When Jaya Belani saw her medical reports, she was aghast. She had known something was wrong.
The Mumbai-born, Dubai-bred expat had been diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) years ago, and the consequent weight gain – a common side effect – had been something that she’d grown accustomed to.
It’s not that the additional weight didn’t bother her – she had a back problem, which caused her pain. But once movement restrictions because of the global COVID pandemic kicked in and she found herself completely homebound, the aches had really magnified. Then a scan revealed that she was headed towards arthritis and diabetes.
The 38-year-old was scared. Hers is a family history rich in blood sugar problems and renal issues. She decided to do something about it. At 117kg, the five-foot-five-inch Indian wasn’t sure of where to begin, so she began to look at YouTube for videos that could suggest a diet change, exercises. And from them she found easy do-it-at-home exercises. With all that weight, she explains in an interview with Gulf News, it was tough to exercise. So she began slowly, 15 minutes at a time. She added a couple of home-brews to the mix: black tea with ginger and lemon and turmeric in hot water. Slowly, she began to up her stamina.
As for food intake, it became strategic. She reduced portion sizes to 2/3rds of what she normally ate. To keep hunger at bay, she would eat half her meal and cover and keep the rest away. An hour-and-a-half later, when hunger pangs hit again, she’d eat the rest.
She also gave up her favourite morning meal: Bread or biscuits. To all others hoping to follow her example, she says, if you have the same habit, “leave it – it made me put on a lot of weight.”
Initially, she admits, there were “body pains. If you even walk, you feel the back pain is getting worse. It took a while for me to get used to it.”
Add to that, the fact that she was homeschooling her children, seven and five, made it a chaotic time, she recalls.
She had to consider healthy alternatives to the carb-heavy favourites her kids may prefer. If she made stuffed potato paratha (fried bread) for instance, she made herself a paratha stuffed with vegetables instead. She began to cut out carb sides in her protein meals. “I ate chicken without bread or rice,” she explains.
But, she stresses, it wasn’t one of those diets that left her craving for things – she didn’t want to go on a binge later. She says, “I eat normal food. It’s just that my portion is very limited.”
“I try to stuff myself with water and bowl of salad, before the actual meal of carbs and protein,” she adds.
Belani, who lost 42kg in 10 months, says she still eats her chocolates and cakes and pastries –it’s just that she eats them in tiny portions.
And on cheat days, once a week, she admits to eating the odd fried chicken meal. “Just smaller portions,” she reiterates.
She loves her newfound energy, her ability to play with her kids and shop in “normal sections”. “Glad I don’t enter the extended size anymore. [There are a ] lot more options to wear. Earlier, I had to make sure I wore the longest of the tops, jeans which stretched,” she laughs.
Belani’s journey has left her with some hair fall and stretch marks and loose skin, which she’s working to get rid of, but she’s not too concerned with the scars of a battle hard won.
She says many people say that because they are at home owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, because they have so many things to do, they can’t lose weight. But she is proof it’s possible. She hopes they will be inspired by her story.
“While you are at home, you can do things – it’s a good opportunity,” she says.
Her advice is practical. “You need to cook your own meals – when you are cooking, you can monitor what you want to eat and how it’s cooked.”
She says it’s just about focusing on yourself for 30 minutes to one hour every day.
“It’s a too good feeling when you see the results,” she adds.
Especially when those medical troubles melt away. Today, Belani’s blood sugar levels are normal. The fear is gone, only sunnier days await.
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