The Road to Physical Health

Be happy, find healthy.

11 weeks ago, I set out to lose 22kg (about 49 pounds). The goal was to lose 2kg a week and then achieve a long-time goal of mine — 87kg.

My weight went down by 7kg.

I felt disappointed and some shame. I had worked hard and took no shortcuts. I committed to it, only not working out when I was sick. I really wanted to lose more, but I didn’t.

I had to accept realities about my body, that I have a slow metabolism and that it is just hard to lose weight.

I did a few things early on during this challenge that kept me committed to this.

Firstly, I didn’t announce it online or use social media to track my progress. I didn’t want eyes on my progress; my two own were enough pressure already. I only told one close friend who is an aspiring nutritionist and food scientist. My family members living with me, only found out about it when they say my little note pad on the kitchen.

Yeah, that was the second thing I did. Regardless of the often infinitesimal changes, I wrote it down for 11 weeks. I didn’t work out for a week because of being sick; yet, I still wrote down my weight. About half way through the challenge, I knew that I wasn’t going to meet my goal. But, I kept on going anyway.

Thirdly, I did this for myself. And no other reason, person, or cause. I didn’t turn it into a project or idea or big scheme that I had to fulfill. It was me and 22kg, and it was a boxing match of 11 rounds. This point is intimately intertwined with the first reason. On weighing days — Mondays -, when I felt low or frustrated with the callous numbers on my scale, it was just me and him in the bathroom. There was no added pressure of posting a status report on Instagram or Facebook. I just had to look at myself in the mirror and go, we’re going to do this.

A major struggle of people with weight and body image issues is that we don’t feel like our body is own. I feel that it is owned by judgmental, intolerant society who thinks that our “fatness” is a problem that we don’t want to solve. That our bodies are owned by our well-meaning yet condescending parents, friends, and eyes in the changing rooms seems to be the inner life of a person like us. And the first thing about my 11-week challenge was to wrest back control of my body. It is no longer your property or your mannequin to critique and own with your words. It is mine and only mine, despite it being unhealthy, flabby, and stubborn.

It took 11 weeks to walk into the changing rooms and the gym, and walk proud with proud flabby fat. I don’t believe in celebrating fat, but I do believe in accepting your body as it is. Mental dialogue with my bathroom mirror and the mirrors in the shower room went from “man, I’m shaped like an assless dumbbell” to “I accept this body right now and I’m making it healthier.” It is the one of the hardest endeavors of adulthood, to reject the lies of poor body image and voices from the past and look at yourself with accepting eyes. But, it is essential in order to become healthy and fit.

This challenge also taught me that losing weight is a short-sighted and dangerous goal. In 2012, I lost about 15kg in a short time, with the Atkins Diet. And last year, I achieved the best health of my life by playing squash and soccer 3 times a week, respectively. But, I was chasing mirages in my body and in my mind. So, it was only too easy to lapse back into poor health and pile the pounds on like the Michelin man.

Being healthy and becoming fit is far more important. This paradigm shift helped me work out harder. It meant facing the fact that I couldn’t do a full pushup in week 1, lift my body 2cms off the floor during a pullup, and that my shoulders are as weak as bad espresso shots. I just had to accept it and then start sculpting my body into shape with discipline.

No essay about personal health is complete without an examination of one’s relationship with food. This challenge got me on the therapist’s couch with food and we talked it out. Properly. And we were real with each other. Food can’t fix me, can’t make me feel better, and it certainly can’t be healthy when I consume it to fill a void. Food is best approached like antibiotics — take it with care, be disciplined, and be vigilant. That means that I had to be Lieutenant Dan with food, and not the other way around. I weaned myself off of carbs late at night and sugary snacks. It meant more water. When I was faced with cake or cookies or candy, I’d look into its eyes and go,”You have no idea how much the Open Stride machine slays me. No. Thank you.”

I still can’t do a pullup, but I felt that my chest leapt with joy when I could feel my biceps lock into strength as I lifted myself about 4cm off the floor. I can now do 3 full pushups. I can do a lot of stuff comfortably and the things I can’t, I’m working on.

The next challenge is 23 weeks — 1kg a week. It is more realistic and I feel it’s more achievable, based on the experiences from the last challenge.

The last time I was in the gym, I looked into the mirrors by the showers. I still could see that the Michelin Man and I are related, but I could see pockets of hope appear in my gut and sides. I felt like a sculptor, for a moment, and seeing a work of happiness emerge from me.

Be your own sculptor.