"It doesn't matter if you start small, as long as you start". Azreen Iszham's weight loss journey isn't your typical success story, but an amazing tale of how life is about the little choices, and how strong you have to be to continuously make the right ones:
I have struggled with weight all my life.
It is frustrating when you feel like you have given it your best but nothing seems to work. It is like you are setting yourself up for failure, so why try again, right? I get you. I was just like you.
It was up to a point where I felt that I just needed to “embrace” my body and accept the fact that I was born to be fat. That was just how tired I was of trying to lose weight.
For many years, I did just that. I proudly embraced my fullness. I ate whatever I wanted (fast food was my ultimate best friend, it’s always on the way home!) – whenever I wanted (mamak stalls are open 24-hours for a reason, people!) – I hated to sweat (so going for walks or to the gym was out of the question) and no rude comment or weight jokes could ever bring me down (because I was always the one making the jokes first. It was my way of protecting myself. If you can’t beat them, join them). I kept telling myself, “Oh, as long as the pants still fit, it’s fine.
Then one day I decided to replace the battery on my digital weighing scale and all hell broke loose. When did I get to almost 90kg? I swear like a month ago, it was far far less. Knowing that it was the heaviest I’ve ever been, I quickly got my calculator out, computed my BMI and Googled for the BMI chart. The moment I realized that I was in the obese category – I cried. Never have I imagined that I– you know, ME? – would be obese. So much for embracing my fullness.
That was when everything changed. I went to work the next day, told my boss that I wanted to start a program at the office to promote a healthy lifestyle (the perks of working in admin!) and the moment I got the green light, I did everything possible to help me on my journey.
We held a “BMI reduction challenge” among the employees (which I ended up winning – I lost more than 10 percent of my body weight), my colleagues and I started our company’s very first Recreational Club and we managed to get gym memberships for everyone.
It had been a well kept secret – until now that is – that the reason I wanted to have all these activities at the office was because I knew for that when it comes to lifestyle change – especially for the better – it cannot be done alone. It’s hard – you know it – I know it. It is alot easier when you have people doing it with you. But no matter how impossible you think it is, it’s not. All it takes is just that one thought. That one life-changing moment when you start to realize that your body deserves so much more than a Big Mac.
1. I made my own plan. Followed my own pace. I set small, achieveable goals.
I realised that the reason why my weight loss attempts failed so many times was because I kept wanting to follow other people’s success stories plan.
(I, too, am just like you – I Google or Youtube for other people’s stories, see their transformation, cry a little when they succeed and say to myself, “Ok, I am going to start tomorrow!”)
Their success stories should be your reference (and your inspiration) when making your own plan, but it should not be followed a hundred percent.They might like running, you might not. They can probably eat all the lean proteins in the world, but you might not afford it.
It took me six months to go down from obese to overweight (and yes, just overweight, not even healthy!). Six long months when other people can take only eight weeks. I purposely planned it that way because I wanted my body to adapt to the change slowly so that the chances of me falling off the wagon and going back to my old habits are smaller.
Hence, make your plan according to you, to your schedule, to your budget.
Set small, achieveable goals for yourself. Instead of aiming to lose 20kg in three months, do it on a weekly basis. Aim to lose 0.5kg a week.
Don’t tell yourself to run 5km in your first month, instead tell yourself to walk 30 minutes every other day. Achieving these small goals will encourage you to keep pushing yourself further. It will naturally make you change your plan as you go along. It did for me and everytime I changed my plan or goal, I set it a little tougher than before.
2. Celebrate each achievement – nothing is ever too small
Know that there are no achievement that is too small. I celebrated every little achievement! Every time I can run a little longer, I celebrate. If I completed something on my bucket list, I celebrate. When I go down a number (even if it’s from 87.2 to 86.9 – it’s still a new number!) I will treat myself to a nice meal.
Give yourself credit, it will go a long way.
3. Know that there are NO shortcuts
No matter how desperate you are to lose the weight, know that no magic spell can ever help you. If there was, I would have been the first person to make a deal with the devil. Haha.
I know this because I have spent a lot of money and time on detox teas, diet supplements, protein drinks and even weight loss management centres. None worked for me because, one – I like food too much, so replacing it with some gooey, bad tasting stuff is not going to work for me, two – water retention is not permanent weight loss. You have to lose the fat. Three – the only way for you to lose weight is to eat right and exercise (no matter how much you want to believe otherwise!).
So what I did was I signed up for a gym, hired a trainer and worked hard. That was the beginning of my weight loss. (I could only afford a few sessions, so I used it as a stepping stone to know the basics, and then carried on from there at home. Working out should be easy and not a burden – when you have to improvise, improvise!).
There will be days where you’re too tired to work out, or your body hurts too much that you don’t want to get out of bed – this is when you test your willpower. If you want it bad enough, you will shut those little voices in your head and get up to get at least 15 minutes of workout. Do some stretching or lift weights if you really cannot do cardio.
For me, when I have those days, I forget all about my workout. I put on some of my favorite music and I just dance. Jump a little, dance, shake it off like it’s no one business. You’ll end up laughing at how your ridiculous your dancing is that you won’t even realize that you’re actually starting to sweat.
4. Believe in all the things you once thought were myths – drink more water, get a good night’s sleep, say goodbye to fast food
As ridiculous as this may sound (although I know some of you feel the same, come on, admit it!) I used to NOT want to drink water because I feel that it’ll make me gain weight. I mean, two to three litres a day? Like, what? Won’t it just add on to my flabbiness?
Truth is, it’ll clear your body of toxins, it makes your skin so much younger looking and it does help you to lose weight. So drink up.
The other best thing I did for my body was to stop eating fast food. Not entirely, but less of it. And by less, I mean like, really less. Once in maybe three months? Just make sure you drink loads of water to get rid of the sodium in your body.
And sleep people, sleep! Sleep is good. You need that eight hours of sleep.
5. Do NOT cut out the things you love to eat entirely – instead, cut down on the portion.
If you’re like me, then you will understand when I say that I cannot live without chocolates and cakes. I love my cakes! I need my cakes!
Living healthily does not mean that you need to cut out everything you once loved. It just means that now you kind of have to (reluctantly) cut down on the portion size. Share your cakes, take only a small bite of chocolate each day, eat your Nasi Kandar only once a month.
Don’t force yourself to eat only oats and vegetables and everything grilled because if you do, it’ll be days before you start to have urges to have that pint of ice cream. So, I eat to ensure that I won’t have binges.
6. Keep challenging yourself – do the things you never thought you’d do. Live outside your comfort zone.
Once you’re on a roll and you’ve got your food and exercise under control, challenge yourself and continue to do so. Test your limits. I truly believe that life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
When I started the Recreation Club, I listed all the things I have always wanted to try – from hiking to caving to snorkelling and scuba diving, to even wall climbing and bungee jumping.
I am proud to say, that with the Club and through some new friends I have made, I have crossed hiking and caving off my list, I have completed the Skytrex Activity, I now play Futsal, I snorkelled for the first time in my life last August, I completed a 10k run (okay, in my case it was a 10k walk, but nevertheless, I crossed that finish line!) and I am currently a Chief’s Original Bootcamp recruit – Hooyah! (something I would have never ever signed up for back in the days. It’s insanely challenging).
I still struggle at every bootcamp session, I get yelled at, I get tired, I get bruised and I almost always want to give up. But every time a negative thought crosses my mind, I tell myself to remember why I started. Why I was there.
When you feel like giving up, remember how hard it was for you to start. Know that the moment you give up, you will have to start again and starting again is the most difficult thing to do. So the wise thing to do is to keep going, even if you are doing it slower than the others, even if the scale doesn’t show the numbers you want, or even if you feel like the world is laughing at you, just push through. Your body might not be strong yet, but your mind should be.
So when I was approached to tell my story, the first thing I thought was “But I am still overweight! How can I tell my story?” What I realized as I am writing this is that it’s never about the end. It’s the journey and what you learn from it that counts.
I am still far from my healthy weight and I am nowhere near as strong as I want to be, but compared to the person that I was before to the person I am now, I am far happier.
I make better choices, I plan my meals, I cook, I exercise, I am more confident, I get (very) good night sleeps and I am starting to love my legs (squats do help, I tell you!). I can stand in a crowd and feel beautiful.
I feel like I can do anything (I have runs lined up – just so I keep myself active). I can shop in the same stores as my friends do, I can ride on roller coasters comfortably now (and not worry that the safety harness won’t fit me), I jump into swimming pools (I used to wrap my towel around my body and ask someone to take it from me once I’m in the water!) and I can confidently tell others that changing your lifestyle is possible – when you put your mind to it.
I do still have days where I would sneak in a fried chicken (or two!) and cheat on my exercises. But I tell myself that it is OK. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have bad days. A fried chicken won’t kill you, but a fried chicken everyday might. So try not to make it a habit.
When you have a bad day, go out for a movie. Sing. Dance. Play the guitar. Swim. Just don’t turn to food, but if you must, then work it off the next day. Don’t let your bad days be an excuse to cheat. Take that leap and you will wake up in a month or two thanking yourself for making that change. It doesn’t matter if you start small, as long as you start.
I am, until this day still thankful for that new battery.