Eating fast food comforted me as a child, but my parents always made sure I never overindulged in unhealthy foods and watched my diet.
As such, I grew up on a fairly healthy diet in my youth.
It wasn’t until I hit my teens and gained more autonomy in my food choices that fast food started to make up a bigger part of my overall diet.
Whenever I felt stressed or anxious, I turned to fast food as a quick fix, despite numerous attempts to correct my eating habits. I knew it was an unhealthy thing to do, but I couldn’t help it.
Exercising regularly was also a struggle for me as a teenager.
I would often start a new fitness routine, but I was never able to stick with it and would give up within a few weeks. Just like with my diet, I struggled to stay consistent when it came to staying physically active.
So, I finally started gaining weight from this unhealthy lifestyle, and I was about 30 pounds heavier by the time I turned 16.
My confidence started to drop, as did my fitness level. All of these factors combined made things like going for a run or going to the gym regularly even more mentally and physically exhausting.
I couldn’t accept this as my long term way of life.
FORCE ME TO EXERCISE
During a period when I was 17, I remember dragging myself out of the house to start exercising vigorously every day, whenever I had more time and energy to invest in my fitness, like during school holidays when commitments didn’t get in the way.
I was able to continue like this for over a year and made significant progress. I was able to continue for over a year and as a result I lost around 20 kg.
However, I was imposing this on myself and did not enjoy any part of it. Although I felt a slight relief that I was no longer overweight, I also remember feeling constantly mentally drained.
So, one day, my forced exercise regimen inevitably came to an abrupt end.
I was under immense stress and pressure due to school and part-time work at the time. I was constantly busy and often sleep deprived during this period which lasted several months.
As a result, I started neglecting my physical condition again. I was back to my old routine of trying a fitness program that could only last a week, no more.
These repeated failures made it even harder for me to avoid falling back into my old ways, especially fast food.
Eventually my physical condition became worse than when I started.
The lowest point in my teenage journey with my personal health was when I was classified as “moderately obese” after attending my pre-enlistment medical in July last year.
Seeing the word “obese” on an official document related to my fitness for the first time was a sobering red flag.
I felt a sense of shame thinking about how my actions over the past year had gotten me to this point.
It brought back bitter memories of how I struggled with sports and fitness-related activities in school that resurfaced in my mind.
Every time I attended a rally people would pull me aside and tell me I needed to start exercising more. This happened quite often and always left me with a feeling of humiliation.
With the lifestyle I had, I also didn’t have the confidence to play sports. As a result, whenever my friends invited me to do things like play basketball or go for a hike, I always chose to stay home.
This caused me to miss many opportunities to socialize and keep in touch with my friends. As this became a long-term cycle, I also began to feel empty and dissatisfied in my social life.
Then there was also the national service itself. I then decided that I could not continue with my unhealthy habits during my national service, as physical fitness often plays a huge role.
So this time, unlike my previous futile efforts, I wanted to do things differently.
First of all, I had to learn to accept failure and be kinder to myself, so that I didn’t lose my motivation and fall into a worse state than before.
What ultimately worked for me was setting “hyper realistic goals” that took very little effort to achieve.
These would include simple things like allowing me to eat whatever I wanted, but in smaller portions, and creating short workouts with exercises I loved.
I also did things like go for a run in the wee hours of the morning when it was less crowded, to keep my anxiety and lack of confidence from getting in the way of my progress.
Some of these goals were somewhat limited in their effectiveness when it came to improving my fitness level. But I was able to stay consistent with these shorter workouts, preventing my new found motivation from wearing off.
It also became easier for me to start pushing myself a little harder, setting a slightly higher bar each time, for better results.
Second, I also needed to deal with my stress, which I saw as the root cause of my relapse into unhealthy eating.
To better manage my mood, I spent more time doing things I was passionate about. I like to work on creative personal projects like creating graphics or making short films with my friends. So, engaging in such activities in my free time helped keep my spirits up.
It was not a linear process, as there were still times when I felt high stress levels and briefly neglected my fitness.
However, whenever I found myself falling behind, working on my hyper-realistic goals got me back on track.
At the start of the year, I went for a medical examination to have my body mass index checked before my enlistment.
As a result of changes to my approach, I managed to lose around 12 kilograms and was now considered a healthy weight.
In my mind, it felt like a temporary triumph in my fitness journey, although I still have a long way to go.
While my old habits resurfaced from time to time, I now know how to deal with those cravings and have gained confidence in myself.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ajay Suriyah, 20, recently graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a degree in Communication and Media Management. He is currently in national service.
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