Healthy Living: An ongoing and eternal journey

Healthy Living: An ongoing and eternal journey
21 Feb 2014

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First let me start by saying this: being healthy and fit should never be a goal to reach just once… it should be a way of life. That being said, let me introduce myself, and share with you all MY journey to healthy living.

My name is Denise. I’m 29, a chiropractor (now living in Australia), and a friend of Craig’s. When he asked for guest bloggers to write for his healthy lifestyle blog I thought, “That’s something I should do, so that maybe someone out there can identify with my journey and it could help them along too.” So here I am, about to blab on about my childhood and adulthood. Hopefully, as I said, this inspires someone, or helps someone to know that they are not the only ones out there struggling to achieve a healthy life.

My Childhood

Right from the get go I spent a lot of my time doing music. I might add, I don’t resent this at all (I might have had a few tantrums about practicing when I was young… but then again, who didn’t?). But this meant that most of my nights were spent in orchestra, group lessons, private lessons, etc. I had swimming lessons once a week, but it didn’t really give me much time to do sports or anything else active. That shouldn’t be an excuse, but I feel as an adult now, that had I gotten myself into some more active extra-curriculars, I may have had slightly better habits. That may or may not be true, just a thought.

I was a chunky kid, built much like my father (who was a farm kid growing up, and let me tell you, he is a solid guy! He’s a bloody strong-man look-a-like!). It didn’t bother me when I was really really young that I looked this way, however by the time I was 11 years old I was aware that I was on the bigger side of most kids in my class, and I got teased for it. There was quite a bit of pressure then from the media about looking a certain way, but even nowadays there’s so much more pressure! I can tell even just the way kids dress, they are trying to look like the models in magazines at such a young age! I think that this role by society probably didn’t help me back then.

My first diet pact was with a friend at Brownies. BROWNIES!

Looking back that makes me sad that I was so young and had such bad body image issues already! I wasn’t unfit. Heck, sometimes I would go with mum to the pool after Brownies and she would swim her 40 laps and I would swim 50. That’s 100 lengths. 2.5km! Not too shabby, however in my mind, that’s not what people saw of me. They just saw the chubby kid. I didn’t wear trendy clothes because they were hard to fit properly. So yeah, I got teased, bullied, left out. I had my core friends who were lovely, but those popular kids can be pretty mean.

On to high school

Once I got to high school, which for me was grade 7, I would come up with excuses for not having a lunch. I forgot it, I was going to buy but don’t have enough money, etc. This again, led to unhealthy eating habits, where I would eat once, maybe twice a day. On top of that, I started cheerleading and swimming with the junior swim team. Not that I really felt any better about my body image, but again, I was active. In grade 8, I quit cheerleading because I found the girls to be too catty, too mean. I joined the senior girls softball team (I was the only grade 8 on it), and was asked to join the senior swim team that year. Because of my being a part of two senior sports teams I won an athletic award at grade 8 graduation. But I felt unworthy of this award. I was standing on stage with some of the kids in my year who represented Canada in the Junior Boys Cross-Country meet in Morocco that year. One of those continued on to represent Canada in the Olympics just past as a triathlete. I didn’t feel that I deserved that award, and felt embarrassed to be on stage with them. Notice a trend in my thought process? It’s amazing how early on kids can be hardwired to think a certain way.

Denise my first triathlon

The Independence of Adulthood!

High school finished without too much excitement, and off to university I went. It was such an amazing time to get away from all of the kids I’d known since I was 5; people who already had in their mind the person who I was. But I wanted to really be me. So off to New Brunswick for university, and some amazing experiences and friends! But with this journey came some new challenges.

Denise Uni bigger

I realized when I got there that I actually had some strange phobia of eating in front of people I didn’t know. On top of that, while many were carelessly eating from the hamburger buffet, eating all sorts of crazy stuff, I was having a small bowl of salad, because I was terrified of the freshman 15. I even swam twice a day sometimes to try and keep that from happening. At the end of first year I was about 200lbs. This was neither up nor down from leaving high school.

Conquering my fears

I did get over the fear of eating in front of people that I didn’t know, but I still struggled with my body image. Some wonderful friends that I made there actually helped me feel more feminine, instead of the tomboy I’d been as a kid. I think that helped a bit, to feel girly. But at the same time, my friends were all dating people they met at school, where I didn’t date anyone. I didn’t think anyone would want to date someone who looked like me. During my 3rd and 4th years at university I bounced back and forth between getting to the gym or pool, and struggling with poor eating habits. I admit that I didn’t do things properly, in terms of eating habits, and those were probably my lowest hardest years with the diet side of things. I’m not proud of what I did, however I was smart enough to know that what I was doing wasn’t healthy and I should stop. I held on to that resolution pretty strongly for the next 4 years, and only struggled again when I was in my first year of chiropractic college.

denise heavier

Having evaluated my past habits now that I’m a wee bit more enlightened, I know now that what I did in my low times was more an act of power. I mean, when I felt like I had no control over anything else in life, during times of high stress, what or when I ate was how I gained control, or power. It’s not really something that was easy to snap out of, but I got there, and I’ll tell you how.

It’s so much easier to embark on a lifestyle change when you have that support at home.

In my last year of chiropractic college, so, 2011, I joined a weight-loss program with my mum on board for support. If you knew her you would know she’s pretty tiny, and fit! But she was such a great supporter. It’s not impossible when you’re on your own, but it’s definitely much easier with a buddy. We weighed in once a week, and started making the gym part of our every day routine.

Spin classes, core classes, Zumba, free-weight programs, and healthy foods IN MODERATION were all key to my success of losing weight. I never overdid it, or at least, I never meant to. But I got involved in so many great activities! I started playing Ladies Softball again that summer. I did yoga at the church one night a week. I trained for a triathlon with mum. Having those classes or games as part of my routine helped me to change life around. When you are always going to a Monday morning spin class, people in the class notice when you’re not there. They become your friends that you joke with when you’re struggling to go ‘uphill’ on those bikes (NOT an easy task!). The sport you take up is not just an exercise tool but a great social outing, so it doesn’t necessarily feel like exercise! And having that goal of a certain race gives you something to aim for with training.

Denise softball

Doing all of those things and eating properly, with moderate portions, helped me to go from 212lbs (my heaviest) to 173lbs. I felt so fit! I had so much energy, and just felt happier. It’s amazing the feeling you get from working out. You just feel better inside. As an intern in our student clinic we were constantly learning new tests for core strength, upper body strength, etc. And out of our whole group of 6, guess who always had the best core or strength? Me! I knew I wasn’t the smallest, or had the best figure of anyone, but I was fit and it showed! THAT was empowering.

Going Walkabout in the Land Down Under

Once school finished I moved here to Australia. A little hiccup in my life, as it pretty much meant starting from scratch in a lot of ways. I had to figure out a new social network, new living situation (no more workout buddy and foodie buddy in my mum ), and I had to reset my weekly schedule. It wasn’t easy, and it took me about a year to get there. Sadly, I went off the wagon a bit, and gained some weight back to sit at 190lbs. BUT, I got right back on that horse again!

Denise Zambia build

My schedule is now jam packed with work (lots of it), softball games AND training, as I’ve made the A and B grade teams, which also means that I train with a lot of teenagers, haha! That’ll keep you moving! I have a personal trainer, I do bootcamp twice a week (both times before work in the morning), I’m taking a Burlesque dance class to maintain that feminine feeling, and I’ve finally gotten my hands on a bike, so I can start to do some triathlon training again! Yay! I know the weight won’t melt off, and I’ll have to put in the effort like last time. But now my confidence is stronger because I FEEL stronger physically! I can run laps around some of the skinniest people at bootcamp. That there is proof to me that my size doesn’t matter. It’s my strength, my mental health, it’s how I see myself. And I see myself as powerful, and beautiful, and funny, and busy, and active, and I have a bunch of friends who know me as me. They have accepted me as who I am, so what else matters?

My health

My blood pressure is perfect. My cholesterol is low. My cardio could probably improve a little, haha! But I am happy with me. Sure I’ll aim to shed a bit of weight, but I’m not doing it to fit into a certain size, and I’m not doing it to get anyone to like me. I’m doing it to reach a healthier BMI, and even that system is slightly flawed. I cannot be compared to anyone but myself. I am unique, I am individual, I am me, and no one else. If I am happy with the effort that I put into my life, and I don’t feel like I’m being a lazy bum, then what else can I ask for? As long as I’m being honest with myself, then I am doing my best.

denise good shape

I hope this INCREDIBLY long entry has made someone out there think. Whether you’re the one who is struggling with your health, or whether it’s someone you know and love. Understand there are so many facets to good health. Get out and try something new. Set goals. Activate the buddy system (see, we all learned something useful in grade 1!). And also know that reaching a healthy state of body/mind/soul should not be an end goal, but should be an ongoing goal. It’s not like saving money to buy something. It’s more like putting money away for retirement.

It’s a way of life.


Denise Spares

Denise is a Canadian chiropractor who recently relocated to Adelaide, Australia in 2012. She continues to play competitive softball, is a member of a local symphony, and enjoys learning new skills and trying new experiences. For the past 9 years Denise has been involved in Habitat for Humanity both on local and international levels, often travelling to Zambia to help the locals build houses. As a chiropractor, and a human being, she is enthusiastic in helping people discover their full health potential whether it be through chiropractic care or tackling new fitness challenges.


  1. What an amazing journey. So true, it should be an ongoing goal

  2. Big hugs, Denise!! You look fabulous!! Thanks for the motivation to stay on my new healthy journey!

  3. This was a great post, Denise! I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

  4. This was just what I needed to read today! I’ve been struggling to get back in shape after my pregnancy and stop filling up on all the wrong foods. It’s hard to change habit but once I do I will be focused on sticking to a healthier lifestyle.

  5. Denise Michelle : July 15, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    I should say…. a little update in case some people are just reading this for the first time. I’m now nearly 6 months pregnant, but still doing my workouts! Of course, these have modified a bit, haha, as I can’t do everything I was doing before! BUT, my partner is so wonderful in sharing my enthusiasm to eat healthy home-cooked meals. I think I still work out more than he does to be honest! I’m feeling great, and determined not to look at the scale since I know it’s going to be going up anyways. The little kicks and nudges are just my constant reminder to keep as healthy as I can through this, so that I can be as healthy as possible and as good an example as possible for this little Ninja growing inside of me. I’m also thinking that keeping active and busy now will make it easier for me to go back to exercise and working out once the baby is born. That’s the theory at least. Good thing I’ve got great support! Good luck to all out there who are getting back on track and taking charge of their lives :) Good on ya!

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