Steve Mululu, the creative brain behind Dream Body Fitness Wellness Centre (DBF) in Sunninghill – arguably South Africa’s most innovative gym – also has a big heart. He has helped many moms reclaim their bodies after childbirth, walking away stronger, leaner and happier about their bodies than they’ve ever been. For him it is about transforming bodies and empowering women to claim the gym with confidence. If you find yourself stuck on the treadmill or the stationary bike because sweaty men who make you feel unwelcome crowd the machines in the gym, DBF will be an eye-opener.
Q: You specialise in helping women get their bodies back after childbirth. What is your secret?
Childbirth changes everything, and at some point during the first few months a woman finds herself looking in the
mirror and asking, “Where am I? What happened?” That is usually when she comes looking for help. We are generally all so obsessed with losing weight, but for me the priority is not to drop her weight. Remember, the minute you give birth you already lose five or six kilos, so it really is not the issue. My focus is to normalise the new mom’s hormonal environment, so that an exercise routine can be effective.
Q: Why is it so difficult for women to lose weight after childbirth?
Pregnancy hormones prepare your body to bring a child into the world, and it takes nine months to get there, so you have to allow the same amount of time for the body to get back to normal afterwards. Firstly there’s the hormone relaxin, which makes it possible for the pelvis to expand so that you can push the baby out. While that is in your system, it’s very easy for the joints to be injured because you can’t feel the stretch. Then you have prolactin, which helps with milk production so that you can feed your baby, but it also increases your appetite. So you eat more to meet those demands, and you find that the more you exercise the hungrier you get. So irrespective of what we do in the gym, you have to allow your body to get to the point where it will naturally lose weight.
Q: How quickly after birth can you start "getting your body back", as celebs say?
It all depends on how active you were before pregnancy. Someone who was fit and trim and in a regular routine before she became pregnant will obviously need less time, but if you only started an exercise routine during pregnancy, don’t be in a rush. Your body picked up so much extra weight than it is used to, and it will take the same amount of time to lose that. Also, if you picked up more weight than the 12 or so kilos that is ideal, your body fat percentage would have gone up and that will affect your hormones. This, in turn, means you burn fat slower so you can’t be impatient. My role is to educate a new mom about her body and to help her set achievable objectives, and then to assess her progress regularly so that she can see herself move closer to her goal, no matter how fast or slow. That keeps her motivated.
Q: How do you start with a new mom who wants to lose her baby weight?
We look at her lifestyle first, and give her the tools to change that. When you pick up too much weight during pregnancy it is usually because you start eating for two when you weren’t eating correctly to begin with. Insulin, the fat-storing hormone, is the culprit here – eating too much sugar laden foods cause insulin to be overproduced, which makes you crave more sugar, and you get stuck in that cycle of having to feed the craving. I teach you to take the power back so that you are in control, not the hormones. We address the cause, then the symptoms will sort themselves out.
Q: So what is the secret?
Proper nutrition first and foremost, getting into a routine of working out as soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, and sticking to doing the right thing and being patient! Make sure you have the right food in the fridge, and remember that eating right starts in the grocery store. If you buy it, you WILL eat it!
Q: What are the best exercises for new moms?
It’s all about rehabilitating your core muscles, because after being pregnant, and especially when you’ve had a caesarean section, that is your weak point. You are only ever as strong as your weakest point. With a c-section when muscles are severed you lose communication between your brain and your abdominal muscles, and you have to retrain them. Start with very simple exercises that you can do at home, to strengthen your abs. We train you to use kettle bells correctly as that is one of the best ways to work your core, your whole midsection, and also your back, which is often a point of stress for new moms, and your bum, which is the biggest muscle in your body.
Q: How quickly can you see a difference?
As quickly as 7-14 days, if you are also eating right. The way to a flat stomach is through the kitchen - that's where abs are made, not in the gym. Fat loss is about what you eat - exercise has many health benefits but if you put the wrong things in your mouth, you won't burn fat. Look at Japanese sumo wrestlers to see what I'm saying. They're fit and they exercise a lot, but to keep that bulk they eat loads of fat. And because of that, their life expectancy is ten years lower than the average.
Q: How can I start?
At www.dreambodyfitness.co.za. We do a free nutritional workshop every Wednesday at 5:30pm.