Many people have asked me to tell my story, how I lost weight from 66 kg just before giving birth to my fourth baby, to my current weight of 48 kg.
This time, compared to my previous three pregnancies, has been the most difficult of all. Having said that, I always knew I’d go back to my normal self. It was just a matter of time, insya Allah. Being heavy doesn’t come naturally to me.
Now I’m supposed to write something about exercise that I can share at the Medical Mythbuster’s Malaysia facebook page. So maybe this is a good time to share my story.
The pregnancy wasn’t planned. I thought that my third child was my last and by the time she was 3 years old, I had achieved what I thought previously was impossible, body age of 23 at age 35.
Body age is basically a reflection of life-span, and a prolonged life span, which denotes health, is related inversely to risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, which is measured from ‘visceral fat’ levels, that is the amount of fat inside a person’s abdominal cavity, or surrounding the organs such as the liver and intestines. Visceral fat is different from subcutaneous fat, which is what you can pinch at the tummy area.
I’ll add the evidence-base later, now I just want to tell my story and not worry about the scientific details.
What I did to achieve that weight of 48 kg, (which was my weight before I became pregnant in March 2014), was a combination of healthy diet and exercise. I never really followed any strict diet or plan.
Perhaps by nature I have always been on the slim side, and my family too are the same, so there is a genetic advantage. Even so, a lot of things required effort. After one year plus at 48 kg, I decided to reset my goals to weight of 44 kg, which was what I was before having my first baby.
While diet, or watching what I eat, remains an important part of weight management, exercise is the ‘fun’ part, what I enjoy most.
Here are my tips for anyone who desires to start exercising regularly, be it for health reasons, to stay fit, to compete (ok, I think you need to seek advice from other people on that aspect), or to lose weight.
- You have to really want it. Really want to lose weight. Really want to be fit. Really want that medal. Whatever the reason, there must be passion involved. If someone else has to wake you up for that morning run, or remind you its time to exercise, well, it’s just not going to last.
- Make a plan. Training for my first half marathon was difficult partly because I had no idea what to do. So if you want to run marathons, then it would be a good idea to find friends who have actually done it, and if you don’t have any such friends, make new ones. There are plenty of running groups in facebook (and I’m sure for other types of exercise) where you can ask questions and get much needed advice.
- If your family and friends are just not into exercise (not surprising since 80% of Malaysians do not exercise) then you be the person to change them. You be the motivator.
Find an exercise that you absolutely love and will miss if not done regularly. If that exercise doesn’t exist, then create it or find it.
I have tried:
- Belly dance aerobics
- Kayaking or canoeing
- Weight lifting
I’m sure there’s more that I can’t recall. Anyway, the main thing is, if you don’t know what you like, then try out a few different things. Soon, you will find something.
I thought belly dance aerobics was more fun that being an actual work-out. Maybe I was doing it wrongly, I don’t know. But it took too long to sweat. Also, I had to drive to a certain place at a certain time. That worked when my kids were a bit bigger (like three and above) but when you have a child less than three years old, flexibility is everything.
Swimming was fun too, but again, I had to drive somewhere and the changing room was just a nightmare. The pool wasn’t the cleanest either, so after sometime, I decided I didn’t want to continue with it anymore. I loved the classes but hated the changing clothes part. Just didn’t work out.
Now, a few years down the line, I chose running because it’s flexible and it’s a good cardio work-out that I can do with minimal fuss. Running, like anything else, has it’s share of downsides. So I have plan B. Plan B is cycling.
During the rainy season, when I was heavily pregnant, when it wasn’t suitable to go outside (like during the fasting month when the only time to exercise properly is when its dark), the home exercise bike is a great investment and substitute. I think the hardcore runner would prefer a treadmill, but I love cycling because it takes stress off the knees, while remaining a good cardio work out.
The year 2013 was the first time I actually exercised through out Ramadhan. I would get up at 4 am so that I could cycle and eat sahur at 5 am with the rest of the family. When I re-started jogging during Syawal, it felt absolutely great. I was lighter and just as fast as I was before the fasting. Before that, I would normally take a break from exercise during Ramadhan.
One year later, I got pregnant and was lucky my nausea and vomiting of pregnancy cleared up just before the start of the fasting month. I fasted but did not exercise. After the fasting month I continued with my evening walks at the park and some indoor cycling.
After selecting the right exercise, do write down your goals. Maybe you want to climb Everest/Kinabalu or swim across the Straits of Malacca or just complete a triathlon. Write it down and set a time limit. Stick it somewhere you can see often (five times a day would be good).
If you decide (like me) that running is your thing, then my specific advice is:
- Invest in the most quality pair of running shoes you can afford. At first, I ran for run and to stay fit. There’s a park near my mum’s house which is within walking distance. Sometimes I’d run, sometimes I didn’t. I wore a pair of sports shoes, but it wasn’t a pair of running shoes. My first pair of running shoes was amazing, it was like running on air, it made a lot of difference, at least I felt it did.
- The day I made the decision to train seriously was the day I signed up for a half-marathon. Of course, I did this with a LOT of encouragement from a friend. Sign up for an official event and train for it.
I remember thinking when signing up, “should I go for the 10 km, 21 km or 42 km event?”. I thought for awhile and decided that, since I was running 5 km on alternate week days and about 10 km at the weekend, a 10 km event was not a sufficient motivator. I knew I was able to do 10 km (at that point in time but certainly not now). Nowadays, running 5 km is a challenge. I am no where near the fitness level and stamina I was back then in 2013. I hope I can build back what was once lost.
I paid money to sign up for an event and suddenly, everything changed. I thought “what if I didn’t qualify?” That would be pretty embarrassing. So I decided to at least increase whatever chances there were to ‘make it’.
I would go and run about 5 km every other day, then at the weekend do ‘long distance runs’, which distance is gradually increased by 1 km a week. This is the best way to train for half marathons and full marathons (the latter I can only speak about in theory).
So choosing the right event depends on a lot of things. Not just current fitness level but the timing of the event is also important. I can only speak for myself, with my workload and family commitments, I need a few months to train comfortably towards an event. It will not be the same for any individual. Whatever time you think you need, it might be wise to add a few more weeks or one or two months, to take into consideration things that cannot be planned.
Tomorrow, I will be running my second event this year, just 6 km. Insya Allah. My plan is to run 10 km next in 3 months time, then 21 km mid 2017, perhaps just before the fasting month, and then full marathon at the end of the year. Insya Allah. That is my plan, things may or not follow accordingly, as we’ve seen in the past.
The idea is to maintain a doing 5 km alternate days during the week, then slowly increasing the distance of the weekend run. Example, week 1 – 10 km, week 2 -11 km, in 8 weeks, this will end in an 18 km weekend run which should be a few days before the actual event.
Every long distance weekend run will be painful. A bit painful, as the muscles grow to adapt to increasing need. But that’s the beauty of it (or maybe just the insanity part that comes with passion and love, I honestly don’t know).
My friend emailed me a template of the training schedule and I followed it, somewhat. Not having enough rest in between long distance runs is a sin. I learnt the hard way. It’s wrong to run 10 km and then 10 km again the next following day. I did that and suffered really bad, truly agonizing knee pain. I had to skip a few training sessions just to recover. It was an expensive lesson to learn.
To be continued.