Fitness

‘I’ve had the most chiselled abs, but been at my lowest in mindset’ – fitness coach Krissy Cela shares the secrets to real health and happiness

‘I realised yesterday that I haven’t made any physical progress in the past 12 months. I haven’t gained more muscle, I haven’t got smaller, I haven’t got bigger,” says Krissy Cela, entrepreneur and fitness coach who has worked her social media popularity (some 2.5m Instagram followers) into a robust business.

er followers came to her initially to watch Krissy document her own journey towards fitness, which started in 2019. I wonder therefore does the lack of recent progress cause her concern?

“No. That’s OK. Because I’m so much better than where I was five years ago. I’m so much better than where I was even last year during lockdown when I was dealing with my own anxiety and depression.

“OK, physical change hasn’t been there, but where’s my headspace at? And I think that’s so much more valuable than a few inches off your waist and a few inches on your boobs.”

It is, of course – but we don’t always realise that. Particularly not within the highly visual and often superficial world of social media. Within that world, Krissy stands out – for the solid usefulness of her workouts, and for the attitude behind them, which has become increasingly focused on wellbeing and creating a sense of community, rather than aesthetics.

“It’s all fair and well to look a certain way,” she says, “but I’ve come to the idea that it’s quite irrelevant. And I know a lot of people, when I say that, turn around and say, ‘Well, it’s easy for you to say because you look the way you look.’

“And I understand that. But I can’t stress enough that I have had the most chiselled abs before, and I have been at my lowest in mindset. I dealt with grief last year, losing someone I loved so much to cancer. And I fell out of an engagement.

“I was engaged to someone for five years who I thought was the love of my life. I lost a significant amount of weight, because I simply wasn’t eating.

“I was under-nourishing myself because I was in so much pain and depression. And I had abs, because of my low body fat.

“Everyone around me was saying, ‘You look great. These abs look great.’ And I was like, ‘I feel like I don’t want to be here anymore. Whether I look good or not to you, I go home every night and cry myself to sleep.’ So abs and green juice doesn’t equate to wellness in my eyes.”

It’s this attitude, as well as the resolutely can-do approach, that keeps Krissy’s followers engaged.

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Krissy Cela attends the UK Television Awards in 2020. Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage

She has built a business that includes the Tone & Sculpt app, a clothing range, and now her second book, Happy Healthy Strong, which she describes thus: “My first book, Do This for You gets you to think about why you want to make a change in your life. Happy Healthy Strong is more like, ‘I’m officially now your trainer; this is how I would train you. This is your overall plan: This is why you do it, this is how you do it, this is when you do it.’”

The book is clear, easy to follow, and highly motivating. The ‘Fuel Your Life’ section is full of delicious-looking recipes and food suggestions, with nothing penitential about the dishes proposed.

The ‘Move Move Move’ section has exercises clearly described and illustrated, with proposals for how to combine and alternate these. The two are linked by reflections on motivation, habit-building and keeping going.

Frankly, if you knew nothing at all about the world of fitness and health, this would be a good place to start. And if you know some, maybe even a lot, but need a boost to go further, try harder (I’m looking at myself here), then you’ll also find that.

“I wanted to make it simple for you,” Krissy says. “I think it’s very easy to see an end product and assume it was given to someone, that they didn’t have to work for it; that this was just put on my doorstep, and I was very fortunate. But that wasn’t the case.”

She emphasises this many times – how hard she worked to get where she is.

“I come from a family of immigrants,” she says. “My dad suffered from addictions, my mum was working non-stop. I didn’t have the best childhood growing up. Then when I met my first partner, he cheated on me. So I was like, ‘OK, clearly everything in life is going wrong.’ I didn’t have… there was no hope. There was never any hope.

“Then I was like, ‘I have two paths here. I can continue to feel really sorry for myself. Or I can build my own hope, I can build my own path and my own destiny.’”

And that, she says, is what she did. Starting by taking on responsibility for her own health. She began going to the gym – tentatively at first. 

“Setting foot in the gym was so frightening. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to go about these machines. I still remember the first day… I remember stepping in and I was like, ‘What is this?’ I went straight to the treadmill, because that’s the only thing that said ‘start’ and ‘stop’ on it.”

But, quickly, she found the good in that.

“I was really motivated by the fact that when I came into the gym, it kind of forced me to be present. Everything in life forces you to think about a million things at once, so you really suffer with being present.

“When I was in the gym, the only thing I could think about was getting through the workout. Not my worries, not my stresses, not my depression, not my sense of rejection. That’s why I got hooked on the idea of doing this for myself, not trying to change my physical appearance. I was doing it for the way I felt.”

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From Krissy’s Insagram page with the message: ‘Morning walks and coffee ☕️ with my two Bs (Buttons & Brett) are my favourite types of mornings!’

At the time, Krissy was studying law at university and working as a waitress.

“I was very content being a waitress and a student,” she says now. “I thought I’d get my law degree and that would be that. But sometimes life has other plans for you.

“When I started posting on Instagram, it was never the intention to be where I am today. I was documenting my stuff because I wanted to keep myself accountable.”

From the start, it was more about how she felt than how she looked.

“For me it was more a case of not feeling any place was home. I didn’t feel confident anywhere else. After a time, I built a sense of safe haven in the gym. That’s why I say that fitness literally saved me, because if I didn’t have the gym, I think I would have really lost myself.

“That’s why I’ll preach it to the day I die – to move your body in a way that feels good for you, to aim to be better than yourself, rather than someone else.

“We all compare – I would be lying to you if I said I don’t compare myself, that I’m super-content in everything I do. Of course I compare myself. I’m a human being. I have my own insecurities, my own downfalls.

“But the bottom line is that you can truly find reassurance looking back at your previous years and knowing that you bettered yourself year on year. So that’s what I hope to give to women.

“I understand I have a huge responsibility to women’s health, mentally and physically. So everything I post now is with the mindset, ‘How many people will this help? Is this valuable?’

“If I don’t feel something I’ve put out is valuable, or made someone feel good, I’m just not going to post it any more, even if I can gain 10,000 followers from it.”

 

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Krissy Cela with her mother Mirela

Happy Healthy Strong is dedicated to Krissy’s mum, who she describes as her superhero.

“She’s an Albanian immigrant who came to the UK on the back of a banana lorry,” Krissy says. “She worked three jobs and fell quite sick – she had cancer and she became quite suicidal at one point. Now, she’s trying to bounce back, slowly but surely. She’s getting there.

“I think, when I look at my mum, she’s had so many things thrown at her and every single time she’s bounced back. The thing I’ve taken from my mum is, you have to be the hardest-working person in the room. You have to keep on going, regardless of how many setbacks you have. You have to keep growing and bettering yourself.

“I’m so happy I’ve had someone like that in my life. She’s an exceptional woman.

“I used to see my mum being told to go back to her own country, and that she didn’t have a place [in Britain].

“Which I understand. I understand that people believe this is their own place and that no one else is welcome. I try to put myself in their shoes – though I never would behave in that way.

“I think it’s repulsive. But you can’t get angry with people like that, you just have to be like, ‘OK, that’s what they perceive.’

“But in my mum’s head, she was like, ‘People don’t want me here, so I have to work 20 times harder to prove I belong here.’ That’s always been my mother’s mindset.”

And now, it’s Krissy’s mindset too.

“With me, a woman in business, I have to work 20 times harder [to show] I’m not making a decision because I’m emotional or rash. I’m making a decision because I’m clever and I’ve taken the time to digest this information and I’ve made a very calculated decision, not an impulsive one.”

And to those who say she got to where she is on the back of an Instagram feed that carries many photos of herself in bikinis or skimpy work-out gear, she has a simple message. 

“I haven’t just made what I’ve made of myself because I’ve posted a bikini picture. If that were so, everyone would be where I am. There’s men posting abs pictures and we’re not saying anything about it,” she rightly points out.

“Because a woman’s in a bikini, we instantly sexualise her, so she has to work 10,000 times harder to prove that’s not the only factor in her getting to where she is.”

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Ready for business – from Krissy’s Instagram page

Happy Healthy Strong begins with a plea to women to bump themselves up their own list of priorities; to put themselves first, at least sometimes. It’s something Krissy clearly feels strongly about.

“You know The Holiday, the movie?” she asks. “Where the old man looks at Kate Winslet and says, ‘When will you start acting like the main character in your own movie? Right now, you’re acting like the extra.’ I watched that movie four or five years ago, and that line stuck in my head.

“I say to myself, ‘Why can women not be the main characters of their own life, their own movie? You deserve to be the main character. You deserve to be the character that gets to nourish herself, that gets to be treated the way she wants, by herself and by others too.

“I believe that the minute you start respecting yourself, nourishing yourself, moving your body, being present and self-aware with yourself, that will become intoxicating for others, who will want to treat you that way as well.”

Has she found this to be true in her own life, I ask? That a greater sense of self has led to better relationships?

“You’re asking someone who couldn’t sustain an engagement,” she says with a laugh. “I’m pretty shit at relationships. But what I have found is that I’m more patient. Because of fitness and training. I’m more patient, and I’m more disciplined. I’m so disciplined that it’s a bit much sometimes. It’s almost like a soldier mode. But relationships with other people… 

“I respect myself massively, which means I could never get disrespected again in a relationship. But because I’m so busy with work, I tend to keep my circle very small. I wish I could have more friends and do more things, but I wish I could bake as well. I just don’t have time.”

She ends the interview with a final plea that we approach our bodies differently.

“I think the bottom line is this – you could lose 20lbs and still feel the same, because you thought that by losing weight you were going to feel better, and actually that’s not the case.

“So I think you need to start learning to accept yourself for who you are, and aim to better yourself. Your aim should be to better yourself, and not completely change yourself. You have to have that commitment to yourself, to want to do more for yourself. That should be the thing you’re focusing on. Nothing else.”

 ‘Happy Healthy Strong’ by Krissy Cela is published by Octopus Books on January 6

Wellness for the win: Krissy’s top lifestyle tips

Consult your GP before starting any new diet or exercise regime.

Food

  • Educate yourself. You need to know why you are fuelling your body, and the amazing things food does for you. Food should not be something you’re scared of. No foods are all ‘good’ or all ‘bad’; the key is balance.
  • Plan ahead. Consider batch cooking. That way you always have something nutritious, no matter how busy the week. Schedule time for meal prep and batch cooking each week.
  • A balanced plate of food comprises of a palm-sized portion of protein, a thumb-sized portion of fat, a cupped-hand sized portion of carbohydrate, two handfuls of green veg to provide vitamins, minerals and fibre.
  • Keep hydrated and fuelled for your workouts. Consider a pre-workout supplement if you are exercising long after a meal. You can buy or make these.
  • Enjoy what you eat. Define your own version of healthy. Find a balance that works for your health and happiness.

Exercise – guidelines to working out

  • Warm up your body and mind before you start working out. Go for a quick run (five minutes), try some skipping (five minutes), or follow a mobility warm-up.
  • Form is key – follow the instructions for each exercise in the workout closely. Pay close attention to the tips on muscle engagement and body position.
  • If an exercise causes pain or uneasiness, stop. Try stretching, resting, then readjusting your form. If the pain continues, choose a different exercise for now and build up to it.
  • Think about the muscles you are using in your workout. Research tells us if we do this, we are more likely to exercise these muscles.
  • Appreciate small steps. Don’t begin with ‘I want to run a marathon.’ Focus on small wins – take the stairs instead of the lift; walk to work; do your 15 minutes exercise a day. Build from there.

Keeping going

  • Find your Why – changing the size or shape of your body is not reason enough. Internal before external. Consider what you want from your fitness – to feel strong and healthy? To be able to walk the dog/ play with grandchildren? There will be many Whys; write them down.
  • Make a habit – motivation is short-lived. Aim to build habits. Begin by committing to 15 minutes a day. Run, walk, do some exercises. Keep doing this until the habit is ingrained. You will start to look forward to your 15 minutes.
  • Be patient – we are too used to instant gratification. Exercise takes time to fall in love with. All the best things do. Stick with it.
  • Commit – at the beginning, commit to doing the same exercise every day for seven days, then change. So you might run every day for a week, then do strength exercises every day for the second week, then back to running and so on.
  • Schedule – take control of your schedule. Create a weekly/monthly planner. Fill in everything you need to do. Include at least 15 minutes for exercise every day. If possible, aim for roughly the same time every day. This too builds habit.
  • List your problems – every night, write down what’s on your mind – problems, worries, happy things too. In the morning, look at the list with a fresh mind and plan how you will tackle five of the things on it.

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