Ever since I can remember, I always saw myself as "fat" — blame it on the mirror, my laziness or the girls who bullied me in school. The fact that I started finding solace in food didn't help either; innumerable packets of Lays chips and countless cans of Coca Cola were unable to make my "fat" thoughts go away. There came a point where all my pocket money was directed towards one source — the general store close to my home, where I would score my daily ration of chips, chocolates, ice-creams and soft drinks from. Gorge I did, and around the time I was 8-9 years old, my bad habits had started showing — I was suddenly 10 kilos heavier, all in a span of 6 months.
This only worsened my self-image and crushed my self-esteem. I spent my entire teenage years holding myself back, thinking I wasn't good enough, enviously admiring skinny girls. And while my parents tried their best to inculcate fitness into my daily routine, I wasn't consistent. Trying everything from dance to basketball, I would lose a couple of kilos but always gain it back in a couple of months. I always tended to be a little overweight, and maybe somewhere deep within, I felt safe.
The heaviest I've been so far
In her book You Can Heal Your Life, Louise L. Hay propagates the belief that every "dis-ease" is created by a mental thought pattern. Cellulite represented stored anger and self-punishment, and fat or weight issues stood for oversensitivity, fear and need for protection. "Fear may be a cover for hidden anger and a resistance to forgive. Running away from feelings. Insecurity, self-rejection and seeking fulfilment," she writes.
While she provides positive affirmations to counter those thought patterns, I never fully understood its value. I was 22 now, still overweight and under-confident, and when I came back from a year overseas pursuing my masters degree, I weighed my heaviest ever. I was 74 kgs, and this was now a huge health concern. A blood test revealed the high levels of bad cholesterol, and my family was worried. I had already joined the gym, and I would make it a point to go thrice a week, but the nonchalant attitude wasn't helping.
When I weighed 74 kgs
To push myself, I decided to invest my money in a personal trainer. And though I detested his chides and strict demeanour, he was just what I needed. We started with weight training thrice a week, and cardio twice a week. Every Sunday, he would get all his clients together for an intense training session. It took me another two months to become a regular.
In the beginning, it just felt painful — I couldn't keep up with the others; my stamina levels were too low, causing me to get tired early. Training in the gym wasn't the most interesting either. But my stubbornness started fading when my trainer introduced football and running in my regimen. Slowly, I also started attending the Zumba and yoga classes at the gym. From HIIT and intense cardio to easy stretches that aimed to increase flexibility, I was now at the peak of my fitness levels.
Gruelling days at the gym
But my trainer didn't stop there — he was now obsessed with making me train for a 10km marathon. When he told me that, I laughed at first. When I realised he was dead serious, I became worried. I had been regularly exercising for 3-4 months by now, and I had lost around 5 kgs, but I still couldn't run for longer than 10 minutes. How on earth would I ever finish an hour-long run?
What I did not realise was that while my body had, in fact, become stronger and muscular, my mind had not. That tiny voice continued to be critical.
My trainer and I at the Navy marathon
We began training for the marathon a month prior. I was now waking up at 6am on Sundays to run — even in the rain. Doing it once felt different, doing it five times became a habit. Somewhere, somehow, I started enjoying running — it gave me a sense of freedom; I was physically letting go and running away from something that was bothering me. I still remember the tears of joy that welled up in my eyes when I completed my first marathon in a record time of 68 minutes.
During all this, my trainer also dictated my diet. I began eating consciously; and started weighing all the pros and cons of what I was consuming. I banned sugar, aerated drinks, pizzas, pasta and all sorts of fast foods from my diet. I was now the lightest I had been in years — mentally, physically and emotionally.
I was 74 kgs then, and I'm 60 kgs now. I'm happier and healthier than I've ever been — my clothes fit me better; I can wear whatever I want. Most importantly, the shame at being labelled "fat" has dissolved into nothingness.
At the recent Adidas x Parley Run For The Oceans event
5 tips to get started on your fitness regimen:
1. Find a sport/fitness activity you truly enjoy: Football, running, Zumba and yoga were my interests, and the procrastination vanished when I started seeing exercise as fun.
2. Opt for group sessions: Exercising alone can get boring. Take a friend along to the gym, or join group classes to keep your spirits high.
3. You are what you eat: No matter how hard you exercise, if your diet is not balanced, it will become a deterrent in you reaching your fitness goal.
4. Consistency pays: Keep at it. The more you work out, the stronger and fitter you will get.
5. Quieten that inner critic: During this entire journey, I learnt the importance of self-love. I had to befriend myself first to break through the shackles my mind had created. I had finally reclaimed my self-esteem.