Sydney-based food events company co-founder and mum Hannah Pike, 42, transformed herself from a burnt-out exec to an exercise-loving mum. On her well-being journey she lost more than 4 stone, adopted a healthier approach to fitness and food and joined Australia’s wellness revolution. This is how she did it...
My job was eating very rich food and drinking tonnes of wine. I was Managing Director for a global food festival and in 2019 I was promoted. I had to travel to eight countries in seven months and was flying from Sydney to Perth every month, while trying to bring up our daughter, Seren, who was two at the time. I thought I had the best life ever – going to Paris, Bangkok, Coachella in the US. I continued to ride the wave until everything came crashing down.
Last year, I got Epstein-Barr Virus [EBV]. It was just before COVID hit and it was the perfect storm; I lost my job, I weighed 115kg [18st 2lb] and my body sort of shut down. The doctors didn’t believe I had it because EBV is more common in teenagers – they call it the kissing disease. But I did some research and I started to see how everything was connected. I have an underactive thyroid and Hashimotos, which is an autoimmune condition, and they are linked to EBV. Then, about four weeks later, I got something called the Cytomegalovirus (CMV), which led to me having chronic fatigue. Lots of people at the time said to me ‘Oh, I had that when I was 12 and I couldn't go to school for a year’, or ‘I got that when I was 18 and had to drop out of uni’. I was like this is not happening – I have a four year old.
My mental health completely crashed. I developed extreme anxiety, which I have never had before in my life, and I was having panic attacks. I was taking thyroxine and it was hard to regulate, so I’d often get jittery. Because I’d just been made redundant and I was so ill, I had to take Seren out of daycare as the pandemic hit and was forced to recuperate at home in Rosebery [Sydney]. It gave me time to read about my conditions and lots on optimal health – something I wish I’d done 20 years ago when I got diagnosed. It was like a light switching on. When I was in my early twenties and early thirties I put on a lot of weight, and went on to lose around 3 and a half stone, but this time felt different. Before, losing weight had been to gain more confidence but this time it’s so that I can live my life. To be fit and healthy and have a strong mind – that’s my goal.
Having accountability is important to me. I was already a member of a gym that focuses on personal training and specialises in weight loss and nutrition and needed to find a way that worked for me. I knew the patterns that hadn’t worked before – I’d lose five stone and then I’ll totally rebel. So I just took the approach of, ‘just train me hard and make me accountable’. I started slowly to work out my boundaries with just one pilates session a week, but now I train three times a week with my PT, Kat. Twice a week we do weight training, so that might be a little circuit or supersets, and then once a week I do cardio – either boxing or interval rowing or running where we vary the pace. Then on my days off I might do yoga online.
I'm so committed to training. I’ve always known exercise is something I have to do, but now it’s something I want to do to feel good. Before, I would force myself to exercise but because I had so much inflammation in my body, it hurt. My knees were painful, I could barely walk, I had a fuzzy head and migraines. I had a very negative relationship with exercise. When I moved to Sydney from London, I was like ‘why the hell are people getting up at 6am to train?’, but now, I get it. I’m not a complete early morning convert but I absolutely love the culture of everyone heading down to the beach, everyone in the pool all day – the outdoors lifestyle. I think Australia is leading the wellness revolution.
It’s about going slowly and breaking it down. In the past, I’ve kind of gone, ‘I need to join the gym and I need to go on a diet’ and then I’ve ended up avoiding it. This time, by starting really slowly, I didn't feel too pressured. And I’ve also told myself I'm never ‘dieting’ or using the word ‘diet’ again – I'm eating healthily. So, if I eat a brownie, it doesn’t matter because there is no diet. It’s about balance. I would never have done it had I not had Kat, so my advice to people is always to enrol in something where you have a support network. I know that’s very difficult if you don't have the money, but find a friend or a way of being held accountable – I’ve even set up my own private Instagram where I can track my progress.
I feel like I could run through a wall. Physically, I feel so strong. I’ve gone from 150mg of thyroxine a day to 75mg, my metabolic age and visceral fat have both reduced and I can run around after Seren. Before, I was a burnt-out exec; I’d go to the park with Seren and just sit on my phone. But now, because I’m around more and I feel healthier, we’ve built a really special friendship and I feel like I’ve become a proper mum and I spend more time with my husband Steve, too. In terms of my mental health, I’m in a much better place. I’ve even set up a food and drinks events business with an ex-colleague. I now have the tools and the coping mechanisms to manage my anxiety and get even stronger. I feel propelled.