Alden Boon

Nazri Mohayadin: The Journey of Losing 45kg

19/09/2015

There I was, a few paces from the steely, mammoth X-ray machine. This was 2008, when I was a strapping Military Policeman deployed in the Ministry of Defence where all the Generals and Colonels with their glittering epaulettes sat. My smartly-pressed, olive-green uniform was bespoke: a tailor came, prodded me like a chef would a chicken, and took my vital statistics.

The erstwhile Army Sergeant Major ambled into the building, and immediately I bolted upright. It was a knee-jerk reflex. I puffed up my chest, my then-tapered jaw poised in mid-air.

He passed the metal detection test. Phew! Giving a key appointment holder a pat-down, while mandatory, is folly. I offered up a polite salutation, hoping to uphold the stellar reputation synonymous with Military Policemen.

He inched forward. He scanned me from head to toe. Thoughts inundated my mind: “Is my nametag crooked? Did I forget to shave? Nails! I forgot ’em nails!” I stole a furtive glance at my scuffed boots, which by mid-afternoon was stippled with dirt and debris. By now the Sergeant Army Major was a little too close for comfort. Obviously he had something to say to me.

This was it. Two extra duties were in my future. Here they come.

Without so much of a hello, he probed in a gravelly voice, “What’s your BMI?”

It happens when you least expect it: A snide comment by a total stranger that plunges you into an abyss of rancour. “More rice to go with that?” a stall vendor alludes to your insatiably-enormous appetite. “We have that piece in large sizes too,” a retail assistant may so kindly illuminate. “This is a treadmill,” says a fitness instructor, who assumes you’re so far gone that you’ve never set foot on one.

Perhaps it is a primordial rule — unwritten, unspoken yet undoubtedly enforced — that fat people must be made a butt of the joke. Or rather my butt be made the joke. It boggles my mind how anyone can go up to another person and say, “You’re fat” or “Hey shortie” or “What’s up ugly?”

Men aren’t supposed to be affected by such comments, say societal norms. But I’ve found that men do get upset. I’ve seen former bodybuilders who no longer keep up the training go ballistic when teased about their blubber. I remember watching The Biggest Loser Australia Season 4, and these tough family men of gargantuan sizes —  if they sat on you they could pulverise your bones — had breakdowns on national TV just because they had to step onto the weighing scale.

That is why I read with rapt attention when my ex coursemate Nazri Mohayadin, 30, announced on Facebook he was embarking on a weight-loss journey. Standing at 1.75m and once tipping the scale at 125kg, Nazri was the big guy you could not miss in a crowd. To date, he has lost 45kg and is the picture of health. He boasts a sinewy, enviable figure that is without question the culmination of months of hard work.

In the first interview of our Inspire series, we sat down with Nazri to talk about his enduring, oft-arduous but ultimately remarkable weight-loss journey.

Before and after: Nazri lost a staggering 45kg.

So Nazri, growing up, were you always a big guy?

I was a sportsman during the teenage years, and I represented my school in both volleyball and soccer tournaments. I was as fit as any of my teammates. In fact, I have vague memories of owning a set of abs when I was 15! I did struggle with cardiovascular exercises but I took it in my stride. I was more interested in the game-play aspect of the sports. Where fitness and training were concerned, I did what I could to get by without being whipped by my coaches.

However, due to the stress of GCE O Level, and the subsequent cessation of training, I started gaining weight. I deal with stress by eating. Only junk food will quell my cravings when I’m stressed up. Even though I was going down a slippery slope, it wasn’t clear to me at the time: In my mind, I thought I was eating like how I  had always been eating.

It’s not an excuse, but I do believe genes play a part. Some thin people can eat and eat and eat and won’t ever gain weight. Is it the same case with you?

My dad is tall and maybe slightly overweight now. My mum has been piling on the weight over the years. But no, they weren’t always big. So my road to obesity was entirely my doing and nothing to do with my genes (laughs).

Did you have self-esteem issues back then?

I’ve always struggled with self-esteem and self-confidence issues. I am aware of it and truth be told, it is a daily battle. It is no different now, mind you. Things are better but there are days when I really struggle with it.

When I was dating my wife, I was very conscious of what people might say. She is slim, enjoys running and can eat like a lion and not gain weight. Shopping was a chore because nothing fit. At the same time, I didn’t think anything could be done to reverse the situation. In my mind, it was an insurmountable task and thus, I continued to binge eat — it seemed like it’s the only thing I could control.

When did you meet your wife? How was the courtship?

My wife and I were actually primary school mates. We lost contact for the longest time before having a chance meeting. We then chatted regularly on the internet and via text messages. We went on a few dates and subsequently got together. I knew I wanted to marry her the day we got together.

Your wife is slim; you were still a big guy when you started dating/first got married. Did you experience any kind of pushback?

Nah, not really. She was cool and still is. My wife didn’t see my size as a hindrance or an annoyance. She was more worried about the unhealthy aspect of obesity. She wasn’t interested in how I look (thank God). HAHA.

Did she help you along your weight-loss journey?

Yes. I cannot thank her enough for being so understanding. After I made the decision to lose weight, I worked out nearly every day. That meant spending less time with her. It continued when Mika was born too. She always urged me to “just go”. Be it heading to gym, going on a long run or cycle, she has never said “no”. She is my rock. I honestly don’t think I could have achieved so much without her.

You were very vocal about how your motivation stemmed from the arrival of your first-born, Mika Ilhan. Tell us about that defining moment when you decided to lose weight and get healthy.

Initially, both my wife and I were not keen on having children. We see students on a daily basis and the behaviour of some can truly send shivers down your spine. So for the longest time, having a kid was out of the picture. It went on until we were talking to a few friends and we learnt they’re having trouble conceiving. So we both thought that we got to try for one and then try our best to be the best parents we can be and inculcate the right values in our child.

The day my wife confirmed that she was pregnant — I made her take the test twice, then go to a general practitioner’s for another test — immediately the switch in my mind flipped. I decided that I need to take charge of my health to be fair to this child of mine. I want to be able to keep up with him, live to a ripe old age and provide for him in the best way that I can.

I didn’t tell anyone of my decision. I didn’t tell my wife. I just slowly and consciously changed my eating habits. I cooked and packed food to work. I stopped drinking sweetened beverages. I stopped snacking. And within a month of doing that, I lost five to six kg.

My wife is the loveliest person I know. My being big was never an issue. She encouraged me to lose weight but it was never a ‘do it or …’ ultimatum.

Just curious: How did you and your wife decide on the name ‘Mika Ilhan’?

It’s mainly my idea (haha). I’ve always had a fascination with Turkish-sounding names. At the same time, I was against long names with too many syllables. Mika means “cool”, “smart” and Ilhan means “leader”. When I saw the name, I thought that settles it. Because even when everything else fails, for sure my son is going to be cool.

Tell us about your very first workout.

The first exercise routine I tried was Mike Chang’s barbell workout. It was a pretty simple barbell routine compromising squats, overhead presses, and rows. It was tough! I would sweat buckets and be sore the next day. But I persevered and did it every day for one to two months. That workout planted the seed of weightlifting in me.

What about the subsequent ones?

I started looking into Crossfit-related workouts. I organised group workouts with my friends and we would gather at the void decks. I bought skipping ropes, slam balls, weights, cones, etc. We were doing pretty intense exercises maybe twice a week: squats, clean and press, Russian Twist, wall tosses, skipping, jump squats, box jumps, planks, etc.

I also researched about high intensity interval training (HIIT): Tabata; AMRAPS; and circuit training. My anaerobic endurance definitely peaked during this phase of my life. I could clock a 10km run in under an hour.

There is always this internal dialogue: “Oh people are looking at me; they are laughing at me.” Did you experience this?

At first I avoided the gym because of that. And then I read a quote somewhere that goes something like this: “Laughing at the fat guy in the gym is like laughing at the sick guy on the hospital bed”. It was then I decided that if people were going to laugh at me for going to the gym, it’s more of a reflection of them more than it is of me.

But when I got to the gym… nobody was laughing at me. The gym-goers were either busy doing their own stuff or admiring their own reflections!

Were you ever at the receiving end of vitriol?

Some people have said I’d put on all the weight I lost once I stopped doing all that I was doing. I had a friend who said he wanted to punch me as I wanted to shed some weight to look better. I’ve had people questioning how long I could last. Such criticism rolled like water off a duck’s back.

There were many days when I thought this was just too tough. But I was seeing changes both on the scale and in the mirror, and that was motivation enough for me to keep going.

Any temptations that you succumbed to?

Temptations? Ice cream and a good burger. These two can break me. I can sit quietly in a corner and finish a pint of ice cream. No problem. Give me a pint of Ben & Jerry’s right now and you won’t hear from me for the next 30 minutes.

How do you keep it going then?

Many people are misled into thinking the key to losing weight is to stick to an exercise routine. Or omit carbohydrates from their diets. Losing weight, or gaining weight, is simple math, really. To lose weight, you’ve got to eat less than what your body needs. That is all there is to it. Calculate your daily calorie needs, eat a deficit and you’ll lose fats.

Trackers like MyFitnessPal are your best friend. I track my intake daily… and I swear it is harder to put in an hour of intense workout than it is to track your food intake.

What were your first milestones?

Oh there were too many to name. From being able to squat 150kg to dropping 10 sizes and fitting into a size-32 pair of jeans, and losing 45kg.

I felt incredible joy hitting these milestones. And then the quest to better myself continues. I was competing with myself. It doesn’t matter what others did. I couldn’t care less what they did. Quite honestly, it was a very selfish period in my life. I was focused entirely on pushing myself and everything else took a backseat.

Find what drives you forward, and do not be afraid to use it.
I’m only accountable to myself. And I am my harshest critic.

What kinds of diet have you tried? How did you feel when you didn’t keep to your diet?

I’ve been on the paleo diet. A no-carbs diet. I was even on the General Motors diet for a week — that was crazy. Oh, that dichotomous, ambivalent feeling of dejection and yet also relief. It was a weird mix of self-hate and self-love.

Editor’s Note: The General Motors Diet comprises a strict intake of fruits, vegetables, and beef on selected days.  

What does your current routine comprise?

I hit the gym up to three times a week. I focus on compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, rows, etc. I hadn’t spent much time on accessory lifts that target specific muscle groups until recently as I was nursing a muscle tear at my groin area. Apart from that, I try to run at least once a week, and on weekends I play one to two soccer matches if time permits.

Your favourite drill? And your least favourite?

I love squats. L.O.V.E. SQUATS. Heavy ass-to-grass squats. My least favourite would be HIIT cardio.

Since becoming fit, you have taken part in marathons/triathlons. Tell us about the experience.

The first major event I took part in was the duathlon sprint: 5km run, 20km cycle and 2.4km run. Honestly, I felt like crying when I crossed the finishing line. And I did that a week after Mika was born. All the emotions I’ve felt in those nine months were distilled into that single, victorious moment when I crossed the finishing line. It was an amazing, amazing feeling.

Now that you’re fit and ripped, do people treat you differently?

Nah. I’m still pretty much the same person. My students have given me monikers like “bufflord”, and “muscle man”. The only difference is that my friend recruited me into two of his soccer teams only recently… because in his own words: “You were too fat in the past.”

Is there any difference in the way you approach life?

Definitely, I’m more positive. These days I’m always up for activities, always keen to try new things. I am more conscious of my food choices. Juggling time between work, cooking my meals, spending time with the family and working out is a herculean task, but I do it gladly.

So, 45kg later, buckets of sweat, endless days of muscle ache later, what is the lesson you’d want others and your son Mika to take away from your experience?

It starts and ends with you. What people say to motivate or bring you down is just white noise if you have a strong belief system and motivation inside of you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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