Meet Monica Mignone.
This is her story…
Upon leaving high school, I, like many others, had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. What I did know, however, was that no matter what I ended up doing, I would always be working with people. With this in mind, I decided to complete an Undergraduate Degree in Psychology, as I knew that the knowledge I acquired through this course would help me with whatever career I eventually chose.
After I finished, I knew that I didn’t want to complete four additional years of study to become a qualified psychologist, so I turned to another interest of mine – teaching. After completing a Graduate Diploma of Education, I started working as a primary school teacher, and have now been teaching for four years.
In my second year of teaching, I decided to complete a course to become a group fitness instructor; I loved going to the gym before and after work, often participated in Body Pump classes, and figured I might as well get paid to do it!
Last year, I did something that I have always wanted to do. Something that has always been at the back of my mind, even after finishing high school, but it was never pursued because I was always told I’d be wasting my time, as there are ‘no jobs in the field’. I studied nutrition, my all-consuming passion, and as well as being a primary school teacher and group fitness instructor, I am now an almost qualified nutritionist (not long to go now!).
When people see me walking down the street, some people may already know me as my Instagram alter ego @balancebymonica, but the majority of people probably have no idea who I am.
Some people may think I am gorgeous, while others may think I’m not that attractive. Some people may see me as really tall and skinny, while others may view me as a little bit chubby. But what none of them do know is the journey I have been on over the past few years with regards to my looks and my weight, and how I came to be the confident and happy woman I am today.
One battle I fought a while ago, one that many women also fight, is the constant battle of weight loss and gain through dieting. After leaving high school and starting university, I went through that typical phase of eating and drinking lots of crappy things, putting on weight, and wanting to be a certain body shape. Around this time, I did some of my own research into different types of diets and tried a few out. I tried everything – low carb, no dairy, IIFYM, grain free, sugar free. You name it, I tried it.
Although each of these diets were very different, they all have one thing in common; they all had sets of rules that required absolute compliance at all times. As soon as I broke a ‘rule’, I gave up on the diet and started again with a new one the next week. How did I overcome this battle? I gave up on diets completely. I threw away all rules I had ever followed, and I learnt to eat mindfully and intuitively again. No more under eating. No more overeating. No more deprivation. No more fluctuating weight. No more stressing over food. Just a happy and healthy relationship with my food, my body, and my self.
I now view health as a multidimensional concept that encompasses complete physical, social and emotional wellbeing. It is for this reason that I place a high emphasis on the relationships I have with others. I am well-known as being the busy person with a full calendar. I admit, this can be exhausting when I just want a weekend to myself, but that doesn’t last long when I think about how blessed I am to say that I have so many friendships. Two very important relationships in my life that have helped form the person I am today are those with my boyfriend and my mum.
I have been with my boyfriend, Daniel, for 7 years, each year somehow being even more wonderful than the last. He is one of the most fun loving, down to earth and genuine people that I’ve ever known. Daniel’s great sense of humour and relaxed attitude keep me grounded and help me to get the most out of life. He encourages me, and supports me with absolutely every thing that I do, no matter how amazing or crazy it might be. But most importantly, he doesn’t care about how much I weigh or how often I exercise or how good I look. He just loves me for me, and that has helped me to do the same.
My mum is more than that. She is my best friend, and has taught me everything I know in life. My mum was, and still is, the best cook that I know, and I have her to thank for teaching me how to cook, for instilling within me a genuine love of food, and for showing me the value of good health. She taught me the importance of good food by cooking a home cooked meal every single night, with nothing taken from a packet or jar, and showed me the importance of fresh, healthy produce. Growing up, my mum treated our family to a homemade dessert every night, filled with cream, butter and sugar. This is where I first learnt about the concept balance. I have my mum to thank for the woman I have become, and for every success I have had in my food venture. I will be surprised if there is a better mum out there.
When I was younger, I didn’t think too far ahead of where I was. I had no idea what I wanted to do once I left high school, probably because I always just enjoyed the moment and didn’t really think past the 24 hours ahead of me. I went through phases when I was little where I wanted to be a famous basket baller, or a singer in a girl band, or a doctor, or whatever else was on my mind at the time. As most kids do, my dream was to do something that involved fame and money. Now my dreams are to make an impact and to change peoples lives in a positive way. People who know me know that I don’t do what I do for Instagram followers, money or free products. I do what I do because I truly love it. I want to educate children about the importance of health and good food, I want to help teenagers love their bodies, and I want to help adults skip the dieting phase of their life and go straight to the good part. The thought of creating and eating delicious recipes, of teaching and guiding others to have a healthy relationship with food, and of making other peoples lives better, that’s what it’s all about for me.
My only fear in life is having regrets. This is what pushed me to study nutrition. One day, I thought to myself ‘I would hate to get to 40, and look back at my life and think to myself, what if?’. That is why I decided to go back to uni to study nutrition and start my own business. It might be a complete flop, and a waste of time and money, but that won’t bother me one bit if it means I can look back one day and say that I followed my heart and gave it a red hot crack. I think a point of difference for me and my business is that I don’t promote a specific diet, or ‘clean eating’. I advocate balance. I’m all about following a chicken salad with a slice of cheesecake. I value all aspects of health over just the physical, and that’s something that is uncommon these days. I used to think that happiness would come with weight loss and lean muscle gain. Now I’ve learnt that it is actually quite the opposite; for me, with weight loss came sadness, stress and anxiety over food. With normal eating and some weight gain has come true happiness.
Today, the way we connect with others is very different to the ways in which my Nonna and my Mum probably did at my age. Instead of human contact, we now connect through technology. Instead of picking up the phone to call someone, we text them. Instead of sending someone a hand written note, we email them. Instead of meeting up with someone, we Skype them. Instead of spending our weekends with friends, we look at what they have been doing via Facebook and Instagram.
How do I connect with people? Over food. As adults living in a very health conscious world, our focus has really shifted away from eating for enjoyment to eating solely for fuel. Some people think that we eat food for one reason and one reason only, that is, to fuel our bodies. To eat only when we are hungry, and stop when we are full. To eat fruits and vegetables and legumes and lean protein and good fats, and nothing other than that, as anything else are considered to be empty calories that don’t provide us with fuel. That it is bad to eat for social or emotional reasons.
While I definitely eat to fuel my body, I also see food as being an incredible source of celebration and human connection. Think about it. Birthday parties end with the cutting of a cake, weddings are based around a three-course meal, Australia Day generally involves a BBQ, and Easter means chocolate eggs. ‘Sometimes’ foods are often the centre of many social events, and are there for people to enjoy while socialising with others. If you are constantly following diet rules that don’t allow for these gatherings, you are at risk of missing out on these wonderful parts of life.
Sharing is a fundamental human act, and the sharing of food is something we do in order to form meaningful connections with others. Eating solely for fuel does not allow you to share in these experiences with families, friends and communities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sometimes eating just because you want to. Sure, food is required to keep us alive, but it is absolutely okay to eat it purely for enjoyment, too. If eating your favourite foods means weighing a few kilograms heavier than you want, I see this as a small trade off for having a healthy relationship with food.
As a primary school teacher, my hope is that strong foundations around health and wellbeing are laid in primary schools, so that children are well equipped with the skills that they need to make good food choices in the future. Having two beautiful sisters who have suffered from the debilitating effects of eating disorders since adolescence, my hope is that all teenagers are constantly reassured that they are enough. My hope is that they develop self-confidence, self-esteem and self-love, and that this continues for the duration of their lives. And, as a woman who has tried every diet under the sun, my hope is that one day, diets will be a thing of the past, and everyone will be able to have a healthy relationship with food, and with themselves.
At the end of the day, my hope it that I just make a difference. And be remembered as the girl who had her cake and ate it too.