The story of the month for March 2009 comes from Hanlie (Blewett) van der Merwe of Ordinary Abundance

Hanlie was one of the first readers of EvolvingWellness.com when it launched in March 2008, and a highly supportive proponent. She lives in South Africa and has over the years chronicled her personal journey on different blogs of her own. Her personal health journey has varied greatly over time, as Hanlie struggled with various health conditions and weight-loss.

Hanlie is an inspiring example because she knew that she can make changes in her life based on her everyday choices and take charge of her health and wellness. Her wellness journey is equally real, as it is moving. I have no doubt it will serve as a huge inspiration to many out there who may be struggling with similar challenges, to not only see and believe that change is possible, but also to become motivated by the wonderful health benefits that follow.

Here is Hanlie sharing her story with us.

Area(s) of My Health and Wellness that Needed Change

I imagine that someone must have praised me once too often for finishing all my food when I was a child, because I can’t remember a time when I’ve not overeaten. Until my mid-twenties my weight was kept in check by the fact that I walked almost everywhere I needed to be, but when I got my first car, the pounds started piling on fast. I gained over 100 pounds in one year and after that I would end every year even heavier than the year before.

When I was 28, my first husband and I tried and failed to have a baby. My doctor told me in no uncertain terms that my weight and poor lifestyle habits (lack of exercise, drinking, smoking and bad nutrition) were affecting my fertility and that I would have to make some drastic changes. So I ditched the doctor and the husband.

In 2004 I started regularly breaking out in hives and my face and neck would swell up alarmingly, sometimes even necessitating hospitalization. Allergy testing revealed nothing, but through a process of elimination and trial and error, I finally found out that I was allergic, or intolerant, to sulfur dioxide, one of the most commonly used preservatives, found in just about everything, including red wine and beer, my two favorite beverages.

At this stage I was also chronically depressed and taking anti-depressants.

In 2005, when I was 36, I mentioned during a routine doctor’s visit that I had an itchy mole on my right shin. The mole was removed and found to be a particularly nasty type of melanoma. That scared me, because my uncle had died at the age of 36 from melanoma.

During that same visit, my blood pressure was elevated for the first time ever. Up to then I had been telling myself that I was “getting away” with my rip-roaring lifestyle and excess weight. My total cholesterol was 230 mg/dL and my blood sugar was out of control.

By this time I was dating my soon-to-be second husband and using no contraception. I didn’t even have a whiff of a pregnancy scare! When we married late in 2006, we started trying to conceive in earnest, but although I had regular cycles and ovulated, nothing happened.

I finally realized that if I wanted to have children and be alive to see them grow up, I was going to have to change the way I lived my life.

Strategies I Implemented & Their Results

I was fortunate to be introduced to best-selling health and nutrition author Mary-Ann Shearer a few years ago. I read her books, like Perfect Health: The Natural Way and then I read the books she referenced. Then I discovered the internet, so a picture started to form in my mind about what I had to do in order to be healthy, slender and fertile. I knew that I needed to avoid preservatives and implement a natural, fresh, whole-food, predominantly plant-based diet.

The first attempt worked brilliantly for three months. I lost weight, my insulin resistance disappeared and my cholesterol dropped down to below 150. My doctor was so proud of me and I have to give him credit for giving me the opportunity to try dietary options instead of medication.

This was a cold-turkey, all-or-nothing approach and after three months we (my husband is very supportive and will eat what I eat) fell off the wagon with a thud.

A year later we’d still not really hauled in that wagon, so I decided to quit my very stressful job and devote myself fully to getting healthy and fertile (the big 4-0 was looming ominously close).

I made several attempts at weight loss, but eventually realized that I was going to have to do some emotional cleansing. I had to figure out why I was constantly sabotaging my efforts. During the past year I’ve made enormous progress in that area, with the result that I no longer binge or smoke.

I still fall into the pleasure trap from time to time, but we eat much healthier, I work out regularly and I’ve lost 37 pounds.

I’m learning to be consistent at 80-90%, instead of always failing at 100% and ending up at 50% or less. I like the idea of leaving myself room for improvement.

I’ve been very impressed with Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, Revised Edition program and the way we eat these days is very much a combination of “Eat to Live” and Mary-Ann Shearer’s “Perfect Health”.

I work out six days per week and I love it.

I’ve stopped using expensive, toxic skin care products and am now doing the Oil Cleansing Method. I also use a natural progesterone cream during the second half of my menstrual cycle.

How My Changes Benefitted Me

I may still weigh over 300 pounds, but I’m a very different person these days than I was even four months ago.

First of all, I have a great deal of energy! I used to have a cleaning lady, who did everything, but now I do it all myself. I used to barely be conscious when my husband left for work, but now I’m often up before 6 am and on the go!

Most days I exercise for over an hour and some days I can go for up to three hours. My body is just so responsive! My posture has improved, I have a new-found sense of balance and I can get up from the floor without assistance.

My PMS symptoms have completely disappeared. I experience no pre-menstrual bloating, mood swings, painful breasts or cravings. My actual periods are painless, shorter in duration and less heavy than before.

The excess facial hair, associated with estrogen dominance, is starting to disappear. My skin is radiant and no longer oily. My nails are growing faster and are stronger than ever before.

I sleep much better and, according to my husband, don’t snore so loudly anymore. That is by no means the only benefits we’ve noticed in the bedroom.

Even though the scale is not moving much, my body is changing and my clothes are almost all hanging from me. I love it!

This whole summer I haven’t experienced any swollen ankles, something which I’d been battling with for years.

I go to the bathroom 2-3 times per day and it’s a good experience!

I still eat too much from time to time, but I don’t binge and I don’t snack. Natural foods eliminate cravings and regulate the appetite!

Next Steps on My Health and Wellness Journey

When things go well in one area, I tend to neglect other areas. The last two months I’ve concentrated so much on getting an exercise program started, that I haven’t been as consistent as I would like to be with my eating habits. My immediate goal is to find the balance, so that I can do both things at the same time.

Going to bed earlier is another thing I really need to work on. Adequate sleep is such an important, yet often neglected, aspect of our health.

And as summer starts winding down, I will have to make sure that I continue to get enough safe exposure to sunlight and natural light.

Wisdom & Inspiration for Others

  • Read books by people like Mary-Ann Shearer, Dr. Joel Fuhrman and Dr. Dean Ornish, who rely on independent and unimpeachable nutritional research. All three have professionally helped thousands of people lose weight, keep it off and revolutionize their health. Heart disease, allergies, auto-immune diseases, diabetes, arthritis, infertility and many other conditions can be prevented and reversed by following their nutritional and lifestyle principles.

  • Make changes gradually. Few people can maintain a cold-turkey approach.

  • Keep on looking back to remind yourself how far you’ve come and how much you’ve improved, instead of concentrating on how far you still have to go. This is far more motivating!

  • Make a distinction between your goals and the benefits of reaching your goals. For instance, my goals are to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Those are fully within my power to achieve. Getting fit, losing weight and inches, being healthier and becoming fertile are all benefits that stem from achieving those goals. I have no control over the benefits, so I don’t get depressed when the scale is not moving. I know I’m on the right track.

  • Get a support system – preferably your loved ones, but the blogging world can be enormously beneficial (as long as you avoid the Negative Nellies and the whiners.)

  • When you fail, as we all do from time to time, fail forward. In other words, learn from the experience and go on from there.

  • Never, ever quit! You are worth the effort!

I’d like to wish Evolving Wellness a very happy first anniversary. I’ve learned so much here and I will remain a regular visitor in the years to come. Thank you for inviting me to share my story, Evita!