“You can’t outrun a bad diet.” With that, personal trainer Shai Lewis prepares a balanced breakfast that takes barely more time than whipping up a bowl of cornflakes.
He doesn’t believe the good will of loved ones, friends or work colleagues is enough — living healthy must come from within.
“There has to be a willingness to change,” argues Lewis.
He adds that there can be no sudden intervention: “We can do this together and there are ways to do this slowly and gradually improve.”
On what keeps momentum and motivation, Lewis is a fan of easing into it.
“The sessions must start really light and easy and so should the diet when you transition from the old practices. The same goes for food transitions,” he says.
Lewis talks about building a “strong rapport” with every client. He likens his PT sessions to the fabled relationship between a hairdresser and the customer — that is, part acting therapist, part gossip buddy — where if it goes well, the debrief can help his clients feel emotionally, and physically, lighter at the end of the session.
Lewis talks about rapport, but there is a sense that if the client didn’t want to incorporate nutrition and healthy eating as part of their routine, that rapport would be tricky to maintain.
Lewis’ personal training business Body by Shai aims to telegraph to potential customers that he believes in an integrated food and exercise program, at least if his clients were going to get the best value out of his sessions.
“I preach to people every day. You have to start with a breakfast and to eat regularly throughout the day,” he says.
Lewis’ own breakfast takes a couple of simple turns from the standard cereal and milk. He stresses that his power brekkie is low in GI. He is also strictly on the team of non-toasted muesli only, adding to it a small serve of forme yoghurt, some berries and fresh fruit that contains “superfoods and macronutrients”. Most importantly, it does not contain milk, which is strictly off his shopping list because of ‘lactic sugar’.
The mothering ways of Lewis seem built on a legitimate connection and desire to see clients perform at their best. Both clients at the Sunday session credit stronger mental health as a result of their training. Like any good mother, when it comes to his rules around food, he takes the form of a battle-weary bouncer after a graveyard shift at Sydney’s Kings Cross precinct. There is no point in negotiating with him. Mother knows best.
When he heads to a local park with brightly-coloured gym equipment, he turns what was once a humble play area and swing set into a resistance training course, even if it means waiting patiently for his turn after a mother and daughter were using the swing for its original intended purposes.
We are joined in the park by his clients Rohiya Contessa and Anthony Yates who are stark in their differences.
Contessa is preparing for a bodybuilding competition in the coming weeks while Yates has made good progress but he has plateaued, resulting in him removing the food diary from his daily ritual, much to his trainer’s chagrin.
“Any park is a training ground,” says Lewis. And in case there are no hills in the local park, he packed a leg stifling parachute to impair even the fittest foot soldier in his boot camp, along with hot pink hula hoops. Even his boxercise training gloves are hot pink.
When describing Contessa’s former self, Lewis refers to her as: “Frumpy and overweight who has gone from one extreme to another.” Awkwardly, he adds: “She is looking mega schmick at the moment,” clearly forgetting that she has a mean right hook on her.
Contessa’s “big girl” (her words) is not physically obvious at all. Despite being in peak physical condition, or possibly more accurately — because of it, she says: “I never thought I would be able to achieve this physique. I was always a bigger girl and thought that it was completely unattainable.
While sipping on a drink designed to further rip her body for the upcoming competition, she adds: “It was just a matter of tweaking the right training to the right diet, something has happened in my body where it is fat-burning and it has lifted my training to a whole new level that I never ever thought was possible.”
Contessa is so committed to competing she has broken her training into specialists, with Lewis responsible for fitness and cardio training and another trainer helping her get competition-ready.
“The guidance has come from a great trainer with great skills. I have changed my whole perspective because of this. You can apply this to all fields of life. Everything,” Contessa says.
The Star Observer was on hand to take photos of Yates and Contessa’s session. Such is her fitness and definition that the striations in her upper body were clearly visible, prompting her to ask if she could have the photo.
She later shared that she never thought she would ever ask a photographer for a copy of her own photo. A snapshot of the fruits of discipline and personal pride well-earned.
“The whole point of a personal trainer is that there is a personal relationship. They carry you through that journey with you. There is a whole lot of psychology that goes on behind the scenes. When you are chasing a goal you must have emotional and physical support. Just being able to talk about my day with Shai is such an important part of the program,” Contessa says.
“Quite often you hit these pitfalls or you plateau and you need a person to push you through when you are having one of those days that you don’t want to get out of bed.”
Conversely, Yates is looking more to feel good with the momentum of training and some weight loss to support his health goals, which includes battling depression and anxiety.
This focus is more important than a super-model body.
“Basically, I am at the age where I need to get better health,” he confides.
Lifestyle-enforcer Lewis chimes in with a “you should be looking after your health at any age,” which was drowned out by a chorus of “shut up Shai”.
Yates continues: “Clothes-wise I have gone down from a 3XL or to a large or extra large. Basically, it has helped with my overall mood and helps reduce the impact of anxiety and depression. Getting the compliments are nice.”
Body by Shai’s formula is hard work, discipline, human connection, friendship and some good old-fashioned accountability. Sometimes Shai is like a prison warden following a riot, and other times he’s like a mother worried her child is a cheesecake away from diabetes.
(Main image credit: Miles Heffernan, Star Observer)