The Transformation – Memoirs of the Land of the Morning Calm Part 4

Whenever I return home or I run into anyone from home who hasn’t seen me for an extended period of time, the meeting goes like this. 1st we scream and hug. then we interrogate each other. And our conversation will always invariably follow this trajectory:

Them: “So good to see you!”

Me: “I know it’s been ages!”

Them: “So what have you been up to? Seems like Korea is treating you well.”

Me: “It’s great, enjoy it a lot, but miss home and my family”

Them: “Well tell me, what’s the secret? How did you lose all that weight?”

And there it is! Ding-dong-deng!! I’ve learned to expect this.

Let’s face it, it’s the only thing anyone really cares about when they see me. And be honest, this is the one post that you’ve all been waiting for isn’t it? isn’t it? 😀

Don’t lie, it’s ok, I understand that wanting to be fit and healthy is a goal that we all share. Heck that’s the reason that I did it. Luckily for you, I know the secret of losing weight, getting fit and keeping the excess pounds or kilos off in the long term.

The only thing is, I’m always really reluctant to talk about it. Because whenever I’ve ever explained to someone how I did it, they always look at me like I’m crazy or they don’t believe me that the formula I have come to understand about maintaining excellent health and wellbeing, is actually very simple.

So I’m gonna write about this once, and leave it at that. No more questions about my weight loss journey please. I’m over it. Not because I have become arrogant about the success I’ve had, it’s because I don’t believe that it should be called a journey at all.

The term journey implies that there is a distinct beginning, middle and end destination. But I believe that health and wellbeing, or the care of someone’s physical person doesn’t have a beginning, or a final disembarking point. It’s a constant necessity that accompanies you throughout your entire life. You need to understand this basic fundamental point first. Weight loss, or trying to get to a particular weight is not the same thing as taking care of your body. More on that point later.

But let me get down to explaining what the secret to losing weight is first. And you’re going to be shocked when I tell you this. Basically, the only tried and true method of losing weight, and this is the only thing that has substantial scientific evidence to support it, goes something like this:

Consume less calories, move your body more.

And that’s it.

Forget fad diets like Paleo, Atkins, South Beach, whatever, if they work, it’s because they are aligned with that simple concept. Ie restrict calories, at the same time encouraging you to move your body more. If you want to lose body fat, you must follow this simple formula. How you get those calories, ie through which foods is completely up to you. Obviously you want to choose the ones that are most nutritious, whole foods generally allow you to get more bang for your buck. ie eat more of them for less calorific input. But when it comes down to it, this is the only way you will lose weight.

There are of course, healthy ways to lose weight and unhealthy ways to lose weight, but reducing body fat, every single study out there has shown, has an exponential benefit to the overall functioning of your internal organs and extremely positive effect on not only the look of your body, but the health of your most plentiful organ: your skin.

Most people hate it when I convey to them this seemingly logical and simple explanation for how I managed to lose over 60kilos. They think that I’ve hoodwinked them, that I somehow stumbled upon a secret that was hidden within pandora’s box that I am deliberately keeping from them so they can stay the way they are and I can flaunt my ‘skinny’ body.

Pfffft I am far from skinny, my body composition tests say I’m healthy! I have muscle and bone content that numbers close to 87kilos! More than the average person my height (187cm) weighs in total, including their body’s fat content. LOL I’m Samoan after all. We’re just built this way.

But when I began to take better care of my body and began to lose the weight, I actually didn’t really understand these concepts either. I understood the formula, but I didn’t want to accept it. Once you get over the fact that this is the formula, and the only formula that truly works, you make peace with it and begin to change your mindset from ‘that’s way too hard’ to a mindset that says ‘I can do this’.

The first thing I have to say about embarking on a journey of ‘better living’ is that the physical aspects of a health and fitness regime must be, and I cannot stress this enough, must be supported by a strong and resilient mindset. Before you decide to embark on any weight loss or fitness journey, you must get your own mental house in order.

In previous posts, I have talked about how I have had experiences from when I was a kid that stayed with me for a long time. I was haunted by these experiences, and this led to me believing that I was pigeonholed to fulfill a particular role in society. I was meant to be the smart one, the academic, the chubby boy, the funny one, the life of the party, the entertainment in that sense. I was made to believe this through my own experiences that taught me stupid and entirely untrue lessons like I was not athletic, I was not worthy of being loved by anyone else, and that I was not attractive. These internal issues I had to deal with first and foremost. What you believe, becomes your reality.

When someone is morbidly obese at a young age, it’s not a choice. You don’t wake up one day and say, I’m gonna eat all the pies and sausage rolls at the bakery because I want to look like a sumo wrestler.

There is an internal issue that is preventing them from loving their bodies enough to give it proper nourishment and care through exercise and healthy foods. I’m not saying that all people who are overweight share some sort of traumatic experience from their youth. In fact, this observation like all statements should be taken with a grain of salt and a degree of specificity. It depends on the individual. But most will find that this is the case. And so it was with me.

I’d rather not get into the specifics of what my breakthrough moment was. Because I most definitely had one, it was an intensely emotional experience and some things I believe are best left for an individual to keep for themselves. But I can say it was this mental breakthrough that I had which occurred in the autumn of 2009 that set my life and my future on fire!

I was living in Dangjin at the time, and I remember that I was much happier there than I was in Geoje. The school that I had moved to was an absolute joy to work in. I had shifted from a private academy to a public elementary school. I was working with two amazing co-teachers who did absolutely all they could to try and make my life as convenient as possible. The students were amazing, non-judgmental and responding well to the lessons I had been teaching them. Nearly all the students I had taught were showing great improvement in their language ability and confidence in using English. And it was rural, very rural indeed.

Although I was only an hour or so out of Seoul. I was living in a town that Koreans consider to be rural by their standards. My apartment was in the new part of town which at the time was being far more intensely developed, but it was still undoubetdly countryside. I could smell cow paddies, which kinda reminded me of home, so I knew that I wasn’t exactly in an exciting metropolitan hub of a place by any stretch of the imagination. There was something like 10 foreigners in the town working for the education office making foreigners an even rarer commodity in this town than in Geoje-do.

As I was closer to Seoul, I spent most weekends up there staying with some friends, going out and experiencing this gargantuan city, and meeting up with a lot more Kiwis and making some lifelong friendships that would endure right up to this day and probably further on into the future.

One friend in particular, she knows who she is, I won’t name her on here in case she gets mad, told me about a clinic that she had been visiting that helped with weight loss and that sort of thing. I had remarked to her like most people do, flippantly, half-heartedly really, that I was interested in dropping a bit of weight. When I had had my medical check up before I started working for the education office, I weighed in at a hefty 162 kilos, I still remember the hilarious shriek the nurse who was performing my medical tests gave when she read that number off the scale.

My friend offered to take me along to the clinic to see the doctor there who was a nutritionist and expert at helping people lose weight. The clinic was in Cheongdam, a suburb of Gangnam-gu, made famous by Psy a couple of years back, but is also renowned worldwide now as a plastic surgery and body aesthetic-improvement hub.

There at this clinic the doctor ran some tests on me including a body composition test, blood tests etc. What she concluded was that my body despite being very big, for some reason had a very slow metabolic rate. Which meant that my body took a longer time than others to burn fat, even though I liked to do things like swimming, play sport etc. She told me that I would need to boost this through a variety of methods.

One way was to take metabolism boosting drugs, and to eat foods that helped to kick start my body’s metabolic rate.

Now you’re all thinking, well that’s the secret, it was those metabolism boosters that did it. Well, actually no. She also told me that the metabolism boosters were useless unless I exercised for 60mins after I took them. So I was to exercise 60mins a day for 5 days a week and reduce my calorie intake. To help me initially reduce my calorific intake, she gave me appetite suppressants to take for a month as well. So that I could get used to eating less. If you need to take these to help you, I would recommend asking your doctor for them. I don’t know whether they actually worked for me, I still felt really hungry when I started to reduce the food I was ingesting. So I discontinued using them, and the truth is I felt no different either way. Some people swear by them.

Anyway, so the hardest part for me was the 60mins of exercise every day. I was 162 kilos remember, so running, which is the best weight loss exercise you can actually do, was a very cumbersome task. But I had to do it! Remembering that I had had my mental breakthrough already, I was mentally determined to overcome this challenge. So at 6am every morning, when that alarm went off, I got up and I ran.

At first, I don’t know how far it was, it may have only been about 800 metres that I managed to run without stopping  Today I can run at least 30K without stopping. I didn’t get here overnight, I did it with hard graft and consistency. I set myself targets and goals. And I think this is an important part of it. You can’t just say, “I’m gonna work out and lose weight.” That’s too generic, without direction, even if the general direction is a positive one, you’re gonna get lost.

Remember in primary school when your teacher would make you write out goals at the beginning of every school year? It used to annoy me all the time. But they would say that without setting goals you’d achieve nothing. Well guess what? Your teacher was right. I had to set myself specific distance goals, time goals, and endurance goals. And I wrote them out on calendars at work and at home, saying I expect myself to be able to do this by this date! So that I would be reminded of them constantly. I celebrated every single milestone by adding a block to my self-esteem wall, literally, I created a self-esteem wall where I would draw another brick on top of it to symbolize the growing strength I saw emerge in my character and self-worth. And another important aspect of it, I cancelled my social life for the entire period.

I didn’t go out, I didn’t drink alcohol, for 4 straight months. This is really important and I’ll explain why later. I saw nobody but the doctor who was tracking my progress, making sure that I wasn’t losing weight in an unsafe manner and occasionally a friend or two who accompanied me to the gym.

It wasn’t just running that I took up, I also took it on myself to take up self-directed pilates sessions. I downloaded some exercise videos and worked on my core. This would go on for 3 sessions a week, and then I would also do weights at the gym for 3 sessions a week.

My diet consisted of a nutritious breakfast that was pared down to around 300-350 calories a sitting, I would eat lunch at school, which is a real benefit of teaching in public school. In Korea school lunches are designed by health professionals and everyone eats at school. No one eats their own homemade lunches, they are prepared with maximum nutritional value in mind. Now some people will say the school lunches have too much rice, well, it’s simple. Don’t eat that much rice.

I just told the ladies in the cafeteria to limit my rice serving to half the normal amount, they were happy to oblige. One thing that gets me is when people make excuses like that. You just got to make it work! That’s the vital thing. If you’re determined to make progress you will find a way through any obstacle. C’mon, if you think there’s too much, don’t eat it. Simple. Why does everything have to be like pulling teeth with some people? The fact of the matter is, when you’re ready to make the change you won’t have any need for excuses. If you make excuses for yourself, then you really aren’t mentally prepared for what this process entails.

This process is not easy, I was cranky sometimes, hungry at other points, and worst of all, I had to force myself to run in the snow! Before I moved to Korea I had never ever seen snow fall from the sky before. Suddenly, I had to learn to suck it up and run when it was below zero. Like I said, if you’re mentally prepared, you will do whatever it takes to value yourself more. I ran one day when the temperature was -10.

And as I mentioned earlier, this is where I really changed, it was not just in my physical activity and what I was stuffing my mouth with, it was my attitude and perspective on health and wellbeing where I made the most gains. Now I don’t think about exercise as something that is a chore that needs to be done so I can make sure I don’t gain weight. That’s of course a huge bonus. I see exercise and activity as an extension of my own personal self-value and an investment into my future. If you can understand this fundamental fact, you are 80% more likely to succeed. Well not sure how accurate that number is, I just made it up. But you catch my drift.

Just before I left New Zealand, at the ripe old age of 23, I developed gout. Can you imagine that? The doctor’s said that I’d always have to live with it, once you’ve developed it, there’s no turning back. Well guess what? Since I’ve made the investment into my own physical wellbeing, I’ve been able to not only free myself from taking daily medicines, at the last full comprehensive health examination I had, the doctor found that my levels of uric acid were normal. They’ve been normal for years now  He didn’t even believe that I used to suffer from gout attacks regularly. I’m as healthy as they come according to the doctor. Rarely, he said, does a patient walk in to his office for a physical examination and have every single result come back as in the healthy range.

So to summarize, here’s my tips for you to get yourself into a better state of health and wellbeing in the longterm, based off of my own personal experiences.

1. Get your mental house in order. – You need to overcome any issues of personal self-deprication and/or notions about losing weight being the key to your future happiness about your body. Learn to love yourself first, and you will naturally be able to find the motivation to stick to a self-imposed regime, This is an important personal step that you need to undertake on your own.

2. It’s not about weightloss really – If you treat this as the end goal of whatever program you have started for yourself, you’re very likely to fail. You must remodel your mindset so that you understand that taking care of your body and health is really about valuing yourself and putting you in the best possible position to feel energized and vitalized to go after other goals and aspects of your life. Think of your body not as a temple like some people say, think of it as a lamborghini. You’ve got to fine tune it, fuel it correctly, change the oil, rotate the tyres so that it is constantly running at its optimum. If you don’t take care of a lamborghini it will deteriorate irrespective of how great it was first manufactured and built. If you think of health and wellbeing in this way, I guarantee that you will make incredible progress. It’s all about valuing yourself.

3. Not everyone wants you to succeed – People who say they’re on your team actually more often than not are not on your team. Especially friends and people that you spend most of your time with. Why do I say this? Well the people around you love you for the person that you are today, which is great. But often this means that they become enablers, they don’t do it out of jealousy or hate. They do it because they enjoy what you bring to the table today. So, if you want to succeed you have to understand that this is an individual journey more than anything else. Signing up for group fitness challenges are great, but at the end of the day, the only one who can push play is you. Which is why I decided to avoid people for a long period of time while I was in this process. My friends love to drink, love to socialize, love to go out to restaurants and eat all this wonderful food. I USED to love doing all those things in excess, so when I decided that I wanted to take better care of myself, people started to wonder why I was avoiding them. It wasn’t personal, it was a matter of life or death for me. Get better, or develop long term lifestyle diseases. I chose life in the end. Not everyone will get it, that’s ok. It’s your life, not theirs and people who truly love you, will also love the new you. People like comfort, and to your friends and family, who you were was comfortable for them. If you challenge that notion, don’t expect everyone to be willing to go with it.

4. Do what feels right to you. – Truth be told, all our bodies are different, they process food in different ways, they react to stress and exercise in different ways, although it’s important to take advice from other people who have done it, you need to listen to your own voice. There’s a completely different perspective I have to weightloss and wellbeing from that of a health professional who has been thin their entire lives. My road to better health was something that was immensely difficult and personal. But the benefit of looking at it as an individual journey is that I know what makes me feel good, what makes me feel lethargic, and which foods I can eat and feel satisfied, and I know what amounts are right for me. The most important thing is to trust your instincts when it comes to your body. monitor as regularly as possible your progress and keep track of it. If you eat too many carrots does it make you gain weight? Well it does for me, but doesn’t for others. The point is, one size doesn’t fit all. The only thing that does make sense is the weightloss formula I revealed to you earlier.

5. Find things you love to do, – When it comes to exercise, you need to find activities that you enjoy. I enjoy running a lot now. I didn’t really at first, but when I was a kid I remember I did make the cross country team at one point, which means that I wasn’t exactly someone who loathed it. Remember that playing a sport that you enjoy is often an excellent way to try and get you more motivated to exercise. However, a word of caution. Playing sport is a great way to get the blood pumping and get the energy levels up, yes. But unless it’s a sport like Soccer or Netball, and you’re playing it roughly 3-4 times a week, you won’t necessarily get the gains you want to see in your body. To make real physical gains, you need to work out regularly. Rugby players are not built the way they are because of playing Rugby, they’re built that way because of the training they do, so they can play Rugby once a week. With a sport like Rugby, the game itself is so jarring on the body, you can’t play it more than once a week or risk real long term damage. That’s not enough to make real gains. So if you hate running, or cycling, or regular sessions at the gym, I suggest that you either learn to love it, like I did or take up a sport that can be played multiple times a week, without putting too much strain on your body.

6. Be Consistent. – This is probably the most important of all. You have to keep going. There will be days that you feel like giving up, sometimes I skip morning sessions because I’m not feeling quite right. But I always try and find a way in which I can make up for that missed session somewhere in my schedule. If I over eat, I add the necessary KMs to my run to cover the extra calories. It’s as simple as that. If your mind has been rewired like I suggested in tip number one, you won’t have any problems with this idea. You’ll also be able to take those rainy days better too. The scale will go up not down sometimes, and there are multiple reasons why this could occur. Take it in your stride, but never think of it as a failure. Most people just give up. But again, if you have changed your mindset about exercise and fitness, you’ll know that that number is not important.

7. Take responsibility. – A recurrent theme throughout all of these tips, so not really a tip on its own, but important nonetheless is to realize that it’s nobody’s duty but yours to take care of your body. Don’t have a lot of money? Fruits and vegetables are just as cheap as a fast food meal. Don’t blame poverty for your inability to eat well. You feel tired today because you had a tough day at work? Don’t blame the students for wearing you out. Get out and exercise like you planned. Own every choice you make, and you’ll find that all aspects of your life including your opinion of yourself will improve in ways you can’t imagine.

8. Ask for help. – When you don’t know what to do about a situation, ask people who do. I had no idea how to use weights properly, Kinda still don’t, but I ask people who do. Don’t be ashamed to just randomly talk to someone in the gym. It’s not like they’re perfect either, otherwise they wouldn’t need to be next to you! Try and use apps that can help you track your body performance, move with the times people. See a doctor, this is most important. Doctors are experts for a reason and they will tell you if you’re doing damage to your body in any way. And ask your friends who are athletic already about their routines. Steal some of their mantras, there’s a friend in particular, who I’m sure is going to read this, whose mantras and philosophies I steal all the time. I always look to what she’s eating as perhaps a possible way to enhance my own diet. Make sure you don’t go asking a friend who is in love with fast food for advice though. Because chances are, that advice won’t be particularly useful. And lean on people when you have to. If you feel weak, and you know you’re going to crack, call on that one person, that you know will always have your back. If you don’t know anyone you can confide in about this process then pray, meditate or journal. Don’t keep feelings bottled up inside, it’s what got you into this mess in the first place. However, most people who have a mental breakthrough like I did, often find that that person who they can always count on becomes themselves because they learn to trust themselves and their own ability.

And by the way, one more thing I did, I didn’t tell anyone that I was doing it. Only my closest friends. I didn’t post pictures of my workouts, I didn’t talk about the exercises I was doing, and that was not because I think there’s anything wrong with doing it, sharing your photos on social media can help to motivate others. I kept quiet, because it was an intensely personal situation for me. It was something I knew I needed to do alone. To prove to myself that I was capable.

So this post became far longer than I wanted it to be, but I rarely talk about this with people and its because I get tired of the same people asking me for advice and then refusing to take it, saying that my way was too hard. Well, the thing is, this is my way. I am proud of what I have achieved and I am willing to share my story with people who I think will actually take my advice on board. But, like tip 7 says, it’s about taking responsibility. Every individual needs to take responsibility for their situation and not look to blame external factors, when at the end of the day, it’s all an internal process.

Today, I look at the clothes I used to wear, pictures of myself when I was at that weight and as cliche as it sounds, I look like a completely different person. That isn’t what gives me the greatest satisfaction though. What gives me the greatest satisfaction really is how I feel, my body is so healthy, I can move toward activities in full confidence that my goals and aspirations our now within my own grasp. This was a side-effect of the weight loss. As it has rewired my mind into realizing that I am capable. And I no longer feel trapped by other people’s expectations of me.

Every morning when I wake up and I enter the gym at 6.30am, usually I’m the first person there. I smile and realise that what I’m doing is not merely a workout, but a total investment in my self-worth, my future capacity, and a reflection of my love for this body and what it is capable of. Exercising and eating well is also a sign of my immense gratitude for my body, acknowledging the fact that my legs have carried me to incredibly beautiful places, my arms have allowed me to shape and mold situations into one’s of joy and happiness. It has gifted me a mind that is capable of overcoming obstacles, and before I start running, I genuinely humble myself and at the same time remind my person of the fact that I can achieve anything I desire by setting my mind to it, and combining that mental toughness with a lot of elbow grease, in both the literal and metaphorical sense.

That to me, is what real living is about.

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