Part one in a series about personal transformation. Discover what a weight loss journey actually entails in this poignant, starkly honest account of what is involved before, during, and after massive weight loss. Unless you have been on this journey yourself, you will learn things that will surprise you.
When I got the receipt from the cashier and grabbed my shopping bags, I knew I was in very big trouble. Three excruciating hours had passed, yet I’d only bought one pair of clothes. The old and now iconic department store has witnessed so many changes, from major infrastructure developments around it to a revolution that precipitated a change of this country’s regime, but I never expected that one of the many changes it would witness would be mine. It’s ironic, because for all its height and breadth, the department store didn’t have anything big enough for me to wear.
“Louie, ang taba mo na.” (“Louie, you have gotten fat.”)
Words do not hurt anymore. At least that’s what the tape that plays in my head tells me whenever I hear these words. Who cares? People age, so we experience change. Our bodies give out; our metabolisms progressively betray us. I don’t even believe that “what’s inside matters more than what’s on the outside” crap. None of it will matter in the end.
But to see my shirt size go up to 4XL and my waistline from 38 to 42 inches is a different story. As I looked at myself in the mirror of the very cramped fitting room, I saw through a lie.
“Sir, bagay sa’yo.” (“Sir, the clothes look great on you.”) The sales clerk smiled at me after I tried to fit in the clothes. The poor clerk had been sweating for almost an hour just looking for shirts and pants that would fit me. Was it out of desire to help a miserable stranger? Or was it a desperate attempt to finally shoo me away so she could call it a day. Did she tell her other colleagues who attempted to help me two hours ago that she was the one who finally succeeded in getting me out the door?
I always thought fitness was only for meatheads and anorexic models.
How many souls are living through this misery? And how many manage to get out of it? Instagram models, fitness YouTubers, and fitness and diet gurus from hundreds of TV infomercials make it sound easy and fun. I see pictures of transformations as evidence that it can be done. They stare me in the face, showing me what the possibilities are, yet I sense deep down in my bones a big resistance. I despise fitness. I always thought it was only for meatheads and anorexic models who are borderline narcissists. The irony of my animosity towards fitness-obsessed people is we both share the tendency to allow our mirrors to mess with our heads.
It’s easier to sell transformation than go through it.
After years of being a salesperson, I can no longer track the countless times I sold transformation to people. Ask the right questions, create an intangible pain, invent desire, paint a picture, and shake their hands to close the deal. Through the years of this repetitive cycle, I heard all sorts of motivations from people that made them come to me for the solutions. I never understood why, but their motivations underwhelmed me. I can wear their shoes, attempt to live their lives, extract their motivations, and list all the things that keep them up at night, but that will be the extent of it.
This is even after years of working at iAwake Technologies, a transformative meditation company. I was introduced to the practice of meditation a few months in. But it wasn’t the pure desire to seek personal growth that made me do it; it was the months of exasperation from not understanding what the kind souls I worked for (and with) were talking about. Before it hit the front page of Time magazine, I wanted to understand this whole meditation business.
One moment I feel great, then one Google search later, I’ve got a few months or weeks or days left to live.
I hate the doctor’s office. The sterile walls, the bright but somehow flat lights, the workers, who just like me, are probably dead inside, the posters that tell of an imminent or current plague, the doctors who are always late, the long lines—they all suck whatever life is left of anyone who goes there.
My strategy for dealing with signs of illnesses is to consult the good ol’ internet. It’s the oldest trick in a hypochondriac’s playbook. One moment I feel great, then one Google search later, I’ve got a few months or weeks or days left to live. I would always laugh about it to friends, but no one was amused.
This time, it was a rude awakening. In movies, this was the part when the protagonist is falling from the top of the building, and he or she begins to tell the series of events that led up to this exact moment. For me, it was the instant I realized this could be the end, with no time to ponder the series of events that led to this moment. There was a huge possibility that at 28, my life was over. The still wet and ammonia-like smell in my bed tells me that pre-diabetes or diabetes is my new reality.
A day before this morning’s incident, the scale told me I weighed 280 pounds. This was two months after buying the 4XL shirt and 42 inch pants. I didn’t even know if they still fit. As it turns out, being miserable shopping for clothes was not enough motivation, but peeing the bed was.
Just when motivation finally comes to me, my life is over.
My email inbox is a mess. Some people might be shocked that someone who’s working in a field that’s tantamount to “being Zen” can’t get a moment’s peace from the copious amount of incoming emails. A lot are subscriptions to things I was once interested in, some hidden notes that I send myself on days when melancholy strikes, some correspondence to people I don’t even speak to anymore, and a few emails from work.
What caught my attention in this buffeting of information overload was a promotional email about a “magical” formula to lose weight. It only required tens of dollars, a pair of barbells, and a few minutes a day for less than half the week. I don’t fall for get-rich-quick schemes, so why would I fall for this trick? But it’s now or never. One day more, and my feet will slowly sink to the ground. Even knowing my life was over, extending it for a little bit would make a big difference.
I’ve always had a very difficult time visualizing, but slowly, vivid images of me being lighter began to float in my mind.
Instagram is a curse, yet this is where I found a possible cure. I found the ketogenic diet approach after scrolling through countless of posts from influencers who have either gotten their shit so much together they look scientifically sculpted, or have a great team of photo editors who can sculpt them based on however they desire.
Carbohydrates are the enemy, these people say. Calorie tracking is old school. Hacking the metabolism by eating pork belly covered in bacon and dipped in mayonnaise for breakfast in your thirties is still possible. Losing a pound or two a day can be my new reality. I love anything fatty, so what’s there for me to lose?
How can something be dreadful and beautiful at the same time?
I close the drapes. It’s only four o’clock in the afternoon and I just finished my last meal of the day. It’s my second week trying this thing called intermittent fasting. There are a lot of research papers about it, so it probably works. For 16 hours, I am not allowed to consume anything of caloric value.
The last 11 months have been an endless state of complex dieting. That and reading hundreds of articles about the groundbreaking research my new routine offers. One hundred twenty pounds of weight lost, clothes from 4XL to size small. I now feel my life has been extended for more than what I asked for in the beginning of this journey, when I didn’t even know I would work towards hitting this goal with such ferocity. The results were dramatic. The scores of praises from people were psychedelic.
But the mirror shows me a different image. It is starting to dawn on me that someone can never have enough of weight loss. The new tapes in my head play repeatedly, hissing it is still not enough, in spite of my recent massive weight loss. I am not sure how and when these new voices came to life, but one day they crept up in me, pushing me into a new predicament.
As soon as the drapes are closed, I put my headphones on to attempt to get rid of the voices in my head.
“We can feel doomed by our genetic makeup, by our character, and by our fate. But then we realize that with practice and dedication, we can improve just about everything that matters.”
—John Dupuy, A Powerful Meditation Practice Can Improve Everything That Matters
I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard John talk about practice. I keep telling myself it should stick at some point. I found out there’s no middle ground to this. Compromise is futile. It’s either a lifetime of dedication to practice or a lifetime of misery.
I’ve always had a special fondness for iAwake’s HeartWave Meditation. If in the beginning I forced myself to learn how to practice meditation to fuel not the desire of deepening my inner expedition, but the desire to eliminate the pangs of frustration from not understanding anything about my job, I now crave stillness in order to seek my inner compass for direction. But time and again, I will fall off the wagon when things begin to crumble.
I was never gifted with resilience, so the only plausible option I knew whenever things crumbled was to fall apart.
To my delight, the beautiful melodies are still a welcome relief three years later. I have been listening to HeartWave almost every day since it was released, and it still continues to shower me with grit. It was never intended to help someone with weight loss; it was created to open someone’s heart. To deconstruct its capacities to go beyond its intended benefits is pointless. As human experiences are subjective, it’s perhaps the countless breakthroughs I’ve had with it that make it so magnetic.
As soon as I cross my legs in the lotus position and press the button, my hope is that things will become calm again. It was an extremely difficult eleven months. The applause is starting to die down, and the only sounds I hear are the voices in my head.
I am tired of the whole weight loss journey. I am tired of treating my body like an experiment. It’s exhausting, and I feel that the finish line is nowhere in sight. The ketogenic diet has started to show some cracks. The original goal of taking control of my health has now turned into creating myself as a product to be desired.
It’s an open secret that almost no one has the courage to talk about. But then I found someone on YouTube who did have the courage to talk about the vulnerabilities that come after weight loss: the challenges of maintaining the weight, and the host of body issues that come with it.
It’s been two and a half years since those three excruciating hours at the department store looking for something to wear. Two and a half years of an incredible, yet exhausting weight loss journey. I have lost 140 pounds overall. As people have begun commenting how too thin I’ve become, I am now slowly gaining back some weight.
As it turns out, as with practice, there is no middle ground to our relationship with our bodies. We’re either too fat or too thin. Swiping through my old photos, I can’t help but reminisce about the days when I didn’t have to subject myself to strict regimens and I could let myself be free.
I still have not cracked the code, and perhaps I will never crack it. The voices in my head may never leave me and may grow increasingly louder. But in practice, I surrender.
Louie Santos, Business & Partners Manager of iAwake Technologies, is The Reluctant Storyteller.