“I Was Addicted To Cardio — And It Made Me Seriously Ill”

She'd get the flu and take months to heal.


Chandré Davids |

Here at WH HQ, we’re all about self-love, but we totally get that sometimes it’s easier said than done. For Monika Du Plessis, comparing herself to other women led her down a path of under-eating and cardio addiction…

Cardio Obsessed

Monika began working out the gym when she was 13 years old. She also participated in high and long jump from primary school all the way to varsity. She later got involved in mountain biking, Black-Ops warrior races and offshore fishing.

From a young age, she had an appreciation for her body, but that all changed when she started dating a guy a few years older than her… “[His] friends and their girlfriends were all very skinny and eating much less than I did at that stage. So, as a woman, I felt very muscular [compared to] them.” In an effort to fit in, Monika started increasing her daily cardio. “I started spending most of my time in the gym, running 5-6km and doing weight training,” she explains.

READ MORE: “I Transformed My Body In 12 Weeks — Without A Personal Trainer”

Despite the fact that Monika was training so hard, she wasn’t adjusting her eating to sustain her. “I started getting sick almost every month after that. The healthy life I had before that faded. With the skinny body came a lot of emotional feelings and [a] kind of depression.” She’d often get the flu and take months to heal. “My heart couldn’t handle the intense training anymore. I was tired all the time and avoiding my friends due to a lack of energy,” she explains.

This behaviour carried on for about three years – until her relationship ended. After the break-up, she found solace in the place that was always like a second home: the gym. “I started training again, but this time I cut down on the cardio,” she says. But she continued weight training and pretty soon she was gaining muscle mass again.

READ MORE: Here’s How To Use Ginger To Cut Your Body Fat

What Her Training Looks Like Now

Monika keeps things at the gym pretty simple: “I walk on the treadmill for about 2km, then do some rope jump. After that, I do my strength training.” She loves all strength moves, but her favourites are sumo squats, barbell hip thrusts and deadlifts. She works out five days a week and on Saturdays she either cycles or attends a spinning class.

Monika firmly believes that if you’re trying to get fit and healthy, you don’t have to do it in the gym. “Invest in a skipping rope and dumbbells – you can do loads of interesting exercises with them.”

READ MORE: 5 Signs You’re Suffering From “Over-Training Syndrome”

What Her Eating Looks Like

Monika eats five meals a day to ensure she’s giving her body the nourishment it needs. “I start off with a quick healthy breakfast: serving-size oats, blueberries, cinnamon and a teaspoon of peanut butter. During the day I add fruit, protein and vegetables. It’s always nice to add a protein shake after my training sessions, just to keep those energy levels up,” she says. When it comes to choosing a protein shake, read the labels – many of them are filled with sugar, she warns.

Monika’s focus is building lean muscle, so she includes protein in her diet. “Fish is a must for either lunch or supper due to its natural omegas.” Throughout the day she snacks on almonds and full-cream plain yoghurt. And cheat meals? She loves pasta! “Chicken pasta with pecorino cheese, basil pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted pine nuts, or a pizza on Saturday evenings. And for dessert, it will be Baklava.”

READ MORE: “I Gained 10kg Of Lean Muscle Mass — Here’s How I Did It”

Choosing Self-Love

The biggest lesson Monika has learnt is to accept your body as it is. “I wish I didn’t compare myself to others or change myself to suit what I thought society wanted from me.” It’s important that you do what works for you, she says, and avoid taking it to extremes. “Accept the fact that [your body] is not made to look like someone else’s and that it is unique. Don’t starve yourself – you’ll get depressed and feel drained. You need the right amount of protein, good carbs and fats to produce enough energy during the day.”

Her final word: Accepting your body is difficult, but positive thinking and giving yourself time makes all the difference.

Inspired?

Women’s Health has launched a whole weekend of wellness and inspiration just for you: Women’s Health LIVE Festival of Wellness. We have three stages – covering Trends, Inspiration and Fitness respectively, with an amazing line-up of celebs, cover stars, social influencers and our WH experts. You’ll also have the chance to take part in beauty pop-ups, like getting your hair done at the ghd Dry Styling Bar, stock up on festive season gifts from talented local designers and try new movement classes, like rebounding with Lisa Raleigh or Rockingnheels with Takkies. Plus, there’ll be food trucks and the Fry’s Plant-Based Food Court serving up delicious, healthy meals, bubbly will be flowing – after all, what’s summer without a bit of sparkle? – live DJs and more fabulous entertainment.

What You get

Your ticket gets you free access to all the talks, workshops and movement classes, free beauty makeovers and ghd hair styling, as well as plenty of freebies and surprises from our partners. It also includes a limited-edition Women’s Health shopper, which you can fill up as you make your way around the Festival – you can expect lots of things to sample and buy. Book your tickets at Quicket.

READ MORE ON: Fitness Fitness Advice Real Women Success Stories