From simply surviving to living: Turinsky’s major life change

Mike Turinsky with sons Liam, Mattias and wife, Jewel.
Turning 45 was a critical moment in Mike Turinsky’s life. The chief executive of Young Life Trust and Howick Local Board member seriously questioned his lifestyle, rising stress levels, work-life balance and decided that things needed to change. Turinsky shares how he worked on his mental, physical and emotional wellbeing and even lost 30 kgs! In his own words…

Over the years, I have admittedly struggled to achieve sustainable life balance and health across all areas. I found myself reacting to stress and life demands, always thinking, ‘When I get through this situation, I will put change into place.’ But inevitably, it seemed like the ‘when’ never arrived.

There is always a list of demands and situations lining up for us to react to and deal with. Often I found that things I was doing in the short run to cope, was having the opposite desired effect in the long run. I finally realised that it was my perspective that was off base, and I had to implement a whole life approach to living.

After my 45th birthday in 2018, I began to reflect about my level of contentedness and my overall health (mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual health). I was honest with myself to identify my current reality, and began to dream about what I wanted the next 20-30 years to be.

I wanted to change my posture and my ability to deliberately respond to the opportunities, demands and stresses that came my way. I also wanted to lead myself well so that I could serve my family and community out of fullness rather than deficit. I realised that I had let other things stack up and distract me to the point where I was simply surviving, not living.

I started with things that would have the greatest long-term effects and were most in my control to change. I was already meeting with a professional life coach, so I had a heart-to-heart with him and then made my five-year-plan.

I looked at all the health stuff including stress management, time management, sleep habits, my mental health, spiritual life and nutrition.

My first focus was on my daily schedule and addressing the cause of my stress with the help of a counsellor. At the same time, I started working on getting better sleep. I found that it was all connected. When one area of health improved, it impacted other areas. I began drinking more water, doing breathing exercises, some simple meditation (mainly just walking alone or sitting at the beach in my car quietly before going home and trying to clear my head), improving my time management practices, amongst other things. I also started going on daily 15-20 minute walks just to lower stress, pray and help keep my head clear.

My counsellor asked me to think about the different times and situations that contributed positively to my mental and spiritual well-being. Growing up in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, I have spent a lot of my developmental years in the wilderness tramping, fishing, hunting, camping, and exploring. I can say that for my mental and spiritual well being, I gain a lot from those times.

I benefit from solitude and disconnecting from the modern world. It is amazing how humbling it can be sitting on the side of a mountain and being enveloped in the bush when tramping through native forests.

There are many places locally in the East, across Auckland and on the North Island to explore. I also focused on doing things that reduced stress of my wife and kids, identifying their stressors, as we don’t live in a vacuum, we all affect each other. This was all an effort to improve coping responses and enhance the relationships with my family, and other significant people in my life.

Our body creates stress hormones that should be in balance but we don’t always have a lifestyle that allows for that. These hormones have a purpose in dealing with stress in the moment but should not be relied on for a long period of time. So, in 2020, I started riding my bicycle as another form of exercise and stress relief. Over that year it increased my fitness ability. It allowed me to focus solely on one thing, riding. This would give my mind time to rest whilst benefiting from some endorphin release. My overall health was slowly improving, and it was noticeable, how I dealt with stress.

2021 was my year of weight loss. I did some research and decided to do intermittent fasting. I have fasted numerous times for up to three weeks at a time for spiritual practice, so I knew that I was capable of fasting part of each day. I’m aware that not everyone can do that. Advice from your doctor should be included in any weight loss plan.

With intermittent fasting, the body goes into ketosis after 12 hours of fasting. It is a form of the keto approach to weight loss. The number of fasting hours above 12 is the number of hours your body is in ketosis for that day. Your body will burn fat during that ketosis period. Then exercise burns more.

There are three commonly used fasting times: 16 hours, 18 hours or 20 hours fasting. Research says that middle-aged men often respond best to the 20-hour fast and middle-aged women benefit most from 16-18 hour fasting. It means you have a period each day that you can eat. 20:4, 18:6 or 16:8.

Each day I fast from 8:30pm – 4:30pm. My sleep time is of course part of the fasting period. After each day’s fast I might eat a piece of fruit, and then have dinner with my family. I make sure I don’t eat anything after 8:30pm. My fasting schedule has been organised in a way that it has the least effect on my family.

The first five days are the hardest. A natural side effect is often your brain becomes sharper and you feel more energised.

After about two months, the weight started to come off noticeably, and during that time my energy picked up.

The ‘lose it’ phone app keeps track of my food intake and my exercise. It also helps to set goals and keep track of your weight loss.

I knew that if I didn’t make a drastic change, it was going to get more difficult to lose weight and get healthy. So, a more positive approach is that it’s never going to be as easy as it is today! My youngest son says that I have more energy these days and that I am more available to them than before.

I have two jobs—Youth Development work and the Howick Local Board which are largely people-oriented. In these roles, I hear many difficult stories and issues. As I have achieved greater health and balance in my life, I have definitely been better able to process the things in a healthy way and be available.

2022 is my year of strengthening. 2023 will be my year of sustaining.