Sunday, February 25, 2024

“Receiving Confirmation the Pain I Was in WASN’T Normal Was Life-Changing” – Sweat Founder Kayla Itsines on Women’s Health, Marriage and Motherhood

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Kayla Itsines is one of those rare personal training and workout influencers on Instagram that doesn’t make you want to throw your phone against a wall – the Adelaide-based personal trainer’s approach to home workouts, encouraging women to focus on strength rather than weight, was a complete game-changer. And clearly we’re not the only ones who think so – her 15.7 million followers would agree!

Since starting her business her empire has grown rapidly, undergone transformations and changes with e-books, apps, online programs and world tours. Now called Sweat, she’s evolved from personal trainer to highly successful businesswoman, selling her app for a reported AU $400m to a US fitness company in 2021. Now a mum of two – she has daughter Arna and son Jax, who was born in January 2023 – she’s also recently engaged to her partner Jae Woodroffe.

She’s also been very candid regarding her battles with endometriosis, and remains a staunch advocate of women putting their health first – one of the reasons she’s signed on as an ambassador for this year’s Witchery Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation White Shirt campaign, which aims to raise funds for vital research endeavours to help develop early detection tests for ovarian cancer, the most deadly of all reproductive cancers.

We had a chat to Kayla about motherhood, marriage and, of course, why wearing a simple white shirt can make all the difference for women’s health.

Capsule: Kia ora Kayla! Firstly, congratulations on the recent arrival of Jax! How’s life going as a mum of two, and how are you yourself feeling!

Kayla Itsines: Kia ora! Thank you. I can’t believe Jax is already three months old. With a toddler, a newborn and a renovation going on at home time has been flying this year! We’ve adjusted really well to life as a family of four and I’ve found parenting so much less stressful the second time around. I’ve also recently returned to training too which I’m loving as it makes me feel so much more like myself.

Let’s talk about Witchery’s White Shirt campaign – it’s so iconic in both New Zealand and Australia now. Why did you want to get involved?

As an ambassador for this year’s campaign, it’s been incredible to witness just how important the work Witchery and the OCRF are doing in the fight against ovarian cancer. Championing women’s health causes is particularly close to my heart and I jumped at the opportunity to lend my support to this year’s campaign. Together, I hope we can realise the OCRF’s vision for every woman to be free of the threat of this awful disease through developing an early detection test.

Women’s health seems especially important to you, especially with regards to your endometriosis diagnosis – was this a factor in wanting to be a part of this campaign, and how are you doing with managing your condition?

Sweat’s mission is to empower women through fitness and encouraging them to take charge of every aspect of their physical and mental health is a huge part of that. Through my own experience I know just how far we still have to go until women’s health issues are given the funding and attention they deserve.

It took me such a long time to receive my endo diagnosis and endo is something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life, but receiving that confirmation that the pain I was in wasn’t normal was life-changing and I’m now able to better manage the disease. I’m really grateful I’m able to use my profile to shine a light on women’s health causes like endometriosis and ovarian cancer, as it often takes women far too long to receive a diagnosis and so much more research and funding is needed.

One person dies of ovarian cancer in New Zealand every 48 hours, and out of the five gynecological cancers, it has the highest rate of deaths with 85% of those diagnosed in the later stages. Women also, generally, tend to put others before themselves when it comes to health and looking after their families. Do you think women need to be more in tune with their health and bodies overall to help bring statistics like this down?

The ovarian cancer statistics are harrowing. One of the most devastating things about ovarian cancer is just how many women are diagnosed when the cancer has already advanced because the symptoms can be mistaken for common female complaints. I think greater awareness about the signs to look out for is so important, but given the symptoms can be so vague or easy to dismiss, developing an early detection test will help save so many lives.

Of course, you lead a remarkably healthy life! As you get older, and especially after becoming a mum, has your approach to health and fitness changed at all?

My approach to health and fitness hasn’t changed but I definitely make an effort to model positive behaviour for them so they develop a positive relationship with food and exercise and teach them the Itsines family food philosophy!

Arna loves spending time with my Yiayia and Papou in their garden and learns so much about where food comes from and how different fruits and vegetables grow in different seasons from them. I encourage her to try everything and she definitely doesn’t see anything as “good” or “bad” (unless her porridge is the wrong colour…) and I really hope we can continue that with her and Jax as they get older.

Kayla Itsines and her children, Arna and Jax (Photo: Instagram)

Let’s talk about the white shirt itself, which is so classic! What’s your go-to look with styling a white shirt?

This year’s white shirt was designed in collaboration with my good friend Pip Edwards and I absolutely love it. This will come as no surprise to anyone who follows me, but I’ll be styling mine over activewear.

Do you have a go-to fashion style for yourself when you’re out of activewear?

I would say my style is understated. When I’m not in activewear (which is rare!) I love comfortable, functional pieces that I feel like myself in.

You’re also an incredible businesswoman – do you have a secret weapon for when it comes to getting ahead in business, and also a continued passion for what you do?

If you train with Sweat, you know one of the most powerful things about the business is the incredible community of women.

From when I was training clients one- on-one in my parent’s backyard to launching the Sweat app to now in my current role as Head Trainer, putting our amazing community first and forming meaningful connections with the women who choose to train with me has always been the most important thing. They drive my passion for the business and are at the heart of every decision we make.

Kayla Itsines and her fiance, Jae Woodroffe (Photo: Instagram)

You probably get asked about ‘balance’ all the time, but for so many women a work/home balance seems like a unicorn! Do you have any advice in this area?

I’ve had people say to me before that I make it look easy and I really want them to know it does take a village and I have SO much help from the people around me.

Jae is an absolutely incredible partner and dad who always shares the load and we’re also so lucky to live so close to both of our families.

I don’t think there’s been a day since Jax was born that a family member or friend hasn’t been around to support us. Whether it’s bringing us food, giving Jax a cuddle while I jump in the shower or helping with the washing up, having support around you (and not being afraid to ask for help if you need it) is a game-changer.

Finally, congratulations on your recent engagement! This isn’t so much a question, but New Zealand has some pretty great wedding venue options – sing out if you need some recommendations *wink*

Thank you! I’m so excited to marry my best friend later this year and we’ve already been looking at a few overseas destinations!

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