Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul
Why the hell am I so tired? And what can I do about it?
In this edited extract from her new book, Dr Amy Shah explains how to regain your vitality and put a spring back in your step
My head was spinning. I was feeling guilty for leaving my “impromptu” 5pm meeting early and equally guilt-ridden for being late to pick up my kids. I was so preoccupied with my self-doubt, I didn’t see the other car at the intersection until it was too late. Time stopped as the sound of metal hitting metal filled the air. My car spun out of control before colliding with the concrete divider. Every airbag in the car released at once. As soon as I came to, I could see that my arms were bloody from the shattered glass of the windshield. I was OK, but I knew the accident was my fault. And it was the perfect metaphor for my life at the time: I felt like I was out of control. Scratch that, I knew I was.
At the time of my accident – 10 years ago now – I had been practically running on empty, raising two kids and studying for my medical boards while at the same time trying to build a thriving practice as an immunologist. I was overtired, overworked and overextended. (Sound familiar?) It wasn’t just about time management. It was deeper than that: my body was telling me that something was wrong with me. I was gaining weight inexplicably. I was cranky all the time. My energy was non-existent. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and felt too tired to find out. And it didn’t help that everyone around me told me what I was feeling was just because I was a busy working mum. (Ugh, can you relate?) Perhaps by divine intervention, the car accident was the wake-up call I needed to make big changes in my life. I knew something was wrong with me. But what, exactly? Why was I so effing tired all the time?
For six years I lugged around a huge box labelled “Skinny clothes. Warning: Only open when you’re back down to 68kg”. With each move, the box became more bent out of shape (pun intended) as it was banged around, dragged, dropped and shoved. In the end, sticky tape was all that was holding it together.
But when I recently moved, I decided to wake up to myself. I looked down at the box and I knew 68kg wasn’t a weight I’d ever get back down to again – and, finally, I didn’t care. For the first time, I have no aspiration to be skinny. I just want to be happy and healthy. I ripped that box open and donated its contents.
For 20 years, I’ve battled with what I see in the mirror. That started as a woman who was size 6 but still wanted to cover up her arms and tummy, thinking she was “fat”. It happened again at size 10, then at size 12, and here I am at size 14-16 and I’ve had enough of being repulsed by a body that has got me through so much in life.
In that time, I’ve undergone three body transformations and I guess you could say I had incredible results, but for me nothing actually changed. I thought that being fit and trim would bring me more work opportunities and maybe even help with meeting Mr Right. But I’ve since realised that the way I look doesn’t make a difference to what I attract in life.
People say “I’m more than just my body” and there’s never been a truer statement. The only problem is that until you completely believe that, you won’t practise what you preach. The last time I wore bathers in public was over five years ago, and even then I was fearful of being judged. I had no confidence. Embracing the pleasure of being at the beach just wasn’t going to happen.
As I made the recent move from
Sydney to the Gold Coast, I decided first-person
I wasn’t going to waste another day not doing the things I love because of what size I am. So here I am on the beach, touching sand and being splashed in the face with salt water. I couldn’t be happier.
When I think deeper about why I’ve spent 20 years obsessed with my weight, I realise I’ve always exercised to lose weight – never for enjoyment or to be healthy. I’ve allowed others, especially my partners, to batter me down with comments that deemed me not attractive enough. I only now realise that their obsession with “skinny girls with abs” had nothing to do with me; that’s their own issue with what they deem to be a perfect partner and a perfect body.
I worked for media outlets that paid for personal training to get me down from size 10 to a more “appropriate” size for TV. The pattern here is that I succumbed to other people’s opinions of my body, and there’s only one opinion that should ever matter and that’s mine.
We all need to be realistic that our bodies will change as we get older and that aspiring to have the body of our past
“I WASN’T GOING TO WASTE ANOTHER DAY NOT DOING THE THINGS I LOVE BECAUSE OF WHAT SIZE I AM”
is just as unhealthy as a bad diet. Until you’ve heard a teenage girl throwing up her dinner in the toilet so that she can have a flat stomach in her crop top, you’ll never truly appreciate the damage that our own self-doubt can have on others around us, especially young girls.
Today, as I look at the photos taken of me in my bathers on a beach for the first time in five years, I’m not repulsed by my body. I’m not looking for flaws.
I’m in awe – in awe of a woman who’s been through hell more than once and is still standing, a woman who’s resilient, kind, happy and determined to make the most of every day.
We all need to stop looking in the mirror and only seeing our physical selves – and harshly judging what we see. Look in that mirror and see the positives. Life is too short to worry about the numbers on a scale. You’re more than your body.
Rewind back to the 2000s, when crowds could and would gather everywhere from music festivals and celebrations to enormous sporting events like the Sydney Olympics. Back then, the night-life in our cities was frantic, with many places open until dawn, and plenty of kick-ons after that.
For a clutch of high-profile women who were out on the town round the clock in those years, it’s all a distant (and sometimes blurry) memory – and many of them reckon that even when large crowds are in vogue again, they would rather be tucked up in bed with a cup of tea.
Body+Soul called a few of those famed party girls – Melbourne-based author and businesswoman Amber Petty; The Real Housewives Of Melbourne star and founder of tea brand Raw Essentials Janet Roach; Brisbane television personality Liz Cantor; Sydney fashion designer Tali Jatali; and Melbourne events promoter Michele Phyman – to reminisce about the years they spent on the nation’s dance floors and cloistered behind VIP ropes.
What do you recall of your years on the scene? Were they wild?
Janet Roach: I had a drawer full of VIP
medallions because my first husband [George Zogoolas] owned Chasers nightclub in Melbourne, so we could always get in anywhere. The club was open seven days a week until 7am but I often wouldn’t get home till 10am. Amber Petty: There are plenty of places I wish I hadn’t had to keep visiting, including the awful Iguana Bar in
Sydney’s Kings Cross. But as a music publicist, I had to escort rock stars around town after their gigs. There were plenty of crazy and amazing moments, but I saw them through a bleary-eyed haze as I was often out until 4am and I was still expected in the office at 9am. Liz Cantor: I didn’t even learn about night-life until I moved to Sydney [from Queensland] in 2000. By day I did work experience at TV stations, but by night I waitressed at Cargo Bar [on Darling Harbour], which is where I met [fellow waitress and now fellow TV presenter] Renée Bargh. It was the happening scene then and I made the best money of my life. Michele Phyman: After I left my marriage in the ’90s, I was employed by Heat promotions in Melbourne. The money was huge and I was receiving bonuses for getting the right people into nightclubs.
After I had a run-in with football star
Mark Bosnich, my boss, nightclub king Glen Coburn, said that I “went off like a hand grenade” – and the nickname Hand Grenade just stuck. From there, I went on to the nightclub Boutique and the crowd followed. Any celebrity visiting Melbourne would turn up at Boutique, such as Paris and Nicky Hilton. One of them wanted the place emptied and fresh oxygen pumped in before they arrived.
Tali Jatali: After I arrived here from
Israel as a young girl, I started going to Stranded nightclub in Sydney – I almost grew up there and [could have earned] an honours degree in nightclubbing! I remember when Naomi Watts’ brother Ben was one of the door b*tches at Freezer nightclub in Taylor Square. That’s where everyone wanted to be. But I was never one of those people who could stay out partying all night long; I used to eat chocolate to try to stay awake.
Looking back now, do you have any regrets from that time?
Michele Phyman: One evening, I threw something at a public relations guy.
I was drunk, it was such bad behaviour and I was fired on the spot.
Amber Petty: My friend [Mary Donaldson,
now Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark] had a major royal wedding in Denmark in 2004 and I was one of her bridesmaids; after that I was always being invited out. But I look back at those photos now and I realise that I wasn’t having such a great time. I’m a bit of an introvert at heart and I guess that back then I was disconnected from myself.
Would you say you’ve officially hung up your dancing shoes?
Amber Petty: It’s really embarrassing but some nights I’m tucked up in bed at 5.30pm watching television. By 10.30pm, it’s game over for me.
Janet Roach: I now have a partner [Chemist Warehouse CEO Sam Gance], who likes to go out seven nights of the week, but I’ll only go out four nights in a row because I work full time, so I try to be in bed by midnight. I’m a homebody
– I love my garden and I love my dogs.
Liz Cantor: I left Sydney to come home to Queensland and I’m now married with two small children. We’ve caught up with
Sydney here and now have some great events like the Magic Millions carnival and race day and we have our own fashion festival, but I rarely go out nightclubbing. Michele Phyman: Well, I still have plenty of gas in my tank! I can keep up with the best of them. Only now I prefer to go to a nice bar or a restaurant. I like to be spoilt. Tali Jatali: I have the same energy and I love going out. I have all the friends that I had back then, and I still love to dance.
Is there anything you miss from your nightclubbing days?
Liz Cantor: The freedom to just be in the moment because there wasn’t social media. There’s an expectation now at parties and events that you have to put it on Instagram.
Janet Roach: People don’t let go now like we did back then because they’re always peering into their phones. They’re more interested in what’s happening on that screen than seeing the bigger picture. I’m glad to have lived through such fun times, when nightclubbing was at its peak.
“It’s embarrassing but some nights I’m tucked up in bed at 5.30pm watching TV”
WILD ONES (left) Michele Phyman with Paris Hilton in the late noughties; (below) Amber Petty with Beyoncé in 2005.