We’ve all been there, sitting in science class stinking of BO and Lynx because we were too embarrassed to shower after PE. It’s a sad truth that overweight teens have to contend with all manner of bullying to cripple an already fragile self-image. But the nerds will conquer the world, as they say, and those of us who were stocky, shy and retiring in school are often the ones who learned how to make a decent graph – just the skill one needs in order to successfully maintain weight loss.
Plan: Calorie counting and exercise (mainly cardio)
How did you get to the position where you needed to lose weight?
I grew up in Tunisia. And I can recall crystal clear, the day in 6th grade of elementary school (I was around 10) when a classmate started telling everyone in the playground I was the class’ fattest. I didn’t even understand what he was on about. I didn’t know what being fat was.
But ever since that day, I realized that I was becoming overweight compared to my mates. And that triggered a vicious circle of negative thoughts and consequences: I get conscious about my weight, I hide from the world in my safe haven of my room (with video games and movies), I get fatter, repeat…
Even though the diet in my childhood was far from the best as traditional Tunisian food is really high in fat and oil, I wouldn’t single out my eating habits as the sole source of my weight issues. For me it was mainly the sedentary style of life that was kind of imposed upon me by being overweight.
“It was a vicious circle of negative thoughts about myself”
What negative experiences did you have of being overweight?
The fact that I didn’t have a normal teenage life. The sometimes hurtful remarks you hear. The physical education classes where you can’t really pull off 3 laps around the track (1200m) without almost dying, and then you go to the changing room and you don’t change because your body is a mess. I grew up with really frail self-confidence.
How did having low self-esteem impact on your life?
After PE classes I used to change my outer layer clothes only and I would never strip like my classmates because of how ashamed of my body I was. I used to avoid going to the beach with people I knew to avoid the embarrassment of showing my belly flaps to them. I have almost no pictures of me from this time in my life.
I used to be fat and even among fat people I felt that I looked really bad. But I’m thankful for that.
I was not a social type of person growing up and so naturally I didn’t get to make many pics as it is, but in my mind I was confident that if I wanted to take pictures, I could, but whenever I did I was shocked when seeing what the camera saw. And slowly that shock made me avoid getting photographed altogether instead of tackling the main issue.
You see, during my whole life, I used to find a plethora of excuses: genetics, slow metabolism, I thought at some point I was sick or something which prevented me from being normal. I pinned every reason I could think of on myself but never got myself to see that in order to change, I need to be that change.
What made you decide to change?
You know, I can’t really think of any particular event, or word that triggered my change. It was sort of a cumulative effect of various reasons, events and remarks.
Yes, I had my heart broken but that wasn’t it. I had my health issue as I hurt myself during a football game as I tore my left knee’s meniscus (I used to always assume goalkeeper position obviously).
It was then I realized my body was decaying, and that I would suffer severe consequences in my middle age if I didn’t start doing something about it. I was 25, supposedly at the prime of my life, except I was the complete opposite of that. And that thought was actually triggered in my mind when I read the following Socrates quote: “No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”
All of these factors, fused with the years of frustration with the state of my body and the shame of having lost so many years of my life to this monster we call “fat” made me decide to put an end to it. And actually compiling my thoughts and putting them in writing like I do right now, that decision doesn’t seem like a heroic stand at all. It was an absolute necessity!
“In order to change, I need to be that change”
What made it different from the times before?
Well, A LOT! I recall in my teenage years some attempts I made to lose weight. I used to skip dinner, but eat furiously at breakfast. I used to mistake digestion with calorie consumption so I thought eating dinner early helped (yep, I used to be an idiot).
I lacked guidance, but also lacked resources to learn how to effectively lose weight. Add to this the fact that I kept my sedentary lifestyle, and you’ll get a couple of lousy attempts that only anchored in me the belief that there was some external force, or some illness that prevented me from being normal.
How did you do it?
I simply started doing it. Before I started losing weight, I dropped down to 95kg (209lbs) but it was nothing serious. I started counting calories, and working out persistently (started at 3 times a week, but then kicked up a notch to 5 times a week.)
I deleted my video games and momentarily left my gaming buddies. I disappeared off the internet and concentrated on getting my journey objectives done. I kept a calendar on the wall, on which I logged every morning weigh-in, and then I had the idea of ticking off the days I worked out in to keep myself going.
Yes I skipped a few workouts that the start and even the middle of my journey. But there were also days where I had absolutely no motivation to go run or cycle and just wanted to sit there playing video games or watching TV, but I had the guts and integrity to say no. And I assure anyone who’s reading this that it’s those days that make the difference between a winner and a loser.
Wise words. How did exercise help on your journey?
Throughout my journey my workouts were really important to me. Ever since I realized the state that my body was in I envied athletes, especially runners. I admired their ability to run kilometers upon kilometers without stopping for a breather and I aimed to get there too.
Unfortunately, I have been plagued by injuries. I got shin splints at first, then realized I didn’t have proper shoes, but even when I bought new shoes, I got shin splints again. I realized I wasn’t doing enough of a warm up and through warming up properly I thought I’d cracked it. I built up to running a solid 8km (almost 5 miles) , but then I got runner’s knee (iliotibial band syndrome) and it hurt like hell. I couldn’t even go down stairs without experiencing extreme pain, so I started biking instead of running.
That made me lose all the shape I had gathered while running and I had to restart my training from scratch. When I was able to run again I incorporated an even more complex warmup routine and also started doing a cool down routine. Eventually, I was able to run 16km (10 miles). And I can’t describe how it felt to conquer my own personal Everest.
I didn’t have the luxury of having a coach. That probably could’ve saved me a few weeks of injury, but I had a gym membership and the internet at my disposal. So I made the best of it.
What did you eat before you lost weight?
As I mentioned earlier, food wasn’t the main reason I was overweight, it was more my inactivity. That being said, my diet was far from the best.
I had an unusual love for spaghetti, pizza, french fries and worst of all, black seeds and chips. I used to be able to eat a whole can of Pringles during a movie with no issue or remorse, I used to spend my time gaming and crunching black seeds or nuts.
My worst eating habit, was that I ate away my dull life. Whenever I found myself sitting around, I would have preferred to be eating something. And that’s still true actually. That’s why I try to reduce those moments to a minimum throughout the day.
What do you eat now?
– Breakfast: Black coffee, cereal bar. ~ 200 calories
– Lunch: Salad + chicken (cooked or grilled) or fish (steamed) sometimes a 100g steak + 1 or 2 yogurts ~ 500 calories
– Snack before workout: Coffee + Biscuit or a banana ~ 100 calories
– Dinner: Soup or Salad + Egg or Meat ~ 500 calories
I have days below or above this average, but I try my best to revolve around this routine.
How was the journey? Straightforward or were there a few plateaus along the way?
The journey has been bumpy, and still is as I aim to lose the last 4kgs. I’ve had periods where I’ve almost relapsed to my previous lifestyle as I did before in my first attempt to lose weight. Back then, I convinced myself that it was just not meant to be, that I’m a nerd with a fat body and that’s just who I am. And I’m ashamed to say that I fell for it.
This time though my biggest enemy was not myself as usual, even though I have been a worthy opponent, but the injuries I had. In my weight progress graphs you’ll notice that except for 2 periods of holidays during which I couldn’t workout and indulged myself while eating with friends and family, it was all a free fall. But it’s simple mathematics really.
Atef’s weight loss graph
“I now wake up easily in the morning with much more will to live”
How has life changed now you’ve lost the weight?
Confidence. I am a thousand times more confident now than ever, even at work. Before this, when I stepped in a conference room or a meeting, I would be telling myself “Everybody is looking at your massive body right now” and that would throw me off. I would pick the farthest chair, and choose to hide whenever I could, I would never speak unless addressed and I would never do anything noticeable. But now I am so much more confident.
Healthwise I now sleep much better and my heart rate has dropped to around 54 bpm at rest.
In French there’s the expression “se sentir bien dans sa peau” which roughly translates to “feeling good about yourself” and that pretty much sums it all up. I now wake up easily in the morning with much more will to live and make the most of my day.
Who helped you the most and who got in the way?
Jokes aside, nobody helped me as much as myself. But the fact that I had a friend who goes to the gym regularly also helped. Also a massive shoutout to the YouTube motivation channels. I have some videos bookmarked that I had playing every time I started questioning myself and wanted to stay home and play video games instead of going out and workout.
Another important inspiration was the challenges I used to boost my performance such as the https://ilovetorun.org challenge of running 1000 miles in 2017. When I set these goals, my competitive self does the rest.
The calendar Atef uses to log his workouts
What YouTube videos do you find motivating?
This is one of my favourite videos from one of my favourite YouTube channels.
There are so many times when I’ll come home from work not having a single thread of will in me to go and workout for 2 hours, and when that happens I just play this and next thing I know I’m packing my gym bag and hitting the treadmill.
The funny thing is that a few months ago I would have laughed at the prospect of listening to a pep talk, let alone seeking out motivational videos, but once I was in a position that desperately required special measures, turns out I was dead wrong and they’re actually a great help.
What surprised you about losing weight?
How straightforward it was. Whatever input you provide, the system awards you with the appropriate output. There were no tricks to it. That completely surprised me.
If you could go back to the person you were at your heaviest – what would you say to him?
MOVE! Nobody is asking you to have a six pack. But fat is dangerous, it’s lethal. If someone had a gun pointed to your head wouldn’t you try to shake it off? Then why would you accept having a poison in your system and still do nothing about it? You don’t have to be perfect, nobody is, just start with small steps.
You’re Prime Minister for the day, what one law do you bring in to help others who are obese?
Provide them with access to sports equipment with proper coaching and motivational material.
What three things do other fat men need to know about losing weight?
CICO (calories in < calories out) works, count your calories people!
Alternate your workouts and surprise your body. Routine makes you burn fewer calories and see less results, but it also makes you get bored fast.
Build muscle, it’s like having an agent on the inside that works in your favour by raising your metabolism and burning fat.
What else should we know about your weight loss story?
I am far from being done. This is just the beginning. I know regret is a waste of time, but I really wish I’d done this sooner. But one thing is for sure, I’ll try to channel that frustration my workouts.