A weight of 94 kgs, a waist of 40 inches and hardly 16 years old, What have I done to myself? I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror. It had been a long lazy summer in 2013 and a very delightful one. Delightful; literally delights come from heaven and for me it came as food. I patted my stomach in remorse and held it tight wanting to remove the fat once and for all, to the 16 year old me it wasn’t just removing the fat, it was removing the misery in my life; changing not only how I looked but how I lived.
A ‘healthy lifestyle’; it occurred to me, the remedy to my curse, as if the sudden realization was a divine occurrence. A divine occurrence reiterated by constant television and social media promotions. But the question that was yet to be answered; what did I mean by a ‘healthy lifestyle? Healthy lifestyle; a recently surging phenomenon. Or rather a re-emerging phenomenon that had disappeared following the emergence of modern technology and decay of the organic ways of life.
People had realized that indeed technology and technical progress was meant to facilitate their comfort but this rise of comfort could not be at the cost of a brutal torture of their health. Eating habits, physical workout and adequate rest all account as the necessities of a healthy lifestyle, all of these damaged with the rise of the modern ways of life. The term healthy lifestyle is heard almost everywhere these days on the television, on social media platforms as well as in magazines.
The need to follow a healthy lifestyle is stressed upon via these mediums but people still ignore it and continue with their not-so-healthy lifestyle and eventually bear its consequences.
(Chapter 1) The Skinny Kid
I wasnt always overweight. In fact during my pre-adolescent days I was quite skinny in the natural way just as how most kids are before they develop unhealthy eating habits. Nevertheless, I was extremely active; always running and jumping around. I pursued every sport that I could especially cricket. No one including myself could ever anticipate the obesity that awaited me. I mostly did all my Schooling from Lahore Grammar School. I feel quite privileged to have gone through the same school throughout. I almost knew everyone there and it was more like a home for me. It gave me a strong supportive base, and confidence to do well in a versatile environment. As I already mentioned that I was really active in sports and other extra circular activities. Any time I saw an opportunity offered at my school, I had my hands up to give it a try. I think at one time I was doing 10-11 different sports. From the very beginning I loved being busy in training. The best part in this was that my family was really supportive and they always encouraged me to indulge in such healthy activities. My greatest passion was and is Cricket. I was a cricket freak. I always batted as an opener and I was appointed as my school team captain. I lived in joined family house where for everyone cricket was more of a religion. By the time I was ten, I started playing proper cricket with my dad and his friends every Sunday at Model town cricket ground. I did most of my nets at Model Town Greens cricket academy. I used to wake up at 6 am and had to travel a long way for my training sessions, that too meant some early mornings for my mom and dad. However, they were fully supportive and never complained. I even got selected in Lahores Under 15 cricket team. At this stage I saw cricket as my future. Whenever, I was asked that where do I see myself in 1011 years? I always replied In Pakistan Cricket Team. However, one thing that my parents were mostly concerned about was my health. Health in a way that I was very skinny and underweight. I used to eat one meal per day or sometimes I even skipped that. I was getting weaker day by day. My parents kept warning me about the consequences of being so weak. However, I never took it seriously. Until on the 20th of May 2010 in almost 40 degrees I had my final cricket match. I was leading my team. We fought brilliantly throughout the tournament. While fielding I fainted and I was admitted in the hospital for 3-4 days. I didnt really know for some reason I had severe arm pain. I was admitted in Hameed Latif Hospital Lahore. I had friends who faced such normal pain, but they were back at school the next day. So it didnt seem like a big deal for them. However, for me the pain was so nasty that I could hardly sleep for several days. I had to constantly tell someone to press my arm so that I feel a bit relieved. I was completely on painkillers during this time. According to the medical reports I had several vitamin and calcium deficiencies which led to such issues. According to the doctors it was very important for me and my health to improve and increase my diet and gain some weight at that point in time. My parents stopped me from playing cricket until I increased some weight and diet. However, stopping me from cricket was something that really demotivated me to that point that I decided not to participate in any other sports. I became quite lazy with the passage of time. That was when everything started to change and not for the better.
Talking about bad habits in regards to health; laziness is the key to it, the first stepping stone towards bad health. Similar was the case for me, laziness was my curse. To make it worse this curse was enforced upon me by my own family. Preventing me from taking part in sports didnt just result in my laziness but also deprivation and subsequent demotivation. After all a bird that spreads its wings must fly and it cannot fly while locked in a cage. I had learned to spread my wings and now wanted to fly but I was locked in a cage or at least that is how the 12 year old me thought so. But that wasnt just it I had to eat up and become healthier. Healthy; the way my parents saw healthiness. Belonging to a traditional Kashmiri descent family healthiness obviously came in the form of desi ghee parathas, milk shakes, oily gravies basically contained a lot of oil. Upon resisting a heavy breakfast before school my parents would have a paratha sent in the break asking the school staff to force me to eat it. Despite my initial attempts to abstinence, the efforts ended in vain as I gave up not only to the pressure of my parents but to the unmatched taste of my home made parathas. Beginning from occasional instances a paratha meal went on to become my everyday school lunch. Gradually, owing to my developing tastes I became a compulsive eater. Eating became my recreation Food my companion. Whenever I was in search of inspiration, my closest companion, food was always therefore me. This lead me to become a sneaky eater. Here and there I would sneak into the fridge or jars to grab something to eat. Junk food was a snack and a handful wouldnt suffice, I needed a belly full. So throughout the entire day I wanted to have a post-heavy lunch feeling. Throughout my classes during my school life, I used to wait for the lunch break. As soon as the bell used to ring, I was always the first student standing in the canteens queue. Whatever, addiction is, an addiction to food had defined my most teenage life. Memories are rarely about people and places. They are all about food mostly. High school is Pizza, spring roll and fizzy drinks from the canteen, stolen prince biscuits made with butter and chocolate bars from my mothers secret cupboard. Other than that there was a fast food take away on a five minutes walk from my house. For more than a year consistently my dinner used to be two shawarmas filled up with some extra Cheesy Chicken from that take away and a half liter bottle of coke following with KitKat chunky bar as a desert. Dont even think for a second that these food memories involve sharing a table with my siblings or friends. Ninety per cent of this food was bought at a great cost, packed up and sneakily sometimes brought home into my bedroom, to be eaten in secret. Bread and chicken crumbs all through the bed. Eating until I feel stuffed till my head. These constant unhealthy eating habits led to a severe eating disorder. In a year I gained around 10 to 15 kg more, which is quite a lot when you think about it, it makes about a kilo a month. I am sure that people around me could see it, but for me it was so gradual or rather I was so indulged in my food paradise that I barely noticed. It wasnt as if one day I was thin and the next I was huge; just slowly but surely, I went from being a bit overweight to being seriously obese. By the end of class nine I was somewhere between 90 to 95kgs, so for a teenage boy, lets be honest, I was huge.
The pleasures of a reckless appetite comes at a cost. Being obese is only a down payment of that cost. The surplus is accumulated in the subsequent social and psychological pressures. ‘Body shaming’ is a reality or rather a psychological torture that is faced by every other obese person and i wasn’t any exception to this unfortunate reality. Insulting people and playing with their emotions is no taboo to our society despite the severe consequences this behavior can bear. Similarly people saw nothing about me except that I was a fat chubby boy. I looked like a meatball. A big. Fat. Meatball.
Most of the time people used to laugh at my physical appearance. I remember once I went out for shopping with my dad, I tried some shirts even the large size was a bit too tight for me. My dad started to make fun of me in front of many other customers and the salesman. I was so embarrassed at that point in time that it damaged my self-esteem and increased my inability to see myself as anything but extremely obese and ugly. I remember getting to the largest size available in my school uniform and then even having trouble fitting into it. I used to break the zip all the time trying to do them. My cousins and friends used to call me with distinctive names such as haathi (elephant) as everyone else except me was quite fit. To salten my emotional wounds even further, whenever we played cricket my cousins would have a substitute runner to run for me as I was too fat and couldn’t run between the wickets. Cricket meant to me more than anything; my passion, my love, my world, yet while playing cricket I was a laughing stock for my peers. I kept on laughing at myself when I was with them, mocking my fat and my need for food. However, underneath the smiles and laughter, I yearned to be taken seriously! But I felt that the minute other people saw my size, they discounted the value of everything else about me. My confidence level was shattered to such extent that I used to feel twitchy sitting in a group of people. I was the kid too scared to swim in public without a shirt. I remember little comments my mother would make that were not meant to be critical, but they did make me bad. She knew how inactive I had become, so if we were out for dinner or eating somewhere she would always tell me to serve myself less.
I learned what kinds of clothes hid my belly. On many occasions I used to come out dressed in a new ironed shirt, saying, Dad, hides my tummy, how do I look? Most of the time his reply was would it be better if you got rid of the tummy. I remember feeling so distressed; I thought I looked smart and I felt hurt that he was not being supportive.
I did become more conscious of how much even a very funny remark that makes everybody laugh can hurt the person it’s aimed at. At the same time I realized that, over the previous few years, my health had decreased while my weight had increased. For the very first time, I consciously started thinking about my eating behavior and began reading up on, metabolism, diets and obesity.
Almost everyone who loses weight has been unsuccessful many times before. However, these unsuccessful attempts are simply an opportunity to start again.
Similarly several times I toyed with the idea of losing weight by trying to eat healthy meals. Unfortunately I didnt have the willpower to stick to it throughout. I had a lot of friends who could literally eat anything and everything without gaining weight, so I thought I could do the same too. However, I wasnt blessed with the same metabolism.
The day I decided to change my life started pretty much like any other day. I crawled out of my bed feeling sleepy and got ready for the school. The defining moment was literally waking up one morning and knowing in my head and my heart that I didnt want to be fat anymore. I still remember that when I told my mother about this her reaction was quite casual. She replied seriously Hamza, its something you always say, you cant do it! You cant do it was enough for the motivation. Therefore, I realised that its a crucial time for me, and I must make a change. I wanted to do it for myself, rather than because other people were telling me to lose weight.
When I set out to lose weight, I knew I needed to eat healthy. From burgers, pizza, crisps and fizzy drinks my break time lunch shifted to an apple and a water bottle. In lunch I used to eat half chapatti with any homemade gravy. Whenever I heard about diets and weight loss, I also heard about exercise. After lunch I used go for 30-35 minutes walk in my society. At this stage I wasnt following any specific meal plan, my aim was just to stay in calorie deficit. Therefore, from four to five huge unhealthy meals I shifted to two compact meals per day, which is not actually the right way. As it led to weakness and exhaustion. It wasnt that easy at all for someone who had some serious eating disorders. However, this time I was determined to give this every opportunity to succeed. I followed the same diet along with 30-35 mins walk for almost three months. During this time I read several transformation autobiographies and healthy diet articles. As a result my motivation level boosted up, and instead of walk I started going to the gym religiously. My focus was more on the cardio section in the start. Slowly and steadily my weight started to drop down, which was something really positive and it motivated me to even work harder. Everyone including my friends and family started to notice a change. People who poked fun of my weight in the past were quite amazed to see this change.
There came a time when my weight got stuck at a certain point. During this time I was struggling to motivate myself for the gym and to stick to the same nutrition plan. It was during this period especially that I realised that the only thing you can do is push through hard times and when you do push through, you can almost see the road clear in front of you.
After focusing on cardio for almost a year or so, I had an urge to switch up my exercise routine to weight lifting to match my new life. I used to be a sloppy dresser, wearing lose and comfortable clothes all the time regardless of in what condition they were. Worn out, extra-large hoodies and baggy jeans I was stuffed in my clothes. The urge to dress up was not there anymore, felt like I was dead inside. Carelessly grabbing the first thing that fitted me I couldnt care less for my clothing. Time moulds our personality, therefore; during this weight loss process I realized that, clothes can be used as a tool to increase your confidence and sense of well-being. Feeling confident impacts ones personal life, and it can come from something as simple as how you dress and go out into the world. I started to look up for latest fashion trends, improving my dressing every day, learning what color suits me. My aim was to maintain a balance between weight lifting and cardio. However, I had minimal experience with weight training. I knew some of its basic benefits, that how it increases strength and improves overall physique. During the start I doubted my ability to lift heavy weight, but I was always up for asking asking questions from the trainers at the gym and scrolling through the internet for help, which for sure helped me a lot.