Fitness And Mental Health – The Yin And Yang To A Productive life

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What is the purpose of this life? To become a better version, a more evolved version of who we are. Truly, all of us have a different ideal self that we want to become mentally and physically. While the image inside our head may differ, the journey is somewhat similar. Fitness and mental health play a key role in this evolution process.

Today’s story is about Maiyah Kenz, a fitness and health enthusiast, and how she transformed her life. Like every story, it begins with a single realization. A powerful realization that gets you to reflect on who you are and what needs to change. Her journey of fitness and mental health is an inspiring one.

Reading about her transformation was not only informative but motivating as well. Maiyah has gone through her own vicious battle with the demons inside her head, and she conquered

This is her journey of self-healing, transformation and evolution through fitness and mental health.

The Transforming Journey Of Fitness and Mental Health

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Part I: The Vicious Cycle

My name is Sumaiyah Kenz, but everyone calls me Maiyah. I am a 25 and grew up in London but am currently living in Bali with my husband.

I started my own “fitness and mental health” journey over 4 years ago. However, my real journey though, with my mind and body started much earlier.

You could say it started between the ages of 16-18 when I was my heaviest. I had your normal teenage insecurities but rather than dealing with how I felt, I ignored anything that made me unhappy and kept myself busy with alcohol and fun times.

I, like most women, envied other women’s bodies but never had the belief nor drive to work on my own. Frankly, I couldn’t be bothered. My life was ‘too busy’ and I ‘didn’t really care’- all excuses for my laziness. I wanted to be “thin” like the women in magazines so I would often cover my body with baggy clothes. Not only was I slightly overweight but I also had the worst immune system, I was constantly getting ill and taking far too long to get over it.

As my party girl days escalated, the next step was of course a season in Ibiza. Here at 18 is where the next stage of my journey began, the starvation stage. I was surrounded by beautiful slim women in bikinis all day so with more partying and less eating I started to lose weight. Of course this is unhealthy and not recommended at all. Losing it so fast left me unequipped for the mental effects and unhealthy side effects.

Then people started to notice and point it out. As the compliments to my body came in, all of which I wasn’t used to, the obsession began.

I began to literally starve myself.

This was the start of my body dysmorphia before I even knew it. I struggled with this for almost a year before I started training (and then again when I started to build muscle).

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is when someone can’t control their negative thoughts about their ‘flaws’ and  are unable to believe people who tell them that “they look fine”. No matter how much weight I lost in this phase I still saw myself as “fat” no matter what people said I didn’t see my true reflection in the mirror for many months.

As I got thinner and thinner the compliments turned to comments of concern but I still took them as drives to lose more weight.

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Part II: The Life Changing Realization

Slowly the effects of the season in Ibiza and my diet took its toll and I became very ill. This was the start for me.

The start to realizing I was more than my weight and that my body deserved the love and care it gave me each and every day.

This is when I started my obsession with all things holistic health, a more plant-based diet and lifting them big gal weights. Slowly but surely (with some real body dysmorphic bumps on the road) I began to boost my immune system, build my mental and physical strength, and gain all the weight back.

Yep you read that right. I now weigh not far off my “heaviest” and have never felt healthier, stronger and happier.

Even though I had wanted to be “thin” for so long, when I finally was I felt uncomfortable and unconfident. Once dealing with my body dysmorphia I was able to see my natural body just needed to be heavier, my size just wasn’t a healthy fit for MY personal frame.

Everyone is different and we all have a natural weight our body likes to be in. I wanted to get back to that but this time a healthier version and a new set of muscles.

So, I would spend hours researching the best workouts, watching YouTube and reading nutrition papers. My boyfriend (now husband) was an avid weight trainer so he would take me to the gym with him and help me with movements until I finally felt comfortable to create my own programmes and workout alone.

It wasn’t an easy ride though, getting used to being so thin and still dealing with body dysmorphia I really struggled at first with building muscle. Even with a slow and lean approach I was of course gaining some fat too, this alongside my distorted image of myself really held me back and I often wanted to throw in the towel.

I would look in the mirror and cry that I was “getting fat again, it had all been for nothing”. This is a part of muscle building that I just don’t see people talk about. It’s tough.

We, especially as women, are taught our whole lives the goal is to lose weight not gain it! So trying to accept myself at every stage was a real journey for me. I shifted a lot of my research time to less about aesthetic goals and more to a mental goal of learning to love myself. I had to change my mindset from “I want a big butt” to “I want and deserve to be happy and healthy”. When you finally believe that the body will follow.

Part III: The New Fitness Regime

I didn’t find motivation in aesthetics because I couldn’t see myself as I truly was and I was still on a journey of self-love. Instead I implemented discipline, making sure my workouts were part of my routine and spending free time researching the facts so I couldn’t jump to crazy conclusions about my body.

My initial workout routine was around 3 days a week and consisted of one upper body day, one lower body day then one full body day. As I became more advanced, I switched to 4 days with one push day, one pull day, one hamstring and glute day and one quad and glute day.

Now I pretty much stick to that but also add in some fun training days where I will just do whatever I feel like that day.

That is me in action now a days!

Sometimes I will do weeks of a new training technique like CrossFit, because I would rather enjoy every session than try and reach for “the perfect body”. I hate to break it to you, it just doesn’t exist.

We will never look like people in magazines because we are not them. You are you and your beauty comes from your “imperfections”. My broad shoulder used to be something I hid, now you’ll catch me flexing them any shot I get.

The real goal here isn’t to strive to have someone else’s body, it’s to strive to be YOUR best self, with YOUR best body, however that may look.  

Part IV: Advice For Other Women

As a woman starting off in the weightlifting world can be hard, you are often the only female in the weights section and the media puts the fear into you of being ‘too manly’. When I started out I would avoid training my upper body because I was afraid of building “too much muscle” and being ‘too manly’.

But with some proper research I realized that was just NEVER going to happen. Building muscle is hard, really, really hard.

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So I was never going to do a few sessions and look like the Rock, it just wasn’t going to happen.

Eventually, with proper nutrition and effort I did start to build some upper body muscle and instead of hating it like I thought, I loved it. I felt strong and sexy. Still feminine but my own kind and that’s one thing I want to urge women to do –  do not avoid training your upper body because of the same fear I had.

If you aren’t actively trying you won’t build loads of muscle, and balance throughout the body is so important no area is more important than another. Yeah having a booty is great but a strong back will set you up for that and so much more.

Weightlifting isn’t just great for building muscle though. It’s also a fantastic way to lose weight while keeping your body feeling and looking its best. But the goal isn’t to get into training to burn some pounds, it has to be greater than that or you will never stick to it.

I would not still be training now 4 years on if my goal was still to “grow my butt”. The goal should be to feel your best and your body will always be a byproduct of that. I see the best results in my body when I am enjoying my workouts and focusing on how they make me feel.

This means I am more likely to do them for one, and more likely to put more effort in them! Rather than slugging around half-arsing a HIIT session or run because I don’t enjoy it.

As cliché as it sounds it’s about making it a lifestyle not a goal for the summer. Aesthetic goals are great and we all have them but that’s not what keeps me going to the gym. Its the feeling of strength I get when I hit a new PR and the energy I feel when I look after myself.

Weights won’t be for everyone, it’s about finding your sport, the one you enjoy the one you will show up for and doing that. I wouldn’t show up to the squat bar if I didn’t enjoy it. It can be anything, walking, running, swimming, dancing whatever!

As long as you enjoy it that’s one of the biggest bits of advice I can give. This doesn’t mean it won’t be hard and you won’t be panting throughout, you will just feel great about it after.

Part V: You Are What You Eat

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One of the biggest things I have learnt was no matter how much exercise I did, it would never make up for a crappy diet. Previously, I had an addiction to sweets and sugary drink and ate processed food all day and drank all weekend, then wondered why I felt so bad?

What you put in your body is always going to determine what you get out of it. Don’t eat enough one day, you will have low energy. Have a binge weekend (don’t worry we have all been there), chances are you will feel like crap.

This doesn’t mean you need to eat chicken and rice all day, I try to practice balance and moderation. I follow a 90/10 (or 85/15 some weeks) approach where 90% of my food is from real whole foods, grains, veggies and nuts and seeds. The other 10% is the feel good food, the ones that don’t really benefit my body but they benefit my mind when I am winding down in the evening and enjoy a few biscuits.

This can be easier said than done in our busy lives, I know I struggled at first. So, I implemented food prep, it doesn’t have to be as intense as some people online, I wouldn’t prep every meal. I would have one set breakfast (oats) that I could easily prepare in the morning.

Then on a Sunday I would meal prep my lunches, batch cooking things like curries and chillies to cover me for the week. I also would plan my week, shop for food by meal rather than randomly what I needed, this minimized waste while also reducing time spent trying to figure out what to eat. Minimising the time I spent worrying about food helped keep me on track and feeling my best.

Food isn’t just great for your body though it’s also amazing for your mental health. What we eat can have tremendous positive effects on our minds.

Studies have shown that if you stick to a diet low in refined carbs and packed with healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and seeds you can lower your risk of depression. These snacks contain loads of tryptophan, an amino acid, which helps the body produce serotonin (a happy hormone).

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Part VI: The Importance Of Mental Health In Life

Mental health is something very important to me. Having struggled with my own I want to share the power mental health and fitness along with diet had on me.

Call me corny but working out is a form of therapy for me. I get to disconnect from the demanding world and focus on the here and now. I get to feel strong and accomplished and see all the truly amazing things our bodies can do.

That alone gives me a sense or awe, wonder and accomplishment that nothing else does. Exercise of any form is proven to help compact mental health issues, so in a time filled with uncertainty and crisis I believe there is no better time than now to find your sport. Whether it’s swimming or going on hikes, the activity is not only great for your body but also your brain and in turn mental health.

As humans we are made to move, our ancestors were hunter gatherers and spent the majority of their days walking or carrying stuff. Regular exercise supports brain health in so many ways such as activating our prefrontal cortex. This boosts the part of our brain that handles problem-solving, planning, and other executive functions. So working out can even have positive effects on our work life and productivity.

You don’t even have to be working out for years to feel these benefits. Just one session will leave you feeling, granted tired, but elated and ready to take on the world!

Making sure I exercise in some way every day, so my 4-5 sessions then a 30 minute walk on my rest days, plus implementing my diet technique have had the biggest effect on my mental health and helping my body dysmorphia.

I finally feel comfortable in myself at all stages after this life enhancing fitness and mental health journey and want others to feel the same!

The After-effects Of This Fitness and Mental Health Journey

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A Before and After

What Maiyah has gone through has re-wired her for happiness and self-fulfillment. The purpose of life is to evolve, so we can live each day to its fullest rather than dark and gloomy days of self-criticism and laziness.

Her journey of fitness and mental health has changed her life for the better, she is also currently one of our hottest SQUAT WOLF athletes.

Hard work does pay off and you can follow Maiyah on Instagram (@maiyahkenz) to see the after effects of her dedication, persistency and a strong will to change. 

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