Canadian yoga instructor Cynthia Joanne Naydani has made an inspirational life change that many of us can only dream of.
Today, the 31-year-old Canuck lives in tropical paradise, on a Thai island called Koh Tao, where she co-owns Ocean Sound Dive + Yoga and is studying holistic nutrition.
But life wasn’t always so idyllic for Naydani. During her teenage years, she says she felt “stuck and out of control.”
At age 16, she weighed nearly 210 pounds.
“I was in a terrible mental state. Being a teenage girl is hard no matter what, but with my weight everything was so much harder. I was ostracized and bullied and had no self confidence,” she told Daily Mail Australia.
Oh, the irony of being featured by @dailymail for my healthy lifestyle + weight loss transformation, while indulging in an epic treat weekend in Bangkok ?! Seriously though, I'm honored to be featured (and have butterflies in my stomach also)! For so long I never spoke about my past, and didn't even show those closest to me these 'before' photos, so to now have them be the subject of an article kinda blows my mind. It just goes to show how much I've changed in terms of confidence and self-love, which is so much more significant than the physical changes. I've got the link to the article up in my bio if you want to read my story and advice for healthy, sustainable weight loss! Thanks to everyone who supports me on this journey, including this incredible insta community! One love ??
“I spent a lot of time turning to food for comfort. My size made it difficult for me to be active and my mental barriers made it nearly impossible. I was so self-conscious and unhappy with myself.”
When she became too heavy to ride horses — her favourite activity — Naydani realized she had to make a change.
“I’d been riding horses since the age of six and spending time with them was my one refuges. However, by the time I was around 16 I was so overweight, unfit and stiff that my physical size was making it difficult to ride,” she explained.
“I was losing the one thing that meant the most to me and my riding instructor suggested I try yoga. So, I got a book on yoga for equestrians. I didn’t do much with it, but it started to plant the seeds of change.”
Lasting change is ?% possible. I've read lots of stuff that suggest otherwise…. from scientific articles that show the high rate of return to obesity in people who lose huge amounts of weight quickly, to my nutrition textbooks that discuss a body's "set-point" (the weight at which your body is comfortable and wants to stay… if you're obese, especially as a child, like I was, this set point tends to pull you towards being overweight), to online articles about the Biggest Loser competitors regaining their lost weight + more after the show. When I read shit like this I always feel for people who are currently struggling with obesity, or body image in general, and worry that they will feel discouraged and give up before they've really even started. That's why I put these photos up on the internet. There are 17 years between these two photos and so I'm living proof that healthy, sustainable weight loss is an option. If I can do it, anyone can. It takes time and dedication, but it's completely worth it. Please never limit yourself… whatever seemingly impossible dream you have, just go ahead and make it a reality. ??✨⭐️
At age 18, she began taking yoga classes, which she says was the first time she began to work with her body rather than against it. “Yoga was a life changer for me,” she says.
Later, she says, the biggest challenge was her for self-image; it took a long time for Naydani to learn to love and accept herself.
“For years I criticised myself and hated my body. I saw exercise as a way of punishing my body for it’s state and food as something to fear and avoid. Every time I dieted or tried to exercise it was because I disliked who I was,” Naydani explained.
In photo 1 I am 20 years old and had just left Canada for the first time – I went to Belize to study monkeys (one of my uni degrees is in primatology ?). Although I’d already lost about 30 pounds from my peak weight, I was so worried that I physically would not be able to manage long days of hiking in the jungle?. I was scared, homesick, and full of self-doubt. Photo 2 was snapped yesterday in my home on a tiny tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand, where I’ve lived since 2009 and where I now co-own @oceansounddiveyoga, a dive school (I’m a former dive instructor) and yoga studio (I’m heading out to teach a class in a few minutes!). I relish new challenges now, physical and otherwise, and I’m not afraid to go out of my comfort zone (or if I am, I do it anyway). I get to travel all over in search of new adventures ✈️- in two weeks I’m heading to the Philippines to dive with sharks and shipwrecks ⚓️, go mountain biking??♀️, hiking ??♀️, paddleboarding ??♀️, horseback riding ?, and loads more. Physically I’ve changed a lot since I first left Canada, but the entire way I live has transformed completely. Fitness and yoga has been a huge part of this transformation and without it I wouldn’t have the confidence, or physical ability, to enjoy my life to the extent I do now. Movement is about so much more than aesthetics ????!
“Yoga taught me to operate from a place of self-compassion. So, I accepted my current situation and was then able to see exercise as a way of taking care of my body, rather than punishing it.”
Now, the determined yogi is nearly 60 pounds lighter, living in paradise, scuba diving and teaching yoga.
Not only does she practice some form of yoga every day, but Naydani strength trains six days a week as well. Even more importantly, perhaps, are the major important lifestyle changes she made with regards to her eating habits.
“Healthy food became a way of nourishing myself, rather than depriving myself. Once my mindset changed, my diet and exercise habits were able to change dramatically, permanently and quite naturally.”
Now, Naydani eats a whole foods diet consisting of lean proteins (chicken, fish and eggs), loads of veggies, fruit, and complex carbs, such as oats and brown rice. She doesn’t restrict or count calories, and when she feels like a treat — like a burger and fries or an ice cream sundae — she allows herself to indulge every now and then.
For others who are trying to make a similar lifestyle change, Naydani has some advice, including to set realistic goals and plan meals in advance.
“It doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. Transitioning to a healthy lifestyle takes time,” she says.
And for Naydani, the journey was absolutely worth it.
“I have gained so much confidence, not because of how I look, but because I realize I am in control of my own destiny and how I want to live,” she says.
“My whole life is really amazing now — I live in paradise and travel around the world in search of new adventures. My 16-year-old self would never have imagined this to be possible.”