Last Updated: May 3, 2019
Losing or maintaining one’s weight is the bane of working adults, I feel. Especially so when you’re in my line of work where eating is part of your job scope (I know, #firstworldproblems).
I can’t complain really, given that working in this industry for more than seven years has introduced me to the finest talents, the most delectable dishes and the most unforgettable dining experiences.
However, it all comes with a price — an ever-expanding waistline. During my early years in the industry, I was able to maintain my weight simply by doing short 30- to 45-minute circuits when I got home, about three to four times a week.
But then my metabolism gradually slowed over the years and now in my 30s, I’ve ballooned by 14 kilograms in the last year alone. Just typing that out makes me cringe, to be frank.
With my DNA having been tested for falling in the 95th percentile for ‘more likely to be obese’, I knew that shedding some weight was and is my priority.
The reality is that I’ve had to stop wearing close to 75% of the clothes I own. I’ve started to wear “fat pants” and over-sized dresses in an attempt to mask how round I’ve gotten. I’m now officially over the 70kg mark on the scale, and the heaviest I’ve ever been my entire life.
It’s not something I’m proud of admitting, especially given my short stature of only 1.58m.
I knew that the training programme I chose had to be something I was willing to stick to, and instantly I thought of the Strength & Conditioning trial I’d attended a few months back at The Forge. They also specialise in Olympic Weightlifting, and their members occasionally compete, which made me have confidence in them.
I sat down with Stephane, one of the trainers there, prior to my first session, to really go through what my goals were, and what I’d hoped to achieve out of my training with them. One question he posed to me really stuck, “What if you were incredibly strong, and could lift and pull more weight than anyone, but you weighed 200 kilos? Would you still be happy?”
I admit, I gave him the politically correct answer of, “Well, I think being strong is a lot more important than being slim. Taking up more room isn’t an issue to me, but I feel like I’m not doing enough to even be fit right now.” Part of me believed that, while the other part of me still wished my belly wasn’t a source of shame for me.
Regardless, I was determined to stick to the plan we’d drawn out together, and that was to come in three times a week for at least 90 minutes each time. We also wanted to set some goals for me, like hitting personal records (PRs) in terms of the load I could carry.
All the while, I had the intention to stick to my current food intake, which was mostly dictated by work, since I do literally eat for a living. I was going to stick to this 30-day program with an unchanged diet.
I was excited and nervous on the day of my first session, but I was ready to commit.
I had a heavy lunch of nasi padang, afraid of not having enough energy for my late evening session on my first day. I dislike eating rice for lunch, as it makes my blood sugar level spike too much, only to give way to an uncomfortable energy crash. But I wanted to be prepared.
The first day, our focus was on my mobility and to gauge how my body currently moves. Stretching here is very important, as I observed, as I lengthened my body in new ways I’d never tried before. It was a solid 45 minutes of stretching before we actually started on the real work.
I worked on back squats with barbells (max of 35kg), with four sets of six reps. I was still feeling strong up to that point but repetitive push-ups really took their toll on me. Stephane finally absolutely killed my arms and grip strength with farmers’ walk of 16kg of kettlebells in each hand (75m one way, for a total of six laps). I’m so glad I had a hefty lunch.
The second session was only the day after, and I’d come from a Thai cuisine tasting. I was feeling adequately sore from the day before, but nothing too terrible. I was actually looking forward to seeing what Stephane had planned for me.
Again, I took the time to stretch and work on mobility on my own for 45 minutes, which made me realise how little attention I give to this underestimated portion of working out. I was doing lunges, shoulder presses and kettlebell swings, and I very vividly remember I was insanely sore the next day.
I only had a day’s rest in between, and I had to ask my partner to give me an excruciating massage, especially on my legs, given that I have very tight calves and I learnt that it’s a possible reason for my plantar fasciitis.
The third session was an absolute killer, as I attempted standard (or conventional) deadlifts, starting from 40kg with 10kg increments. Stephane was confident I could manage 80kg, but I was really nervous about it on the inside.
Lo and behold, I managed three solid reps of 80kg. For now, that’s my PR and will be used as my benchmark. I also worked on my bench press and bench rows, with a single-handed kettlebell walk and goblet squats.
By the end of the first week, I felt immensely strong, but I felt like my body was suffering from a bit of inflammation because my body wasn’t used to carrying heavy loads. No difference in weighing scale or how my clothes fit.
The workouts for my second week was similar to that of the first. The only real difference is that now my body was beginning to get accustomed to these heavy weights. That only meant one thing — heavier loads while maintaining the number of reps.
I can only vaguely recall what my meals were on training days, but I know that I always did try to eat slightly more carbs than I normally would just for energy’s sake. By then, my go-to lunch when I wasn’t out for mid-day tastings was really economical cai fan (I mean at S$4.50 for two types of meat and two vegetables, I think that’s a steal!).
My back squats were loaded up to a maximum of 47kg while my farmer’s walk weights were maintained at 16kg in each hand. It didn’t feel any better than the first week, contrary to what I’d heard about it “getting easier”.
I lifted only a planned max of 65kg, as I had slept poorly the night before and more rest was emphasised between sets. As with all training, it’s more important to listen to your body and not compromise form than to risk injury.
Overall, after my second week, I felt really strong and full of energy, ready for what week three had in store for me.
By the third week, I realised I was getting a lil’ weary of the routine, as we were going through the same moves, with only an adjustment of weights to vary. Of course, I’m aware that repetition is part and parcel of proper training, especially when in pursuit of long term success.
Most of my meals for those two weeks were dictated by yours truly as I wasn’t going out to many large tastings. I’m not sure if that affected my energy levels, as my body was adjusting to the introduction of a structured exercise regime as well as managing food intake.
I felt like it was very much a mental struggle of committing to the workouts more than it was physical. It lent me an insight as to why many of us don’t follow through with our fitness regime for long.
But nevertheless, I was still feeling strong and able to manage less rest time in-between reps. My body was able to recover faster in the short term, and I was getting stronger.
It felt like the third week’s work was all in anticipation of the final week, when I knew it was going to be filled with PR tests and signalled the end of my month-long training programme.
The first day of the final week, it was a very toned down and a recuperative session. I did monster walks, goblet squats, alternating unilateral shoulder presses and EMOM (every minute on the minute) kettlebell swings. Stephane didn’t want to wear me out that week, as we were leading up to test day.
The third day was what I’ve been working for, as it was time to test my PR for back squats. The goal was to work up to a weight where I could still manage five reps.
The last PR for this was 60kg. I don’t want to embarrass myself, but I have to share that on the second set of five reps with 60kg, I only managed three full reps. As I lowered on my fourth rep, my quads gave out and I couldn’t stand back up.
I semi-yelled for help and I reacted half-laughing, half-mortified! Thank God Stephane rushed over to lift the bar off my shoulders. I had another go at it after resting for a longer period of time, refusing to give up and adamantly wanting to hit the same PR I did at the start.
I was successful, although Stephane realised I wasn’t going as low as I should be. I blame that on my new fear of not being able to stand up if I squatted too low. That aside, we moved on to farmers’ walk, but this time with me carrying half my body weight in each hand — that’s 35kg.
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to complete even one round of it, but I surprised myself and walked confidently for two rounds of 20m each (with rest after each round). My forearms were burning but I was immensely proud of myself for being able to accomplish something I was very confident I would fail at.
The day arrived for me to take on deadlifts and see if I could surpass my last PR of 80kg, even if it were only by another 5kg or less.
I wanted to smash my own record so badly, I probably set my expectations too high. Everything felt dandy leading up to the 70kg mark, but as the magic 8-0 came round, I was pretty exhausted.
The issue for me wasn’t the weight per se, but my lack of grip. Despite my efforts to chalk my palms, I wasn’t able to overcome the 80kg point and had to settle.
I was bummed out, but I knew that having been able to pull that off within a month was an achievement in itself. Prior to the training, I barely lifted anything heavier than 20kg+, so I could say I was sorely shortchanging myself when I was training on my own.
It’s now been a few weeks since I ended training at The Forge and I can say that it was an eye-opening experience for me. It gave me a lot of insight into what my strengths and weaknesses are and also made me realise how mentally resilient I can be, to be able to push through the discomfort of carrying heavy loads.
The question now is: did I lose weight?
The answer is no, and I no longer see that as a failure. In place of weight loss, I’ve gained so much more strength, stamina, confidence and acceptance of my body. That doesn’t mean that I still didn’t wish I could drop down a dress size, but I’ve gotten more patient with myself in terms of my health.
Given my diet didn’t change one bit, it likely affected how little weight I’d lost. But after I’d completed this one-month challenge, I realise it was never really about the number on the scale. My issue was learning to love the body I already own.
Of course, weight loss doesn’t occur overnight. But with what I’d learnt over the 30 days, I’ve started to implement what Stephane had imparted to me into my own workouts at the gym, and I’m still hitting my PRs. Right now my focus has shifted, from losing weight to lifting (heavier) weights.
Perhaps in a few months’ time, I’ll check in here again, and give an update on my progress. For now, I’ve re-ignited my love for my workouts and I cannot wait to see what milestones I’ll hit!