Life transforming events can happen in many forms. For me, it was a trek — my first high altitude trek that changed it all. [Day 7 of “One Day, One Blog” — a challenge I set for myself for the month of January 2019.]
It started with a phone call.
Suchitra Menon (aka Suju) called me on a weekend somewhere in the first half of 2016.
She started the conversation with this preface, “ I want to tell you something but first promise me that you will not laugh.”
Given that it could be a multitude of things, I said OK and waited for her to continue.
“I want to go on a trek. To the Himalayas. A high-altitude trek”
Me(a little confused) — “Why would I laugh at this? This is great, Suju. You should totally do it!”
Her — “ I want you to come with me”
Then I laughed.
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Why does the preparation alone merit a full blog?
Back in 2016 I was a lazy bum who would not even walk as much as 1 Km if I could help it. If you were somehow responsible for making me walk that said 1 Km, you would never hear the end of it.
I was not just overweight, I was obese. I had to take prolonged break from work due to acute Fybromyalgia. Even as a child, I was never physically active.
Encouragements, taunts, etc had no effect on me when it came to exercising. Of course, taunts hurt but like any well-adjusted adult I just swallowed it and moved on. Transformation of people around me would motivate me for not more than 2 days.
Even when I fell ill and doctor said I must lose weight, I tried getting away with bare minimum effort for about 6 months.
Forget a high altitude trek like Chandrashila, I once went on a short trek to Lohgad when I lived in Mumbai (this was in 2008). I made a huge fuss throughout the trek. Looking back, it’s a wonder that people with me didn’t push me down one of the tricky slopes.
Two things you need for the trek are mental fortitude and physical fitness. In 2016 my status in both the conditions could be described as “not interested” and “screwed”, respectively.
After that phone call, Suju recruited Lakshmi (Lachu — my Sister-in-law) into her team. Between the two of them, I was relentlessly chased (pun intended) to join in. I agreed to try just to get them off my back. [To their credit, they knew me well enough to keep up the chase but to back off without irritating me].
Clear Goals and a Deadline
By then Suju had managed to recruit about 10 people to this “expedition”.
Her sales pitch: “ Ruby is doing it! So surely you can also do this”.
It says a lot about my reputation on the heath and fitness front that people actually fell for her pitch. Of course, almost all of them dropped out later and two crazier people joined in but more on that later.
India Hikes had set very clear criteria that needed to be met before you “qualified” to go on the trek.
- You need to have a certain BMI ( In my case that meant bringing my weight down from 76Kg to 63Kg at least)
- You should be able to run for 5Km within 30 minutes.
Weight Loss battle begins
Since I had been suffering from Fybromyalgia for more than a year prior to that dreaded call from Suju, I had been trying various diets to lose some weight. No luck. Nada.
Now with the BMI target to be achieved for the trek, I decided to give Ketogenic Diet a try.
Thanks to Bollywood celebrities, today more and more people in India are becoming familiar with the term “Ketogenic Diet”.
But back in 2017 not many had heard of this. My brother had mentioned this a year back but I didn’t really think I could do it. So I ignored it for a year, till I got desperate.
For those of you who have never heard of it before, here is a brief description:
“The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates.”( Source: Wikipedia)
There have been cases where people with Type II diabetes have been able to get off medication with this diet( I heard this from a doctor in Bangalore).
I am not going into the details of my experiments with Ketogenic diet here.
I will share a few key things I learned, though:
- Everyone’s body reacts differently. There is no fixed meal plan that will assure you of getting into Ketosis ( unless, of course, you are following a medical protocol). The only way to do is (A) Research extensively and (B) tweak your diet till you find what works for you.
- Many of the so-called-experts and food nutritionists in India are clueless on this diet.
- Two sources from where I have learned a lot are: (1) Beer Biceps and (2) Dr Berg
- A few months into this lifestyle, I also chanced upon the blog of Dr. Dom D’Agostine(PhD), a researcher at University of South Florida.
- Even for Keto diet, your calorie consumption should be less than what is required for maintenance for you to lose weight.
Why I Think “Keto” worked for me:
- Chandu(The Husband) was following the diet with me — so when I felt like giving up, he pushed me to continue.
- Because he was working out at the time (and I was not) he started losing weight in a very visible manner. That really helped me stay motivated and committed.
- We think we love a particular food (say fish fry) and can survive on that for life, but we can eat a lot only when we are eating it with rice or whatever your favorite grain is. When we eat this without rice we will soon get fed up and eat less.
- After not losing weight for more than a year, when I started losing weight by the week… It was such a WOW feeling!
Caution: Try it after doing tonnes of research ONLY.
After I reduced my weight from 76 Kg to 70 Kg in over a month, I hit a plateau. At the time I was walking for 2 to 3 Km and dabbling with Yoga daily.
It was time to hit the Gym. Not just to break the plateau but I had 3 months before the trek and needed to improve my cardio endurance and muscle strength.
13000 ft is quite a bit of altitude. I really didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain and die there.
That dreaded animal called “The Gym”
The next ordeal was to select a suitable Gym.
My first instinct, as always, was to put out a list of conditions so that no facility would be suitable. (Self Sabotage 101).
- AC is mandatory
- People should not talk too much
- Clean changing rooms
- I should like the face of the receptionist (you get the flow, right?)
But this time I knew that I had to make a decision. I had paid the fee for the trek and booked the flight tickets to Dehradun. The mountains were looming large in my nightmare.
I joined “Fitness4Ever” at Kochi. After two weeks of playing around on treadmill and cycles, I realised that I needed a personal trainer.
Amit was a Godsend. He is a very experienced trainer and complied with my list of demands, which went like this:
- I don’t respond well to negative reinforcement
- I have not lifted a single weight in my life — so don’t do that thing trainers do where you push me and try to break me before you mould me.
- Slow and steady works for me . You have 3 months to make me strong enough for the trek and to make me run 5km in 30 minutes.
He trained me 3 days a week. I made him come during lunch hours. When he saw that I was going to stay committed, my cause became his cause.
For 3 months, Amit trained me 3 days a week. When I did cardio on alternate days, he would come and run on the treadmill beside me so that I wouldn’t cheat.
After 2 months of this routine, I went shopping for trekking gear.
It was such a joy when I could buy clothes in size M ( from XL and sometimes XXL just 6 months ago).
I still didn’t know if I would make it to the summit. I didn’t really mind. I was just so happy with my progress so far.
Of course, there were times when I was doing deadlifts and Suju’s face would flash into my mind. I would have gladly dropped the weight on her if she were near me on those days. I oscillated between plans to thank her and kill her often enough during those days.
On April 2nd, I weighed 62.7 Kg — The lowest I had weighed in a decade!
For me the trek was a success even before I started the trip :)
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[Tomorrow’s installment of “A Trek That Changed My Life” is going to be about the actual trek.]