Trigger Warning: I talk about my weight, unhealthy eating habits, and food issues in detail here, so if you’re suffering from eating disorders or feel personally attacked by these topics, I suggest leaving this page.
More than a month ago, I decided to take on Wanafit’s 4 Week Challenge where not only do I do various workouts for five weeks, but also take on food challenges within those five days: from “No added sugars” to even “Low/No carb/sodium”.
Everyone participating in the challenge had been amazing and very supportive. Which was why by the end of the four weeks I actually succeeded in making some significant changes.
Sure, in terms of weight, I only lost about 2kgs but I also lost 10cm off my waist! Which to me is the biggest sign that I had gained muscle and lost a lot of fat during this time. I also became one of the winners of the challenge, to which I am eternally grateful of and keeps me motivated to keep going! (Had it not been for the fact that I sprained my back last week, ah…)
Current weight and fitness goals
I think what got me emotional about this entire journey is that I finally hit one of my fitness goals of being below 95kg and maintaining that. My next goal is to be below 90kg with a below 40% fat percentage (now that I am utilising a digital scale that can measure that).
So how much do I weigh now? I’m at 93kg with 43% fat percentage! Yes, that’s HEAVY and A LOT. Trust me, I had a shock when I found out I was even in the 90kg bracket years ago (I think it was around 2012, so that means I have been around 90kg for close to a decade now). It sure didn’t look like it to me, especially since based on BMI I am considered obese and I don’t look like a stereotypical obese person.
But it was when I really started working out at Wanafit’s studio (before the pandemic hit) and saw my body in action did I realise that I really was fat. The huge, unavoidable mirrors played a big role in this of course. I definitely was in some level of denial as I didn’t want to see myself in a negative light that may lead to self-deprecation once I realised how big I was, and I totally would considering I had been battling depression for years.
The worse part was that I didn’t stay within the 90kg bracket. It all spiraled even further when I started taking antidepressants and weighed at over 100kg in 2017, where the highest I ever measured was around 105-107kg likely due to fluctuations. I would have weighed and kept track of this more, had it not been such a hit to my already fragile self esteem and weakened mental health.
Also, under normal circumstances I would hide these numbers. But just as how there are other people who withclose their financial numbers for the sake of teaching (and relating) to others as well as hold some level of accountability, I will do the same.
My weight did drop after changing my medication, but it stayed within the 95-100kg bracket. Which was why my initial fitness goal was to get below 95kg and stay there. Which, so far has been a success! Now to get below 90kg!
To really talk about my fitness journey, I will need to talk about this insane weight gain and my past unhealthy eating habits that led me to where I was before. Because in the course of fixing my eating habits, I had to learn and understand a lot more about myself and my relationship with food.
What caused my weight gain?
It should be no surprise that the main reason I gained so much weight is unhealthy eating due to stress and depression. There were a lot of family and work issues affecting me, and my then untreated depression, led me to eat more than I ever realised. Mainly because food was the biggest source of pleasure I had.
Recently as I started to limit in indulging my sweet tooth, I realised that when I eat something sweet, I get this rush of happiness and pleasure hitting me straight in my brain. I experience a literal sugar rush that really puts a smile on my face and even makes me let out those gross moans you hear from people who do mukbang haha.
I can’t tell if it’s due to the fact that I cut off antidepressants that I am now more sensitive to these things where I can actually feel the rush, but it made me realise this is why I ate more than I thought I did. Food was one of the few sources of happiness and stress relief I had at the time, so of course I was going to eat more.
So yes, I knew I ate a lot, but couldn’t comprehend how much I ate. I only realised something was wrong when, back in 2017, I bought a pack of four cranberry cheese buns during lunch hour at work and thought that I would eat two today and the other two tomorrow.
I ate them all in a day.
Easy access to indulge in unhealthy eating
From there, I bring up another issue I had with my unhealthy eating: the places I used to work at gave me easy access to these indulgences. When I felt stressed, I could go to the nearest bubble tea shop or bakery for a little pick-me-up. A quick trip to the bathroom may lead me to the pantry for some snacks of biscuits and bread paired with instant 3-in-1 coffee or milo to bring back to my desk.
Really stressed out? Just walking to the nearest convenience store and buying a sweet treat would always do the trick, and I am back on it again.
I also wasn’t intuitive enough to know when I was actually full. It took me way too long to realise that I had eaten enough, and that switch from hungry to full wasn’t gradual either. It was instant. So I would tend to eat two servings before that “I’m full!” signal finally hit. If I stopped to wait and see if I was full, my brain would insist that I was still ravenous and needed to eat more.
This could be because of my depression that the connection between my brain and stomach wasn’t really in sync (fun fact: there’s a reason why your the gut is called the second brain and has links to depression). But yeah, it doesn’t take much to make me eat more as it takes way too long for me to realise that I had eaten enough.
While yes, the blame is solely on me and my decisions, I am not going to deny that my unhealthy eating and food choices were also influenced by those around me.
The people around me weren’t helpful with my unhealthy eating habits either. My colleagues would encourage me to get that treat, joining me to indulge as we were all stressed out. My husband, back when we were dating, was very aware of my sweet tooth and loved to feed me sweets and cakes cause he loved seeing me in “sugar rush” mode. Thankfully, he is now respectful of my recent quest to limit them.
My own upbringing played a part too, as I also recently learned that my parents have never been the epitome of healthy eating. They both spent most of the time working so their relationship with food is pretty twisted as well. They tend to focus on cheap, high carb foods, as it saves money and keeps us full.
This meant they tend to buy food from stalls outside mainly consisting of Nasi Lemak, chicken rice, wantan mee, bihun noodles, and the occasional mixed rice with vegetables. My mother especially loved bread and buns with fillings, a habit I picked up from her as well seeing how much I love bakeries. It’s cheap, and filling, but high in carbs and sodium.
Even their food choices when eating out are questionable. A few years ago, we planned to go out for dinner and I suggested we eat banana leaf rice as it at least came with (unlimited) vegetables. My parents disagreed as they thought rice was bad, and instead chose hokkien mee which, for those unaware, is noodles cooked in pork lard and had little to no vegetables (Penang hokkien mee is totally different too). To them, noodles was the better/healthier carb option and it still baffles me.
My parents aren’t very good cooks either. Their cooking tends to come from cans or packets, like instant curry sauce or canned meat or soup, to make cooking easier as they did lead hectic lifestyles. Now that they have retired though, some of these habits remained though they are still working through it.
I don’t blame them at all, they had to make do after all with their focus being earning enough money to support the family, and both just aren’t the type to cook to begin with. They did their best to feed me and my sister, so I can’t outright say they should have done better, as it’s all in the past. The most I can do is move forward with a better knowledge of my eating habits and learn to say no to their food options, or help them cook better.
Lesson: Don’t trust your brain to make the best eating decision
I suppose the good part about having a mental illness is learning that you can’t always trust your brain to make the best decision for you, even if it makes you happy.
It’s the same with depression after all: your thoughts are not your reality. You thinking that you’re worth nothing or don’t deserve to live is nothing more than your brain thinking that way due to the immense emotional pain. And that’s when your brain starts doing bad things to you to protect yourself from further pain and sadness, like refusing to leave your bed, or snapping at your loved ones.
The same can be said with eating habits. Food can be so powerful and addictive that it will alter your brain into thinking that eating more of the bad things is actually doing good things to you. That if it looks and tastes good, and it fills your stomach, then there’s nothing wrong with eating more.
Fun fact: There are food companies deliberately making food addictive so your brain will light up to want to buy and eat more. You can read more about this here.
Your brain isn’t capable of registering what nutrients your body needs, as it will focus more on what feels right, what lights up the good stuff in your brain, completely changing that want for high sugar/salt items into a need. Nutrients be damned.
This is where, if you’re determined to work through unhealthy eating habits, you have to change your relationship with food and how you approach what you eat. Which isn’t easy if you’re mentally ill, or had traumatic experiences that make food your only source of comfort.
This is why it’s good to see a doctor or a therapist that can guide you through better eating habits. They may even work with you to talk about the cause of the bad eating habits, because that may be what you need first: some emotional guidance and support.
Other methods you can consider is working through your habits. In my past post, I share how learning I’m an Obliger meant I need someone to be accountable to to develop better habits. In the same way, knowing the kind of person you are might help you develop better habits for yourself, even when it comes to eating.
Most importantly, you have to learn to be kind to yourself. Your brain can be evil by making you do all the wrong things, and then guilt trip you for it, but that doesn’t mean you should hate yourself further. Even though I still weigh over 90kg, and had plenty of failures trying to lose weight before, I’m not going to tear myself or my past self down for trying.
I am in a better mental state now to see it as a challenge to better myself, as that is what I truly want for myself. And hopefully, if your struggles are the same as mine, you can see it that way too.
How I curbed some bad eating habits
I have met plenty of failures to curb my unhealthy eating habits, but now I am currently doing some level of intermittent fasting which has benefitted me the most. I learnt that I am definitely the kind of person who doesn’t really need breakfast. My hunger doesn’t kick in that much during the mornings, so why should I eat if I don’t feel hungry?
As such, on good days, I only eat lunch (or brunch) and dinner with little to no snacks in between). On not so good days, I eat breakfast and a little more than that.
Thankfully my good days have been a lot more, as thanks to this diet I learnt to tell when I am actually hungry or full, or just plain bored and want something to tasty in my mouth even though I’m full. The Obligator in me would still have a hard time saying no to eating breakfast with my mother though, but thankfully that’s been less this year since I started taking my fitness a little more seriously.
My current food goal is to cook more of my own food, and learn healthier foods not just for myself, but for my families as well. I also want to increase my fiber intake more so I am trying to eat more fruits and vegetables too, on top of continuing the Wanafit food challenge of limiting added sugars and more.
In my future posts, I will share more on my failures that actually led to some wins in my fitness goals, and more about how working out has benefited me!