Faced with an HIV diagnosis, Sameshni Moodley thought her life was over. In fact, a new life was just about to begin. Determined to stop her destructive habits, this 36-year-old fought her demons and came out on top.
City: Randburg, Gauteng
Weight before: 80kg
Weight after: 57kg
Time required to reach current weight: 7 years
Secret weight-loss weapon: Dealing with “emotional baggage”
Sameshni learnt to use food as a comfort early on. Abused as a child, food became her protector, a coping mechanism to get through the trauma. The habit continued for years – and she gradually gained weight. Growing up as an overweight kid, Sameshni was never picked for school sports. The result? Exercising as an adult never occurred to her.
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It wasn’t just about what she was eating, but also the quantities. “I would binge on cakes, ice cream and pastries; when that ran out, I’d eat whatever I had at home. I’d even add extra sugar to my cereal and tea,” she admits.
In 2001, Sameshni decided to try exercise, but her eating habits remained the same. Years later, in 2008, she was diagnosed with HIV. “I thought life as I knew it was over. I battled to accept what had happened to me. I didn’t know how to deal with my status,” she says.
After the diagnosis, Sameshni fell into a downward spiral. “I started binge eating more frequently, drinking excessively and experimenting with drugs to forget. I drank until I was numb and couldn’t feel anymore,” she says. One day, having pushed away her family and surrounded herself with toxic people, Sameshni sat in the darkness of her bedroom. Coming down from her ‘high’, she heard a voice inside her say, “I can’t give up. This isn’t the way to live my life.”
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She knew then that it was time to change – but she’d need help. “I made an appointment with my doctor, a therapist and a dietician so that I could get the professional help I needed to treat my HIV and change my unhealthy emotional binge eating behaviour,” she explains.
Sameshni now preps her meals each week, leaving little room for overeating – or temptation. A typical day starts with exercise, followed by a whey protein shake and fruit, or a bowl of oats. Lunch and dinner usually consist of protein, like chicken or tuna, with a salad, vegetables and a good carb. Throughout the day she’ll snack on almonds, fruit, brown rice cakes with sugar- and salt-free peanut butter or fat-free cottage cheese.
As for exercise, Sameshni now works out six times a week – and makes sure she switches it up. “I do yoga, weight training three times a week, and cardio (like running or a spinning class) for the days in between – with functional training or a group class added as a fun element,” she says.
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She also throws in loads of hiking – in preparation for her Kilimanjaro summit. In October, Sameshni will climb the highest mountain in Africa in the effort to raise funds and create awareness about the challenges facing women and children living with HIV/AIDS.
Sameshni refers to her journey as a “weighting game”. It took time for her to lose the weight – but she got there in the end. So far, she’s completed two Warrior obstacle races, numerous 10km races, half marathons and a marathon in 2017. Besides being physically fit, Sameshni feels amazing. “I live a happier, healthier, balanced life now, with the occasional piece of chocolate or slice of red velvet cake – and I look 10 years younger,” she exclaims. The biggest reward?
Self-love. “My reward to myself is learning to love me exactly as I am.”
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Living with HIV isn’t easy, but Sameshni’s never-give-up attitude has inspired others. She now dedicates her life to creating awareness about the challenges facing those living with HIV. “It may sound ironic, but I always say that HIV actually saved my life! If I didn’t find out my status, I would’ve continued on my downward spiral of substance abuse and binge eating. I realised I didn’t just want to live – I wanted to live the very best life I could, without filters.”
Know what doesn’t work for you: “Think back to the last time you tried to get in shape and lose weight. Knowing what method doesn’t work for you will help you find out what does.”
Have a goal: “Be specific with your goals so that you can actively plan what steps are needed to achieve those goals.”
Know your ‘why’: “Know why, know how and have others who will support you along the way.”
This article was originally published in Women's Health SA.