The Amazing Adventures of Svava – Part I

Svava Everyone, meet Svava. She hails from Iceland, lives in Wales and is one kick arse woman. I started reading her Icelandic blog via Google Translate after her number came up in the Summer Up & Running giveaway. Despite the mangled English I was instantly intrigued. It was clear from her Before and During photos she had made some massive changes in her life.

During the Summer 5K Course Svava hooked me even more (in English!) with her determination, radiant positivity and never-give-up attitude.I'm so chuffed that she was up for this interview so I can share her story with you all…

1. First of all I have to ask about your blog title Salvelinus Alpinus… what does that mean?

I'd like to say something intelligent but really it's a joke whose origins are now lost in time. Salvelinus Alpinus is the latin name for a type of fish called murta in Icelandic. Which is a sometimes joke name for me.

2. To set the scene for the statistics lovers out there, can you tell us your before and current weight and/or clothing sizes?

When I first weighed myself just over two years ago as I started my lard busting escapades I owned scales that stopped at 130 kilos (287lb). And I could not get any numbers from that scale. So I know that I was over 130 kilos at that stage. I then first logged my weight in march 2009 at 126 kilos (278lb) and I was wearing trousers UK 24, tops in UK 26 (I'm top heavy).

I now weigh 86 kilos (189lb) and am a size 16. I set myself the goal weight of 71 kilos although I must admit that as I progress in the mental side of "fixing" myself that goal has become less and less important.

Svava-before  Svava in January 2008 before her adventures began

3. What prompted you to decide to lose weight? Had there been previous attempts?

I don't remember myself as anything but fat. And I don't remember a time when I've not been on a diet. I have always been confident and happy and I have never let my weight hold me back. However as my weight crept higher up the scales I started losing my natural confidence until I just didn't feel like me anymore. I was no longer in control of my addiction, it controlled me. I remember having panic attacks if there weren't any sweets in the house. Or if I foresaw that I wouldn't have private time to stuff my face.

It got to the stage where I was waiting for an appointment to see my GP about weight loss surgery but then lost my nerve. It felt such a big operation and with such massive possible complications. I thought to myself that I needed to give myself one last try, one last go at losing the weight. But I also knew that I needed to approach it somehow differently than normally.

So I sat down and reviewed every attempt I'd had at losing weight in the past, found the common denominator and then did away with that. It turned out that I had always set myself far too lofty goals in a far too small a timeframe. This time I set a much smaller goal. Instead of saying "I am going to lose 50 kilos (110lb) in a year", I said "Im going to lose 10% of myself in 4 months." 13 kilos (29lb) was so much easier to think about than 50. And then in the same way as you would climb a mountain, I set off, one bleeding step at a time.

4. What tools/methods are you using for your weight loss? How did you decide on this particular method(s)?

I have tried every diet under the sun. If it's been invented I've tried it. And diets work – it's humans that don't work. I am no exception to that; I have never been able to stick to a diet. So armed with that knowledge I sat down and thought about what would work for me. I understood that I would have to eat less and that I should choose my calories more carefully. I also knew that I would have to make some serious changes.

At first I just counted calories but then started being more mindful of what I ate. I am now aiming at eating clean for the most part. I believe passionately in moderation and would like to be able to live according to that. I do stumble all the time and I know that sugar is a massive trigger for overeating for me. I have managed to imprint in myself now that the occasional overindulgence does not have to lead to extended periods of overeating, I can always stop myself before it spirals out of control.

This has lead me to being hopeful that I will be able to live in mindful moderation sooner than later. I don't allow myself to feel guilty when I stumble. I choose to analyse those occasions to better understand myself and how I can then either avoid the situation or better control it next time. I aim for consistency rather than perfection.

Svava-pants The Svava and Big Pants Photo – it has to be done!

5. How did you get started with exercise? Have you always been into fitness or has this developed during your weight loss journey?

I have never been athletic or exercised. And I do not believe that exercise is necessary for weight loss. I am however convinced that exercise can be the difference between simply being on a diet and making a permanent change in your lifestyle. For me it is the thing that I use to set myself goals to achieve when the scales aren't moving.

I was too heavy to do much when I first started, but instead of doing what I'd normally do; go to an aerobics class, feel fat and incompetent, get breathless and wish for death and then never go again, I decided that exercise would now be on my terms the same as my diet. So I got a Pilates DVD and just did that at home until I felt ready to try more energetic moves on Wii EA Active. I then got a book on weightlifting, joined the gym attached to my workplace and started dabbling with running as well.

As I get fitter exercising cements my new lifestyle. I feel that goals such as being able to run 5k or deadlift 80kg are much more sustainable goals than wanting to reach a certain weight. It all holds hands; I am now a healthy person, not just because I mostly eat clean but because I am fit and strong.

And I think that the most important changes I have made to my mindset come from exercising.  In all honesty it has been a fun and relatively easy adventure in the kitchen, I love cooking and I have made it a fun assignment to create healthy, appetising recipes that I enjoy eating. But exercising did not come naturally to me. That was the aspect of my life that is new and changed for me. It is the aspect where I continue to amaze and astound myself with my achievements.

6. I’ve read on your blog you can lift some seriously heavy weights! Has weight training played a role in your weight loss? What’s your favourite move?

I love all the old school "proper" weight lifting. I firmly believe that you should lift as heavy weights as possible with few reps. Squats are by far my favourite move. When I rack up 70 kilos of iron, put it on my shoulders and then squat down and stand up again… the feeling of strength, invincibility and achievement is indescribable.

Discovering weight training was a pivotal point in my weight loss. And I would recommend it for anyone who is overweight. Most of us fat people are already strong from carrying a lot of extra weight. It doesn't involve hopping about and doesn't leave you breathless and uncomfortable. You can wear much looser fitting clothing that in most other sports and you don’t have to be in a class full of nimble beings.

All this adds to building up confidence. This feeling of being strong gives such a positive body image and when you are used to thinking of your body as a useless lump this feeling is invaluable. Starting lifting was the point where I became serious about exercising and made it a real part of my life.

Check out Part II of the interview when Svava talks about her running adventures, her "striplight of positivity" and her formula for healthy living.

Svava-iron Svava at the gym

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8 thoughts on “The Amazing Adventures of Svava – Part I

  1. What an inspiring story, Svava.

    ‘…one step at a time’ resonates with me too. I’m looking forward to Part II tomorrow.

  2. What a great interview! I have come to know & love Svava at Up & Running….so great to read her story here!

  3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Svava rocks!

    Like Lori, I had the pleasure of getting to know Svava during the Summer 5k course and her calm, positive sensibility never failed to cheer me (and many others I’m sure!).

    Great interview – can’t wait for part 2!