Sally Symonds is well known in Australia due to losing over 50kg and inspiring others. The now healthy life mentor and fitness expert changed her life and has managed to keep the weight off long term.
We spoke with Sally about her journey and she shares some tips that will help you get started so you can change your life. Whether it’s 5kg or 50kg, weight loss is achievable – just ask Sally!
What made you decide you needed to lose weight?
I was a workaholic teacher – I used to regularly work over 100 hours per week – and I was turned down for a promotion at work and I was devastated. Too devastated. For three days I walked around in a state of shock – and then I remember sitting in the park across the road from my house thinking “I shouldn’t be this devastated, it’s only a job – it’s not my whole life – oh wait – it is my whole life – all I do is work”. So I set about getting a life – losing weight was just step one of the process.
You lost over 50kg, how did you do it?
I outline exactly what I did in my first book 50 Steps to Lose 50kg . . . And Keep It Off (which is based on my diaries from this period). It was a combination of food, exercise and mindset steps. However, the mindset is really the most important bit. Everyone knows basically what to do to lose weight – they just don’t know how to keep on doing it day by day. My latest project, 50 Ways to Weight Loss That Actually Work, is almost exclusively devoted to developing the weight loss mindset and teaching people how to self-motivate on a daily basis.
After losing all that weight, how have you managed to keep it off?
The secret to keeping weight off is in the way you lose in the first place. Too many people think weight loss is all about deprivation and discomfort but it shouldn’t be like that. Initially I lost 45kg in 33 weeks and when I’d almost got to the end of my first 45kg weight loss journey someone said to me, “What are you going to do now? What’s your next challenge going to be?” and I actually said, “I wish I could do it all again – it’s been so much fun!” Now how many people do you know who’ve lost a bucketload of weight and said that? Not many – maybe none.
But I look back at that time as one of the best, most rewarding times of my entire life and the reason that look back so fondly on that time is because it was a really self-empowering process – and that’s the focus of my weight loss coaching business – empowering others to take control over their own weight loss journey themselves. Because psychologists now know that reward system – the system that most weight companies advocate – just doesn’t work. It actually demotivates people by encouraging short cuts and short term thinking, by crushing creativity and problem solving skills.
I’m very against specific pre-packaged, one-size-fits all weight loss plans. As soon as we allow someone else to tell us what to do (so eat these meals, do these exercises etc) we are putting them in control of our lives. Your weight is your responsibility and the only person who is an expert in your own life is YOU! When I work with clients, I don’t tell them what to do – I’m not the boss. I’m a partner in their weight loss journey – but they are the ones who are in control. And giving people a sense of control helps them to develop a sense of mastery and motivation.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in losing weight?
Walking into a gym for the first time by myself: a more anti-exercise, anti-gym person than me you could never have met! Years afterwards I discovered a really good technique called “cameras out” to help people with this. I wish I had known about it in 2002!
What advice would you give those who want to get fit and change their lives?
Losing weight is the gift you can give yourself (and your loved ones) that just keeps on giving and giving and giving. You will never regret it – you will only regret that you didn’t do it sooner!
Why do you think so many women struggle with their weight?
The weight loss industry spends far more on marketing than on effective product development. It’s actually the only industry that thrives on failure! The medical evidence is overwhelming that diets don’t work for long term weight loss, yet we continue to be conned into thinking that “this one will work”. They all work – if you can stick to them – but human beings aren’t psychologically designed to follow such programs long term. Basically human beings like the freedom to make their own decision so as soon as this is taken away from us (so eat this, don’t eat that etc) we only put up for it for so long before we think, “That’s it – I’m done. I’m sick of that controlling mechanism trying to control me – I’ll show you I can’t be controlled”. So instead of having a sliver of chocolate cake – we have the whole cake – or two or three. Instead of a week of no exercise – we have a month or year or ten years. Psychologists call it counter-regulation – and the best way to avoid it is to not over-regulate in the first place – so don’t diet!
How has your life changed?
It has changed completely. I’m still the same person – but I’m just the new and improved version. When you change your body, you change your mind (and vice-versa!) Losing weight has taught me the importance of looking after yourself – for yourself and your family – and that work isn’t everything. No amount of money can compensate for feeling bad – both physically and psychologically. Exercise has helped me achieve and maintain a work / life balance. Even though I spend more time at the gym – it gives me more time overall as I am much more productive at home and at work because I am much more energetic and focused and much less stressed. I feel heaps younger and people have said I look heaps younger as well. Moreover, winning your weight loss war makes you feel fearless. I know I can achieve whatever I want to in life – whatever it takes! I am extremely strong physically – yet, paradoxically, I would consider this the weakest part of me. I am much more emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and mentally tough – but, ironically, all that comes from my physical strength and the process of losing so much weight. It is just so empowering in so many ways.
Are fad diets ever OK?
Never! There’s a big section in second book on why diets don’t work for the mind and why they don’t work for the body:
Every 24 year old, or perhaps even 14 year old, who takes their ﬁrst small step towards a ‘lose fat fast’ diet is actually making one giant leap towards a yo-yo dieting cycle which can totally “stuff” their metabolism – and their mind – in just a few short years.
After 24 hours of severe calorie restriction or detox, your metabolism slows by 5%. Continue eating too little and your metabolism can easily slow down by 20% (some experts claim metabolisms slow by as much as 40%). Thus, while you will lose weight quickly, you will regain it all – and often more – just as quickly. A very low calorie/detox diet is the equivalent to your body as a hit of heroin is to your brain. You can only take so much before you start to see major long-term damage that can be difficult to rectify.
What are some “wonder-foods” you couldn’t live without?
I eat spinach almost every day. I love it (but I’d never tried it until I was 29!)
I also eat chocolate every day in some form or another – I’m probably the only weight loss person to sell chocolate biscuits on their website!
Red meat, eggs, cheese, seafood – none of these are any of the new and hip ‘wonder-foods” – they are just everyday foods in the truest sense of the word – foods that I eat everyday! When I published my second book, 50+ Recipes to Lose 50+kg . . . And Keep It Off, I think people were surprised that the foods were so ‘normal’. We have been so conditioned to think that weight loss needs a magic bullet or a magic formula. Successful weight loss is all about consistency – and the key to consistency is motivation!
What exercise have you done today?
All I’ve done today is a 20 minute meander with my dog (she’s 11 – it’s just a meander!) However, I usually do weight training twice a week. People think I exercise a lot more than I actually do. My trick is to constantly vary what I do. This is the approach that elite athletes take – they vary their exercises every day, not every six weeks! I don’t train sets or reps and I invent a lot of my own crazy, creative exercises. There’s some on my youtube channel, but I also filmed 60 of my favourite for the members’ section of my website as well. This month I am also launching a stack of ebooks about exercise. I already have “50 Plank Variations to Lose 50kg”, now I’m just editing “50 Squat Variations to Lose 50kg . . . And Keep It Off” – as well as 50 variations of lunges, breasts and chests, amazing arms, fab abs etc. They are all just things that I do. Whilst I only moved into the weight loss industry eighteen months ago, I’ve been living the life for nearly ten years. I think because I naturally hate exercise – and find it quite boring – I have always tried to find new exercises to do in order to keep me mentally stimulated, as well as physically.
What does being a woman mean to you?
Being a woman means that you have a lot more advantages in life. Men are quite simple souls. During my weight loss period it used to really irritate me when men started treating me differently just because I began to look differently. Now, however, I milk it for all it’s worth!
For further information on weight loss and healthy living you can visit Sally at: www.sallysymonds.com.au