Elsabé Hunter took heed of the warning signs and decided it was time to steer her health down another path, for her sake and that of her children.
“It started with my mother, who suffered a heart attack and a stroke. Then, six months later my father passed away from emphysema. Losing my dad and almost losing my mom to health problems that possibly could’ve been avoided through healthier habits was a real wake-up call for me. I realised that my unhealthy habits would most likely lead me down the same road if I didn’t do something to change.”
She recalls that people also began to make comments and jokes about her weight. “In an effort to do something about it I joined a weight-loss programme, yet still managed to pick up a few more kilos. That’s when my relationship fell apart. My self-esteem reached an all-time low. I was disgusted with my body and became deeply depressed. I had hit rock bottom.”
Dealing with the depression was the most difficult problem to overcome. “Depression can paralyse a person. Your thoughts and actions also become self-defeating. Looking back, I realise that this inability to love myself and appreciate what my body is capable of likely contributed to the downward spiral I found myself in. I believe you have to love your body to make positive changes. Negative thoughts are very damaging.”
Having reached rock bottom, Elsabé knew she needed to make a significant change if she ever wanted to live a life worth living. “I decided that I really don’t want to die young. I want to live to a ripe old age and be in as good condition as possible so that I can enjoy every minute of my life to the full.”
So, she signed up with a personal trainer, and joined another weight-loss programme. Despite not losing any weight on the programme she became hooked on the fitness lifestyle, particularly the training. “As my knowledge and understanding of how to train in the gym progressed I decided to complete an exercise science and personal fitness training courses to gain deeper insight into how the body works.
Currently, she follows a diverse training programme that includes running 3-5 times a week, along with 4-5 weekly gym workouts. “My running coach, Clinton Hunter from RacePace Coaching, who is now my husband, has me on a diverse running programme that includes everything from intense track work and hill training, to long, slow weekend runs. He has cut 15 minutes off my times over the 10 and 21 kilometre race distances and I continue to make progress. He is a very gifted coach who has the ability to see what is happening below the surface, both emotionally and physically. He also deeply cares about each and every athlete and their performance.” In terms of her gym-based training, Elsabé does one high intensity interval training bodyweight session per week, two stretch and core sessions, and two full body strength conditioning sessions a week.
For Elsabé, the hardest part was to clean up her diet as she loves delicious food. “I try to follow the 80-20 principle with regard to my diet, which means I try to eat clean 80% of the time. I avoid baked food, chemically-enhanced, overly-processed food, and refined sugar. I believe in eating five small, healthy meals a day and drinking sufficient water, but controlling what and how much I eat continues to be my biggest challenge.”
Having picked up weight in the first challenge and not losing weight in the next, the programme manager has had to make peace with the fact that results don’t come overnight. “Sometimes progress is really slow and those are the times I have to work hard on my motivation to keep going. Often I slip up too, but that’s when I work extra hard to catch back up again. I have learnt that as long as you keep going, even if you slip up or there are no immediate changes, eventually the results will come.”
Another important aspect to her mindset is that she never considers her transformation as complete. “You can always be fitter, stronger and healthier.” To this end Elsabé recently took on the challenge of preparing for and running her first ultra-trail run – the 65km Ultra Trail Cape Town, which took place in October. “I also opened a small gym (www.fitstrongsa.com) and give fitness classes to a small group of members in the evenings. I find helping others on their fitness journey very satisfying.”
She also loves the fact that her new lifestyle sets the right example for her children to follow. “Your children watch and learn from what they see you do. You can therefore help them to develop healthy habits and a healthy body image from an early age by living the right lifestyle.”
And then there are the personal benefits: “I have more energy, and I am much more confident. I also appreciate my body now. As a consequence I’m now also more adventurous and keen to try new things, challenging things, because I’m confident that my body will be able to handle the physical demands I impose on it. I am very grateful for these blessings.”
Favourite healthy meal: Rocket, butter lettuce, grated apple, tuna and avocado salad with a lemon juice and thyme dressing.
Favourite training routine: A nice 20km trail run somewhere beautiful. In the gym I enjoy the Neila Rey superhero workouts.
Must-use supplements: Whey powder (I use EVOX), and Vita-thion
Top diet tip: Drink all your water, every day! Never skip meals.
Weight before: 87kg
Body fat before: 44%
Weight after: 70kg
Body fat after: 16%
Marital status: Married with two children and two step-children
Career: Programme manager specialising in banking compliance, and part-time fitness coach
Photograph by Richard Cook. Performed By Elsabé Hunter