She’s built a brand out of her healthy lifestyle and shows no signs of slowing down. Holistic nutrition and fitness expert Cara-Lisa Sham, 29, talks to Leigh Hermon about her Italian family, ice cream, and finding her way… Yoga and fitness fanatic Cara-Lisa had grand plans to be a prima ballerina, but swapped her dance shoes for a Bachelors of Arts degree in psychology and law from the University of the Witwatersrand. After completing her Master’s in industrial psychology, she joined the corporate world for two years working in HR. Unsatisfied with what she was achieving in her day job, Cara-Lisa left her nine-to-five to jumpstart her health and lifestyle brand, Caralishious, in 2014. Today she runs and curates a successful wellness blog and even has her own vegan ice cream. She lives in Orchards, Johannesburg and will soon be moving in with her long-time boyfriend, Nicholas Dunn, 27. For my entire childhood, I lived and breathed dance; I was obsessed.I loved being able to express myself in a creative way with my body, and I think the intense discipline it requires appealed to my Type A personality. The high of being on stage for my first ballet recital was extremely addictive and I wanted more. Ballet was always my first love, but I did everything from modern and jazz to tap and hip-hop. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Holistic Nutrition And Sports Specialist Cara-Lisa Sham Photo Gallery
My passion for dance took a dark turn when I reached the age of 12. My dance schedule was intense. I’d often only get home from class after 7pm and still have to do homework. I wasn’t too bothered by this because my need to perfect each new routine was so important to me. As I got older and the dance space became a lot more competitive, I started to put a great deal of pressure on myself to be the best. I looked around at what the other top-performing dancers had that I didn’t, and I became acutely aware of how waif-like their bodies were. Being so young, I started to compare my appearance to theirs: I never thought I was fat; I thought that in order to be a top dancer, I needed to restrict my eating. My relationship with food became so warped that I thought it was evil.
It started out in subtle ways; I wouldn’t finish a meal here or there, but gradually I cut out more. I’d managed to cut down to half a slice of toast for breakfast and a small salad in the evenings – at first this worked in my favour and I flew through the air with such elegance, but I was depriving my body of vital nutrients and it started to affect other areas in my life. Things got really bad when I started falling asleep in class. It’s no easy feat to hide your eating habits from your loved ones, and, luckily, before I could cause any serious harm, my teachers at school, as well as my dance instructors and my parents, intervened. Of course it was self-inflicted, but being so young I didn’t understand the damage I was doing to my body. I started eating properly again and got back to a healthy weight, but I still had a long way to go before my mind was right. My self-worth was tied to my body image, and for a long time I believed that people would only like me if I was thin. I was withdrawn, listless and unpleasant to be around. While at school, I was reading a set-work and came across the quote, ‘You are everything you believe you are, so start believing better.’ It was the epiphany that I needed: I finally saw how I had been depriving both myself, and those around me, of happiness. With this change in attitude, I started to see food in a positive light; I realised that it wasn’t the enemy – it was a life source that could help me achieve my goals. So I spent many hours educating myself about nutrition, exercise and wellness.
I had lived at one extreme for so much of my teens that the desire for balance became my main focus. At 18, I decided that I couldn’t trust myself not to fall into my old ways, so after my final performance exams, I hung up my dance shoes for good. I swapped the toxic diet mentality for a lifestyle shift that included ditching things like processed foods and sugars for fresh, whole foods. I also recognised that not all fats are bad and opted for smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to kick-start my metabolism.
Yoga has been central in my pursuit of mindfulness and silencing my self-critical thoughts. I had done a bit of it while I was dancing, but only got into it more seriously a few years ago after a friend invited me to a class. I really loved how yoga challenged my body in new and interesting ways, and I took to it instantly. I also found it gave me the mental clarity that I needed to find a connection between my body and mind – a link I’d been missing for so many years. It allows you to move your body without force, and with some practise it can be quite meditative. By meditating every day, I’m able to cope better in life, especially when it comes to dealing with stress. Eating disorders never really leave you, but you can learn to manage them. It’s no coincidence how so many people in the fitness and wellness industry have dealt with eating disorders, and I think it’s because we find a sense of comfort in helping others – because we know what it’s like to not be able to help ourselves. My blog became a place of healing for me. While I was working in HR I decided I wanted to share my journey in the hopes that I would be able to help people in a similar situation.
So I compiled some of my favourite recipes and uploaded them to my blog. I then added some posts on what I’d learnt about nutrition and my battle to find balance, and over time I gained a following. I realised that I didn’t have to stop at blogging and decided I could build a brand out of the healthy lifestyle I was trying to promote. After a year of growing and promoting the blog, some money finally came in. It wasn’t a lot, but it was a great start. There was a gap in the market for vegan ice cream, so I filled it. I’d travelled overseas in 2014 and had tried out a few vegan ice creams. There were a couple available back home, but they weren’t marketed well. I approached Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream with the idea to produce a completely vegan ice cream and they loved it. After about six months of testing we released a product we were all happy with in 2015. Today people can buy Caralishious Vegan Ice Cream in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. Ice cream, however, isn’t my final stop as I’m currently looking into launching a vegan snack bar in the future. The most important lesson I’ve learnt over the years is that you have to listen to your body. I was a vegan for two and a half years and at first I felt great, but over time I noticed subtle changes to my body and the only thing that had changed was the food I was eating. I kept getting injured and had a lot less strength than what I was used to. I also could feel that my energy levels were not where they should be, so I reintroduced fish and, on occasion, dairy to my meals. I now feel better than ever. At the end of the day you need to find what works for you.
Some of my best childhood memories are spending time with my nonna [that’s Italian for ‘grandmother’] in her kitchen. She arrived in South Africa after WWII with my grandfather and neither knew a word of English. She was as Italian as they come and would make all her own food from scratch – she even insisted on growing her own veggies in the garden. Together we’d roll out sheets of pasta and knead dough for pizza bases. She gave me the confidence to experiment with food in the kitchen, which helps me when I’m trying out a new recipe for my blog. We live in a world of comparisons, but you don’t have to fall into that trap. Thanks to social media, it can be very easy to get sucked into obsessing over the latest trend, or comparing yourself to others. There will always be a body type, exercise programme, diet or lifestyle that we feel we need to chase, but trying to keep up is totally exhausting. My advice? Stick to what resonates with you and embrace it – it’s the only way to live.
CARA’S TIPS ON HOW TO START, AND STICK TO, THOSE HEALTHY HABITS
HAVE A PLAN
Sit down on the weekends and plan your meals for the week. Cook big batches so that you can freeze some of it for nights when you don’t want to cook. You can cook a bunch of veggies over the weekend and store them for four days in an air-tight container.
DON’T DEPRIVE YOURSELF
There’s no need to cut out entire food groups – rather go back to basics and keep things simple. Think whole, single-ingredient foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains. Yes, you can still eat brownies and bread, you just need to get creative with the ingredients.
DON’T BLOW YOUR BUDGET
Healthy eating doesn’t have to burn a hole in your wallet. Because meat can be the most expensive food item on your plate, rather than eating it every day opt for two to three times a week. You can supplement animal protein for beans and legumes – which have no fat, and are much cheaper.
START YOUR DAY RIGHT
Find a morning routine that helps you feel energised. The first thing I do in the morning is cleanse my system with a large mug of hot water with lemon, apple-cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon. After that I take a probiotic and eat breakfast – usually a bowl of rolled oats for sustained energy until lunch.
FIND EXERCISE THAT YOU ENJOY DOING
Running or going to the gym might be everyone’s favourite exercise, but it doesn’t have to be yours. Stick to whatever gets you moving and feeling good, whether that’s a workout or a long walk.
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