Kyle, a 22-year-old student consulted with one of the dietitians in the practice and over a period of a year lost 40kgs. He was keen to share some of his experiences.
Q: You have struggled with your weight for a long time and have tried different approaches, but have never maintained the weight loss for longer than a couple of months. What has been different this time?
A: The major difference between my past attempts and now is the presence of a dietitian. There are thousands of diets out there based on the 'average person' but this time the dietitian planned a diet ‘specifically for me’. This approach made the world of difference merely because there is no diet like it. I viewed it as a sort of tunnel vision to myself.
[Dietitian’s comment: Previously Kyle had always tried generic diets (often very low in calories) that didn’t suit his body type or student lifestyle and so he would find it hard to adhere to these diets for long. This time round he was ready to make long-term sustainable changes to his lifestyle. Initially we focused on managing his portion sizes and preparing more of his meals at home. Kyle was pleasantly surprised that he could still include some of his favourite foods in moderation and continue to lose weight.]
Q: How has being more involved in preparing meals played a role in this journey?
A: At first, I thought it was asking a lot from me. To the point where I re-evaluated this journey because it seemed like too much work to do every week. Only recently have I actually appreciated that preparing the meals taught me time management skills and convenience. When I was busy with work, I could've easily gone for take-aways but now that I have prepared my meals, it has eliminated the chance for me to cheat.
[Dietitian’s comment: Kyle and I often discussed easy meals that he could prepare in advance and take to campus as a packed lunch. He started with a limited variety of simpler meals but as he gained more confidence and had more time, he started to try new recipes from friends. I also referred Kyle to some good websites and apps that he could use when he was away at University. He seemed to enjoy yummly.com (an international recipe sharing app) the most.]
Q: How have the people around you played a role in your journey?
A: From day one, both my family and friends have been supportive. Before my journey, I didn't realize that healthy lifestyles were constantly around me. For example, my brother Nicholas appeared on the cover of Men’s Health magazine, my friend Tsepiso had become vegetarian for health reasons, my friend Fikile lost a lot of weight through healthy eating, and my friends Ilyaas and Justin are committed to the gym. Thus, the people around me not only offer their support but continue to motivate me daily.
[Dietitian’s comment: A supportive social network is important and we would often discuss how people were influencing his journey and strategies that he could apply in different social settings.]
Q: Have there been times where people's comments or advice have been hurtful or unhelpful?
A: Unfortunately, yes. There have been a few backhanded compliments like 'wow, you've lost a lot but you need to stop, you're starting to look weird' or 'yeah, sure, you've lost a lot but you're too thin now, you need to bulk up'. Hurtful, yes, but I'm one to turn a sour situation into personal motivation. Water off a duck's back, I guess.
[Dietitian’s comment: The rate of Kyle’s weight loss has recently slowed down and going forward there may be times when his weight will plateau for periods of time. After the first month he introduced light exercise and continued to lose a total of 30kg, but once he increased his strength training, his muscle mass increased. At our regular meetings, I’d adjust his meal plan accordingly and we would reflect on his process, celebrate small (and big) victories, brainstorm around failures and difficult situations and discuss practical solutions to overcome these barriers. He wants to continue to decrease body fat and increase his lean muscle mass. Now our plan is to extend the time periods between follow-up visits so that Kyle assumes more responsibility but at the same time, knows that he is welcome to contact me when he has any questions.]
“Changing your lifestyle is a dynamic process. As weight is lost, the diet needs to be adjusted and so the target shifts. Then one has to negotiate new foods and new situations. The dietitian plays an important role in terms of diet planning, education, support and motivation, but for the diet to be sustainable long-term, strategies that enhance self-efficacy need to be explored.”
How does nutrition play a role in your training and performance?
Nutrition plays a huge role. My body is the tool of my trade & therefore what I put into it matters a lot. Almost every meal I eat is in preparation for my next training session. I try to eat lots of fruit and vegetables and unrefined carbs. For example, sweet potatoes, quinoa, wholegrain rice. For my main protein sources I eat skinless chicken, fish & lean meat and I love cheese & yoghurt too. I will eat 3 main meals a day plus smaller meals in between, all depending on my training for that day. I can train up to 5-6 hours a day so I need to ensure I am sufficiently fuelled. I'll make sure I carry a recovery drink (usually chocolate milk) for after training sessions, as the sooner I refuel, the sooner my body repairs & replenishes for the next session.
My races usually last about 2 hours and I have found that carrying a bottle of carb & electrolyte drink as well as a bottle of water & 2 gels, ensures I can perform at peak.
Have you had any nutritional issues?
I battled with fatigue when I became a full time athlete. I had increased my training hours quite a lot but just seemed to be going slower & slower. It felt awful and I knew something was not right. My dietitian recommended I have my iron levels checked and a blood tests confirmed that I was anaemic and had depleted all my body's iron stores, thus the fatigue. I increased my red meat consumption as a result (animal iron being the best source available) & supplemented with iron*. This made a massive impact on my training & I was also able to take the new training load & improve as a result.
What would you advise other aspiring athletes or triathletes when it comes to nutrition?
Keep it simple. Some athletes are always on the latest fad diets. Make sure you eat a balanced diet, ensuring you are eating enough for the training you are doing. After spending quite a bit of time with other Olympian athletes I can tell you that most of them eat a balanced diet and are not on a fad diet of the moment. Eat to recover as the sooner you recover & repair, the more you can do and thereby get an edge on your competition. I still enjoy treats such as cake and pizza, but the key is to do so in moderation and not every day. I wish some young female athletes could spend a week with me to see just how much I eat...the body needs to be fuelled and not starved. There are too many young girls with stress fractures which are often caused from a poor nutrition, where simply not enough calories are being consumed. If you want to be a successful, healthy athlete food is extremely important and I'd definitely advise seeing a dietician with sports nutrition experience, to help you with your needs.* Iron supplementation should only be taken on the advice of a doctor or registered dietitian.