HuffPost Canada's Lost It series chronicles the stories of everyday Canadians who have struggled with their weight — and won. We talk to people about what they eat, how they exercise and generally, what their healthy lifestyle is to maintain their weight now that they've lost it.
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By: Uthman Khan, as told to Chloe Tejada
Occupation: Academic Dean/Director of Research/Professor of Religious Scripture, Linguistics, Theology and Philosophy
I normally never talk about [this] because it is extremely personal. All of the weight I gained was because of stress and anxiety that was born out of decisions I was forced to make while growing up. And even though it seems those decisions were bad decisions, those decisions have taken me in the direction that I am in right now.
It was those decisions that put me on the street without a home in January 2010 and the stress and anxiety caused me to gain more weight and reach my highest point of 470 pounds.
It may seem paradoxical that a homeless person would gain weight but when all the food in the world is catering to obesity and bad health while healthy food costs too much, what else can we expect? Weight gain has a lot to do with stress and mental health.
The final straw:
In 2011, I was at my heaviest. I went to a pharmacy to pick up some pain medication and while waiting there I sat by the blood pressure machine and decided to check my blood pressure. I didn't know how to use it, so I asked the pharmacist to help me. He did and he jumped back when he saw the results and told me that if I don't change my diet and lose weight (and specifically to cut out salt) I will not live much longer.
Needless to say I was in a very bad position. My first stop on my way home was a GoodLife Fitness just to check it out, because I had never been inside a gym before.
I was very nervous going there and the first thing I noticed was all the fit and skinny people working out and no one as big as me. I wasn't even able to walk straight without limping. But I stuck to it and stayed there and signed up.
The employees at the gym didn't body shame me, rather, they motivated and encouraged me to come to the gym. The gym is a scary place for overweight people who have been constantly body shamed.
Getting to work
Over the course of the next five years I brought myself down to 410 pounds. However, I did not change my diet — I lost weight as a result of working out. I was very big but I had a lot of muscle.
During those five years I took the stance that if I want to get anywhere then I am the only one who can get myself there. I wasn't ready to take help from anyone. When I listened to people I ended up on the street with no money. I wasn't ready to bend my head to anyone. My wife was my biggest support and constantly told me to stop listening to others and stop falling for these external societal formalities.
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In 2016 I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and the doctor prescribed metformin, an anti-diabetic medication, and statins to lower my cholesterol levels.
I had severe anxiety when I bought the medication. I looked up "How to reverse diabetes" and could not find anything. However, I found a TEDX Talks video featuring Dr. Sarah Hallberg on how to reverse Type 2 diabetes. That video gave me so much hope because I knew diabetes would kill me and I felt that taking those medicines could do the same. [Editor's note: Talk to your doctor if you have questions about any prescribed medication.]
My third option was changing my diet, as recommended by Dr. Hallberg in her TEDX Talk. This was my final hope and I jumped on it. If I wanted to see my children growing up this was the only way. I threw away my medication and decided to reverse the diabetes and LDL cholesterol naturally. [Editor's note: Before throwing out prescribed medication and/or trying alternative treatment, talk to your doctor about your questions and concerns.]
I changed my diet, removed carbohydrates, "reset" my system, reversed my diabetes, and lowered my LDL cholesterol level.
I told a few doctors that I reversed my diabetes but their response was, "Once a diabetic always a diabetic." To this day, this rule doesn't apply to me because the biggest reason I knew I "reset" my system was that before I started on this journey, I had to go to the hospital because of sugar withdrawal and had terrible headaches.
But then one morning I woke up full of energy and no headache. I knew my insides had changed and there was something different about my mind and brain activity. I could see more clearly and think more objectively. I was ready to take on what the world was going to throw at me.
I overhauled my diet in June 2016 and by April 2017 I had lost over 150 pounds. To date, I've lost a total of 200 pounds.
[Editor's note: This is just one person's experience, and doesn't necessarily work for everyone. If you have diabetes and/or high LDL cholesterol levels, talk to your physician about treatment options that work for you.]
The exercise element:
In order to complete the overhauling of my body I had to make a very hard decision: get laser eye surgery or get a personal trainer at the gym, and I only had enough money to do one of them.
On my way home from the laser eye surgery consultation, I went to the GoodLife Fitness across the street from my house and consulted with one of the trainers. I went home and spent the night thinking about what to do. The next morning, I cancelled my laser eye surgery, went straight to the gym and put down $4,000 as a down payment for personal training. When I put the deposit down, I knew I had made the right decision and my mind was at ease.
The fitness industry encouraged me to advance my studies in personal training and become a lot more aware of my health. Within the next three months of working with a trainer, I enrolled In the American Council of Exercise's (ACE) personal training course, and went to Calgary to take the CanFit Pro weekend seminar.
Since starting personal training I went from more than 50 per cent body fat to about 23 per cent body fat.
The psychological aspect of obesity
My trainer, Cassandra Gregory, the Fitness Manager at Fort Saskatchewan GoodLife Fitness, focused on the psychological aspect of obesity because obese people are made fun of and stigmatized while personal trainers are generally fit and small.
Simply stepping into the gym is terrifying because many people who go to the gym, as well as the pictures on the walls, reflect people who are fit and look sexy (according to what traditional media dictates).
Obese people didn't choose to be this way. Obese people became obese based on the system in society, the nutrition promoted in the stores, pressure, stress and anxiety. There is a lot of psychological influence on obesity.
Emotional health is just as important as physical health
My trainer not only focuses on my physical health but also my psychological and emotional health, which keeps me going to the gym and loving working out.
Fat shaming someone is destroying their self-esteem — a person's whole life is changed. People will judge you based on what you eat. The result is that obese people cover up their feelings and portray a false happiness. They wear a mask and smile because that's how they hope to feel one day. They use food as a drug to feel normal. It makes them feel good.
My trainer not only understood this, but implemented a workout routine conducive to my health and food intake. This is something no one ever did for me.
My biggest clash with my trainer was when I kept insisting, "Please tell me what is normal and how to feel and look normal." She told me that I should change my mindset from trying to be "normal" to feeling optimal.
Being "normal" is subjective while being optimal is personal and very achievable. When it comes to body shaming the biggest struggle many people go through is their constant push to look or feel "normal" because that is what is dictated to them their whole life. "Normal" is dictated by Photoshop, while optimal is dictated by the individual themselves.
Now I am educated in personal training from the American Council of Exercise and CanFit Pro and I will continue on this highway until old age hits. Buddha said it best: "To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear." It is very true that we are what we eat!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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