Amal Elbaba puts strength before vanity

"Don’t you wish you could flaunt your new body?” is a common question I get asked. But my answer is always no. For me, training is about feeling good, getting stronger, and eating good food for energy. Although I’ve developed good muscle definition, I don’t have any desire to show it off.

Growing up in Australia as a Muslim with strong religious values was tough. My Mum encouraged me to wear a veil to cover my hair when I was a child, but she left the choice to me. I always dressed modestly – I never wore a bikini, for example – but the desire to complete my faith by wearing a veil persisted. Peer pressure from friends and self-consciousness meant I never wore one, even though in my heart I wanted to.

When I got married in my early 20s, I decided it was time – I didn’t care what people thought anymore. In order to be true to my beliefs, I decided to wear the veil. My husband discouraged me, as he felt it would cause problems, however I put my foot down for two years and insisted I needed him to support me. I’m so glad I did. The moment I made that decision, I felt I had completed myself. 

Another decision has helped me to evolve into the person I am today. I was always voluptuous and had a little bit of meat on me, helped along by a mum who stocked the house with plenty of chips and lollies, always encouraging us to eat. After becoming a mother myself the weight started to pile on, particularly after my fourth child came along. One day I stood on the scales and realised I had to do something before my weight became a big problem. So I started to educate myself. I discovered how small changes like cutting back on sugar and changing the sorts of grains I was eating could have a positive impact. I started walking and then purchased a treadmill to jump on at home after a long day managing my interior design business. I started feeling like a different person, able to cope with the stresses of work, clients and finances so much better than before. And I just loved the feeling of being active.

I joined Fernwood a year ago after walking into the gym and being blown away by the energy and atmosphere, along with the variety of equipment. I had previously joined another women’s gym but they didn’t cater for aspects like weight training that Fernwood does so well. I’ve since reopened my business and feel like I’m a stronger person with a new attitude. My whole outlook has improved, and had a positive influence on the rest of my family. My brothers have realised if they don’t do something about their health, they risk following in the footsteps of my dad, who was obese and died two years ago from heart, liver and kidney failure. In my own family, we cook food using less oil, and substitute heavier, less nutritious foods for healthier options. For example, I’ll make a traditional tabouleh dish using quinoa and a little oil instead of soaking it with fats. I use spices for flavour instead of large amounts of salt, and make meat dishes using lean beef instead of fatty lamb. My children’s habits are a lot better than mine were as a child.

When I train in the gym I wear tank tops and tights – and there is a freedom in that – but in public I cover up. This is something I do for me. I love that.

*Fernwood client testimonial was achieved as part of an overall healthy diet and exercise plan. Regular exercise and proper diet are necessary to achieve and maintain weight loss. Consult your healthcare professional before beginning any diet or fitness program.

Stories to inspire you

Success stories