My Weighing Scale Broke – And Why It Was A Good Thing

Hey guys!

If you’ve read my previous post about how fixing psychological issues might help with weight loss, then you’ll know that I originally intended to write about something else (me being me, my thoughts are rarely linear :P).

SO. This time around, I want to talk about how my weighing scale being broken was actually a blessing in disguise, as it ultimately helped me in my quest to a healthier lifestyle.

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Now before I jump into it, I’d like to clarify a couple of things, lest some misguided SJWs jump down my throat about ‘fat shaming’ or whatever. When I say ‘weight loss’, it implies that weighing less is the only way to be healthy – but that’s not what I mean at all. You can be heavy / big-sized, and still be healthy. In my case, weight loss is a goal I hope to achieve, because I can feel the ill effects of this much weight on my frame: bad knees and a bad back, for example. You may have other goals, like bulking up /building muscle, or gaining weight. The bottom line is that we’re all striving to live healthier, happier lives. Body positivity is about loving yourself – and that includes recognising that you may have health problems due to your lifestyle.

As mentioned in my previous post, quarantine measures were put into place in Malaysia on March 18. I told myself that I’d utilise this time to take steps to a healthier lifestyle. Lo and behold, my weighing scale was broken. I wasn’t able to get a new one or have the scale fixed coz most businesses were closed. didn’t think of measuring my initial stats either (my thought process at the time was ‘let’s just get this thing started’) – but I believe my weight at the start was around 78 – 79 kilos.

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(Left) Sometime in August 2019. I didn’t take many pictures when I was fat because I hated how I looked. I had the same body shape / weight in March 2020. (Right) April 2020. 

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(Left) Also from 2019 and (right) April 2020. 

Since the quarantine first came into place, it has been 70+ days.  I actually don’t know how much I weight right now. But here are some of the things I’ve learned:

  1. NUMBERS ARE NOT AN ACCURATE REFLECTION OF PROGRESS

In retrospect, it was a good thing the scale wasn’t working, because it removed my old way of ‘measuring’ success. In all of my previous weight loss attempts, I was often hung up on how many kilos I had dropped, and would get discouraged if the numbers did not reflect the amount of effort I was putting in.

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This is a dangerous way of thinking, and it set me up for failure. I would get frustrated (“I ran for 30 minutes every day for a week! Why does my belly still look like I swallowed a hippopotamus!?”). I often gave up by the end of the first month. The cycle would repeat itself – work out for a period of time, control food intake, get discouraged, give up. Rinse, repeat.

Not using a scale meant I was forced to rethink the way I measure progress – based on how my body feels. It’s in the simple but often overlooked things, like feeling (and looking) less bloated in the morning. Reduced intestinal and stomach problems. Less acne. More energy. Better stamina; being able to walk longer distances without feeling winded. Being able to lift heavier objects. Less pain in the knees and back. Pants that feel looser. Even something as simple as being able to touch my toes more easily. I might not have a six pack, but these are all small but important victories, and it’s important to recognise and celebrate them.

2. MEASURE PROGRESS ON YOUR OWN TERMS 

#Fitspo was a trap that I fell into and couldn’t get out of for the longest time. I’d follow celebrity fitness trainers and influencers on soc-med, and tell myself “I can look like that too if I work hard enough”. Reality, however, is not always as straightforward.

No matter how you paint it, people have different bodies. If you’re big boobed (Believe me, it’s not all fun and games, especially when you’re running and trying to keep them from falling out), there are things you can do to naturally reduce your breast size slightly – but to think that you will ever be flat chested is an unrealistic expectation. And that is often the problem with many of these #fitspo posts. What we see online or in the media can often be distorted; a ‘perfect’ ideal that we can all strive for but never achieve.

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I’m not saying that inspiration isn’t a good thing. If you are motivated to achieve a certain ideal or aesthetic, then perhaps looking at people with six packs can be used as inspo to achieve that goal. But just because you didn’t lose 10 kilos in 1 month like that other guy on Youtube, doesn’t mean that your efforts are for nothing.

This is something I’m still trying to learn, because I still feel doubt creeping in whenever I watch ‘weight loss success stories’ (“I lost 20 kilos in 3 months!”). I have to constantly remind myself that my progress is on my own terms, and that I shouldn’t compare my journey with the journey of others. They lost x amount of weight? Good for them. I can touch my toes without my belly getting in the way? Good for me!

3. YOUR LIFESTYLE SHOULD BE SUSTAINABLE 

A healthy lifestyle is not a sprint: it’s a marathon. Being able to stick to a sustainable way of living will give you better results in the long run. I’ve tried diet fads. I took Herbalife (for what it was worth, it did help me to lose weight while I was taking it. Hence, my stand on sustainability. Buying that stuff was expensive af, and once I stopped, the weight came back because I was actually starving myself, lol).

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One of my ex’s friends is a naturally tall and lanky guy. For a time, he was an extremely dedicated gym-goer. But although he built muscle, he still wasn’t at the ideal that he wanted, so he took whey protein and ate steamed chicken breast and boiled eggs everyday.

He succeeded. But he was miserable. And once he stopped the protein, he lost the muscles he worked so hard to gain. I could tell it was very discouraging. These days, he no longer takes protein, but has found a more sustainable way to balance a healthy diet with his workouts.

Some people may argue that this is a ‘sacrifice’ that you have to make in order to achieve a certain physique, and that many people do that, to great results. It is my belief that at the end of the day, it boils down to what you think is a sustainable lifestyle – if you’re okay with eating steamed chicken breast and boiled eggs everyday for the rest of your life, then that’s a sustainable lifestyle for you. If it’s making your miserable, however, then perhaps it’s time to relook things.

4. PROGRESS TAKES TIME

This is another thing that I’m trying to come to terms with. Like many millennials, I am used to instant gratification – after all, we live in the age of the Internet, where you can get information and services in the blink of an eye.

The problem with many of my previous weight loss attempts was that I expected fast results. My ‘cut off’ time was usually a month: if I wasn’t losing enough weight, then I’d feel discouraged and give up. This is why I said that not having a scale around this time helped, because I’m not able to see any numbers.

Of course, I’m constantly reminding myself that I did not get to this point overnight. It took me seven years to gain 20+ kg, so how can I expect to lose all of the weight I gained in a month? 

5. THERE IS NO ONE-SIZE FITS ALL

What works for one person might not necessarily work on another. I mentioned in a previous post about willpower, and how it isn’t the only answer to weight loss. To a certain extent, you do need some willpower – society would be in pandemonium if we were all animals without self control. You should definitely have the will to make a change, for yourself.

BUT. I just don’t agree that in all cases, you can rely on willpower alone to overcome ALL challenges. I have had personal trainers who went about things the wrong way, insulting me and ‘pushing’ me to do better because they feel that is the ‘correct’ way to motivate someone. The truth is, there is no right or wrong way – only the way that works for you.

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I remember an encounter with a particularly nasty trainer who plunged me into hardcore training without taking into consideration that I was a total beginner.At the end of the session, he told me I’d never improve if all I did was complain (I felt dizzy and told him I felt like puking).  Needless to say, I never went back to that gym again. Maybe he has had success with other clients, using that method. But it certainly did not work for me.

So perhaps I have weak willpower. Perhaps I don’t respond to that kind of treatment kindly. The question that needs answering, then, is what works for me? 

I eat whenever I’m stressed – and I am stressed most of the time, lol. It’s funny the way some people tell you to ‘chill’ (I know they mean well, but still), because if everyone could ‘chill’ upon command, we wouldn’t need therapists, and the world would be free of problems.

Having identified this trigger (stress = comfort eat), my solution is to divert my thoughts as best as I can to something else, or at least keep food away from my reach until that feeling of stress has passed. Being forced to stay at home more often during the quarantine has actually helped, because I am only allowed to go out for work; hence my ability to go out to look for junk food has also been reduced.

If all else fails and the need to comfort eat becomes maddening, I feed the machine a little, ie I allow myself a small portion of something (say, I feel like downing a pint of chocolate milk – which I used to do, as scary as it sounds –  I would instead opt for a 200ml of low fat milk) , which is usually enough to calm the beast. By identifying these triggers and working to minimise them, I can avoid behaviours like binging.

Again, this is what works for me personally – you may have other ways of handling things. It’s about finding your personal trigger ‘safety’.

6. IT’S OKAY TO ‘SLIP UP’. 

Bad habits die hard.

During the first month of quarantine, weaning myself off high calorie foods was no easy task – I literally had withdrawal symptoms for fried chicken (my favourite comfort food). I had dreams about eating fried chicken, and you know shit is real when your cravings are so intense you dream about eating unhealthy stuff – that’s what they call an addiction.

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The good news is that I don’t have those intense cravings anymore. I had fried chicken once last month, but that was it. Even then, it was more of a ‘I don’t know what to eat, I THINK I want fried chicken’ but after eating my body just didn’t feel good, so I stopped. It’s a far cry from before when every waking minute was spent battling my stress and my cravings – which was often a losing battle. Back then, I had fried chicken every couple of days (gasp). This current lack of cravings is, to me, a sign that I’m moving in the right direction. The mind is a strange and powerful thing. It can be wonderfully resilient when used for good, but also super destructive when used for bad.

That being said, I have had days when I slipped up and ate something unhealthy. The me before would have berated myself horribly and just said “fuck it I fucked up today so I might as well just fuck up the rest of the day and binge”. These days, I try to tell myself ‘okay, so you ate a fucking cookie. You enjoyed that mfing cookie, it was great. Now you still have the rest of the day. Skip rice for dinner and get your protein and greens in. Do an extra 10 minutes of exercise.’

Of course, no one says it is easy. It’s an ongoing process of conditioning the mind. Give yourself a break – don’t beat yourself up for a few bad decisions. The problem comes when you constantly make bad decisions.

7. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN DO, RATHER THAN WHAT YOU CAN’T 

I hate most forms of exercise.

There, I said it. Lol.

I get that people enjoy doing Tabatha and yoga and Insanity and feeling themselves getting stronger. I enjoy feeling stronger too. But I dislike doing all the stuff that fitness trainers recommend for getting fast and proven results. Mostly because when I was really heavy, jumping and things like lunges/burpees and even some ‘low impact’ routines felt horrible on my knees.

There is one thing I like to do though – walking. All the weight I’ve lost so far have been from indoor walking routines. And while the results may be slower than doing HIIT/kickboxing or whatnot, I believe that consistency is key. Slotting a 30 minute walking routine at the end of my evening feels doable, and I am more likely to follow through.

(Lucy Wyndham-Read is one of my favourite online trainers. Her workouts are usually short, doable but challenging enough to feel that you’re making progress). 

On good days, I push myself to do more challenging routines (the ones that I usually hate, lol) that offer variety. My point is, if I had started off doing exercises I hated, I would definitely have given up. By mixing it up with an activity that I enjoy, ie walking – I am able to gradually build up my stamina and perform those exercises better. As my strength improves, I’m sure that HIIT workouts won’t feel so daunting. And if I don’t feel up for it, I can always fall back on walking, then take on the challenging routine on another day.

8. HAVE A GOOD SUPPORT SYSTEM IN PLACE 

I might not be the best to talk about this – but sometimes I wonder if things would have turned out differently if I had a good support system. I’ve always had to do things on my own – and the few times I’ve reached out for help, I have been disappointed. It is a bitter lesson, and I am still learning to trust. But while that is my personal experience, it doesn’t have to be that way for others. Weight loss and a healthier lifestyle is a personal journey, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. If family isn’t supportive, look to your friends. If they aren’t supportive, join a support group for weight loss, or a local gym where you can find like-minded people. Just don’t be afraid to find what works best for you.

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Ending this with a selfie – I finally feel comfortable and confident enough to take selfies again without feeling like I look like an ugly potato lol.

It might sound cliche, but to everyone else who is trying to lead a healthier lifestyle – you are definitely not alone! Stay strong and know that you’ll always have people rooting for you – me among them!  

 

 

The “Secret” To Weight Loss May Lie in the Mind – And No, It’s Not About ‘Willpower’

Hey guys!

Today’s post is going to be a long one – it’s about my weight loss progress and how dealing with my personal issues helped with it. 

My weight has always been a touchy subject for me, but I feel that I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on it, how I’m trying to overcome challenges, and hopefully help others who are in the same predicament.

For the longest time, I felt like shit about how I looked. 

As an Asian with a larger-than-average physique, I grew up with body image issues; no thanks to relatives and a toxic culture that glorifies a certain body shape/look. And while the body positive movement has been going strong in the West for awhile now, attitudes in Southeast Asia (and many parts of Asia, for that matter) are still notoriously slow to change. Partly, it has to do with our ‘collective’ culture: in the West, being different is good; in Asia, as the Japanese saying goes, ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’.

Growing up, I was not exactly chubby – but I was definitely taller and bigger than my peers. By the time I was 14, I was taller than my mom (who is 5 feet and weighs 40 kilos). The running joke among members of my extended family was “what genes did Nim (my nickname at home) inherit? lol”  since my dad is also around 5’4, and my younger brother is as petite as my mom. It didn’t help that I was constantly told things like “don’t eat so much, you’re getting fat”, or “your breasts are too big, you shouldn’t wear those kind of clothes” by people who were close to me, which really affected my self confidence. Were my boobs that big? Was I eating too much? I ended up wearing a lot of shapeless hoodies and slouched whenever I walked, because I was made to feel that men would look lustfully at me if I didn’t hide my chest. That it was my fault if I somehow attracted their attention.

When I was 19, I went through a traumatic experience. I wasn’t able to find the support I needed, and basically had to deal with the entire thing alone. I believe it was then that I started to comfort-eat. My metabolism at the time was still that of a teenager, so I could still eat junk and all kinds of shit without putting on weight, but it laid the foundation for the very unhealthy eating habits that would persist into adulthood. These bad habits worsened when I entered the working world, and I found myself putting on a lot of weight. It was a vicious cycle – I’d get stressed, eat for comfort, feel disgusted, and eat again for comfort. And this went on for years and years. At my heaviest, I was 82 kilos (181 lbs). I have a big frame so it was not extremely noticeable, but if you passed me on the street, you’d definitely call me fat. Obese, even. 

My weight became a point of contention between me and my mother, so much so that there were heated fights that nearly resulted in us severing ties with each other. I know she was trying to help in her own way, but being an Asian parent, she was notoriously bad at showing it. (you know, like when they do something wrong, instead of apologising, they make your favourite food and try to skim over the whole thing?) Instead of encouraging me, she (sometimes unconsciously) shamed me, which hurt me more than what strangers could ever throw at me: because the one person who should be standing on my side wasn’t understanding. So I gorged on food and let myself go.

Some people who have never suffered food addiction think that it’s simply a matter of willpower – that some people can simply will themselves to lose weight. That is a simplistic way of looking at things. There are people who have superb willpower (which is awesome, more power to them!) but weight loss and the journey to a healthy lifestyle is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Oftentimes, comfort eating is deeply rooted in psychological issues. If you’ve ever watched my 600-lb life, Dr Now, the resident doctor, often addresses the person’s emotional issues as part of their therapy, because their eating behaviour is often rooted in those unresolved psychological problems.

The reason I eat isn’t that I’m hungry – it is because food equates to comfort, and since I am not able to find it anywhere else (such as a good support system), I turn to eating when I’m stressed, or angry, or sad, or bored. You can go cold turkey on ciggies, or drugs, but you need to eat to live – and this makes things a lot more complicated when it comes to weaning yourself off an unhealthy relationship with food.

Since 2013, my weight has yoyo-ed dramatically. Back then, I had anxiety (still do, but it’s slightly more manageable these days), which was not helped by the stressful nature of my work (I was a newspaper journalist). It drove me further down the rabbit hole of unhealthy eating. Stress does things to you. Many of my ex-colleagues smoke and drink, and a good number die from heart attacks, which is a common disease among journalists.

Sometime in my mid-20s, I tried Herbalife. It worked while I was taking it, but once I stopped, the weight came back on again, because the bad habits were still there, and the psychological issues that drove me to comfort eating were still there. It’s true what they say about magic pills. There is no such thing.

And so it continued … until this year. In retrospect, despite all the bad things that have been happening around the world (pandemic, riots, uncertain economy, etc.) this quarantine has been good for me, because it allowed me to take a break and re-centre myself. Previously, I’d spend three hours in traffic each day, so much so that I’d feel too tired to work out (I left home around 8.30AM and got home around 8PM). But now that I have a more flexible working schedule, I’m able to set aside some time each day to unwind and do activities that I enjoy.

Another major reason that I think contributed to a positive change is my relationship with my mother. Those who have family members suffering from anxiety and depression know how hard it can be to deal with. Thankfully, our relationship has improved lately. As a result, my overall mood and feelings have improved, and in turn, I no longer feel as much of a need to binge or comfort eat.

What makes the attempt to lose weight different this time, you ask? 

You often hear weight loss stories where they ask the question, ‘what kickstarted your weight loss journey’? Most of the time, the answer would be ‘I woke up sick and tired of being unhealthy’. And perhaps that is the main motivator for many people.

For me, I think the catalyst came a couple of months ago, after a particularly nasty fight with my mom (related to my weight, again). I think she finally understood that her way of ‘helping’ was doing more harm than good – and she agreed that she would not comment further about my weight.

See, it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate her ‘help’. She’d make home-cooked meals for me in an effort to get me to eat healthily. But it wasn’t the support I needed. 

You know how some people fight because the other doesn’t understand their needs? Like a boyfriend gives a girlfriend a teddy bear even though the girl has already said she doesn’t like stuffed toys, then he gets upset because she ‘doesn’t appreciate the gift’. The same applies here. I know she was trying to help in her own way, but it wasn’t what I needed. I needed her to step back and stop commenting about my weight. 

The thought that I had finally broken through to her gave me courage. I now had the freedom to do things my way.

To other people, this might seem like an odd line of reasoning. But to me, growing up with the need for approval to make my parents proud, to be a ‘filial’ daughter, it makes perfect sense. I was finally free from the shackles of ‘what was expected’ of me; that I had to heed certain advice and follow them simply because my family felt it was best. The moment I no longer felt burdened by the fear of what my mother thought I should do, the power was in my hands to do with my life as I see fit and that became my greatest motivator. (does that even make sense? the human psyche is an odd thing. lol).

It might come as a surprise to some people, but when I was at my lowest point, I did not care if I had pre-diabetic symptoms due to my weight – my thought process was basically “If I die, I die because I’m already like a piece of shit anyway”. I think that a lot of obese or fat people with health issues KNOW that they are in a bad state (don’t you think they know people are sniggering behind their backs? I certainly did) but the hole of despair can seem too big and too difficult to climb out of, so you switch to this apathetic state where you give up on trying or caring.

People say that a healthy lifestyle is not a sprint, but a marathon. I started this journey just over two months ago, so there is a long way to go. But I think the difference this time is that I am in a better psychological state to commit to the race, because my reasons for losing weight have changed. Now, I truly feel that I want to lead a healthy lifestyle for myself, and not for someone else’s approval. 

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PS: I actually started writing this post on a somewhat related note (I wanted to talk about how my weighing scale broke and it was actually a good thing) – but somehow it became super long…so I think I’ll write about that in another entry. 😀