While Cowen could have found many other adjectives to describe her less-than-perfect physique, she settled for “fat”. Many women do that, hoping negative talk will trigger a call to action. The problem with weight loss, though, is that the more you obsess over the weight, the less attainable the desired outcome becomes.
Certified nutrition, health and life counsellor Cynthia Parrott says, “Each time you punish yourself, neglect yourself, or fall into the trap of negative self-talk because you are overweight, the more discouraged you will become.”
Cowen, having learnt this the hard way, says: “It was only when I changed my focus that I started to see results. Yes, having a great body is far more pleasant, but it was when I started challenging my body that I noticed what I was capable of. The desire became about what I can make my body do. Who would have thought a woman in her 40s, with no swimming background, could complete the 7.5km swim to Robben Island in just over three hours? When you do that, you ask yourself, ‘what isn’t possible?’
“Anybody can do it. Older women use their age as an excuse, saying I’ve missed my mark. No! You just haven’t gotten off the chair!”
Recalling time spent with lifestyle and wellness expert Lisa Raleigh, Cowen laughs.
“I remember Lisa saying: just 20 minutes of exercise a day and you’ll be fine. I thought ‘I couldn’t possibly’. I have children to take care of, a demanding job. Where am I going to find the time? Now anything less than an hour is nowhere near enough.”
It’s not that Cowen magically found more time in her day. She just got off the couch. “Lisa would ask me how much time I wasted sitting on the couch eating ice-cream. It was definitely more than 20 minutes,” admits Cowen.
“When I started swimming, the water became my favourite place to be. We keep trying to get away from our busy lifestyles, to find some peace amid the chaos. I found my solace in the pool. It’s just you and the water.”
She goes on to explain that when you find something you’re passionate about, everything else begins to fall into place.
“If I know I have a swimming class later this afternoon, I’m not going to have cake for breakfast. I’ll end up feeling sick and then what’s the point? Your body is like a car. You need to put the right fuel in to make it go. So if I eat healthy throughout the day, I know my body will work together with me in the pool. That way, I eat well and exercise well, so it’s a win-win situation.”