Dancing to a new tune: A guest’s nutritional journey to great change

With Christmas and New Year being a time of change for many, we want to keep you motivated with tips, thoughts and inspiring stories to help you through the holiday season. In our latest newsletter we suggested ideas for setting your resolution goals, and how to stay on task. In the latest blog we have an inspirational story from a guest of how he went home from his holiday and went on to make great changes to his life.

by Matthew Atwell of Wellness Reflections

Having danced since the age of seven, training professionally as a ballet dancer until sixteen, and later training in musical theatre at a London drama school, I was used to a high intensity life focus. I was ambitious and confident and I graduated from my course of study and successfully worked professionally in various West End and touring musicals.

I was very active and wouldn’t have thought I could have a problem with putting on weight. However, my intake of food was grossly unbalanced. Like many male dancers, I knew that I could eat whatever I wanted and not suffer from putting on weight.

However, after completing my last professional dance job, I gradually started to.

After about five years of working in musical theatre I decided that I wanted to change my career path, and began to focus on my already active teaching and choreographic opportunities. These soon led to me running the dance department in a successful private sixth form school.

During this time, despite my efforts to eat well and exercise, I continued to put on more weight, and it only seemed to shift when I was regularly running extreme distances, which just wasn’t sustainable with my work and commuting commitments.

My work vs. life balance was seriously out of kilter.

For six years, I worked such long hours at the school that there was little time left for me to take care of myself. I found that the discomfort which this stressful and fast-paced lifestyle produced caused me to turn even more regularly to the highly refined, sugary, wheat based diet I had become accustomed to.

Self nurture was an alien concept and balance eluded me.

In an effort to get the change in lifestyle I so acutely needed, I decided to change my job, and soon started to work in the musical theatre department of a wonderful school nearer to my home.

I took up Pilates and found it brought great benefits, especially to my sense of wellbeing and rest. Then in August 2012 I decided to go on a Pilates retreat holiday with Azul; a yoga, Pilates and wellbeing retreat centre on the island of Fuerteventura, Spain.

The retreat week far exceeded my expectations. There was a small friendly group of fellow ‘retreatees’ who I ate with, and I attended a Pilates and yoga class each day. The accommodation was excellent, and each of the meals was specially planned and prepared by Azul’s own nutrition expert and cook, Jo Dombernowsky.

I was surprised by what most impacted me there.

I was more affected by the nutritionally balanced meals, and by Jo and her food philosophy, than I had expected. I hoped to be inspired by it, and possibly to lose a little bit of weight, but I didn’t know that I would learn and put into practise some nutritional secrets that would be the start of a far deeper journey of taking better care of myself.

For a start, my body just felt so different eating the vegetarian, virtually wheat and dairy free diet. I felt satisfied and more light, and was surprised not to crave or miss meat one bit. I also really valued the immense amount of time that had been put into the preparation of each aspect of the meals.

The next thing that happened was during a massage which I had with Adele, where she felt the hardness in my tummy and said that she thought I was eating too much bread. She said that she thought I had a digestive problem rather than a problem with weight, and that I should try cutting out bread for a time.

That same night I attended the group nutrition workshop being led by Jo. I was blown away to hear of the poor nutritional value being sold to us across the western world, and about the negative effects that processing and refining foods can have on the nutritional quality of what we consume. She talked about the need for certain foods to go through a preparation process to aid digestion (such as bread and oats), as well as the concept of purchasing and cooking with organic, locally produced ingredients. This really is just a snippet of what she talked to us about, but I was changed.

What I did next made the difference.

I went home, emptied my cupboards of two black bags full of refined and impoverished ingredients, and slowly began to find new ways of shopping. I kept it very simple at first, and then gradually began to expand and try new things from recipes which Jo had given to us. I sourced quality fresh vegetables and fruit, and began to fill jars with unprocessed and useful ingredients such as nuts, seeds, dried fruit and lentils. And I worked really hard. It felt like all I did was prepare and cook food in those first days. But it paid off.

I lost about 3 and a half stone (approx 22 kg) in about three or four months. And I wasn’t even exercising! Plus, the other amazing thing that changed was that an issue I’d had with excessive stomach acid, for which I’d taken medication for about five years, just disappeared. I stayed away from bread and pasta for almost 4 months, reduced my dairy and sugar intake, and ate as much fresh good food as possible. And I didn’t do it all perfectly by any means. I still don’t.

So where am I now?

Honestly, I really am still at the beginning of a journey. I know enough about food and nutrition to take better care of myself, but I find that furthering my knowledge is one of the ways that I keep motivated to continue. It will never be anything less than hard work, but it is worth it.

When I eat well, my energy levels are higher, I have less mood dips, and my body weight and shape stabilise. Plus I feel really good for investing in myself in this way.

I have also since begun to train as a Pilates instructor, which has become a really important part of maintaining balance in my life.

I highly recommend Azul as a place to retreat, as well as Jo and her amazing new cook book Truly Healthy, Truly Delicious. I am indebted to these brilliant people for being a part of my own personal journey of growth and self discovery. It’s not over yet. Thank you Azul!

This post originally appeared on Matthew’s blog ‘Wellness Reflections’ where he reflects on personal knowledge and experience of developing wellness. The blog articles are practical and aim to share skills and ideas that support and inspire other people in the work of valuing and taking care of themselves. We hope to see Matthew back at Azul soon and thank him for sharing his inspirational story. 

 

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