Dubai: Vatsal Shah, 17, had struggled with obesity since childhood.
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Growing up, the Grade 12 student of Raffles World Academy in Dubai faced several health issues, including hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
These medical conditions were diagnosed before he turned 10 years old. Fast forward seven years, Shah now is 70kg lighter – which he lost over 18 months.
Before August 2020, when Shah was 13, he tipped the scales at 140kg and had a BMI of 47 (obese). Now he weighs 73kg with an ideal BMI 23 (normal).
Diabetes and hypertension
Shah is also free of diabetes and hypertension. He has become a social media content creator, sharing his weight-loss journey on Instagram.
In an interview with Gulf News, Shah said a new mindset changed the course of his life.
“During the [COVID-19] pandemic, my weight-related concerns worsened. Besides hypertension and diabetes, for which I was on medication, I developed sleep apnea as well. This was a critical point in my life and it was then that I decided to take control of my health,” he added.
Weight loss journey
Shah soon embarked on a weight-loss journey.
“It started with swimming as my stamina was too low to do a high-intensive cardio workout. I could not run. So during school breaks, I would hit the swimming pool and do a few laps. It was hard initially. But gradually it got better.”
His parents supported Shah on his weight-loss mission.
“We discarded all fatty and junk food from the house. We stopped getting chocolates, biscuits and fast food,” the teen said.
Shah's mother also introduced changes in her cooking.
“Instead of eating four plates of food for a meal, I dropped it to two before slowly reducing it to even lesser portions. I replaced fatty food for snacks with nuts and protein chips. I included oats into my daily food meals. Although my parents were not obese, they too joined me by giving up fatty and unhealthy food.”
It was tough, but Shah refused to give up.
“There were times I lacked the will power to stay on the diet. But I would quickly get back on the journey. I failed countless times, but I lifted myself to get back onto my path of good health and well-being.”
Gaining confidence, sharing journey
Shah said when he was obese his self-esteem had touched an all-time low. “But when I started losing weight my confidence rose. In Grade 10, I was a topper...My academics improved consistently thanks to my new self,” he added.
Shah started sharing fitness videos on his Instagram handle (@fitness_freak_) to inspire other children struggling with weight issues.
“The positive response from my Instagram followers pushed me to create more fitness videos and stay on course to lose more weight.”
He has over 15,000 followers on Insta. “The Instagram handle focused on offering health and fitness advice to thousands of users.”
Shah also launched a website with workout videos on dynamic stretching, cardio fitness, and weight training to provide guidance to others.
“In collaboration with [establishments] in the UAE, I formed a community of more than 15,000 individuals.”
Shah also turned to health advocacy and his efforts included a TEDx talk delivered at Raffles World Academy.
His enthusiasm to share his weight-loss journey helped him write and publish a book, titled Rebirth of Strength.
Part of the income from the book’s sales goes to the Access Life Foundation in India to help schoolchildren.
“I have also collaborated with local hospitals in India and Kenya to organise mindfulness sessions for patients and connect them with health experts.”
His outreach has spanned multiple countries, including India, Kenya, Singapore, Brazil, Bahrain, and the UK.
“I hope that my work elevates global health awareness and benefits as many people as possible,” Shah said.