Dubai: Indian expatriate teen Pranav Pokhrel was a chubby boy who kept gaining weight due to his addiction to fast food — until he hit 149kg.
However, the 19-year-old today weighs 62.5kg less, having won many battles — including bullying, a breakup, binge-eating and more.
Sharing his weight-loss journey with Gulf News, to inspire other children and teens struggling with obesity, Pranav said it was during his early teenage years that he developed a strong taste for fast food and started increasing the amount of junk he ate.
At least 17.35 children aged between five and 17 in the UAE are obese, according to 2020 statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Prevention. Unhealthy food habits and a sedentary lifestyle are the major reasons for childhood obesity.
“Being around shawarma and burger joints did not make it easy at all to restrict the urge to step out and eat. And it wasn’t too long before I hit a hundred kilos as a 15-year-old boy,” said Pranav.
As he got older, he started skipping home-made meals and was eating out regularly. “By the time I was 17, all my meals in a day were from the cafeterias and restaurants around me. I was addicted to fast food and would get cranky and aggressive without those.”
That was when his weight peaked. “I was almost 150kg and all hope seemed lost. My parents had given up on me for a while and I wondered whether I should too.”
‘Hated by even strangers’
Being obese made him a victim of bullying and humiliation. “I was subjected to a lot of hatred by the children in my school, teachers and even strangers. They would all make fun of me for being fat because they wanted me to change. But it never got to me through the thick skin I had developed — literally — over the years!”
Pranav said he started ignoring every person who told him to lose weight. “I think that I took life for granted, I never considered the health factors that come into play when you are morbidly obese.”
Doctor parents’ concerns
His parents — Dr Gyan Prasad Pokhrel, a specialist laparoscopic surgeon, and Dr Archana Gupta, an obstetrics and gynaecology surgeon — were highly concerned about Pranav’s obesity.
I made extreme changes to my diet and workout schedule, incorporating cardio into my workouts every day. I stopped eating all kinds of junk and avoided most of the unhealthy food items. I switched my unhealthy snacks with healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts etc. Eight months later, today, I stand at 86.5kg.
Dr Pokhrel said he was worried about his son’s laid-back attitude and his body mass index crossing 40. “I believed that he would require a Bariatric surgery soon.” Dr Gupta said: “We both were so much worried for his weight gain that we were always discussing the consequences of this in his future life. We tried talking to him, tried to make him understand, tried to instil a fear in him about the consequences, scolded him, even snatched food from his hand. But nothing worked. We were frustrated to the core.”
They tried sending him to a karate school and enrolled him in swimming classes, just to ensure he was involved in some sort of daily physical activity.
“But none of that overpowered my hunger for junk food,” Pranav confessed. He also joined the gym several times, but it wasn’t enough to keep him motivated.
By the time he finally realised how crucial it was for him to lose weight, Pranav was in the last year of school.
“As we all know, it is an incredibly hectic time in a student’s life. I was preparing for my SATs [for college admission in the United States], my CBSE board exams and was also busy applying for university, which really left me with no time to work towards losing weight,” Pranav said.
Warrior diet and the setbacks
It was only after high school that Pranav finally decided to seriously give weight-loss a hand. “I began working out in April 2019 and followed that up with what is known as ‘warrior diet, whereby, I would eat only once in 24 hours.”
With that lifestyle for the next six months, Pranav lost about 34 kilos. “I started off at 149 kilos and ended the journey just before entering the university at 114 kilos, which I thought at the time was a good achievement,” said Pranav, who joined University of Minnesota to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.
“My parents were also happy with the results I got, but little did I know that it wasn’t sustainable or even a good way to lose weight.”
Pranav continued working out even when he was at his university campus in the US — until November, when a scooter accident forced him to take a break from the gym for a while. “I broke my right hand and it was in a cast for more than two months. I again gained about 14-15kg and my weight reached 129kg. I tried working out again after my hand healed. I was able to lose about 8-10kg over the next two months, after which, COVID-19 forced all gyms to shut down in the US and I was stuck at home with no way to work out since bodyweight exercises at home were a far-fetched option.”
This was in March 2020. By September, Pranav was back to 130kg.
“After a nasty breakup in October, I was depressed and food was the only comfort I had. I ate and ate and ate away the pain, and within the next month I gained about nine kilos. I was 139kg by mid-November.”
Tunnel vision for eight months
When he got back home in December last year, a friend advised him to diet in a healthier way and workout regularly. “I made extreme changes to my diet and workout schedule, incorporating cardio into my workouts every day. I stopped eating all kinds of junk and avoided most of the unhealthy food items. I switched my unhealthy snacks with healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts etc. Eight months later, today, I stand at 86.5kg,” Pranav added.
Over the last eight months, there has not been a single day that went by without Pranav going to the gym. “The protocol that I followed was extremely strict — counting every calorie intake. Knowing that I am burning more than I’m consuming makes me feel good and this has been incorporated into my lifestyle,” said the teen who has transformed his looks drastically. Fitting into his father’s clothes now has been one of his greatest achievements.
Dr Pokhrel said “The change in him is almost unbelievable. He has motivated his younger sister, too, towards exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She has also lost around 25kg. I hope he can be an example for many other kids here in the UAE.”
Tips for obese teens
Looking back at his journey, Pranav said it was easy and comforting to keep gaining all the weight, but it was incredibly difficult to lose it.
“Never in my life will I prioritise anything or anyone over my health and that is the most important lesson I have learnt through this journey. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and consistency to get results when it comes to weight loss and every step I took, made me feel worthier of myself,” Pranav said.
“The fact that my lifestyle is now based on what I eat and the phobia I have of gaining weight again and again have ensured that I will not put on any more weight,” he added.
He said he only has one tip to share with teens struggling to lose weight: Find a reason. “Know clearly why you want to lose weight and whenever you try to cut yourself some slack, remember why you started it in the first place. Other than that, it’s all about maintaining a calorific deficit diet and working out four-five times per week.”
He also pointed out that the role of family and friends is crucial in this journey.
“My mum has been my biggest support, offering me a variety of dishes that she made. Without her, I really doubt whether I’d have been able to stick to such a rigorous protocol. My grandmother was also of great support though she had pampered me a lot into gaining weight unknowingly. My sister started following in my steps and that encouraged me to work harder. My best friends, Vinayak and Gouthami, accompanied me to the gym and motivated me throughout this journey.”