We speak to The Body herself, Ayesha Noon, on getting that bikini bod for the summer - and for life.
I started working out in my A Levels. Back then, I would just go to the gym and run and run. There was only Shapes and Gymkhana in Lahore; no concept of bootcamps or personal training or anything like that. I started reading up online a lot, and learning about food and exercise. But my focus back then was not food, and what I am putting into my body, it was just exercise. I would even eat McDonalds two or three times a week, but eventually I developed an understanding of how bad all this is for you. Although back then I would work out for two hours a day, I feel that the results I get now are much better because I’ve learnt about myself, my limits, and my strengths. People think being thin or having a small waist is it, but no, you can still be skinny-fat, which is being thin but having high levels of body fat, which is what 90 percent of women I talk to have. Being healthy is a complete and wholesome approach to life. You can’t just single out diet, sleep or exercise and think that focusing on that one aspect will get you to your goal. You can’t starve and not exercise, or go the gym but eat whatever you want, and expect to get results. Make health and fitness your life. Be honest with yourself. Investigate and get to know yourself. Take out a couple of months and understand what types of foods and what kinds of exercise works for you. Know your physical makeup, and make sure you’re always feeling great.
SET YOURSELF UP TO SUCCEED
Don’t make so many rules for yourself and don’t corner yourself, because you will fail. Your whole day cannot be a huge effort to you. Take it a step at a time. Be conscious of what you’re eating and don’t make it difficult for yourself. Remember: you want to look good, right? So you have to be willing to put in a lot of effort to get those results. So when I know I’m invited out or dinner, I will have something before I go, so that I’m not starved by the time food is served, as usually at such events, dinner is served late. Remember, it’s the little things and the small changes that you have to make that you set yourself up to succeed. You have to think: what are my goals? And what am I doing to achieve that? It helps to write things down. Do you want to be thin? Or flexible? Do you want to build muscle? From there, you can see what exercise and foods work best for you. If you want to get ripped then maybe yoga isn’t the best choice for you; weight lifting is. You have to make conscious and informed decisions. Also, be careful about stress eating or emotional eating. If your body isn’t hungry, don’t just eat for the sake of it. Listen to your body. When you’re exercising, be mindful of if you’re feeling it in the muscles you’re supposed to. Check that your form and posture is okay. And obviously, don’t smoke and do drugs.
FOOD IS FUEL
First and foremost, eat clean. And by that I mean eat well, because I don’t believe in diets. Diets are the biggest lie fed to the world! It’s all about eating the right things at the right time, and eating what you know works for your body. Don’t eat healthy two days and then eat badly. On a healthy day, I will wake up and have my cup of tea which I really can’t do without. There’s no white sugar in my house. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, which really saves me. I have honey when I crave something, and that honey comes from our farms because what you get off the shelves in stores is pure sugar. For breakfast, I have two fried eggs and grilled tomatoes with some toast. For lunch, I eat home cooked food with very little oil. Everything in my house is cooked in olive oil. If I work out in the morning, I usually follow it with a protein shake, which is really helping me achieve the results I want. When you finish working out, your body is in overdrive in terms of calories you’re burning and energy your muscles need so whatever you take in at that time is absorbed very efficiently. It’s also the best time to have carbohydrates as they’re processed and broken down very well. I’ll have one or two smoothies a day, and I have a veggie juice once the day when I feel like I want to snack. I am proud to say, I haven’t had McDonalds in over ten years.
I think my only food vice is Coke. It’s very difficult for me to give it up, even though I’m trying now to reduce my intake. I would have 3-4 cans a week easily, but now I have a couple of sips after a meal. I try to substitute Coke with soda water or Perrier or gassy water, but it’s tough, because I love Coke! Another weakness is French fries. It’s very difficult for me to refuse them when they are on the table. I don’t deprive myself of food, though. If you do that, you will most probably binge later. I really love my paratha’s also. There was a time when it was difficult to not even order fattening or unhealthy foods, but now it’s not that tough to not have it. I guess you have to train yourself to eat these things in moderation and load up on healthy foods more.
To be honest, when I was pregnant, I ate whatever I wanted. I was exercising throughout and I made sure to stay active. I would carry things, go up and down the stairs, do grocery shopping myself, etc. People treat pregnancy like a disease here, and that kind of thing is actually counter natural. If you think about it, people abroad have no help, they live in small apartments in buildings without elevators, and they take care of their children and go to work. When I went to England to deliver my first child, I realized how warped our idea of pregnancy is in Pakistan. I would see women in their ninth month carrying groceries, running around with kids in the park and what not. Our body is very resilient at the end of the day and we weaken it physically and mentally out of fear. Pregnancy is the most natural thing at the end of the day – women are born to do this. It’s not a time of weakness; it’s a time of strength. In the rural areas, which women have help? During pregnancies, they cook in the heat, look after their herd of children and even farm, and they’re fit because they’re so active. I’m not saying if you’ve never exercised in your life, you should hit the gym as soon as you are pregnant. No way. But you should make sure you’re at the peak of your fitness level when you concieve, and you should have a high muscle percentage and low body fat, because after delivering what you were when you conceived is what your body remembers and goes back to.
Build your muscles. Lift weights. Be strong! There is such a taboo around this topic in Pakistan as people think it bulks you up. Even if you lift low weights, you have to lift. Everyone needs muscle on his or her body. And if you have a strong core, you won’t have back issues when you’re pregnant. Just remember, you need a strong back and strong abs to carry the weight when you’re pregnant. You’re gaining 30-40 or more pounds, so you have to be strong to carry that weight! You have to have internal and physical strength to do that otherwise your body will give in. Lifting weights is also very important in building bone density.
Women are more prone to osteoporosis as we breast feed, and with time, bones deplete. You should lift weights your whole life, even into your 50’s and 60’s. Nothing should stop you from being the best you can be. Have a wholesome approach to your life, You should be able to run around with your grandkids when you’re older, lift them up, throw them in the air, and have the strength and energy to keep up with them. Why wouldn’t you want that for yourself? Being fit and healthy is not just about getting into the clothes you want to, it’s also about being able to lift up furniture yourself in the house to move a chair from here to there when the need arises, or pull your suitcase yourself when traveling. When your muscles are strong, you will not have joint issues. Muscles are a cushion of support around your bones. All these things make a difference to your everyday life. It’s not just about looking good.
Managing stress is another very, very important thing. Find time to switch off. Watching TV or being on your phone is not switching off. Your mind is engaged. It’s important to take 15-20 minutes out of your day and do something you enjoy. Take a stroll in the park every day or every other day, if you don’t have time. For me, playing with my children is time off. I love becoming a child with them and running around with them. I also take thirty minutes before I actually wake up to just lie in bed and think and have my cup of tea sans phone. For me, the gym or any physical activity is switching off. My day is incomplete without it. I crave it.
I am very conscious of what my kids eat at home. You can’t always control what they eat outside of the house. The idea is to develop their palette and instill eating habits that they will carry with them their whole life. My son Ebrahim is 3 and a half and he has never had McDonalds. If you say the word to him, he will probably start singing Old McDonald instead! It’s not something that’s a part of my or my husband’s life, so it’s not something that’s a part of his. I make sure he has fruits for snacks, the same way I do, and now it’s become a habit for him. I’m just trying that if tomorrow he has a choice of candy or fruit, he will hopefully pick fruit! It’s the same as teaching them or conditioning them about anything else, like don’t put your hand in fire, etc. I follow a lot of Instagram accounts on fitness, so he sits and watches them with me. If I do push ups, he will sit on my back and try to imitate me and get into it. He knows what bicep curls, squats and lunges are! I want him to be outdoorsy and athletic. His father plays football with him. Kids are like sponges; they absorb everything and learn very quickly. Gear them up to succeed.