Just Keep Walking.
Food, wonderful food. As part of our basic biological needs for survival, we eat to live. As part of a modern lifestyle, with a heavily commercialised food and beverage industry, though, it would seem that we live to eat. Growing up, that was certainly the case for me. Bad habits often start early, and old habits often die hard.
Since young, I’d had a second stomach for fast food, dessert, and practically any food that tasted good (a long unhealthy list of it). That, coupled with my lack of exercise, meant that every year since primary one, my physical assessment had one word clearly marked out in bold – ‘Overweight’. As the years went by and the weight piled on, these problems spilled over to my daily life. I became increasingly lacklustre, lethargic and lazy. During games of football, I enjoyed playing outfield, especially as a striker. However, owing to my size, my most useful position was often deemed to be the goalkeeper. The reason for this, as I recall one ‘teammate’ saying, was as follows: “You don’t even need to move, you just stand still and block the whole goal.” Such jibes were often followed by chortles all around. I sometimes saw the humorous side, and I was just happy to play anyway, so I would shrug it off with a wry smile and perhaps a forced chuckle of my own. However, my morale and psyche were most definitely affected by this frequent teasing.
After a certain point, the psychological torment even became tacit. When I walked, it was as if I could feel a hundred pairs of eyes staring, providing fodder for damning judgement and gossip, even though that may not have been the case. Nevertheless, any reflective surface with which I made eye contact showed me one undeniable truth – I was far more weighty than I should be. The tipping point (for both the scales and my psyche) was after a holiday with my extended family in Malaysia. I had stuffed my face with more there than during any other 5-day period in my life. By the time I returned to Singapore, I got sick; not medically, but just…sick. I was sick of feeling bloated, sick of having no energy, and above all, sick of being fat. The 3-digit figure of 104 kilograms, and the ripping of my size 40 school pants on the first day of my final year pushed me over the edge. On that fateful day, I swore to myself that I would do everything I could, from dieting to exercise, to reach an acceptable weight and never go back.
Luckily for me, we had been assigned one of our school’s toughest PE teachers that year. I won’t lie, the prospect of having him in charge for our final year daunted me. Nonetheless, I summoned the courage to walk up to him after the first session and explain my goals to him. His starting advice to me was this; weight loss is 30% exercise and 70% dietary control, but neither can be done without the other. He also affirmed the need for full commitment to both and sheer will to avoid temptation to either slack off or cheat. I took that concise advice to heart and made it the cornerstone of my brick road to fitness. I started off by eliminating unnecessary snacking (candied or otherwise) in between meals, and kept myself to a strictly regimented 3 meals per day. I also reduced my previously huge portion sizes and kept desserts solely to weekends. That way, I would know exactly when and how much I was going to eat every day, and was not as badly tempted by those deliciously tempting evils that ever so often called to me. If I had a sudden rush of hunger, I would empty my water bottle down my throat. It is true that most of the time, you’re not hungry, just thirsty. I did, however, grant myself some leeway during special occasions because, well… we have to live a little.
My exercise regime throughout my first eight or nine months (January to September) consisted of running 7km per week across 3 sessions, weekly resistance training during PE, and scattered games of my favourite sports. The sole focus was losing mass, and losing it quickly. My joints ached, my muscles throbbed and my heart would pound like a jackhammer. It was during these most intense, agonising early stages that I was most tempted to call it quits. However, there would always be these words in the back of my mind to reassure me; “Just keep going. Baby steps count too.” Surely enough, I maintained a steady rate of 3-4 kilos lost per month. Old clothes hung loose, and even older clothes would fit once again after years of neglect. Friends and family alike commented on my weight loss and showered me with messages of congratulations and encouragement. I was spurred on by my progress, though perhaps, a little too spurred.
I weighed myself at least daily, sometimes even before and after meals, occasionally even calculating the
difference made by a mere drink. This ‘habit’ was boiling over to becoming an obsession. If I saw that one week’s figures had not improved on those from the week before, I would restrict my food intake almost to the point of self-imposed starvation. I would even drink less water since it made me ‘heavier’. I did not take those temporary setbacks well. In fact, I would fume. My temples would pulse and I would momentarily lose control as blood rushed to my head. In those moments of unbridled anger, I would turn destructive. It wasn’t pretty. I regrettably and recklessly destroyed 2 weighing machines, one chair, and once badly sprained my ankle kicking my treadmill in frustration. In times like these, the mirror seemed to play tricks on me, somehow convincing my mind’s eye that I had put on weight despite concrete proof of the contrary. None of this was healthy, or in fact even remotely rational, but my clouded judgement said otherwise. I had even lost a fair bit of muscle. My jawline was turning gaunt, and my shoulders were beginning to show more bone than flesh. I could feel my energy being slowly drained, but was in denial about that too. The lethargy that I had so dreaded when I was fat had now returned with a vengeance.
There came an ultimatum. The November IB exam was less than a month away and yet, I could find neither the will nor the energy to study for more than an hour or two a day. The constant hunger pangs showed no chance of letting up. So, where mind failed, matter had to take over. Against my subconscious will, I had to practically force myself to eat more by returning to a rigid meal structure. So, for the first time in months, I listened to my gut. Though the scale’s numbers increased, I did not feel heavier. Thankfully, the lethargy lifted, though surprisingly, almost instantaneously this time. It was as if I was once again imbued with the stamina to pick myself up and work towards a goal.
After the exam, I began to hit the gym in an effort to recover lost muscle. My progress was slow initially, but after further modifications to my diet (basically eating more and eating healthy), the weights, rather than weight, began to pile on. Three shirt sizes and 8 inches of waist smaller; at a steady mass of 68-70 kilos, I trim the fat and build the muscle. That’s the way I go today, albeit with resistance training on weekdays and gym sessions/cardio on weekends. This journey has been a most fruitful one so far, but the end is far from sight. In every journey, we learn as we progress and day after day, are in at least some way better than we were before. As Abraham Lincoln put it; “I am a slow walker, but I never walk back”. So, why end? Set a goal, but once it is achieved, set another. No matter what happens, just keep walking.
By: Nikhil Dutt Sundaraj