Throwing down my school bag, I flopped on to my favourite couch, and reached for the remote control and takeaway menu. Soon I was engrossed in a film and tucking into a giant burger with fries and cola. I demolished them within minutes. ‘Mum, can I have another bag of chips?’ I shouted. She was in the kitchen preparing dinner for later in the evening. ‘No,’ she said. ‘You’ve had enough junk for the day.’ I didn’t listen. Instead I went to the fridge and got myself a fizzy drink. Mum tutted as I plonked myself back on the sofa. ‘Daniyal do your homework please,’ she said and I hauled myself upstairs.
But sitting down to open my school books, I pulled a large bag of crisps out of my desk drawer. ‘I just can’t understand math,’ I sighed, stuffing a handful of crisps into my mouth.
I was 14, and bigger than most of my friends. At 160cm, I weighed 80kg. Until the previous year, I’d been pretty fit. I was into football and sports, but then it was like someone had flicked a switch within me. From wanting to play soccer and look after myself, I just lost all motivation.
‘I don’t feel like playing,’ I’d say, making up excuses not to play football at school. I stopped bothering about my appearance and turned to food for comfort. In a year, I’d put on 10kg and had turned into a couch potato. I spent all my spare time playing video games and tucking into junk food.
As an only child, I was shy, and introverted. I didn’t have too many friends and struggled in social situations. I always felt the odd one out and as I started to put on weight I became quieter and more self-conscious. Mum and Dad were worried. They wanted me to be more outgoing and sociable. Trying to develop a sense of responsibility in me, they gave me an allowance. But I spent it all on food. Sweets, burgers and fries were my favourite. I couldn’t stop eating. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal, but for lunch I’d have a couple of chicken sandwiches and a large fast food meal of fried chicken on my way back from school. For dinner I’d devour a Chinese takeaway or a cheese pizza at home, washed down with pop. I’d snack on fries and chips, and litres of fizzy drinks.
My parents tried their best to support me and tried to get me to follow diet after diet, but the minute I was on my own I’d give in and order more junk. The weight piled on, until I couldn’t fit into my clothes and had to buy large men’s trousers and shirts.
My studies suffered too. I’d always been very academic, but I didn’t believe in myself and didn’t bother. I believed I was a failure, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy. At exam time I thought it was pointless to study because I was going to do badly anyway, so of course I was proved right. Then to feel better, I’d turn to my comfort foods. I would hate what I saw in the mirror. I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I’d hide away in my room, playing games and delving into yet more junk. For a few minutes, as I savoured every bite, I’d feel better, and then wiping my mouth the self loathing would start again. I was fat, and I didn’t like it. Mum was becoming increasingly worried for me. Not just about my size, but also about my social isolation and my underlying lack of self-worth. ‘Why don’t you go out with your friends?’ she’d ask. ‘Maybe you can go over to call for them or suggest a movie?’ I’d shake my head, desperate to be left alone. ‘They’re busy,’ I’d say. Mum hated seeing me so upset, and would look online for diets. I’d stick to it them a few days, even weeks sometimes, but as soon as I lost the weight, I’d give up and pile it all back on again – and then some more. By the age of 17 I was tipping the scales at 127kg. I was squeezing myself into XXLs and it was becoming difficult to find trendy clothes to fit. I hated being so large, but I was addicted to junk food and no matter how much I longed to be thin, I couldn’t follow through with the changes in behaviour that were required. ‘Please Daniyal,’ Mum begged, ‘I can’t bear to see you like this, please think of your future and just try to lose some weight.’
She was frantic to help. And she didn’t give up on me. She was forever looking for a diet that would work. Then one day she came running into the lounge, looking excited. ‘I might have found the answer,’ Mum said. It wasn’t a diet. She had seen a story in Friday of how an obese schoolboy had lost weight and become extremely self-confident after being treated by Friday expert Russell Hemmings, a hypnotherapist and life coach.
‘Let’s meet him,’ she said. ‘You just can’t continue like this, Daniyal.’
I shrugged, trying to get out of it. I hated meeting strangers, but Mum looked so desperate to help that I agreed. We arranged to meet a week later. I was nervous beforehand but Mum came with me, and Russell was very friendly. ‘You’re not the first boy I’ve treated for this,’ he said. ‘You’ll feel and look totally different in just a few weeks.’ By the end of the 90-minute meeting I felt more positive than I had in years. I realised that I didn’t need to be like this.
I booked in to see Russell once a week for seven weeks and had three Skype support sessions. Through gentle questioning, Russell got me to explore my emotional connection to food. Slowly I realised that it was my solace for loneliness and it helped fill the void of not having many friends.
Russell explained that losing weight would make me feel better about myself. Not just how I looked, but on the inside as well. It would teach me that I could be in control of myself, and that would empower me and swell my self-esteem. He showed me how everything was linked together and that if I broke one part of the chain it would change the other parts.
‘Your low confidence is what is holding you back academically,’ he said. For the first time I didn’t feel patronised, I felt heard.
I followed Russell’s Rethink weight loss programme. He works with you to establish why you overeat and then transforms the triggers that cause it. I was also hypnotised and learnt a completely new approach to eating and the choices I was making about my life. It felt so liberating to be free of that overwhelming compulsion to eat. I simply didn’t want to eat all that junk any more. The desire had gone.
From the first session Mum was surprised to see the almost instant change in me. The slouchy ‘don’t bother me’ demeanour was replaced by a belief that I could be successful, and that I – not food, not my low self esteem – was in control of my life. Russell gave me this enormous sense of power – I could change this self-destructing habit by reprogramming my sub-conscious to remove the urge to overeat. Instead of junk, I was allowed to eat lean proteins – chicken and fish. I also had to exercise. That first week, I went to the gym, swam and jogged. By the end of the first week I’d lost 2kg. By the end of the fourth, I’d lost 6kg more.
Mum and Dad couldn’t believe the transformation in me. My clothes were baggy suddenly, ‘C’mon let’s go shopping for you,’ Mum said. Slipping into trendy clothes boosted my confidence and I started feeling good about myself for the first time in years. It’s amazing how other people respond to you in a different way when you become more confident. ‘Wow you look amazing,’ my friends said. My confidence soared – and suddenly I was interested in sports, talking to people and studying. I started doing well academically just as Russell had predicted.
Any worries or issues I had, I shared in our sessions, but instead of handing out the answers, he actually helped me to find the solutions for myself. This has helped me enormously, because I feel like I have real self-determination and self-reliance now. In just two months I lost 12kg and I can safely say I would never go back to my old eating habits. Now I focus on eating a balanced diet of lean proteins, salads, vegetables, fruit and I also try to stick to brown rice, wholewheat bread and noodles.
I still sometimes have the odd bag of sweets or small bar of chocolate, but the key thing is that I’ve got things under control. I know how to practise moderation and I’m fully aware of the importance of listening to my body. Since I first consulted Russell two years ago, I’ve lost a lot of weight; over 35kg, and this has changed my life in so many ways.
It’s really strange when you grow in confidence, because even though my size is reduced I actually feel bigger. I stand tall now because I know my own worth.
Academically, I’m doing really well – at Seneca College, Toronto – and my tutors are pleased. The new me has had the confidence to make a whole new set of friends and I enjoy a full and active life. My friends and I occasionally indulge in the odd video game, but now I’m more likely to munch on carrots and hummus than a family-sized bag of chips. But the biggest change has been on the inside. I value myself a lot now and know I can do anything if I put my mind to it. That’s an incredible feeling.
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