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Tracey-Lee Lusty shares her transformation story with us 

Tracey-Lee Lusty is best described as a go-getter – a woman who has channelled her energy into creating a world filled with motivation, sweat and self-love. She shares her story with us. 

When you think of her life in numbers, it can be quite mind- boggling. She’s lost over 70kgs [and counting] in 14 months after making the decision to have bariatric surgery. She’s already signed up for 17 races this year, including Ironman 70.3, and she’s actively working on breaking the stigma associated with obesity and bariatric surgery. 

Tracey-Lee Lusty was 146kg when she decided enough was enough. But before she went under the knife, various doctors had to sign off on both her physical and mental well-being. 

We meet up with her on a bustling Wednesday afternoon at a popular coffee shop and all the regulars were around to replenish their caffeine fix for the day. Tracey had already gotten us a table in the quiet little corner and I could feel her excitement before we sat down. Her energy was infectious, from her gorgeous, bright smile to her warm hug; it’s clear – Tracey has arrived.  

She laughs and jokes, making it so easy to chat and have an honest conversation about life, trials and tribulations as well as how 14 months post-op, training for Ironman 70.3 was already on the table. She’s vulnerable and honest with her 43.5k followers, often taking them on the journey. Whether it’s the wins, such as learning to ride a bike, or the losses, including side effects from the operation, Tracey doesn’t hold back. And we’re here for it! 

Bariatric, you say? 

Bariatric surgery is a term that is often misunderstood. Tracey describes it as an umbrella term for various weight-loss surgeries and can be used as a tool for healthy weight management. “When I made the decision to go for the operation, I was at my heaviest of 146kg in October 2022. I realised that I wasn’t showing up for myself the way I always encouraged my followers to do,’’ Tracey says. She explains that the track to diabetes, high blood pressure and other health concerns began knocking at her door and that is when her weight started to become an issue. 

“Mauritius was my turning point. I arrived there swollen and the plane ride was very uncomfortable. The real moment came when we were out snorkelling and it took three grown men to get me back onto the boat. While we laughed and joked, I realised I couldn’t continue in this way,” says Tracey. So the minute she got back, it was off to the doctors to learn more about what the surgery entails and inform her decision on how this would change her life. “From the initial consultation until the operation, the entire pre-operative process was around 14 weeks,” shares Tracey. “Seven doctors, from surgeons to physicians, all needed to sign off that you are mentally and physically fit for the surgery.” 

Without the operation, Tracey felt like she was headed down a dark path as obesity is a disease that plagues you, an unconscious drive that pushes you to past your limit. “Individuals with the obesity gene experience the abnormal functioning of the hypothalamus, which causes people to feel less satisfied with the food we eat,” explains Tracey. Describing her experience with the operation, it was a second chance at life. “I am able to do the things I’ve always known I can do and for the first time I feel like I’m living my life without fighting against this disease. The surgery is not an easy way out, and this is why I am trying to educate my followers about it. It’s time to break the stigma of what bariatric surgery is and ensure people understand the why and how when it comes to making this life changing decision.” 

A little history 

Born and raised in Cape Town, 32-year-old Tracey-Lee Lusty lived on the Atlantic Seaboard her whole life, describing the ocean as her therapy and what kept her grounded during her earlier years. “Growing up, I wasn’t a big-sized kid. I may have been a few kgs over, but it wasn’t anything to be concerned about,” says Tracey. 

“Things really started to change when I hit puberty and my parents started to notice my binge-eating tendencies. I would overeat, rush through meals and always seemed to struggle with my relationship with food,” Tracey shares as she slowly sips her iced latte. “I have a distinct memory of our family holiday in Thailand. I think I can pinpoint my indulgence beginning with the lavish buffets at breakfast, where food supply was unlimited and I was free to eat anything and everything I wanted,” she says. From there, Tracey described her schooling as enjoyable, except for the plaguing thought of her weight in the back of her mind.  

“After I finished matric, I graduated in 2014 with my degree and qualified as an attorney specialising in family law,” shares Tracey. “I did that for a few years, but also started building my Instagram account, @Fitnessgirl_za, which started in 2016. I saw Fitness Girl as an outlet for me, a way to become my visual diary to track my weight loss transformation. I chose the name Fitness Girl because I’ve always felt like I’ve been this person on the inside, even if my outside didn’t reflect it.” 

When Covid hit the country, Tracey had to take a hard look at her life, wrestling her aggressive career in law with her vulnerability on Fitness Girl. “It was like I was living a double life,” she says, so it was important for her to dedicate herself to just one aspect at a time. “Fitness Girl is now a full business that was monetised about two years after it started,” shares Tracey. “Once I hit 10k followers, I felt comfortable to start charging brands because I felt like I was giving value back to the client. The content I produce on the account is still the same from when I started at its core; it’s of an inspirational nature and is still about showing up as yourself no matter where you are in life. I wanted the platform to be very goal driven and inspire not only fitness goals, but any dream you  may have,” says Tracey.  

Motivated to change 

When Fitness Girl began, Tracey had a goal to change her life for the better. “In 2016, I got to a point where I’d had enough,” she says. “I wanted this massive transformation with my body; I wanted to become a bikini athlete, so I hired a personal trainer and
I trained every day. I ended up losing 33kg that first year through all the hard work,” Tracey says, as she reflects back. The problem was that she slowly put the weight back on due to having the obesity gene. While Tracey blamed herself for being ill-disciplined, yo-yo dieting and believing she was at fault, little did she know that she would put on the weight regardless due to her body.  

“A year later I met Lesego (@thickleeyonce) on the set of a campaign we were shooting together,” shares Tracey. Describing Lesego, Tracey mentions: “She was big, but she was so confident and so happy that it blew my mind how she was able to be that way, while I was feeling so down about myself even though I was the smallest I’d been in years.” From that interaction, Tracey went down a rabbit hole exploring body positive activists, researching and realising that there was a whole other world out there of people who could be any size and still love who they are. “This made gaining the weight back, its own transformation process. While I was physically regressing, mentally I was progressing and learning what self-love really was,” says Tracey. Over the next four years, she focused on being a body activist, moving into the realm of inclusivity. Her tagline read, “body positivity to me is ensuring your body is functioning healthily and optimally for you, so whatever that looks like for you, health is at the centre. So when the health is not there, you are not practising self-love.”  

Fitter not bitter 

Fourteen months post- operation, Tracey has been able to sign up for 17 races this year alone. “Ironman has always been on my bucket list, so after the surgery, I realised these options that were never open to me before were suddenly a reality for me.”  

From trail runs to marathons, Tracey is doing it all. “My training schedule right now
is about 3 hours every day, Monday to Sunday. My coach monitors my fatigue levels to see if and when I do need a rest day, but at the moment it’s crunch time so I’m training multiple times a day,” says Tracey. However, she is loving what she does – and with good reason, too. “I’m at a place now where my body is working with me. I am now reaping the fruits of my labour, which is so motivating because I can see myself getting fitter as I reach for my goals.”  

Tracey has always been a very confident, outgoing and bubbly person and this motivation she has will only take her to new heights. “It was never about the weight. I learnt to love myself at any size, but what it is about is the fact that I can now live out my dream actively and inspire others along the way.” We couldn’t agree more.   

Tracey in a flash

One makeup item you can’t live without?
Swiitchbeauty Mono-tint   

Your happy place?
Being in any body of water, whether that’s a tidal pool or by the beach 

What makes you feel beautiful?
My classic LBD (little black dress) 

Your best personality trait?
My ability to laugh at myself and my compassion for others 

Your best self-love tip?
Never compare your journey to anyone else’s. Learn to love and appreciate the things that make you unique 

Who is your role model?
My parents 


Follow her: @fitnessgirl_za  


Photographer: Zhann Solomons
Stylist: Mia-Tess Smith 

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