MEET the Serageldin Sisters: 3 Smart Women Who Made Successful Careers out of Food and Fitness

What does a Pilates instructor, an ex-gymnastics champion-turned fitness coach and a food blogger have in common? Genes, a food-filled childhood and successful careers carved out of their individual passions...
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It is rare to find three sisters who are as different from each other and yet similar in so many ways as are Nada, Noha and Hala Serageldin. Having grown up around food, as Noha Serageldin (creator of the wildly popular, Australian-based food blog, “Matters of the Belly”) wrote, “In our Egyptian household, … it kind of felt like a sixth member of our family, along with my father, mother, older sister, younger sister and I,” each one forged her own path to fitness and a healthy lifestyle and perhaps, most importantly, a healthier but ultimately more forgiving and balanced relationship with food.

Nada Serageldin, the eldest of the 3 sisters, a mother of 2, and a Pilates instructor, recalls that growing up, the concept of healthy food was foreign to them. But as she was already blessed with a slim figure, her concern was never to lose weight, but to gain it. Hala and Noha probably had the most conflicted relationship vis a vis food. Hala, a fitness instructor with gymnastics training, who won 3rd place in the Egyptian National Championship in 2002 and 1st place in the African Group Gymnastics Championship in 2000, had to be more conscious of her diet. In fact, she admits that she was stricter on herself than anyone else could be, denying herself a social life till the age of 16. Noha, who probably has the most enduring love for food of the 3 of them, exemplified in her entertaining blog, “Matters of the Belly”, struggled with digestion issues and IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) for a long time. However, even though they grew up in a culture that thrived on food (and not always the nutritious kind), they admit that there was always an element of “health” at home, thanks to their mother who instilled in them a love of sports and exercise, by always encouraging them to get moving.

The Sergeldin sisters may have all grown up in the same household, with food figuring prominently in their childhoods, as Hala reminisces “they were a family that gathered around the dinner table, rather than around the TV…” but they are all at different stages in their lives. Each one learnt different lessons from their past that were carried over and informed their current career choices. Due to her genetically slim figure, Nada Serageldin, may have had a more ambivalent relationship with food than her 2 younger sisters. But she learnt that everything should be done in moderation, and she is passing down those values of commitment and a balanced lifestyle by inculcating her love of health and fitness in her children. While she does not encourage unhealthy eating habits in her home, she also does not deprive them of the occasional indulgences.

Hala Sergeldin, whose gymnastics training resulted in a self-imposed prohibitive view of food, grew into a self-professed foodie. “I like healthy food. But I like food in general.” She may be a fitness trainer but that does not mean she spends her life at the gym. She learnt that while discipline and hard work will help you reach your goals, it is just as important to eat and let your body rest and recover. Her background in athletic competition also taught her the value of losing, and losing gracefully; that losing need not spell the end of the road, rather it should serve as the catalyst for future achievements.

Noha Serageldin had to struggle with the debilitating, incurable autoimmune disease, IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and it was only after she managed to keep it in remission with strong medication that she finally made peace with food and built her career around it. After all, she says, “Food is neither good or bad in nature; (It) is morally neutral. Some of it can be more nutritious, whereas other food can be more soul -nourishing and feel-good.”

They may have come out of their childhoods with differing perspectives on fitness and health but they applied one universal lesson to their present lifestyles. Go after what you love. Take your hobby and turn it into a career. Each one of them did just that as they fortuitously circumvented careers in the corporate world (real estate, marketing etc) before they found their individual callings: Nada discovered a passion for Pilates, later in her life (after marriage and motherhood) and became a Pilates instructor; Hala (the most athletic one of the 3) found herself back on the fitness track as she became a fitness instructor, and in training to be a certified nutritionist; Noha, being artistically-inclined, took her passion for food and photography and turned it into a blog that is filled with recipes that seem a mere backdrop to her expertly styled pictures and eloquent narratives.

Nada Serageldin, Pilates instructor and mother of 2

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1- Between juggling a career, a personal life and motherhood, what is a typical day for you?

I start my day with a morning workout or teaching a Pilates class after dropping off my kids to school. Breakfast is usually an omelette (made with butter) and brown bread or oatmeal with fruits. Lunch is usually rice and veggies with a source of protein. I feed my kids the same thing I eat, but I always try to find healthy alternatives for some ingredients, such as brown sugar and honey instead of white sugar. I’ve also gradually started eliminating the unhealthy ingredients from my kitchen. But I make it a point not to deprive my children of treats. I allow them the occasional indulgence as long as they know that it’s the exception to the general rule. For dinner, I usually make a salad. In the winter, I have a bowl of vegetable soup. I never eat junk food at night. Other than food and workout, to re-balance and reconnect, I try to relax by reading or going out. My husband travels a lot and my mother does not live close by, so I have to do everything on my own. I have myself and my kids on a strict routine, so it doesn’t allow me much of a break. However, I am just now starting to loosen up a bit as I realized stress can be as detrimental to your health as eating the wrong kind of food or leading a sedentary lifestyle.

2- What are your pet peeves?

People tell me, “You’re skinny. Why are you exercising?” The term “healthy” is associated with losing weight rather than being fit. For me, it’s a mood booster and a stress reliever. Plus, there are different exercises for different body types. I like Pilates because it’s all about toning up. I don’t need to lose weight or burn fat, so Pilates suits my body type. In terms of food, certain trends like “gluten-free” or “dairy-free” does not necessarily mean less fat or healthier.

3- A few words or a sentence that comes to mind when you hear the following:

– Food philosophy

Healthy, in moderation.

– One song that you can’t stop playing at the gym

I’m not much of a music person. We don’t listen to music in Pilates. But when I’m at the gym, I just listen to whatever music is playing.

– Best health advice you’ve ever received

I have to make healthy choices. But also take it one step at a time. Following a healthy lifestyle doesn’t come overnight, it’s a journey where you need to change your bad habits with better ones gradually so that you can maintain it and not get bored quickly.

– What or who inspires you the most?

Athletes. Achieving something through sheer determination.

Noha Serageldin, creator of food blog, “Matters of the Belly” 

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1- Between juggling a blogging career and a personal life, what is a typical day for you?

People usually are surprised to hear this, but I actually rarely have a proper breakfast, and I believe that is totally ok. I never feel very hungry in the morning, and only start feeling ready to eat at least an hour or two after waking up. I usually then just have a very simple, light breakfast; sometimes simply a banana with some nut butter, other times a big mug of milky tea with sourdough or avocado on toast. I find that when I do eat a big breakfast, I feel lethargic for most of the day, tend to be hungrier and my digestion struggles a lot. I feel best on a simple light snack. I really hate it when people try to insist that this isn’t healthy and that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”. People are so incredibly different, and each person thrives on different habits and routines, which is why I think it’s so important to listen to your body and follow its cues! For lunch, again either a small snack or nothing at all. I basically have one main big meal around late-lunch or early-dinner time, and it varies every day what that meal is depending on the season, my mood or where we are. I don’t exercise everyday, but I do try to move around as much as I can. I walk a lot here in Sydney, as we don’t have a car and lots of places are easier to reach on foot. I used to do HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) but it really negatively affected my already weak joints and bones, so I stopped and now only do walking. I really would like to give Pilates/yoga a proper try soon though!

2- What are your pet peeves?

I am a complete non-believer in diet culture! Food trends annoy the hell out of me, as I believe that this whole mentality is the root of our modern society’s problems with body image and our dysfunctional relationships with food; be it; ‘clean eating’, ‘paleo’, ‘detox’, ‘wellness’, ’80-20’, ‘atkins’, ‘low-fat’, ‘low-carb’, ‘sugar-free’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘fast’, ‘weight-watchers’, you NAME it! All these trends and fads are one and the same, and simply the fuel of the billion dollar diet industry, frequently re-purposed in a shiny new package to sell to unsuspecting consumers as the next cure-all that will fix all their body and nutrition issues and bring them happiness at last. There is no such things as super foods, and words like clean eating or detox wreak havoc on the way we perceive foods and therefore treat it. I think it is so important that more people become aware of this and stop falling victims to the latest marketing hype.

3- A few words or a sentence that comes to mind when you hear the following:

– Food philosophy

Moderation. Sensibility. Enjoyment. Eat a varied diet, fill it with whole foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, proteins in ways you enjoy. Know where your food comes from and try to avoid too much processed foods. Have treats. Move your body in ways that bring you joy.

– One song that you can’t stop playing at the gym (or while cooking)

While cooking, I love listening to Souad Massi, as well as the soundtrack for Amelie.

– Best health advice you’ve ever received

Not to listen to anything trending. Not to participate in diet culture.

– What or who inspires you the most?

Everything and everyone. TV cooks, homecooks, cookbooks, Instagram, talking a walk through a farmer’s market or grocery store. I am heavily influenced by my surroundings!

Hala Serageldin, ex-gymnastics champion, fitness instructor

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1- Between juggling a career in fitness and a personal life, what is a typical day for you?

I’m not strict all year round with my diet or workout. Sometimes I take weeks off from the gym. My body needs to recover. On my off days, I can be a bit lenient with my diet but I don’t binge eat. Having said that, during my workout period, I wake up and make breakfast: 2 boiled eggs and a piece of baladi bread. Sometimes a sweet potato. Then I have training sessions. I finish around 4 pm. Then it’s time for my workout. I go to the gym at Nadi El Gezira and workout for an hour. After that, I go back home and make lunch which is usually grilled chicken, grilled salmon, or steak with oven-baked potatoes or sweet potatoes, or veggies (saute or oven-baked). Then I do some housework which takes up a lot of my time: (cleaning up, laundry, etc). Dinner is usually tuna salad. In between lunch and dinner, I might have an apple as a snack.

2- What are your pet peeves?

I’m a bit muscular. So people always tell me to stop lifting weights. But women don’t have enough testosterone like men do to be that muscular. Another thing is, when you start weight training, your body grows, you’ll initially gain weight, for the first month or month and a half. Your muscle grows because it starts pumping blood, while there’s still fat around it. In terms of food, people think if they cut carbs they will lose weight. But you need carbs for energy.

3- A few words or a sentence that comes to mind when you hear the following:

– Food philosophy

Eat according to your goals. Moderation is key.

– One song that you can’t stop playing at the gym

“I feel it coming” by The Weeknd. Whatever I’m in the mood for that day, I guess, depending on the type of workout I’m doing.

– Best health advice you’ve ever received

You don’t need to be hungry to be on a diet. It’s not about starving yourself or depriving your body. You have to eat, but you have to eat right.

– What or who inspires you the most?

My mom. She’s 60 years old and she still plays sports on a daily basis. She’s always moving, always doing something and she taught us that age is no barrier, that we have to do something with our lives and be motivated. Always keep busy.

It seems that for the Serageldin sisters, life has come full circle. Growing up, they were surrounded by the very elements that shaped their future careers. But most of all, they learnt from the matriarch of the family that marriage and motherhood is not the be-all and end-all of a woman’s life, neither is a corporate career. Ultimately, a woman defines her own life by pursuing her passion and following her instincts with fierce determination, gusto and, above all, love.

Asil Rashid is a Sudanese-born Canadian, who’s lived most of her life in Dubai, U.A.E. Having worked as an environmental and sustainability consultant for most of her professional career, she has always maintained a love of writing. After getting married and moving to Cairo, a couple of years ago, she started a blog ( www.thebountifulnow.com) to chronicle her experience of living in Egypt, as well as her travels around and outside of Egypt and the numerous recipes she’s created. Early this year, she became a mother to a beautiful baby girl and, having always been interested in health and wellness, cooking and making things in her kitchen from scratch, she decided to work as a contributor writer for The Daily Crisp as a way to indulge her many passions. Asil is also an avid gardener, a lover of Italian food and a PADI Open Water certified diver.

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