infection, pain, depression or anxiety and hormonal fluctuations but I would gaslight myself into thinking I just needed to eat better and take more vitamins because that had worked so well before.
I suppose I couldn’t admit or see that the person who was deepening my beliefs of being defective, causing me to walk on eggshells and live in a perpetual fear of being abandoned was abusing me. After that realization finally dawned on me and the spell was broken, I spent years learning about how the emotional body influences the physical launching me into therapy and plant medicine journeys, releasing built up trauma, purging what felt like generations of programs and beliefs from my DNA. This material self that used to seem all encompassing, solid and important became only a small part of me that needed nourishing - after all we’re actually made of 99. 999999.. % energy. Joe Dispenza’s work further refined the hunch that we exist as a blueprint on an energy plane to which the material body effortlessly synchs to when in harmony with all parts of itself, leading to profound healing.
When someone asks me how I stay skinny now, it seems like an oxymoron because regaining physical and mental health has been so hard won for me that being thin will never be my goal again. This skin suit naturally fluctuates a size up or down and when it does, I don’t freak out anymore- I have jeans and clothes in both sizes and fluidly shift between the two as needed. Usually my body burns more calories in the cold and less in the warm and this naturally translates to craving richer foods in the winter than in the summer.
Intuitive eating didn’t come easy for me because I had mentally white knuckled control so hard in the past. Counting calories and programs like the 5/2 diet, with its extreme hunger on the “on” days only made me overeat on the “off” ones -I must be the only person who puts on weight following these sorts of plans. Simply put, the more I try to diet, the more miserably I fail - worrying about numbers leads to an increase in my naturally ADHD like obsessive tendencies, but once I notice myself becoming like this, I know I’m in the wrong place mentally. When I started trusting my body, I didn’t need to count kilojoules anymore because I could just tune into it's needs– this means I’ll have massive dinners with dessert out occasionally, but sometimes after eating rich food for a few days, I’ll take a day out to eat fruit, or gorge on fish tacos for a week, or have noodle soups for 3 days straight because that is what my body craves.
Saying that, I do eat clean, ( an instinct borne from feeling lousy for so long and learning what suits me through trial and error) and have strict rules around avoiding seed oils, chemicals, GMOs, hormone and antibiotic fed conventionally reared meat and processed food 99% of the time. I usually don’t eat breakfast because I am not hungry in the mornings, naturally fasting about 14 hours per day, but even this isn’t something I subject my body to every day, neither is it strict – I’ll drink a coconut matcha or a coffee with lashings of ghee most days before fasting time is up. Gluten is only ever a special treat, dairy I eat sparingly now and white sugar is never on the menu unless it’s an occasional artisanal gelato or dessert in a restaurant. I swap sugar for sulphur free dry fruits, honey or maple syrup and hardly ever eat things like muesli bars or trail mixes. My body is bad with nuts, cashews, soy and some grains, so I made a lousy vegan when I tried that type of eating, finally settling on a diet that is loosely branded paleo, but lately I’ve also been eating lots of beans, properly prepared by soaking overnight .
Antibiotics during an illness really messed up my gut and made me gain weight, apparently this is a technique used in fattening up cattle too, so after a round, sometimes it takes up to 2 years to start digesting foods as efficiently as I did before due to a lack of good bacteria needed to transform it into energy. Probiotics are hugely important for nutrient absorption, it’s estimated Western people on the whole hold a much-diminished microbiome than our African counterparts due to our diet of junk food and an overuse of antibiotics and chemicals in food and medicine.
When it comes to fast food, I haven’t had any big chain grub since about ’98. That doesn’t mean I never eat burgers, pizza or take out it’s just that I either make it at home or eat at smaller boutique places where I know ingredients are of better quality. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much preservatives, additives and antibiotics in our food influence our mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as keep us from achieving perfect health and sweet spot weight.
If there was one message I’d like to end this essay with it’s to worry less about counting calories and more about creating a sustainable lifestyle that nourishes your own optimum performance and energy levels. This is truly a different approach and journey for everyone due to the fact that our individual gut bacterial populations are as unique to us as our fingerprint, leading us all to respond to foods, stress and exertion differently.
You and I will not digest things in the same way, so many naturopaths advise we turn to our ancestral diet for answers since it may be the most digestible for our genetic make up – in my case, that would be lots of vegetables with small amounts of meat and lots of fermented foods and saturated fats in the mix . Saying that, if your sugar cravings are mad, perhaps upping your protein, magnesium intake or adapting a Candida diet approach or parasite cleanse for a little bit may actually resolve them. Should they persist, looking at where inside of us we need comfort, safety and sweetness may shine a light onto compulsive behaviors. Remember too that everything toxin free is healthy in moderation , that includes good sugars, which are a brain food.
My whole life people around me exalted the beauty of female form as existing only in parameters of small sizes but to me the most beautiful women have always been the ones that owned their bodies’ sensuality and strength, regardless of their shape– after all, if everyone looked the same, the world would be a boring place to live in. This society has taught us to torture ourselves in order to be deemed attractive by others instead of teaching us how to self validate whilst maintaining vibrant health and happiness. Choosing to be yourself instead of a clone in a world glorifying cookie cutter aesthetics is the ultimate middle finger to a system woefully unequipped to deal with multitudes encompassing who human beings truly are.