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A Better Version of Me

Simple changes, and a policy of progress, not perfection, help Brenda Ward make lasting lifestyle changes.

29 August 2022

I’m pretty health-conscious and I read widely, so I was sceptical that Resolution Retreats’ four-day refresher could teach me anything I didn’t already know.

But I thought, well, I need a relaxing break, and some tennis, swimming, saunas, yoga, and mindfulness in luxury near Karapiro sounded divine. And if I picked up some tips along the way, all the better.

I knew all the things I should be doing. In fact, I have no idea why I wasn’t doing them already.

I soon found out that even the things I thought I was doing right were undermining my best efforts – and some of the simplest lessons were a complete surprise to me. Let’s look at some of them.


Oh no! Like most women who arrive at this wellness and weight loss retreat, it turns out I wasn’t eating enough. That’s right, not enough.

Energy in should equal energy out. It’s maths, right? No. Eat less and you’ll lose weight? No, again.

Trying to cut down on food and overexercising was doing me no good at all. In fact, my body was stuck in starvation mode and compensating by laying down a lovely layer of fat around my middle.

Within four days I’d learned that I needed to eat more meals a day.

Even though I wasn’t hungry, I obediently munched chocolate bliss balls at morning tea and had a protein smoothie for afternoon tea as well as a sizeable healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I couldn’t see how eating more could possibly help … until I got home and found I had lost a kilo in those four days, while eating more than I ever had.

At home, I kept eating that way and over the following weeks, every day the scales continued to show another drop in weight.

Some of the success was due to when I ate, but also it was what I ate.

Protein at every meal made me feel satisfied. My body was full and happy at last. And there were no carbs at dinner, because I didn’t need them to just sleep.

The menu over that four days showed me what worked. All I had to do was buy better and plan better.


I’m a runner. That is, I run at least 20km a week, the longest a 5k on a Saturday. So I had fitness sorted, didn’t I?

For the first time in months I resisted the urge to take a morning jog along the path to look at the horses grazing in a nearby paddock. Instead, I just did what the programme suggested: a nice walk in the country each morning, some simple group agility and balance exercises, or a hilarious hour of pool fitness fun.

I couldn’t believe I could work up a sweat with such simple routines – and, embarrassingly, I could only just keep up with the non-gym bunnies. It was easy to do, but it was a full-body workout that built balance, strength and capability.

I realised that running had taken over from all-round fitness and flexibility. I needed to get back to some bodyweight work, and I’m now adding it back into my life.

Yoga and mindfulness

I’ve dabbled in yoga a few times and always strived to be one of those women who can stretch further, twist more and look like a social media influencer in my lululemon matching yoga pants and top. Ha, not likely!

I never kept it up and now I know why. When there’s no pressure, no-one watching and no-one cares,
you can breathe and move at your own pace, learning to be calmer, really relaxed and ready to sleep like
a baby.

I have hunted out a yoga class near me and I’ll give it another go.


Good old Watties frozen peas and corn. What would I do without it?

But relying on the frozen veges turned out to be a problem for two reasons:

Peas and corn are veges, but they’re also carbohydrates. And I’d been eating them with carbs like potatoes and carrots, and sometimes with lentils and chickpeas, too. I was trying to eat my veges, but consuming carbs on carbs on carbs.

And my limited food choices were cutting out a whole lot of delicious veges like mushrooms, asparagus, baby carrots, crunchy green beans, and elegant stems of broccolini.

When your veges are tender and sweet, you eat more of them, and crave less of the starchy stuff. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t take that much longer to prepare fresh vegetables every day, rather than frozen ones.

Label lore

Surely Sultana Bran is healthy. What could be wrong with sultanas (basically grapes) and bran (great for fibre)? Surprise: It’s actually one of the most fattening cereals around.

After a seminar on labels, I discovered eating healthily was fraught with pitfalls. Only reading the labels will show which nut bar gives you three teaspoons of sugar and which one has less than one teaspoon per bar and lots of great protein – Nice N Natural Protein bars, if you want to know.

You’re not alone

When we’re all at our own homes, we’re alone in our struggles to eat well and fit in some fitness where we can. But at Resolution Retreats I discovered everyone else has the same battles with temptation and guilt.

Some women would binge-eat biscuits out of loneliness. Another ate chocolate at frustration for a recurring injury. Another was changing her life after defeating breast cancer.

On the retreat, everyone has wisdom to offer. Just one tip can make life that bit easier for someone else.

It’s a journey

The best tip was the empty journal we all received.

I left it on my book pile for three days but followed the suggestions anyway, until one day I felt ready to plan my days and now it’s a daily record of my journey to become a better me.

Resolution Retreats runs wellness and weight loss retreats for women, and Resilience Retreats for both men and women.


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