My denial for many years has been mostly about my state of health or rather “weight”. Growing up in an African setup the myth that weight signifies success is the very source of pride for many overweight people. We seek to hide using the complement of our culture giving respect to the large and hugely bodied figures who roam our streets. It is no accident that some even aspire to become bigger body wise while using the wrong route to getting there. However, my denial was slightly different from the normal African standard. I grew up in a middle class family that could afford to place before me a plate of sadza and meat more often than the average family in our country. We hardly lacked in resources and l was encouraged to finish my plate like “all good kids” are expected to. Unknown to my well-meaning parents is that l was consistently “slightly” overfed over a couple decades of my life as a kid and a teenager. During this process l came to be known as the chubby kid.
Chubby was a good thing and that was my means of standing out from the rest of the pack. The great irony is l never really sucked in sport, l made 1st team volleyball at all the schools l attended and l was on a good day, a descent goalkeeper. For me food became less about eating to live and more about eating to be always full. When you hardly lack you become very generous with your portions and portions eventually had me very rounded up. (So to speak) My earliest memory of how much l was overweight was when as a 15year old l tipped the scale at about 80kg during a blood donation which l found to be quite amusing. Publicly l displayed pride that l was possibly in the top 5 heaviest students in our age group. Quietly though l was slightly embarrassed that l was one of the odd ones out. I wanted to belong not to become a freak show (no offense to my counterparts). By the time l reached University l had become quite obese. That phase of my life saw me pile on more weight due to the rigorous requirements of my program and my own share of laziness.
Fast forward to my 2012 l was weighing about 110kg and 2013 brought an extra 10kg onto my scale. By then my lifestyle revolved around long hours at work, a very outgoing weekend schedule filled with braais and not a drop of physical activity. It was amusing that even my workplace was located 200m from where l would drop off my lifts and l would use the elevator to our 3rd floor offices so that basically summed up an activity deficient lifestyle.
Realities of being overweight
At one point in my denial that my situation needed a change, l got so big l blew open my work suite and had to ask my lovely girlfriend to buy a needle and thread for me. Yes you guessed correctly, she promptly delivered the goods and l had to sew up my trousers in the gents while she waited for me at reception in shock. She was always kind in her approach with me though she was getting extremely worried with each day passing. I had a challenge getting into high rise vehicles and there was always a risk l would blow a pair of trousers. I am a short guy, let’s just say am slightly below 170cm so carrying 120kg was a health hazard (this is the last time l will write the figure!) l was very huge. More shockingly l was on the chronic side of the BMI index. With time more realities started to settle into my life, for example during a boozers game of soccer l was out of breadth after every defensive play by the goals even if the goalkeeper is the least active player on the field. Whenever my work lift was not working l would have to remove my work suite jacket so that l could cover up my wet shirt by the time l got to our floor. It would be greatly embarrassing to face corporate clients in a wet suit. So the dry jacket covered up the wet shirt from the climb up. Soon even in winter l could no longer wear a suit without having a vest worn below the formal shirt. Sometimes l would sweat profusely if the air-conditioner was not working properly. Remember my point about denial? Yes, my denial only served to give me educated reasons on why all this was happening. I would blame the clothes and not the body. I would blame the air-conditioner, blame the flight of stairs, blame the hot coffee l just drank and sometimes blame the pressure of work on my state of sweat.
The wake-up call
There were a series of wake-up calls that came in slow succession which lead to some change.
- One day while l was on a business trip l ate so much l almost suffocated in my sleep. Seems as l was turning in bed after a generous meal the food found its way up my canal and l woke up without any air choking on my own vomit. Luckily the gag reflex we possess naturally assisted me somewhat to avert danger. This story is known by only 5 close people in my life, but it’s important that many more understand the dangers of over-eating.
- The next time l received my wake-up call was when my snoring got so bad that people l would travel with volunteered to have me get a private room to myself and not share the hotel room with them. I took that to mean more freedom for me but it was only when my cousins recorded me snoring on their smartphone that l saw how bad it really was. It sounded like l was dying, l was shocked and it was extremely embarrassing. The saddest part is l never had the maturity or enlightenment to do anything about it.
- For short stints l under ate because it seemed like l kept gaining. Soon l was hunting for trousers in the unlabeled area looking for old stock on the no size section of the department store. I would wear trousers for very tall people and have to get a tailor to cut almost half the length on the legs to get my fit.
The unlikely invitation
I grew up in the lovely City of Kings, Bulawayo. Late 2013 my job took me to Harare for a fixed term period to be part of a project at work. While there a brother of mine would ask me to meet him at his gym so l could grab a free lift home. It was during this period that his trainer became fond of me often encouraging me to come watch their sessions but l would laugh it off. With a society that does not see many thriving weight loss stories l stuck to television shows to get visual inspiration but l never amassed enough interest (read as courage) to start my own journey. Many weeks later my brother informed me that l had been offered free membership at his gym for a week and if l liked it then l would formally join and start paying subscriptions. Till now over 3years later, l have never tasted the hell l went through that week. The 1st day l could hardly walk, l was grossly unfit and l skipped the shower after and went to sleep in my brothers car. He found me snoring and till this day he tells anyone who cares to listen that l almost died at gym. But dying evaded me, the next day my joints were protesting, my lung capacity seemed hugely insufficient and l was begging to die. But my trainer assured me that l would not die! I never believed him, l cursed at him (in French) and l felt everyone in the class was showing off.
They say never compare your journey to that of others. There were figures in the gym that looked bigger than me and l never understood why they were having a good time while l was suffering. I have no academic reason for this but somehow when the week was over l paid for the whole month in one go. I never stopped attending and within two weeks l saw a lot of changes. An old pair of pants that l had decommissioned suddenly started fitting, l could go for 10minutes in class and not need a break then soon l could talk during the session. Interestingly round about that time Corporate24 opened their premises in Harare and they had a machine that could record height, weight, and temperatureplus body fat percentage. It was during my soon to be many visits there that l started seeing the weight fall away as their scale machine offered more privacy than the public scales out there. Soon my belt loops started moving backwards. I was ecstatic!However the process is never smooth, many before me claimed not to see the changes and many more felt it was a phase. Somehow the maturity started settling in and l needed less re-assurance from people and more assurance from my clothes that l had really shed weight. That is when the best days of my life became sculpted.
Research is key
Many myths exist on the road to weight loss. Many supposed scientific researchers exist in the world of fitness.
- You will meet those who tell you not to take carbs as the means to real weight loss.
- Some will advocate for a meat free diet.
- Others will swear by a liquid only diet.
Put simply, you will bump into a lot of different theories.
When l successfully lost my first 15kg the situation changed for me. I could no longer sustain a good rate of weight loss on my once a day gym session and eat whatever l wanted. That’s when l taught myself nutrition through our dear old cousin Google, some books and expert advice through various trainers. I found that there is no one size fits all approach to weight loss. I soon found out there is no such thing as being big boned and small portions do not necessarily lead to weight loss (its actually the quality of your nutrition and of course limiting serving size that leads to long-term success).
l began doing morning runs, threw away my over –sized t-shirts l used for running and invested in fitness clothing even to the extent of buying my 1st running shoes. Starting at 3.1km l would finish that distance in 40mins. Soon the time started dropping; l asked my trainer to include me on his weekend schedule. In 5 months l had lost a whooping 20kgs and l was more confident and focused.
I rewarded myself with regular cheat meals. I started to challenge myself, increase my running distances and train the right way so as to avoid injuries. Soon even the skeptics began to throw good vibes my way. By the time l had lost 25kg l became swamped with enquiries and my trainer who was now a very close friend of mine was on the receiving end of new clients. Life changed, l fell from size 46 to 38, couldn’t remember when the last time was when l last wore trousers or shorts in the 30’s. By the time l moved back to Bulawayo l had a plan once back home.
- Within my 1st week l had joined a gym.
- I was now running 5km 3 times a week and using jump rope heavily.
- By the time l went below 90kg l was running 6km 5 times a week.
- l was doing morning runs, aerobics after and to top it up an evening session.
I have to clarify that l hit 85kg 2years after l started my weight loss journey so take your time to build descent consistency. When l hit the 40kg lost mark l was now rocking size 34pants with descent loose skin. 78kg l became a 10kilometer specialist and then l became a competitor in distance races. 2015 October l ran my 1st competitive 10km race. March 2016 l ran my 1st 21km race the PPC Matopos Ultramarathon then July 2016 l ran my 2nd Half Marathon at the Victoria Falls Marathon.
The realities of an unlikely journey
Yes l have fallen off the wagon, had bad weeks and many more better weeks. The art in this journey is to never quit. To be mature enough to take criticism constructively and to also embrace pain. There is a lot more happening in my life now, l’m busier with my job but l have created a schedule around all this chaos around me to keep fit. What many should know is keeping fit to maintain weight loss is a lifestyle. You can’t really take a year off this journey, it’s a continuous journey.
My milestones currently are that l do not snore anymore, so it’s safe to sit next to me on the bus on a long trip. Somehow l haven’t had a flue in 3years and l credit my morning runs for that. I have a totally new wardrobe now with much nicer gear than before. I have made friends through this lifestyle but the best part is l have become a positive influence on many individuals. Two friends l recruited have lost a combined 30kilos this year alone and it keeps getting better. I have a lot planned ahead and l look forward to doing more. Maybe run the Comrades Marathon one day, do the Ironman Race and participate on the Spartan Race. But before that l need to learn how to swim!
Unlikely journeys have unlikely results, l set out to lose a bit of weight to retain my old clothes. I ended up getting rid of my new clothes to purchase new ones. I hope this unnecessarily long biography helps someone out there who has no idea what to do; to believe and pursue lasting change.
I am not losing weight, I am getting rid of it. I have no intention of finding it again!
Thank you to Chris for featuring on my blog today, you are a real gem! I hope this inspires anyone going through a tough time with trying to lose weight. It is possible to get the body of your dreams.
Have you gone through a weight loss journey? What prompted you to finally make a change and get active? I would love to hear from you.