Bilawal Khan
Bilawal Khan before (left) and after Image Credit: Supplied

Most people have negative self-talk. This wave of gloom that threatens to block out all the blue skies and all the silver linings. For Bilawal Khan, the thunder was two-fold; it came from himself and it came from everyone he knew. The constant refrain of ‘lose that weight’ was tough.

The 24-year-old Pakistani, who has been in the UAE since he was a year old, says he used to love sweet things – sugary drinks, chocolate, and so on. And no amount of playing field games such as football could balance out his intake. He kept packing on the kilos.

It wasn’t only Khan’s self-esteem that was taking a hit though; it was also his sleep. As Khan would fall into a deep slumber each night, he would begin to snore. And snore. And snore. The sound was so jarring and so loud that his parents – with whom he lives in Dubai – would wake him up just to ask him to stop. But snoring is caused by the relaxing of throat muscles and the interaction of airwaves – the more disturbed the breathing, the more sonorous it would seem. Each time the Khan would fall asleep, he would relax and so would begin the disturbing rhythms.

Tired of all the backlash, from friends and family, the 5-foot-2-inch tall expat decided on a course of action once he’d hit 108kg. He joined a gym. And he decided to rid himself of sugar drinks, at least for the moment. “It was in November 1, 2018. The first phase was obviously very tough. In the gym, people were looking at me and saying, ‘what he can do?’ My coach said, ‘now they are making fun of you but there will be a time they will appreciate you’.”

Food for the first three months
"For the first three months, I used to put lemon and honey in hot water and I used to drink that – that was my breakfast – I used to only drink that. In the afternoon, I would have peanut butter and two slices of brown bread. At night I used to have salads," recalls Khan.

When he joined, Khan used to do 1.5hours cardio and 30 mins of high-intensity interval training. He used to shy away from people. “I used to call my cousin and talk to him at the gym. I used to say, 'people are laughing, so I don’t feel comfortable'. He said, ‘just keep calm, use that as a motivation, don’t take it in a bad way and one day you should tell them, see, one day you laughed at me, and you look at the results’.”

And it’s worked, exclaims Khan, over the phone. “There was a time those people [who laughed at me] were appreciating me - on the last day when I was leaving my old gym, they said, ‘you are the motivation for us’.”

Today, the sprightly 79kg part-time student, part-time working man says what’s left of his long journey is stretch marks, a wariness of junk and sugary treats, and a built-up self-confidence that’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

“Now I’m gaining [muscles], I’m doing weight-lifting in the gym,” says Khan. “Now, I eat chicken breast, red beans and all the items which have protein in it.” It’s mostly boiled food, he says. But that’s ok. It’s a small price to pay to still the screaming voices. To quiet the negative self-talk.