Muhammad Irfan
Muhammad Irfan before (left) and after Image Credit: Supplied

“When I found out that the gulab jamun (milk-based sweet) I had just eaten would take 30 mins of exercise to burn, I was disturbed,” says 37-year-old Muhammad Irfan.

“I ran for 40 minutes that night. It was 12.30am.”

Three months earlier, the Pakistani expat and self-proclaimed foodie was enjoying his culinary favourites, even if he wasn’t too pleased with the resultant girth.

When he saw a friend who had undergone a transformation, he found himself wanting change in his own life. A sedentary job and a love of junk food had left Irfan at 135kg, a weight at which walking up too many stairs or long distances left the 5-foot-11-inch man huffing for breath and aching from the strain of movement.

But, explains Irfan, the decision had been made. He gave up rice and the rotis (flat bread) he was so fond of, choosing instead to eat grilled chicken or fish and fruits.

This was in June 2019. “I saw on YouTube that lemon with honey and warm water can help weight loss. I drink it to this day,” he says.

He stopped eating dinner as well, grabbing cucumber slices or lettuce leaves if he got too hungry. He would shun his roommates if they offered him treats he wanted, drinking water instead.

A day’s diet plan
Breakfast: Either low-fat yoghurt with apple or a slice of brown bread and egg white
Lunch: Grilled chicken or fish 250g
Evening: Salad, fruit

And he focused on running. “Of course at first I could barely walk. Women and children in a park near my house laughed at me, pointed at me. I could understand – such a fat man trying to run. It was shameful. But I closed my eyes and I continued,” he recalls. After 15 days of walking slowly, he began to jog, then another 15 days later, to run.

Of the physical pain, he says, “I had joint pain in the beginning. But, as people who are into fitness with tell you, ‘if the pain is coming from the ground, it will go from the ground’.”

He kept on.

Three months in, the results had begun to show; no one was laughing – they pointed in awe. His face had changed.

Then came the gulab jabum incident. It also cemented his commitment to getting fit.

'Who are you really?'

One month later, new incidents cropped up – he was accused of identity theft. His id pictures no longer looked anything like him, causing his banker and security in office to raise the alarm. He now laughs at the incidents. He also chuckles as he recalls seeing his wife and daughter after two and a half years. (They live in Pakistan and he hadn’t been home for the period.) They didn’t recognize him at the airport when they got to the UAE, leaving him sweating. He was afraid they would leave with a larger stranger, because he looked more familiar. It look a ton of cajoling, sharing of memories and old photographs to convince everyone that thin Irfan was still Irfan.

A year later, Irfan runs 12km; half in the morning and another half in the evening. He skips rope - about 900 times in the morning and 900 later on. He walks up 10 flights of stairs. He generally doesn’t eat dinner. And he keeps his cheat meals to once a fortnight.

His weight? He’s down to 87kg. That is a 48kg loss.

He has hit a plateau, but he is determined to drop another 12kg. He plans to intensify his workout, using sandbags to help him add the weight he needs to build muscle.

The leftovers from his days of obesity are a cast iron will power, a win over seemingly impossible obstacles and some stretch marks.

“It’s a small price to pay,” he says. After all, “I wear size M T-shirts and pants with a waist of 32; I used to wear XXL and size 43.”

Plus, he can now afford to eat that gulab jamun.