Irene wants to make it easier for people to make changes for themselves, be less defensive, and take it one step at a time; adjusting slowly and easily to create energy‑boosting habits. Quick fix is a term she abhors and believes it does more harm than good to a person’s psyche and physiology. So, a quick fix is not for her.
Irene’s turnaround came after struggling with her weight in high school due to having an underactive thyroid. She watched friends get picked first as prefects and for the hockey team. This all led her to isolation. “No matter how hard I tried at school, I just never got there. I didn’t have enough encouragement to push myself, so I bettered myself academically and then got lost in the system through seven years of architecture study. But, when I finished my degree at the University of KwaZulu‑Natal in Durban, I weighed 84 kgs,” she explains.
How she turned things around, by not turning around
Irene’s mother, Christina Muir, invited Irene to join her on a popular fun walk on the Durban beachfront. At 10 km, Irene was exhausted and had painful blisters. She begged to throw in the towel and turn back. “My mum simply said, ‘it’s 10 km either way. You can either finish the race or go back another 10 km.’ That changed my outlook. I signed up with Vitality, changed my friends’ circle, signed up at the gym, and kept myself accountable through interactions and commitments,” she says.
It’s been five years, and her active friends can now see her on weekly group runs or cycles (Irene and her partner see this as social time in Paarl). She now weighs 56 kg, having succeeded in halving her thyroid medication through daily diet and training.
Conscious eating is a way of life
Irene firmly believes the mind is the strongest muscle in the body, saying people shouldn’t deprive themselves entirely. “Keep what you like most and add it to healthier choices.”
She adds, “It takes seven days for your body to adapt to a new way. It’s the same with exercise and food. Incorporate the old with the new. You start to change the way your mind thinks. For example, add plant‑based items to your bread, try a new sport one day a week … acquire the habit, drop the bad, one item at a time.”
Her partner, Albert, is also a Vitality Champion and they’ve recently swopped disciplines. Albert now runs while Irene cycles. Each is excelling and revelling in the new challenges.
“You know, diet feeds activity and your wellbeing. Everything is relative. If you eat badly the night before, don’t expect to enjoy your run. My purpose is not to win races but to enjoy the run or cycle, whether it’s 30 minutes or three hours. It’s getting the endorphins pumping. Also, we should not train for weight loss, we should train to be whole and happy. Change is not hard. You just need to make it easier!” she enthuses.
Anyone can become a Vitality Champion; here’s how.