In 2018, when hospitalised for pneumonia, Chennai-based MBBS graduate Dr Anirudh Deepak was told by doctors that he had five years to live. After which, they said, he was ‘a ticking time bomb’. Being overweight, there was no guarantee that any doctor might be able to help him.
In the roughly two years that followed, the 28-year-old went on to lose over 100 kg, going from 194 kg to 83 kg. Today, he works part-time as a fitness coach, guiding others toward a healthier lifestyle.
The turning point
For a while, Anirudh had been steadily gaining weight, and everyone around him was telling him to do something about it. Although nothing happened at the time, he was starkly aware of his weight. “Even doing daily work was a task. It’s like a person carrying a 100 kg backpack and then trying to do their daily activities. Climbing up one or even two flights of stairs would get me breathless,” he says in an interview with The Better India.
In a society that judges one based on physical appearances and largely normalises fatphobia, Anirudh also had to deal with the stigma of being overweight. “Even as a school kid, I was ridiculed by peers and by people who were supposed to be protecting me in the first place. That definitely does take a toll on your mental health. But I never cared what other people thought about me. What I think about myself, what my loved ones think about me, that’s the most important thing. I was comfortable with who I was then, and I’m comfortable with who I am right now.”
Besides lethargy and tiredness, being overweight often leads to several medical issues. “All your lifestyle disorders are because of a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Even diabetes and hypertension can be lifestyle disorders. There are other factors but lifestyle plays a big role as well,” he explains.
While being overweight generally leads to low self-confidence, that wasn’t the case with Anirudh. “Wherever I walked in, I would own the room.” But it was the dire warning at the hospital that forced the issue to his attention. “That really hit me,” he says.
So following his reality check at the hospital, he knew he would make a lifestyle change. He says, “I’m a very strong believer that no matter how much other people tell you unless it comes from yourself you’re not going to change. And once that bell rings inside you, you won’t be able to keep it quiet at all. You’re going to do something about it. I realised I have to take stock of my life for future me.”
He then started working out while also trying all the different fad diets on the internet. For close to six months, nothing changed. Although he hadn’t stepped on a weighing machine yet, his clothes still fit the same, and he could tell that there was no change. “I was at my wit’s end, I had given up on myself. And I was one step away from going in for bariatric (weight loss) surgery.”
But the idea of surgery received severe resistance at home, and he didn’t end up going down that route.
Fitness is a lifestyle
As he continued working out and trying different things, it was through a friend that he joined a gym and met his coach Vinodh Vaitheeswaran. “That was the first time I stood on a weighing scale. And I was at 194.5 kg,” he says.
Over the next two years, in what was certainly an uphill battle, he lost a little over 110 kg.
Instead of following a strict diet or restrictions, his guiding principle was controlling portion sizes. “There’s no such thing as good food or bad food, it’s all about quantifying and eating the right thing. The word diet has been demonised in today’s world, but the whole diet and workout plan has to be part of your lifestyle.”
Anirudh’s plan included poha or upma for breakfast, fruits and dry fruits for snacks, roti or rice with dal, vegetables, and curd for lunch, and roti or rice with paneer and vegetables for dinner. Every food group was included in his plan, including foods like jams and cheese – and it was all quantified.
Instead of cutting out specific foods entirely, the idea is simply to create a calorie deficit which will lead to weight loss. Since everybody is different, it was important to figure out what works well for him and aids his health. Instead of restricting and occasionally indulging in cheat meals, they focused on controlling portion sizes, depending on the ingredients and calories each item contains.
“There’s no specific diet plan for weight loss. It’s all about our input versus output, and how much of your body needs to burn out. Because one suit doesn’t fit everyone. It has to be tailor-made for everyone specifically. Similarly, your diet and workout plan has to be tailor-made for you.”
His workout also started with small steps. “At 195 kg, walking was a task, let alone getting on a treadmill and working for long hours.” For five to six days a week, he started with weight training, gradually stepping it up to include cardio. “All of them burn calories but when you do weight training you preserve your muscle mass.”
Since weight loss means bringing about major behavioral and lifestyle changes, it’s often a challenging journey. “I believe that motivation gets you started. But it’s about being consistent. It’s like a woodpecker at work. It keeps pecking at the wood, no matter if the branch falls, it just keeps going. It’s about being consistent over a long period of time. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
It’s through being consistent and keeping up with lifestyle changes that one also keeps the weight away after first losing it. “It’s about doing the right things and maintaining it as a lifestyle habit. You can’t go back to being the old you. Consistent bad habits got me there, and consistent good habits got me here.”
Anirudh is now working as a fitness coach while pursuing his postgrad. “The whole reason for becoming a fitness coach is that I just want to be a ray of hope for people. If you work for it, you can do it. When I was trying to lose weight, until I met Vinodh, it was like a dark tunnel for me. And he was the ray of hope for me. And today I want to be a ray of hope too.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao