A passion for keeping fit saw Siyanda “Siya the Coach” Petersen start a fitness revolution in Khayelitsha. Siya’s Fitness Club is a safe haven to exercise enthusiasts of all shapes and sizes who do not fit the typical mould of what it means to be healthy in society.
When Petersen (30) first started, he was merely doing it for his health and feeding his love for being active. A gym rat at heart, he dedicated his afternoons to frequenting Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. His fitness routine soon gained the attention of curious neighbours.
“At Siya’s Fitness Club we don’t make fun of each other, as this is one of the community’s negative attitudes towards outdoor joggers. It’s a daily bread to hear words like ‘Yhuu awusetyebe’ [Wow, you’re so fat] coming from car drivers and pedestrians. Here, we’re all about supporting each other,” Petersen says.
Nombulelo Shiyani (49), has been an avid jogger since she was a child. When she moved to Cape Town, she used to see people jogging on Lookout Hill. She was too shy to ask if she could join them, but was invited by a member to join the club in 2020.
No body shaming allowed
Petersen adds that there are people who are easily irritated by body shamers and “street doctors”. Joining Siya’s Fitness Club has helped his members regain some confidence and embrace their own wellness journeys. “The more people exercise, the better they feel about themselves and dare to face the world.”
Noxolo Mbekana (42) joined the club in 2019 after being referred by a friend. At first, she couldn’t see herself jogging, but numerous factors pushed her to start.
“When I first started, it was difficult because we were exercising outside all the time, whether it was raining, hot or windy,” Noxolo explains. “But I persevered because losing and maintaining my weight is the goal. I weighed 136 kg when I joined in 2019, and now I weigh 105 kg. There is no miracle, that is the power of exercising.”
Tutula Ncaza (34) echoes her sentiments. “I used to gym closer to my workplace, then I was told to work from home, so I started seeking for gym partners,” Tutula explains.
“I learned about the club at the resource centre, which is Siya’s futility Club, and I joined immediately. I was blown away by their generosity; I immediately felt at ease and home.”
Finding your nutrition motion
Fitness and eating healthy go hand in hand. But first it is time to ditch the concept of “clean eating”, says registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association of Dietetics in South Africa, Nathalie Mat.
Clean eating is not a medical term.
“As a dietitian, I despise the term! What is the polar opposite of healthy eating? Do you eat dirty? I avoid using any language that has a moral or emotional connotation concerning food because it can foster an emotional relationship with it,” she says.
“I believe that healthy eating receives a lot of bad press when it comes to cost, but we don’t need to buy our food from speciality stores or use exotic ingredients.”
A basic healthy diet can be inexpensive, but it may require more preparation than a diet based on takeout or ready-made foods.
Exercise promotes a strong connection between our minds and our bodies. Regular exercise is linked to lower blood pressure, better blood sugar control and better sleep. Population studies showed that diet is required to lose weight, but most people require exercise to maintain their weight.
In a society that believes there are faster ways to lose weight, Mat says: “There is no magic remedy or quick fix that will help you lose weight super-fast.”
Find your own nutrition motion, she advises. “I know it seems counterintuitive, but the most important thing you can do for weight loss is to ensure you are eating enough food. Please do not believe the hype about a secret remedy that melts fat unbelievably quickly.”