It’s just horrible, says Zara Siddique Ahmed, when you’ve got to throw your beautiful, expensive clothes out, because you can no longer fit into them. It’s terrible when you are stuck in self-defeating rut, where you eat to feel good, isolate yourself so no one can point towards your weight gain and when you do come across someone you are left feeling large and ugly, so bad in fact that you need to eat again.
“Back then, I used to have KFC for lunch, Cheetos [for] breakfast and Burger King [for] dinner,” says the UAE-based banker, recalling 2015. At 23 years old, she weighted 104 kg. On a 5-foot-four-inch frame, this meant a lot of negativity. It was a time of turmoil she explains. In 2015, while she studied, family circumstances also led to her working. She lived in Sharjah – “a long, long way” from her office. “I used to travel all the way from Dubai and Abu Dhabi [to Sharjah]; it used to take me about 2 hours to get home,” she explains.
She had developed acne, which, she says required a year-long dose of medication that left her depressed. (She says it’s a side-effect of the medicine, the name of which she doesn’t recall.) But with the sedentary lifestyle she had adopted, the stress that pulled at her strings and the appetite that seemed to need a constant feeding, she began to gain the weight. “I gained at first 10kg and I used to not bother about it. It just kept multiplying,” she says. “I was doing well, work-wise, because obviously I had to take care of my family. Financially, I was doing well. But I was so into getting things right [for] my family that I just forgot [about my health],” she explains.
Things started to change when her office offered its employees a three-month gym membership in 2017. She lost two kilos. Unfortunately though, she explains, “I went for a month I broke my knee on the treadmill, then I couldn’t do gyming and then I kept skipping [it]." Firm rebukes came her way; she says she still had a large friends’ circle, in spite of her avoidance issues. “I had a lot of people coming and telling me….you were so thin before,” she says. But it was the dresses that did it.
That was the wake-up call. The outfits lovingly bought over spats of time and with a lot of effort had to be moved so that the XXL clothes would have more space on the shelves. She began by cutting out food from restaurants. This quantity she tweaked till she was eating one meal a day. In the next phase, she tweaked her diet. She would eat three times a day but healthy meals that included oats (no milk, no sugar), fish (pan roasted), vegetables (boiled), papayas and, well, not much else – for a year and a half. “What I learned was how you eat in portions. I started counting calories, whatever I was eating. I started reading food labels. I used to have maybe one or two spoons of olive oil in whatever I cooked,” she says.
And then there was the exercise. “I started with 30 mins of walk. Then I increased it to 50 mins. I used to go to a park near my house. Then I started doing it for an hour,” she says. Because, Zara believe to lose weight it’s mostly about food control. “People who don’t even do any activity, if they just control their diet, they lose weight,” she says. The hiccup came when she reached 78kg four months into this plan. “So I did not know how to motivate myself. So what I used to do, I used to go to Zara and I used to wear all the dresses there, and when I never used to fit in [them], [I] used that as a tool to motivate me. I used to go to malls all the time, so that I keep myself motivated, because I was like if I can lose 20kg, I can lose a little bit more. And then I used to keep short-term goals,” she explains.
“But I did not do gyming at that point of time, I just did walking and changing my lifestyle. I used to get down two-three [bus] stops away from my home and I used to walk till my home. I used to ensure that I go for a walk early in the morning and I used to ensure I take 10,000 steps daily. That’s a very common thing to say, it’s a cliché; [but], I did those 10,000 steps a day. I know it works,” she says. She also did intermittent fasting over sections of time during her weight-loss period. "They say intermittent fasting works - I say it works wonders," she says. When the seven-month marker rolled around, people were beginning to notice. “I’ve gone down to 55kg. I was 55 and very bony. People used to call me a skeleton and that was something I didn’t like. So then, I did gain a little bit of weight after that. I got back to 65 after that,” she laughs.
A new plan:
Today, even on weekends, Zara rises at 5.30, goes to the gym for two hours, eats before 6 and sleeps at 10.30-11pm. “Your sleeping patterns really make a difference when you are losing weight; you need to be very disciplined when you are losing weight. That’s one thing I changed myself and it changed my life,” she says. She adds, somewhat sheepishly, that her hair thinned while she was trying to shed the weight and she got stretch marks – but “thankfully, no saggy skin”. As for her friends’ circle, it has grown. “Earlier people used to call me an angry bird, because when they approached me I literally used to shut them up. Because I was scared at that point of opening up to people. Because I felt that if I smiled and spoke to people, people would just try to prod and [ask], ‘how come you’ve gained weight?’ and I didn’t want to hear that. [Today] I am so confident in life I can talk to anyone,” she says.
Still, she’s planning another transformation for the end of the year – stay tuned for the results.