“This is pathetic!” Tasqeen Zahra, who was running after a wounded Chihuahua on a Sharjah street two years ago, huffed. Even though the dog was injured it ran faster than she could. It was the first alarm bell. “I was like, ‘this is pathetic, if I’m going to rescue animals, I need to be fit enough to actually help’,” the 37-year-old, who weighed 135kg, recalls.
The second, third and final bells rang violently. “A few months later, my father ended up quite sick and he ended up having open heart surgery and two months after that, my mother ended up at the hospital needing heart-related angiography,” she says.
Then there was the heart-breaking realisation that her twin, who had been sickly even as a child, wasn't as hardy as her. “I’m the healthy one of us twins,” she exclaims. She could no longer afford a lackadaisical approach to her health. Zahra decided to take control. She began to walk - with a lot of sitting breaks. “I work at the American University of Sharjah and the outer perimeter of our campus is 5km, [walking] that would take me an hour-and-a-half. So I would do 2-3km, sit down, catch my breath, and then continue,” she explains.
After building a little stamina, she began to workout at CrossFit. “I loved it,” she recalls, wistfully. “So I initially started losing weight – I had lost quite a bit, and then I had [financial] issues,” she says. [When her parents retired her wages had a bigger role to play.] “CrossFit got to be very expensive for me, so I stopped and I was doing my own thing at that time,” she says.
When she began on the get-fit mission, Zahra had bid sugar and most carbs goodbye. She continued post-crossfit to keep an eye on her meals. And yet, as days went by the pounds slowly returned. “I feel my body had gotten used to all that weight lifting and training, and with Cross Fit also every day’s exercise is absolutely different from the day before,” she explains. “Your body gets used to it. Without that exercise to push your body to burn that extra fat, you don’t lose it, and then after some time you start saying. ‘Why am I even bothering with this?’”
Now Zahra’s weight, which she had brought down to 95, had risen to 125kg. She stopped paying attention to exercise once again. Fortunately, a conversation with a friend drove her to ask for help. A fitness instructor and pal spoke to her about the different muscle groups in a body and which exercises would target what. With renewed hope, Zahra began once again to target the pounds. And they began to give. Fourteen months after this second bout, she’s at 83.2kg.
“I exercise 6 days a week; Fridays or Saturdays I don’t,” she says, for about one hour 20 mins.
Ask what her diet has been through the process and Zahra devolves into praise for her mother. “My mother is a wonderful cook; I didn’t reach 135 without her assistance. But having said that, I didn’t lose weight without her support [either]. My poor mother..she’s had to cook three different types of food everyday- one for father, one for me (I’m vegetarian, avoid carbs), and one for my twin, who is also vegetarian but doesn’t mind all the other stuff,” she says.
“Sometimes I’ll come home and be like, ‘mom, I didn’t lose any weight this week, we need to modify my food.’ And she’ll say, ‘ok, today all you’ll do is fruits’ and she’ll make a fruit chaat which has weird stuff in it but tastes amazing. And then at the end of the week, I’ve lost 0.4kg,” she adds.
Fridays are generally rest days – for her mother, too. This is when, says Zahra, her mum makes one dish and everyone in the house eats just that - it's her cheat meal.
At 171cm and 83 kilos, Zahra risks being described as gaunt. She says her colleagues already do. “But I want to be at a certain weight, maybe around 80. So if I lose another 3-3.5kg, I’ll be fine,” she says.
Zahra is strong – in mind and in body. Beware, Chihuahua you are not getting away this time.