Of Weight loss, Thyroid and Fitness – Reena Narula's Story
I would like to dedicate this small (yes…small!) write-up to all the lazybones out there who know it is healthy to get out of the couch and get moving…..yet get pulled back by lack of awareness, body weight issues, fatigue, injuries and what not.
My ordeal with my body weight goes far back in time. As far as I remember, it started when I entered my teens – it seemed as if one fine morning every girl in my class woke up to the horror of her fat body. We were suddenly more conscious of our appearance and started something or the other to lose that extra fat. My best friends got into yoga and dieting and I, as I always loved activities which involved a bit of moving around, got into tennis. So I started playing an exhausting sport and feeding myself very sparingly. On most days my diet involved a cucumber sandwich in the morning, one roti with some sabzi in lunch and just some watermelon juice for dinner. I rode high on the crash dieting wave and lost close to 10kgs in 6 months.
This was the story of class 12th. No wonder as soon as I got into college, with the change in routine and friends I could no longer continue starving myself and promptly gained back all that weight (maybe a kg or two more!).
So this pattern repeated itself over the years. I don’t know whether it was genetic (I am a Punjabi and a born foodie) or not, I had trouble in maintaining a regular diet regimen. I had phases when I would diet and do lots of cardio and lose lot of weight only to gain it all back soon. Of course I had a good reason to do a lot of shopping to buy lots of clothes as my sizes were changing so frequently!
Then some time in 2013 I realised that somehow losing weight wasn’t as easy any more. It seemed to me that I was just piling up kilos no matter what. I switched to salads for dinner, banned chocolates, stopped eating out but still the needle on my weighing machine would cunningly sneak to its right every time I stood on it! Was it because I was on the other side of 30? Many of my batch mates were surely gaining weight!
First Tryst with Running
I decided I definitely needed to be more disciplined in life. So I thought of taking up one exercise on a regular basis. I came across a running club in my complex and liked the idea. I dreamt about stepping out on early mornings, jogging non-stop, wind in my hair, long strides, my body just gliding, and what not – I had always loved the image of running. On my own I was managing a run-walk pattern of 2-2.5 kms every day. I thought joining a group would give me the required discipline and I would automatically get better at it.
So I started running with the Group RUN AMRIT SHAKTI from Nahar Amrit Shakti in Chandivali, Mumbai. I ran 5km on the first day and it terribly exhausting run. I struggled throughout and only got through thanks to the generous encouragement and goading from my mates. It was embarrassing to be the slow turtle of the group.
I stayed with the group for a few months struggling through the runs. A spate of injuries didn’t help. One time I twisted my ankle, my hamstring got pulled once. I just didn’t seem to be improving while everyone else was.
Unsurprisingly, with my motivation down, it wasn’t long before I stopped running. I promptly gained 5kgs in 6 months.
A medical check-up revealed that I had hypothyroid. So all this while I was punishing myself and feeling while thyroid was the culprit!
I read everywhere that hypothyroidism makes you gain weight. Yes, I had detected it before it was too late; but more needed to be done. I was put on daily pills for treatment.
My angels – Rujuta and Sourish
I had a strong feeling that my problems couldn’t just be blamed on hormones. Being a fitness enthusiast (ok, ok, I was fitness conscious at least) I felt the need for a lifestyle change.
So I signed up with ‘Fitness First’, a gym not so close to my place but with a lot of group activities. I felt I needed group action to keep me going. And there was so much variety. I could do yoga on one day, zumba on another, kickboxing on the third, and so on.
We often hear: when you desire something strongly, the universe conspires to fulfill your wish.
First conspiracy of the universe – I read Rujuta Diwekar’s book Don’t Lose Out, Work Out.
It changed my world.
I realized that exercise was much more than cardio or yoga. Critical points that Rujuta makes –
- Cardio/aerobic exercises must be complemented by a strong musculoskeletal system. In other words, do strength exercises for major muscles to avoid injuries during cardio activities..
- There’s a difference between weight loss and fat loss. While most of us say weight loss, even losing a limb would technically result in weight loss. We need to focus on fat loss.
I latched onto every concept in the book. I made notes, googled unfamiliar terms – ATP, Vo2 Max, Periodization, Hypertrophy etc. Fitness was a more complex science than I had ever imagined!
The book was good theory and there kicked in the second conspiracy of the universe – encounter with Sourish.
Sourish, a trainer at Fitness First gym, conducted a brief orientation when I joined. He mentioned the word ‘transformation’ and I was bowled over.
Transformation caught my fancy because –
- I wanted to be a fit person
- I wanted to avoid taking pills for the rest of life of my life
- I was sick of being a pendulum swinging from Yay to Nay
- I wanted to be a happier person
A do or die situation really.
In the very first strength training session with Sourish, I knew I was in good hands. He doubled up as a dietician too. I had to eat smaller portions of food and increase my protein intake. My typical diet which was 70-80% carbs had to be changed to a 40:40:20 ratio of proteins, carbs and fat.
It was hard at first to down all the protein shakes and egg whites but slowly I started realising the difference it was making to me.
3 months of strength training and a strict adherence to the diet regime meant I was well on my way of transformation.
I felt fitter than ever before. I was confident and brave enough to go on a trek in the Himalayas and do a scuba diving course in Thailand. I wanted to be on the move even on vacations! And ofcourse I started running again.
I stayed with the program and 9 months of focussed exercise and diet regimen changed me and my body completely. I ran the Half Marathon (21km) in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) in Jan 2015 with a very respectable timing of 2hrs 40 min.
From a reluctant runner I became a half marathoner with a disciplined life. My TSH was within normal level and the hypothyroidism was gone. My body fat reduced and I began to feel very good about myself. The transformation was complete.
I exercise 5 days a week and saying no to overeating comes without much effort (most of the times!). My fat% has gone down from 38% to 26% and I am targeting 20% in the next few months.
As I feel more confident after maintaining a regular exercise regime for almost 2 years, I am targeting a better timing in next year’s SCMM marathon.
In a nutshell
The key things I learned:
- Strength training/cross training is very important before you start any new activity which puts any strain on your joints
- Invest in a good trainer/gym in the first 2-3 months. This will help you learn the fundamentals about technique and form. Exercise is a complete science in itself so go with someone who is qualified and experienced.
- Pay attention to nutrition. If right nutrients are not fed to the body before and after a workout, exercise will be counterproductive. Very often recovery and fatigue problems go back to improper nutrition.
- Invest in reading up about exercise and nutrition – I think it’s worthwhile to invest at least this much in maintaining your body which you are going occupy for a lifetime.
Reena Narula is a Mumbai -based Fitness enthusiast.