Making sustainable lifestyle changes and creating new habits – Michael’s success story

This week we chat to Michael North, as part of the series of success stories we will be sharing over the next couple of months. Michael started seeing Registered Dietitian, Elienne Horwitz, when he started gaining weight and feeling unhealthy:

Why did you decide to see a dietitian? (Michael’s before story)

The short answer is I was getting fat and feeling and unhealthy and all my attempts at watching what I ate and drank were short lived and unsuccessful. I was exercising a bit, mountain biking on the weekend and playing the odd game of squash, but these were usually followed by reward lunches with my friends.

Combined with this was that some friends who I would generally beat up the hills and round the trails started beating me! I also started noticing how slow I was getting and how steep and more difficult the hills were becoming. I guess when the lunches were getting longer and more taxing than the mountain biking, I knew I needed some help.

Tell us about your journey with the dietitian?

My first visit to Elienne was for a Discovery Vitality assessment that a friend from work said I should do to get points on my card to qualify for the discounts. After doing this and realising that the dietitian was not a scary food nazi intent on making me feel useless unless I weighed the same as I did in primary school and only ate salad and tofu, I knew that I needed to step up if I wanted to make any changes. Elienne was really friendly, honestly wanted to help and also had a nice, but slightly strict way about her.

She made me aware of what I ate but also explained why things were good or bad. If I didn’t like some of the food items she suggested, she always had several alternative options and by explaining why I needed those food choices I was, over time and with some practice, quite easily able to choose my own alternatives.

Elienne started out by giving me a breakdown of the number of carb, protein, dairy and fat portions I should eat a day and when and how I should eat them; breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon and dinner.

I started swimming with a group at my local gym and was still mountain biking a bit so she showed me how I should adjust my diet during exercise and for recovery after.

The basic principle was not a quick weight loss scheme but more of a healthier living choice, which facilitated weight loss until reaching a weight appropriate for my height and age, etc. So my journey was not a very quick one but my weight loss and fitness levels gradually but consistently went in the right direction.

Tell us about your results / successes?

I think it took me about a year but I lost 18 kg and quite a few centimeters. I also started cycling more, doing events like the Argus and several open water swims. Most importantly, I just felt better.

After a while I started looking for other challenges to help keep me active and on track with my plan instead of back to the pub everyday! I joined a group called Embark, in Sea Point to train for the Ironman 70.3 event in East London and not only completed the triathalon, but also won the Embark “Most Improved Over All” award at the club after party. I was quite proud of that, considering that I had sworn to never run more than 5km in my life!

The following year I joined another triathlon group (My Training Day) and in April 2014 completed the full Ironman. Now the bug has bitten and this year I improved by time by about 30 minutes.

I still keep pretty much to the same eating plan that Elienne put me on in the beginning but am able to eat a bit more now with all the training I am doing. What is great though is that I now know that when I go off track a bit and maybe pick up a kilo or two and it doesn’t take much to fall back into the routine of eating properly and losing the excess again.

What was the hardest part of the journey?

Avoiding beer, red wine and pizza!

In the beginning, the hardest part was eating 5 times a day. Generally in the past I would not eat breakfast or eat very little, then be so hungry by lunch that I would eat a big, junk food lunch and would justify it by saying that I hadn’t eaten all day “so it was ok”. Then I did the same for dinner.

What are the top three tips you can share?

  • If you want to eat more, exercise more and substitute some of the bad stuff for good stuff.
  • If you want to lose weight, don’t make excuses, you know that pies and chips are not going to help.
  • If you can, go to a dietitian or someone like that to help get you started on your way and explain the ins and outs of the process. Being held responsible for your progress with regular weigh-ins can be a real help and motivation to say no to the extra beer or second helpings.

What the dietitian says

Michael lost 18kg, 13% body fat and 15cm around the waist over 16 months. He slowly changed his habits and started putting more energy into planning and preparing his meals and increasing his levels of exercise. He maintained his weight even a year later.

The most important reason Michael managed to lose the weight and keep it off was because because he did not diet – he made sustainable lifestyle changes and slowly created new habits.

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