Valerie Joan Dombey has a certain presence. Not the off-putting miasma of entitlement that sometimes follows an expatriate, but a feeling of fearless capability. At the age of 48, she is neither overly dewy (hint hint, facework), nor crepey and stretched. In fact, her toned litheness makes her a shoo-in for those ads featuring Supermums who can do it all. And her weight loss and fitness journey seems to reflect that belief.
As she tells it, “I think my perception of myself while growing up was that I was always on the ‘big’ side. Coming from a mixed background where my Dad is Caucasian, I was always told that I had ‘big’ genes, and so I grew up with a rather false sense of me being on the larger side because that was what I was told I was. Now looking back, I don’t really think I was large at all. I was always of average weight. I did balloon during my stay in Australia as a student, but that was due to coping with the weather and the mismanagement of my food and diet. Whenever I got my diet back on track and took care of what I ate, I always managed to go back down to my ideal weight of 60-65 kg.”
“Growing up my parents always made sure I did something active every day. Skipping, taking the dog out for a walk, running. As a teen I was actively involved in a lot of school activities which kept me fit, and in college I was up early every morning running as well. My most recent battle with weight gain happened after I turned 42. I began to perimenopause at this age, and noticed that gradually, the kilos started piling on. I would get upset with myself every time I saw the scale rising and this would lead to more episodes of emotional eating that very soon got out of hand. I peaked at 73 kg in July of 2018, which was a turning point for me,” shared the mother of two.
Dombey, an English teacher in an international school notes that the weight gain also coincided with less than optimum health. “In July of 2018 I was plagued by frequent migraines. My energy levels were always low, no matter how much sleep I got. To add to this, I didn’t like what I was seeing in the mirror every time I looked at myself. The thought of the Big 5-0 was always at the back of my head. I knew that I didn’t want to hit my fifties being unfit and overweight.”
She then decided to go for a blood test which showed some rather unpleasant results: high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. “I knew at that point that if I didn’t make the change for myself, I was going to head down a very unhealthy road of complications in my health. One of my promises to myself is that I would always be strong and independent, never a burden to my kids in my old age. They would not have to take care of me. If I took good care of myself.”
That was where her reading and research skills came to fore. Dombey’s main objective: learning all there was to know about ketogenetics. “Keto is and can be very restrictive and strict in terms of what you can and cannot have, but after all the research, I decided that I had nothing to lose from giving it a shot. Besides the healthy eating I started with 15 to 20 minutes of exercise at least four to five times a week. These workouts were crucial in helping me to overcome the hunger pangs and the cravings that I had from not allowing myself sugar, carbohydrates or anything that wasn’t keto compliant.”
A more than adept cook, the next thing the steel-willed dieter did was to make herself lots of keto compliant snacks, cakes, biscuits. Dombey says these were lifesavers on the days where the hunger pangs really set in. “I learned to bake keto breads, muffins, cakes and cookies which were so tasty that my kids ate them heartily without even realising there was no sugar or wheat flour in them. My goal was to hit my ideal weight of 58 to 65 kgs. I didn’t really give myself a time frame to be honest. It did however happen faster than I expected. Within four months of starting my healthy eating and exercise regime I was down to 60 kgs. I then lost a further two kgs after another month. The discipline in terms of my eating and exercising was crucial in this weight loss journey. The saying: no pain, no gain really rings true.”
“After doing my research on the keto diet and learning more about it from friends who had successfully been on it, I realised that there were lots of things about this way of eating that made so much sense to me. Yes, as with everything else, there are the haters and those that will discourage extreme diets like keto. However, the main thing is whether or not you can sustain the diet/way of life, and whether it works for you. And if it does, then, good for you!”
“I read a lot about keto online through Google and Scribd, and I also joined a number of Facebook support groups while on my keto journey. While some groups are poorly managed in terms of how they monitor member comments etc, there were Facebook groups where members are extremely supportive and happy to share recipes, food ideas and advice for those new to keto. These groups were crucial to helping me out during those tough initial beginning weeks,” recalls Dombey.
Her days would begin with berries and Greek yoghurt, with a lunch that would include eggs, bacon and avocado. Dinner would be fish or chicken with loads of veggies on the side topped with butter or olive oil. “I also made sure I had herbal teas on hand to help with the evening hunger pangs, and I bought some sugar-free dark chocolate to help with those days when chocolate cravings set in.The main difference between how I ate before and how I ate on keto was my finding out I could survive without the carbs. Rice, pasta and breads were no longer a necessity with my meals. Loading my plate with protein and veggies was sufficient to keep me full for long periods of time.”
The other thing she also came to enjoy was Intermittent Fasting (IF) where she fasted for 16 hours and confined eating to an eight-hour window. “I found a way of eating that fit in perfectly with my daily schedule. I know that IF was another important factor in helping me along my weight loss journey.”
So what were the toughest things she faced when on her weight loss plan? “The toughest things were the first few weeks of the journey. I suffered from hunger pangs, keto flu (where you have flu-like symptoms accompanied by headaches and body aches that never seem to go away, sleeplessness, mood swings and irritability. The best thing about keto was looking for all the possible things I could eat – keto friendly desserts, cheese… and I fell in love with bacon all over again. I learned that the right kind and amount of fats were essential in my diet, and this helped to make the journey smooth and enjoyable at the same time. I used to have very carb based meals: breads, rice, pasta at almost every meal. Now my meals consist mainly meat, protein, veggies and berries. I am a lot more vigilant in ensuring that my meals contain enough fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals, and I limit my cheat days to once or twice a week only. Prior to this everyday would have been a cheat day.
The yummy mummy now weighs between 59 to 60 kgs, having lost more than the ten kgs which she wanted to achieve. Her current weight is also the ideal weight for her height (between 58-65 kgs). “I didn’t really like being 58 kgs as I felt I was too skinny. My husband also complained that I was all skin and bones. Now that I’m at my target weight, I feel fabulous. I’m fitter, stronger and more energetic than I’ve been in the last six years. I look younger, and I love how I look in my clothes. Overall health wise I can feel the difference that this journey has made. I’ve started running again, and have way more stamina and strength now than before. One of the more important results that have come from my change in lifestyle is that my menopause symptoms are more bearable now. I still get hot flushes, and sometimes experience sleepless nights, but these are minor in comparison to how I used to feel before my weight loss journey. I now do yoga regularly to help me cope with the mental aspect of menopause, and this helps me to cope with the mental and emotional side of menopause as well.”