Validation can come in odd ways; a stranger’s nod, a reflection in the mirror, a mother’s smile. For Pakistani expat Ahmed Ali, what was gratifying was his wife could not recognise him.
He went past her four times before she raised her head and eyed him with suspicion. That look – before the awe and after the recognition may have been worth but a few blinks. It was enough: Ali’s gambit – eating frugally, exercising loads - had paid off. Four months into his programme he was 29kg lighter and had turned into the family’s role model.
Four months earlier, at an office party, the 5-foot-11-inch Ali stood alongside his peers for the mandatory selfie. The photos, when shared, had him horrified. Before this (recently acquired) job, Ali had maintained a healthy 75-80kg. Now he was looking pointedly larger, podgier. His then roommate-and friend forced him to the gym and the weighing scale threw up unbelievable numbers; he weighed 103kg.
It was a combination of laziness, sedentary office life and bad eating habits, he says, that caused the gain. “After I bought my car 4 years back I didn’t do any activity,” he says.
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After those photos however, he decided that he’d go to the gym every day. “When I [first] went there [to the gym], I feel very shy to look into the mirror and look at the other guys, maybe, I thought, maybe they laugh at me. Because I was not looking good, and I always wear the XXL size so people cannot [tell] that I have too much tummy,” he adds.
Still, panting, he decided to begin with the treadmill – on which he walked for 5 mins, until he got used to it – slowly increasing speed and pace until he was jogging. He also began to weight train and do ab exercises. “In the first month I lost 4-5kg, that’s when I picked it up – [ I realised] that I can do it,” he recalls.
'No eating out'
As for food – the self-confessed foodie says he had a tough time that first month. He’d eat two boiled eggs for breakfast; a salad if he was very, very hungry for lunch; and steamed chicken or fish with vegetables for dinner. He’d also have a fruit right before hitting the gym. Friendship then played a big role in Ali’s fitness. His friend acted as guide and nag – stopping him from binging on food from restaurants, keeping him going to the gym. “After one or two days I thought I should skip it but he told me you have to pay for 3 months or 4 months [before you see the results]. Even that time I thought I have to skip, but he motivated me,” he says.
The lessons he taught have been stuck in Ali’s mind. When his family members, who are based in Pakistan, came for a visit in June, he thought he’d have to hit the brakes on his workout routine. Then he found a way. “Every night we went to Buhaira corniche and I do jogging, 20-30 mins [worth].”
He has kept it up - the exercise - and kept the weight off six months on. Now, he's got a new goal - taking his roommate on the same, fit trip.
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“Everyone has to give time for himself. If you can’t give time to you, you can’t do anything. You must commit for this [journey] if you want to lose weight – that is the main thing,” says Ali when asked about advice for people wanting to follow his path.
And the commitment is worth it. For Ali the validation came from family and friends, and most of all from his wife, whose first comment to him was: “I can’t believe this is you.”
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