Living a healthy lifestyle is one of my favourite topics, although it’s difficult to do a good job covering this subject because it’s so broad, and filled with so many details and nuances. But real life stories can be one of the best ways to demonstrate the transformative power of a healthy lifestyle. For example, take the story of my amazing co-worker Tegan Parkes. Tegan has been on an incredible journey to a healthy lifestyle since she landed her first permanent position at Accenture.
Below left: Tegan taking part in a St Patrick’s Day parade in March for the local Supermarket. Below right: Tegan today.
”This is the picture that made me realise I needed to make a change for my health. I was doing a favour for my old boss by taking part in the local St. Patrick’s Day parade in my old uniform here. It’s not that I thought I was too big, as there are people that are this size naturally who are perfectly healthy and happy. I just realised that my unhealthy habits were beginning to manifest as weight gain, and fast. It gave me the shock I needed. ”
But before I share her story with you, I would like to talk about obesity in Europe, specifically in Ireland.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) experts, Ireland is on a course to become the most obese country in Europe. As stated by the Irish Times, by 2030, Europe will face an obesity crisis of “enormous proportions”. In fact, estimates show that for Irish women, obesity and overweight rates will soar to 85 percent. And the percentage of obese and overweight Irish men is expected to increase to 89 percent.
Although these statistics can sound alarming, they are by no means a guarantee that you’re destined to become overweight or obese. The good news is that anyone has the ability and can find the resources to lead a healthier lifestyle. Of course, this is easier said than done, but since this is my favourite topic, I’ve spent hours reading inspirational stories about people who have overcome obesity, poor eating habits, and an unhealthy lifestyle.
In particular, I was so impressed by Tegan’s journey since she started working with my team that I had to interview her. I am convinced her story can inspire more young women and men out there who are struggling to find the motivation to lead a healthy lifestyle. Since Tegan is fresh from college, I needed to understand what her life was like as a student, and how it had impacted her health.
Below is my interview with Tegan where she elaborates on the obstacles she faced, how she overcame them to achieve a healthier lifestyle, and what her daily routine looks like now.
Q: As a student, what challenges did you face to stay healthy?
A: ‘’ Time and money were huge obstacles. During exam season and when I was loaded down with assignments, I didn’t always have the time to prep lunches, especially because I was working weekends and some evenings. If I did prepare lunches, it was usually something basic and stodgy like pasta and pesto, but it was limited because we didn’t have access to a microwave. I didn’t have the money to buy good–quality lunches, and I lived on the usual college fare of €2.99 chicken fillet rolls, pre-packed sandwiches, and coffee. In fairness, I did have a lot of things in my favour like the college’s gym and my student card for the odd €5 burrito bowl or hot dinner in the Buttery (Trinity College’s restaurant)! There are also a lot of sports clubs available to students.’’
I can relate to Tegan’s struggles, since I experienced similar issues as a student back in the 90’s. Having a limited budget and limited time to prepare home cooked meals can be a major contributor to obesity and disease. Struggling to find affordable accommodation, juggling assignments, attending multiple lectures, and having a part-time job can be extremely stressful, and often there isn’t a lot of money left over for nutritious meals. In fact, according to The Institute of Public Health in Ireland, food poverty, which is the inability to afford nutritious food, often results in a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables, and higher in saturated fat, salt, and processed food. Food poverty is one of the leading causes of Ireland’s increasing rise in obesity.
Unless obesity and food poverty rates are reduced, it is predicted that there will be a significant impact on quality of life, life expectancy, and healthcare costs in Ireland. We must take baby steps to begin to rectify this easily preventable problem. For starters, I was wondering how the college can help students look after their mental and physical health?
Q: What actions or initiatives could be implemented by the college’smanagement to help students stay healthy and active?
A: ”It really depends on the college and what they spend their budget on, i.e. gym equipment, supplementing food costs and sports clubs. Some colleges have more funds than others from donations for these things. I think it’s bigger than that though. The government keeps raising student fees, and rent in Dublin is sky high. A lot of students are forced to work as many hours as possible to get by. This affects their health in a lot of ways. They are sleep deprived and they can’t afford good quality, fresh food, especially if they’re living away from home. It’s such a deep rooted issue with many different contributing financial and cultural causes.
I think colleges themselves could make some little changes though. For example,making sure people have access to microwaves and fridges for their meals would be great. And I would have appreciated a seating area to eat home cooked meals too. I feel that urging college shops to sell more than just apples and bananas as a healthy option is very important. Seasonal fruit and vegetables, rice cakes, granola, porridge, hummus, nuts, seeds and natural yoghurts, among many others, are just as cheap and just as easy to stock as chocolate, crisps, and fizzy drinks. ”
What Tegan has told us so far has clearly shown how difficult it can be to adopt a healthier lifestyle, especially when finances are tight and one is surrounded by a plethora of cheap junk food. But even though Tegan struggled to adopt healthy lifestyle habits as a college student, all of that changed as soon she met the perfect guy, aka. The Body Coach.
Meet Joe Wicks, also known as The BodyCoach. Wicks is a bonafide online fitness guru. His social media posts have earned him legions of fans who eagerly await his daily recipe and workout posts on Instagram (728k followers), Facebook (631k), Twitter (115k) and YouTube (65k subscribers). Wicks started out as a personal trainer, but in just two years, he’s built up a staff of 50, who help him manage the thousands of clients doing his online fitness programme.
After meeting Wicks, Tegan started a 90 day lifestyle program that had her transforming in front of my eyes. Obviously, I was curious to find out more about this revolutionary program, and what had initially motivated Tegan to sign up.
Q: Why did you decide to follow The Body Coach program?
A: ”When I started my new office job, it was a complete lifestyle switch. I was a student who was used to walking for half of my commute to college, walking from class to class, and then on the weekends being on my feet all day as a barista. I could eat whatever I liked and it wouldn’t really have an affect on my weight. When I moved to an office environment, my day went like this: I got up, sat in my car all the way to work, sat at my desk all day, then sat in my car all the way home, then sat on my couch until bedtime. It was a huge change for my body. I also took full advantage of the snack cart. My brain was still in college mode, and the student in me went nuts at the thought of free food. I was going through all the free chocolate, crisps, cake, cheese, crackers, fizzy drinks, sugary cereal, and cappuccinos I could get my hands on. I was eating out of boredom. I had all this pent-up energy from not moving around, and I was just eating to stimulate myself. Before I knew it, I had gained a stone. I was depressed and became withdrawn because I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin anymore. Something needed to change.
I started meal prepping and exercising at the gym when I had the time, getting ideas from Instagram and various blogs. But I didn’t have a clue about fitness or nutrition, and I was just fumbling around in the dark. I lost 5 pounds, but when I reached a plateau for a few weeks, I started to lose motivation. I needed some structure.
Joe’s 90 day SSS programme jumped out at me. He has such a relatable and sustainable way of living a healthy lifestyle. The meals he makes are so tasty and filling. He doesn’t cut out treats or alcohol, and he doesn’t punish himself for having a bar of chocolate or scoop of ice cream. As long as you get your exercise in that day, you can have your treats in moderation. I think when we go on a diet, the thing that makes us fail is the fear of denying ourselves nice things. Joe’s plan is different because you never have to deny yourself anything. You just have to work for it!
Meal preparation for 10 days:
Meal preparation for a week:
I’ve lost a lot of fat, but I’ve gained a lot of muscle too, so I don’t look at the scales much anymore. I measure my success in the way my clothes feel, the extra few pounds I can squat, the extra few push ups I can do, the definition of my muscles, and the smile on my face when I look in the mirror and actually like what I see.”
Q: What is the most difficult part about changing eating and lifestyle habits?
A: ‘‘Starting. Once you start, it becomes second nature. I just took the first step and the rest was history! I’ve had a few times where I fell off the wagon and I’ve had a binge day or a week with very little exercise. But you just have to allow yourself the grace of being human. Once I stopped beating myself up about it, it was so much easier to continue on. Also, meal prep! It wasn’t difficult, but it was a new organisational skill that I needed to learn to adapt to my own lifestyle. Once I got the rhythm of cooking enough food for an army in one day, it became easier. And the peace of mind of knowing I didn‘t have to stress about cooking or shopping for a week or two was amazing!”
Post workout protein pancakes made with banana, oats, protein powder, cinnamon and Greek yogurt on top.
High fat and protein meal on rest days: Spinach with meat balls and feta cheese
And since a lot of people from the workforce use being too busy as an excuse to avoid looking after their health or practicing a sport, I thought Tegan should share how she successfully found a balance between work and adopting an active and healthful lifestyle.
Q: How did you adjust to working your new full–time job while adopting a healthy lifestyle?
A: ”I usually work out in the morning before work, or in the evening at home. HIIT, especially bodyweight training, is great because you only need to work out for 25 minutes to get the full effect. It works by creating an oxygen deficit in your cells which creates an afterburn effect. Your body works for up to 18 hours after your session to recover, so I can type away at my desk and still be burning fat.
I bought a barbell, a kettlebell, some dumbbells, a yoga mat, a foam roller, and a sit up press that I use for various exercises. I built up my little mini gym overtime so it feels like I didn’t spend much money on it at all. I prefer working out at home because I get very self-conscious when I work out. I feel like I can’t push myself as far as I can go if others are around. If I’m on my own, I don’t have that issue and I can work harder. Others tell me they couldn’t do that because they wouldn’t have the motivation to workout at home, so I guess it’s just down to personal choice.
Nutrition–wise, I try to shop and cook my meals for the week on a Sunday so I’m sorted for the week. Sometimes I cook a batch twice a week for a few days, and sometimes I go crazy and make meals for two weeks. I never really stick to a solid routine but I always try and make sure that there’s a meal ready in the freezer for me so I’m not stuck.
Smoothies and shakes are also a lifesaver! They’re so quick and they’re a great way of getting your daily greens and vitamins in. There’s been many a time where I’ve run out of prepared meals, or woken up late needing a quick breakfast. My favourite is oats, frozen spinach, a frozen banana, orange juice, water and vanilla whey. It tastes exactly like a super split ice cream! ”
Q: What advice would you give to young women and men who want to improve their health and be more active?
- ‘’HIIT! It’s amazing. You can go at your own pace, as long as you’re getting your heart rate up, and then resting. I like to use a 20:20 work/rest interval but you can use whatever you’re comfortable with. You can do 20 seconds of work and 40 seconds of rest if you need that much of a break. You can even do 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest to make it really intense. You can do it at home, in the gym, on a run, or on your bike. You can integrate weights if you want to build muscle tone. It’s so versatile and fun and it’s such a great feeling watching yourself gradually getting fitter.
HIIT with the body coach
What Tegan’s story tells us is that even if you’re facing a number of barriers like a hectic work schedule, tight budget, and limited time, you can still adopt healthy lifestyle habits to get healthy and fit. Tegan is the perfect example of what a bit of determination and dedication can do for one’s health, no matter what the obstacles!
Note: HIIT stands for High-intensity interval training (HIIT).
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a training technique in which you give all-out, one hundred percent effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, sometimes active, recovery periods. This type of training gets and keeps your heart rate up and burns more fat in less time.
And if you think you’re too old to begin adopting a healthier lifestyle, just watch this motivational video of my hero, Ernestine Shepherd. At 77, she’s the world’s oldest female bodybuilder. She started doing weight training at the age of 56.