Weight loss: How I became a big fat-loser!
If the human body is an input-output system, that is, what you put in, you shall tuck out, why is being overweight such a pervading problem in Pakistan? Countless people, myself included, yo-yo between weight loss and weight gain throughout their adolescent lives.
While policymakers look to Turkey for solutions to dispose of our waste, who in the health ministry is turning to solve our growing waist problem? With the government not budging on its ‘top priorities’, the problem and its remedial measures ‘wrest’ with the individual.
I have been a victim of a lack of resources and care when it comes to weight loss here at home. Luckily, I was able to enact several positive changes and realise that weight loss is not impossible; it is possible with the right mindset and lifestyle.
I lost 15 kilograms in the first three months. To date, I have a lost 23 kilos and gone from a 44-inch to a 36-inch waist size. I now run a Facebook group called Big Fat Losers to motivate others to lose weight, not their mind.
Let’s take a look; what are some problems an average Joe encounters in the herculean task of losing weight?
I am not fat, I am well-fed!
While I am no statistician, I will take the risk of making a generalisation that for most Pakistanis, a bulky body is considered a sign of a khaata peeta gharana (a well-fed household). Being ‘healthy’ (overweight) is seen as a sign of fertility; case in point, our plump Punjabi actresses who attract every jumbo jatt out there.
Of course, the bodacious booty/beauty is hard to miss; after all, her waist occupies its own zip code!
Being overweight is the price one pays for living life to the fullest. These attitudes, pre-dominant in rural areas, also resonate in the streets, mohallahs and neighbourhoods of our cities. While access to health information is closer to richer households, so are fast food joints. It is definitely an epidemic that deserves attention.
As I struggled to overcome this attitude, I realised something; I was not unhappy because I was fat; I was fat because I was unhappy. It was not before I took some time off to meditate and clear my mind that I realised that excess weight is a foe, not a friend. As my perception of weight loss changed, I was able to prioritise my health.
So where can I find some weight loss strategies?
Let’s agree that most of what we eat today, our grandparents won’t even recognise as food. The simpler, closer to nature foods have left us - whole grain has been replaced by processed white flour, and ghee by hydrogenated oil. Given the caloric value of our meals, people are becoming the perfect targets for heart attacks - target killing in the real sense of the word!
Additionally, dietary information online does not cater to the South Asian diet. Neither does the public know about Kale, Quinoa and Chia seeds nor are they locally produced.
What about our nutrition experts? Other than peddling unhelpful ‘diet plans’, their contribution to a discourse on healthy living is insignificant. Consequently, people diet temporarily before resigning themselves to their fate. After all, if God wanted us to be thin, mosquitoes would suck fat instead of blood right?
From multinational giants to small dawakhanas (medicine stores), there are several self-proclaimed weight-loss experts confusing us even more.
“Ate too much? Missed a day at the gym? Have a cup of XYZ brand green tea!”
Well, you can’t ‘green tea’ yourself out of bad eating habits.
Sadly, we can’t blame the nutrition industry alone. They simply cater to our demand for speedy, painless weight loss.
Every day, you hear things like:
“How can I lose 10 pounds in 10 days?”
“A double patty burger with extra cheese and a diet coke please. I am dieting you know!”
Simply put, there is no shortcut to success. You cannot drop pounds and not expect to gain them back without putting in the struggle.
To establish well-formed opinions on what is healthy and what is not, I conducted personal research on how to lower my overall calorie intake and switch to healthier yet tasty options. I followed an ‘eat this, not that’ approach. I ate chappatis but I switched to whole wheat flour. I preferred grilled chicken over fried chicken. While I controlled my portions, I ate after every 2-3 hours keeping my food cravings at bay.
Exercise and fitness:
The physical labour of our fore fathers’ work has been replaced by our sedentary desk jobs. Lack of exercise, added to our calorie-dense, nutrient-zero diet is a disaster waiting to happen. Exorbitant gym membership fee turns most people towards parks for physical exercise.
Women have it much worse. From their primary societal role as caregivers to regressive attitudes and relentless eve teasers, they face endless obstacles to being more active. I salute the women who come out and exercise, some covered in burkas despite the heat.
Personally, I made small adjustments to inculcate an active lifestyle. From watching dance shows on TV to signing up for dholkis, I always kept my fitness gear handy to avoid giving myself poor excuses and I experimented with various forms such as jogging, cycling, Frisbee and resistance training. Needless to say, it worked!
Yes I sleep late, but what does that have to do with weight loss?
From Karachiites enjoying their late night baithaks in the City of Lights, to Lahoris who take pride in their all-night nihari houses, we are a nation that likes its dinner late, with plenty of snacks to follow. The result: less sleep and more calories.
Numerous studies associate the benefits of sleeping at proper timings with lower body weight. That should be reason enough to hit the sack early.
In my attempt to remedy my sleeping habits, I started exercising in the morning, giving my body signals to close shop by 11pm. I reduced my socialisation after hours so I could be in bed by 12, to clock my six hours of sleep.
Positive role models:
Our politicians, sportsmen, and our glamorous media persons are hardly people we look up to as role models exemplifying healthy living. A realistic motivator among us would be a person who you can associate with, juggling everyday priorities of work and home, whilst leading an active lifestyle. Such a person allows one to challenge their own beliefs. If someone like me can do it, then why can’t you or if someone like him can do it, then why can’t I?
My inspiration came from a combination of close acquaintances, and well, my own self! I looked at previous photos of my slimmer self and gathered steam from active people in my circle. As people saw improvements in my physique and complimented me, it became a positive reinforcement.
So what is the takeaway here?
Toiling each day to build an illustrious career, successful relationships, an income that would afford us all luxuries, would all be for naught without proper health and peace of mind. A healthier lifestyle is not only possible, it is mandatory for personal fulfilment. So self-educate yourself to be healthy, happy and active, and push others to achieve their best as well.