“A breakdown caused me to change my life – and lose more than five stones”

Juls Abernethy, 51, is the founder of a wellness company

I was 39 when I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for three months and that experience was a huge wake-up call that my life needed to change. I was working in HR and I was very stressed. I was working, coming home to eat – which was takeout as it was usually late – drinking a bottle of wine and a few vodkas and trying to get some sleep before heading back to work. I thought I would cope, but my body had other ideas and one day I had a panic attack at work.

The advice from the hospital was that I needed to take medication and start talking therapy, but I knew I had to change my lifestyle. I was 16 stone and although I had always been big, I wanted to feel more in control.

I very simply started moving my body more, doing things that I liked. At first it was just walking, then I started a class at a local gym called Body Balance. While I thought of exercise as penance for the things I had eaten, I began to think of it as something that could be enjoyable. I met Julie Brealy, a personal trainer who really helped me and introduced me to kettlebells, so important for developing strength.

I also addressed my diet. I had been on a serial diet, but I was still falling off the wagon. At the most stressed, I was living on a sugar and caffeine diet. I often had a Red Bull for breakfast and then ate chocolate or crisps when my blood sugar went down. I met a nutritional therapist who gave me some advice, and the first thing I did was fight my sugar addiction. Once I cut my usual sugar doses, my natural blood sugar level improved and I didn’t feel like I was rushing for the next sugar fix. Then I started eating more protein to fill me up and help me build muscle, and more fruits and vegetables to improve my gut health, which can also help improve my mental health.

The effect was huge – I lost five and a half stone and have kept it ever since. That was 12 years ago and when I think back to the woman I was, I see that someone just existed – alive to work and come home and go numb. Now I feel energized and balanced: the difference has changed my life. I knew I had to help other women in my position and so together with Julie we founded The Body Retreat in 2010. I believe it really helps other women to hear my story and realize that they too can contribute these changes.

my training week

I swim four times a week in the sea, which gives me such a high. I also hop on my Rogue Indoor Cycle (which works your arms and legs at the same time) for 10 minutes and follow that up with a 10-minute kettlebell workout twice a week, plus some stretching.

What I eat in a day

  • Breakfast: Smoothie made with banana, nut butter, yogurt and milk, flax seeds, collagen and a shot of decaffeinated coffee; that keeps me going all morning
  • Lunch: Pan-fried broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach with avocado, a fried egg and sauerkraut
  • Dinner: Red lentil pie with greens on the side
  • Snacks: an apple with a teaspoon of nut butter

Lifestyle aids

  • Carbs: Yes, but mostly slow-release carbs. Then, on the weekends, I might have a few slices of toast with marmalade; I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule, where you allow yourself treats 20% of the time.
  • Caffeine: I have two Earl Gray teas first, then no more because it makes me nervous.
  • Alcohol: I drink, but only on high days and holidays.
  • Sleep: Menopause is having an impact right now, but before that I slept up to eight hours a night and woke up feeling refreshed.

Have you ever experienced an “awakening” that made you want to change your lifestyle? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

About Keith Johnson

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