Emotional Eater to Bikini Babe: Benoni-Mom shares lifestyle victory!

Karen van Zyl is proof that it is never too late to set and achieve health and fitness goals.


For 47-year-old Benoni mother of one, Karen van Zyl, the reward for finally overcoming two decades of fluctuating weight issues, and yoyo-ing diet routines, is not in taking part in her first IFBB Bikini Beach Competition later this year, but rather that of conquering her emotional-eating demons and the peace in finding self-belief.

“One thing I have learnt from my journey is that you have to change what you do daily to change how you look and feel. Being overweight or lean is just a symptom of your daily habits, so when you change your actions, your results also change,” says Karen.

Karen’s battle is sadly a common one; fluctuating through repetitive cycles of either being overweight or anorexic, from doing absolutely no exercise, then to the opposite end of the spectrum with extreme peak fitness, her past two decades have been a rollercoaster dictated by her journey as an emotional eater.

It was during a divorce, in 1997, that Karen started showing signs of emotional eating. From a carefree, unhealthy student lifestyle, she swung to the opposite extreme by losing an unnatural amount of weight.

“I ended up being borderline anorexic at 48kg – skinny but not healthy,” admits Karen.

But then three years later, after meeting her current husband in 2000 and feeling happy with her life, Karen began to once again lead an unhealthy lifestyle and, as time passed, she became the heaviest version of herself.

“I started to train with my personal trainer, Annie Wilson, to lose some weight before our wedding but, after that, I slowly picked up more weight enjoying married life, eating out a lot and not exercising at all. When I fell pregnant I never lost the extra 12kg I had picked up,” says Karen.

Finally, in 2017, miserably unhappy with her inconsistent eating habits, her lack of energy, poor sleeping habits and having tried just about every diet, pill and quick fix on the market, Karen had an epiphany that forced her to change her perspective.

Karen came across an advert while watching television that resonated with her struggle and struck a chord of change within her.

“I realised I was losing weight for all the wrong reasons – to impress other people. I was desperately trying to figure out who I was, what my purpose was and dealing with some nasty demons from my past. I started the Slender Wonder lifestyle in May last year; weighing in at 82,7kg. I focused on the diet, figuring out meal preps, portion sizes and handling weekend social events. After three months, I started running seriously again; following a beginners 5km training programme and, two months later, I started to add some weight training to my fitness routine.”

“What started as training for a 10km race, resulted in the completion of my first 21km in January this year,” says Karen.

Karen would never have believed that just 10 months after her lowest point, she’d be training for her first bikini competition.

Excited to see where her hard work takes her in the IFBB Bikini Beach Competition, she is open to where her fitness journey leads – hoping to complete a Comrades Marathon someday.

“Transformation for me is just as much internal as it is external. Working out as part of a healthy lifestyle changed the way I respond to situations and how I deal with them,” says Karen.

Recognising that her struggle is one that affects many emotional eaters, she has some advice for those who can relate to her story.

“Lose weight for you and no one else, impress yourself, deal with your deepest issues and figure out what makes you happy. I didn’t change. I just found myself! If I can do it, anyone can,” says Karen.

Sources: Karen van Zyl
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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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