“I took away my kids' PlayStaytion 4,” says Syed Mehdi, a Pakistani expat based in Dubai. The 41-year-old had just won brownie points with his children a few months earlier when he returned home to Karachi, where the three currently live, so this was bad. This was really bad.
But it was also tough love. Mehdi, who got rid of 27kg in about 8 months, is adamant that his progeny will not go through what he did.
The shock came this March, when he took his fever-ridden self to a doctor in Karachi for a check-up. This health official sent him for a slew of tests, then told him the results that he already suspected: At the height of 187cm, Mehdi was cradling an excess of about 37.5kg. His lipid profile, cholesterol and sugar levels were elevated. With a family history of heart troubles – his father passed away from a heart attack – he was a walking, talking time bomb. Frightened for his family, for what would happen to his children – the youngest of whom is only 5 – his wife and his mother if something untoward were to happen to him? The thought kept him awake that night; he decided it was time for action.
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Once he returned to Dubai, he began to make healthier choices, swapping out rice for brown bread, lunch for bits of fruit and dinner time meals for water. [His last plate for the day would be ready by 6.30pm.] His portion sizes shrunk. His exercise time increased; he went from walking half an hour to about three hours a day. “From half hour to one hour…I was making a habit, no slacking. It’s like I have to eat, in the evening, I have to walk. Irrespective if the weather is hot, it was just something I thought I should do,” he said.
The rainbow of food choices was reserved for the weekend, explains Mehdi – he’d eat pizza or rice or whatever else he wanted to, in moderate portions. “One day I eat [two such meals]. I eat pizza I take the privilege, because I feel I can’t leave everything just like that. My intake is much less [though] than what I used to eat,” he says.
Mehdi also began to use his work lunch hour to get more exercise in. “My job is mobile. But I have a lunch hour, I eat fruits, I go to waterpark for swimming, only half-an-hour. I just push my limits. I used to spend time watching movies on the laptop, on social media. I’ve cut that off up to 90 per cent. That time I invest towards my walk and my exercise,” he says.
And so came the changes. “For me for two weeks, I don’t lose any weight, then suddenly it starts – then 2 kg goes back in another 10 days. I also keep changing my routine so the body doesn’t get used to it,” he says about overcoming weight plateaus.
His happiness also comes from sending home selfies to his family and bathing in their encouragement. But here’s where things got a bit annoying, for the young-ins. “When I started changing myself, I started seeing my kids spending too much time on the television. I took [their] PS4. Instead of that, I bought them cricket kits, new cycles, physical activity gear – all those things – I push them to go to the ground and be physical.
“Even my wife, even [though] she doesn’t like to go out, she’s taking them religiously at least 1-1.5 hours. When I changed myself, I thought, my kids should be healthy [too], you know?”
For a while there was tension – the kind any parent trying to pry a game out of a kid’s hands is familiar with. But it comes with the territory, you know? Being a dad is tough. Being a role model though is much much harder.