Grad who used to love pizza now inspires thousands to get fit
She used to be just like you
When fitness blogger Zanna Van Dijk started an Instagram account in her third year, it was nothing more than a product of her newfound love of fitness.
Having kicked her unhealthy habits and committed to getting in shape, Zanna just wanted somewhere to post workouts and recipes – three years later, she has almost 60,000 people hanging on her every word.
We caught up with Sheffield grad Zanna, who now works full time as a PT and nutritionist, to talk about fitness, followers, and avoiding the dreaded freshers’ 15.
Zanna insists she hasn’t always been as healthy as she is now. She says: “When I first came to uni I was not into fitness.
“I was on a four year degree, and for the first two years I just ate pizza all the time and had a bit of a party couple of years.
“In my third year I decided I wasn’t really liking how I was looking, so I just thought it was time to get in shape.”
Zanna, who has almost 7,000 followers on YouTube, quickly managed to strike a chord with other fitness fanatics with her no-nonsense approach to training and diet.
She says: “At first it was a hobby and then it became a passion.
“When I started my Instagram, I never anticipated having so many followers. I was just following loads of fitness Instagrams and thought ‘I can do that’.
“I started posting workouts and recipes on my personal Instagram and my friends just didn’t care and didn’t want to read them, so I decided to make a fitness Instagram where I could talk about what I love.
“Slowly, over the course of a couple of years, it grew organically. I never thought I’d get 1,000 followers, and yet here I am now with a fair few more than that!”
We asked Zanna to give us some tips on how to stay fit at uni, right through from staying motivated on a busy schedule to losing the flab you’ll inevitably gain in fresher’s week.
She said: “The mistake that I made and the mistake I think most girls make is thinking that cardio is the only way to go when that’s not the case.
“If you just do cardio without any form of resistance training then you’re not going to have any muscle underneath when the fat burns off.
“You’re not going to get that toned look that every girl wants without muscle tone, which means building up muscle.
“A good thing to do is to combine resistance training and cardio so you’re getting the best of both worlds.”
Zanna does warn that you might have to cut back on booze – although not too much.
She says: “Of course, drinking is a big part of student life and if it’s what you want to do, you can still do it.
“When I was at uni, I’d eat healthy every single day and train five days a week, but I’d still go out and socialise.
“I wouldn’t get absolutely slaughtered, but I’d still go out for social drinks – and importantly I wouldn’t see myself as being too restricted. You have to allow yourself the flexibility to go out and have a good time.
“Have a takeaway – just limit it to once a week rather than once a night. Take everything in moderation, and find a balance – as soon as you start telling yourself that you can’t have certain things, your going to fail.
“Unless you allow yourself some treats, you’re just not going to stick to it.”
In terms of how to get into fitness at uni, Zanna advises to ease yourself into it.
She says: “Firstly, sign up for a gym – and get in it.
“Start off doing whatever you’re most comfortable with, and maybe go with a friend so that you’re more motivated.
“Try and go regularly. Maybe start with three times a week, and as you get fitter and stronger you can bring that up to four or five times a week.
“It might be good to hire a personal trainer for a session or two to help show you the ropes. Always take up the induction that they offer you because that’ll help make you feel more confident in the gym.
“You’ll need to reduce things like alcohol and takeaways and try and get meat, veggies and complex carbohydrates into your diet. And drink lots of water, of course.”
Even if you’ve got a busy timetable, Zanna insists that you can always find time to squeeze in a workout.
She says: “Because I was very nerdy and spending my whole day in the library, I’d barely ever have any time to train.
“I had to schedule it in like an appointment. You have to imagine it’s like a meeting you can’t miss, and put it on your to-do list that you’re definitely going to the gym at that time.
“You can get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later. Obviously there are times when work does have to come first though – if your dissertation is meant to be handed in next week, maybe give the gym a miss.”
Despite this, Zanna insists you don’t need mammoth sessions to see impressive results.
She says: “People think you have to go to the gym for an hour and a half, but you can smash out an amazing workout in 45 minutes. I’m barely ever in there longer than 45 minutes myself.
“It’s obviously going to benefit you in some way – it’ll make you feel better, it’ll make you look better, it’ll make you concentrate better.
“And it’ll give you something different to do at uni than get drunk and read books.”
She knows us too well.