My journey to lose 26 kg was not easy. Follow me as I share my experiences with you.
Not all weight loss journeys are the same. We all have different reasons for doing it and different goals we want to achieve. However, there is always something we can take away from reading about others' experiences, whether it's a new idea to try, motivation to start your journey, or just reassurance that your goals are attainable.
In this article, I will discuss what made me realize I needed to lose weight, how I got started, what I did (in and out of the gym), the results, and the hardships I faced along the way. My hope is to inspire you to start (or stick with) your weight loss goals—to let you see that even a regular guy like me can do it!
I Was Active and Ate Healthily Growing Up
Growing up, my mom would always prepare breakfasts, pack my lunches, and cook my dinners. She always made what I love to eat and only cooked Chinese dishes. I consider Chinese home-cooked meals to be quite healthy, and the food that my mom cooked were actually nutritious. Looking back, I did not appreciate all her hard work and what she did for me.
I was also very active in school. I played cricket, hockey, and soccer. I also did other extracurricular activities, such as swimming, running, and going to the gym.
My weight was not a problem when I was growing up.
I Started Developing Bad Habits in College
During my college days, my daily sporting activities decreased. I partied and hung out with friends at bars and clubs. (This was also when I started smoking.) I also started to become addicted to online gaming! This started to negatively affect my weight, but it was not too bad because I still played soccer with my friends during the weekend and went to the gym. Another big help was that I was still in my late teen years and I had my hormones to thank for keeping my weight in check.
As an Adult, I Found Less and Less Time to Stay Active
Once I entered the work force, my work and social life took away more of my time, and my online gaming addiction also got worse. There was less time for the gym and other sporting activities. I got more and more lazy and started to gain weight. I could feel that I was not as fit and flexible as before, especially during the few times I was able to play soccer.
An Injury Gave Me the Perfect Excuse to Let Myself Go
One night, while playing indoor soccer with some friends, I tried to tackle for the ball but missed. With my weight and fitness at the time, I couldn't do much to stop myself from colliding with the wall and injuring my shoulder.
After a visit to the doctor, I was told that I should rest my shoulder for a couple of months and stay away from any extreme exercise. To me, this was just an invitation to do exactly what I wanted to—nothing! I was looking for an excuse to stop playing soccer and exercising because I was just getting too lazy.
From that day my daily routine after work was; get the cold beer out of the fridge, get some snacks and the ashtray next to computer and started my online gaming.
I Didn't Care About What Others Were Saying
I Was In Denial
Before I knew it, a few years just went by. I got married and had kids, but my daily routine barely changed. As you can imagine, my weight kept on increasing.
“I haven’t gained that much weight. I am happy with the way I am right now." "I am not fat—just big-boned.” (My favorite.) I kept telling myself all this while my t-shirts were getting tighter and my jeans and even sweatpants were no longer comfortable.
Everyone Could See It but Me
I love my family very much! They love me for who I am and did not judge me or try to get me to lose weight. Occasionally, my mom would warn me about my health and say that I should stop smoking and drink less alcohol.
My more active friends would openly tell me that I was getting fat and that I should lose some weight before I get any health problems. My more sedentary friends wouldn’t say a thing; I think because most of them were in the same boat as me.
But I would get the biggest reactions from people that I hadn’t seen in a while. Their facial expressions would say it all but were sometimes followed by comments like, “Wow, Mike! It’s been a while since we last met. Look at how much you’ve grown!"
I would think to myself, “And that is exactly why we haven’t met for so long!”
What Motivated Me to Finally Lose Weight
One night, during dinner, my wife Heather told me she was looking at some advertisements and saw a promotion for a famous wedding photo company in China. Born and raised in China, most of her friends still lived there and had used the same photography company for their weddings. She mentioned not liking our current wedding photos (taken in South Africa). I agreed and told her to check for any availabilities around the time we would go back to China to visit her parents.
After a few days, Heather came to me and said, “Remember the promotion for that wedding photo company I was telling you about? Well, I have made the booking and paid the deposit." I nodded and agreed.
"The only problem is that when I gave them your weight and measurements, they told me that unfortunately they are unable to provide suits/pants for you and that you would need to bring your own to the photo shoot."
I agreed with some degree of embarrassment and disappointment, but I carried on with whatever I was doing.
With a few moments to contemplate this, I finally came to three realizations:
- I did not like the way I looked in my South African wedding photos.
- I did not like always feeling lazy.
- I had difficulties playing with my kids.
Add to that the fact that I was told to bring my own clothes for the photo shoot because of my size, I made a decision to get my life back together.
On the October 18, 2016, I decided to do something about my weight. Heather booked our wedding photos in China for June 8, 2017. I had a little more than six months to get in shape. I told her about my weight loss plan and that my goal was to lose at least 25 kg before our wedding photo shoot.
My starting weight: 98.7 kg.
How I Got Started on My Weight Loss Journey
Determined to shed some weight, I decided to write down a plan on how to get started. After almost two hours, I was stuck and could not come up with a plan. I decided to ask my wife for her opinion. She looked at the fridge and said, “Try to start by reducing the amount of soft drinks and beer you drink."
Change #1: Drink Less Soda and Beer
I took her advice and gradually stopped drinking sugary drinks and beer and started drinking more water. Soon, all I drank was water.
At first, there were days when I craved for an ice-cold Coca-Cola or beer, but my determination to achieve the goal I set for myself was strong, and I fought back—smothering the cravings. Eventually, the temptation went away permanently. With this one change, I could already feel a significant difference, but I knew that this was only the beginning.
I Researched More Ways to Lose Weight
While I was adapting to the new lifestyle changes, I searched for more ideas and guides on how to lose weight, but the information I found was not always the information I need.
I came to accept the three important facts:
- There is no magic pill.
- There is no easy way out.
- I did not gain all this weight overnight. Therefore, it will not go away overnight.
What I Looked for When Creating My Weight Loss Plan
With these truths in mind, I limited my research to meet the following criteria. The weight loss strategies had to be sustainable, healthy, and most importantly, free (well, at least at this point, since I wasn’t sure if it was going to last).
Change #2: Stop Snacking
I snacked a lot when I was watching TV or playing online games. The best way I could think to stop this habit was to get rid of all snack items and stop buying more. The logic? If it’s not there, then I won’t be able to eat it.
To my surprise, it wasn't hard to stop snacking. My mind looked for comfort elsewhere. I smoked more often. I cared less about the number of cigarettes I was smoking and was more interested on how I could lose more weight.
Change #3: Start Exercising
I looked for ways in which I could exercise at home. However, it wasn't as easy as it seemed. I encountered two "obstacles" when trying to do home workouts. My two sons would come and sit on my back while I was doing pushups or jump on my stomach while I was doing sit ups.
Working out was hard enough as is, and with these added distractions, I needed motivation, and I needed it fast! I started reading success stories (like this one) and watched motivational videos to keep myself motivated.
I came across an article that suggested I take a photo of myself at the start and a photo every month thereafter to track my progress. I did exactly that. I also weighed myself at these intervals to see if I was making any progress.
My Two "Obstacles"
I Saw Progress With Just a Few Small Changes
I was shocked to see that by only changing two of my habits and starting some light exercise, I was able to lose more than 5 kgs in just over a month. I became more confident in myself (I even got a new hair cut!) and was determined to attack any obstacles that got in my way.
The following night, excited and impressed with my progress I started my home workout with pushups. Suddenly, I felt this heavy load on my back pushing me to the ground. It was Wesley! I had enough of the disturbance and decided to get a gym membership.
Going to the Gym Can Be Intimidating for a Beginner
That same night I changed into what I thought was more gym-suitable clothing and headed out. I already had a gym in mind; it was the same gym that I used to go to a few years before. Feeling insecure with my body, I was not comfortable stepping into the gym again after all those years and was hoping to see some friends there.
As I stood in front of the gym, the sliding doors opened, I took my first steps into the gym after more than 5 years. The lights were bright, the air was filled with energy, and I was excited and enthusiastic to start my journey at the gym. However, the excitement and enthusiasm didn’t last long.
I Felt Like I Wasn't Ready to Work Out at the Gym
As I was given a tour of the gym, I saw people doing all these fancy workouts, which made me feel lost and out of place. As we walked around, I was desperately trying to find familiar faces to make me feel less out of place. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize anyone. Still, I walked around the gym a few more times, looking at all the different equipment and cardio machines. I didn’t know where to start or what to do. After just 10 minutes of trying out some equipment, I felt unprepared and disappointed and left the gym.
When I got home, Heather asked, “How was your first day at gym?” Embarrassed to tell her how I really felt, I just simply replied, “It was alright, I guess.”
I Decided to Make a Workout Plan
I started by researching “best gym exercise to lose weight." Most of the results I got were based around cardio exercises. I knew I also needed to do some resistant training, so I did some research on that too. Once I had a solid plan, I went back to the gym more confident—like I knew what I was doing.
My Workout Plan
- 30 minutes resistance training
- 1 hour cardio (30 minutes running and 30 minutes swimming)
The resistance training went well, but when it came time to do cardio, I suffered. My plan in the beginning was to run for five minutes then walk for five minutes. I ran for two minutes and was already completely out of breath! I walked for about five more minutes—hoping no one was watching—and decided to go swim.
My plan was to swim about 5 laps within 30 minutes, which I thought would not be a problem. Boy was I wrong! About half way through the first lap, I had to rest from exhaustion. I evaluated my cardio plan up to that point and decided I had to complete the full 30-minute swim—even if it meant mostly resting. I had already skimped on the running portion. I managed to do two and a half laps in 30 min.
Beware of the Morning After Your First Workout
That night, I was excited to tell Heather all about my experiences at the gym and how I felt great after exercising. The next morning made me feel a lot differently. When I woke up, I felt pain all over. My arms were like two 100-ton metal blocks that I could not lift up no matter how hard I tried. Instead of sitting up and lifting the duvet to get out of bed, I had to literally roll out.
Lesson Learned: Start Slowly
Clearly, I needed to rest and was not able to train for the rest of that week. After recovering, I reduced the intensity of my exercises and slowly increased it over time.
Improving My Diet
The Importance of Counting Calories
It was at this point that I learned about the basics of calorie intake. To lose weight, the number of calories you consume in a day must be less than the number of calories your body needs. Finding out roughly how many calories your body burns per day (basal metabolic rate, BMR) is easy; you can find a BMR calculator on Google.
The hard part was trying to figure out how many calories I consumed. I researched different ideas and apps to help with this and found MyFitnessPal. You can type in the foods you're eating, and the app will populate a list of similar items others have uploaded with the calorie count and other nutritional facts. For some packaged products, you can even scan the bar code for the nutrition facts. However, bear in mind that the numbers aren't always accurate. This was still a great way to get a rough idea of how many calories I was consuming.
Like all things, this took up a lot of time in the beginning. Trying to log everything I ate and trying to find the right food can be tedious, but a great thing about this app is that it keeps a record of all your meals. It also lets you copy the list of foods from other days, making it convenient for meal planning. (I know it can be boring, but I eat almost the same things every day of the week.)
Dieting Can Take Some Getting Used To
It was hard to suppress my appetite at first as I constantly felt hungry. I found myself repeatedly checking the clock, waiting for the next meal. To be honest, I had to use appetite suppressing supplements during the first month to help me. As I adjusted to my diet, I was able to suppress my appetite with self-discipline.
Everything was going according to plan, and I lost about 8 kg that month. I was eating according to my calorie count, I had a stable exercise routine, and my performance was improving. I started playing soccer again, and with all the exercise and motivation, I even quit smoking!
Staying Motivated Through the Holiday Season
As the holidays were approaching, I had to prepare for obstacles that I was going to face during this period. I am not just talking about Christmas and New Year’s Day; there was also a lineup of birthdays, baby showers, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year. This meant a constant gathering of family and friends, eating out, and lots of food temptations.
My Diet Plans for the Holidays
My initial plan was to treat myself to a little while still controlling the amount I eat. I would just work extra hard at the gym. In my head, I had planned everything out and was prepared for the holidays. That was until my friend suggested we go on a road trip along the coasts of South Africa with our families during the December holidays.
The two-week itinerary included driving to East London, followed by Port Elizabeth, then George, passing Mossel Bay, and finally ending in Cape Town.
I knew we'd constantly be on the road, eating wherever and whenever we stopped. All my planning and preparing to tackle the holiday season wasn't going to be of any use.
I had to come up with a different plan. I wouldn’t even be able to drink as much water as I wanted. My plans had to change.
- I prepared enough bottled water so that I could drink only water the whole trip. Unfortunately, I still didn't drink as much water as I wanted to because I didn’t want to constantly make stops for toilet breaks.
- My plan to maintain my healthy diet was to find the healthiest or lowest calorie food wherever we decided to stop and eat. For snacks, I just had to discipline myself and not be tempted by all the snacks that were available for the kids.
- Because I wouldn't have access to gyms, I brought along a jump rope. My plan was to get up early in the morning either jump rope or go for a jog. My fitness level had increased; I was finally able to run five minutes then walk five minutes for half an hour.
The day finally arrived. We packed our bags got in the car and started our road trip to Cape Town.
Challenges With Dieting and Exercising While on the Road
For the first couple days, I had no problem sticking to my diet plans. Exercise, on the other hand, was a problem. I didn't consider how tiring road trips would be—especially when traveling with two kids. Struggling to wake up early each morning, I dragged myself out of bed and went for jogs. Just two minutes in and I would be out of breath.
Finding Ways to Get My Workout In
I would listen to music while jogging, so I pushed myself to at least jog until the song finished. I would then walk until I felt I could jog some more. I made sure I did this for 30 minutes. I had completely forgotten about jump-roping until I saw the rope in my bag after we returned from our trip and unpacked.
I Couldn't Fight My Cravings for Long
I can’t remember the exact day (fourth, maybe?), but I lost control and started eating whatever I wanted to. It started taking up too much time to keep track of what I was eating, so I stopped tracking and just kept my portions small. The only thing I could do was hope that I didn't gain too much weight by the end of the trip.
My Inadvertent Cheat Day
Time flies when you're having fun. Soon, the two weeks were over and we were back home. The first thing I did was get the scale out and weigh myself. To my surprise, not only had I not gained any weight, I had actually lost 0.2 kg!!!
I was so happy with the unexpected outcome. This motivated me even more! I decided to stick to the pre-road trip plan for the upcoming holiday events, which was to treat myself a little during those days and work it off extra hard in the gym after.
With a clear motive and a thought-out plan, I was able to increase my fitness level and hit my weight target each month.
My Weight Loss Progress in 2017 (January to April)
My Final Weigh-In
Not before long, it was the end of April and time for us to go to China. I had one last weigh in, and my weight was just a little over 72 kg!
I was all packed and excited that we were on our way to China!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Mike Gao