It was 2011 when Melissa Lewis first learned she had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder common among women of reproductive age.
“We were trying to fall pregnant at the time and were blessed with a son in 2013, but when we decided we wanted to try for a second child in 2017 our attempts were unsuccessful.”
Under the stress and emotional strain, Melissa decided to discontinue her attempts. Her health and weight were also major issues.
“I was pre-diabetic and my blood pressure was sky high It became clear that something needed to change. Realising how my health had deteriorated due to my lifestyle was the wake-up call I needed to take care of myself. I knew that if I didn’t, there would be serious consequences.”
At that point in her life, Melissa felt terrible. “I completely lacked self-confidence, which affected every area of my life, from feeling self-conscious at work to questioning my decisions as a mom. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, my clothes didn’t fit and I had no idea how to dress for that figure. I had never felt or looked like this before and I wanted desperately to change.”
Melissa says her overriding motivation to achieve her goals began with her desire to become healthier for her sake and that of her family.
“I decided to join the gym and eat better, but found I was making every excuse possible not to go. I then chose to enter a trail run, which was 2 months away as a specific goal to work towards. I was on the treadmill a lot and wasn’t enjoying my workouts, so after completing the trail run I decided that I needed to try other things.”
Melissa’s body hadn’t changed much and the thought of yet more boring treadmill sessions dulled her enthusiasm.
”One evening I saw an online video about weight lifting for women and it really intrigued me. It took a few days for me to get the courage to head to the ‘boys corner’ of the gym, but eventually I gave it a try.”
That was the moment that changed her life. “By combining weight lifting and HIIT workouts with a ‘If It Fits in Your Macros’ (IIFYM) diet changed my body – it looked firmer and so different – and I lost 8kg in just 3 months. My confidence also increased as I progressed, doing more and lifting heavier weights.”
Melissa says diet adherence was made easier by the IIFYM diet’s flexibility. “If I craved something I could eat it, as long as it fell within my macro allocations. I reached my goal weight in May, just in time for a beautiful holiday to Thailand with my husband.”
Stepping on stage
Her new-found confidence spilled over into Melissa’s work and family life, and gave her the motivation to keep setting bigger goals. Next on her list was a Fitness Bikini competition.
“I stepped things up by training intensely twice a day, doing both weight lifting and cardio. I also ate clean: chicken, broccoli, oats, sweet potato and egg whites, eating every 3 hours.” That combination fired up her metabolism and took her physique to the next level.
She subsequently placed third in the Fitness Bikini category at the Biogen Summer Superbodies and was invited to compete at the Arnold Classic in May 2019.
“I feel like I’m continuously improving my physique and it’s so exciting to see what my body is capable of achieving.” Melissa is now also a Nanuki ambassador and recently signed with Ergo Sports Models.
Melissa says she developed her approach through resolute research and a burning desire to educate herself about the best, most appropriate approach.
“I researched my heart out until I found something that worked for me. I did, however, seek the help of a professional – Shaye Best from LBN – to coach me through my final prep phases and teach me how to pose.” Her biggest support has come from her husband, though. “He’s my biggest cheerleader and backed me throughout every step of this journey.”
The decision to act and take control has forever changed Melissa’s life. “This experience has given me a sense of purpose and created so many new opportunities. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. I’m more confident. I’m willing to try more things and I’m always up for a challenge. I’m also a better mom, wife, employee, daughter and friend. For the first time in life I feel truly alive.”
To anyone who finds themselves in a similar position, Melissa recommends that you be brave enough to try new things. “Don’t put yourself in a box. We are so quick to talk ourselves out of things or convince ourselves that we’re incapable of achieving big goals. Once you discover your true potential and realise that you’re stronger than you think, you can overcome almost any difficulty. This will give you the confidence to live your life, and life is so beautiful when you truly live it, so don’t be content to just exist.”
Favourite healthy dish: Sweet potato protein pancakes.
Favourite exercises: Barbell squats and deadlifts in different variations.
Must-use supplements: Whey protein, BCAAs and a good multivitamin.
Top diet tip: Eat to fuel your body with foods that will help you to perform at your best. Know your caloric needs and your macros. If you can stick within those you’ll see results without the deprivation.
Lives: Cape Town
Career: Career Centre Coordinator
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.