“My struggles with weight began in Class 9, when I weighed 66 kilos. My classmates would bully me, call me names, or address me as ‘uncle’. Since then, until I joined work in 2013, I lived a sedentary life and continued gaining weight. I weighed over 100 kilos,” recalls 29-year-old Balajepalli Shivaram Sastry, a resident of Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh.
“I was eventually diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, for which I was put on medication. But, a series of negative incidents pushed towards one positive thought, which was to live a healthy life,” says Shivaram, in an interview with The Better India.
Today, he is 60 kilos lighter, healthier, and pursuing a career he loves. He discusses the pitfalls that pushed him towards a better life.
When life throws curveballs
In 2013, Shivaram, an electrical engineer, moved to Mumbai for work. The nature of his job was such that he had to be on the field on most days. This led to him having no time to focus on his health. He would eat junk food and never had a fixed time for his meals.
A few years into the job, his younger sister suffered from loss of vision owing to a rare condition. This pushed Shivaram to quit his job and return to his hometown. In 2017, another tragedy struck, when their father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
While Shivaram would look after his sister, his mother would look after the house and his father.
“With the number of hospital visits, our family was buried under a mountain of debt. Overthinking about the well-being of the family, the following year, my mother also developed a heart condition. While it was not too serious, the doctors advised her to not strain her body and mind,” says Shivaram, adding that he single-handedly looked after his family for a year.
During this time, family members who visited their home would repeatedly advise Shivaram to look after his own health. They would particularly ask him to reduce weight so that he does not develop any medical condition.
“I was hurt by their statements. No one was aware that I was taking medication for anxiety and depression. But, deep down I knew that I had to be healthy for my family. However, before focusing on my health, I wanted to get a good job so that I could pay off our loans and look after my family,” says Shivaram, adding that he had given multiple exams to find a government job.
The turning point
Early in 2020, after passing an exam for a job related to shipping, Shivaram was invited for the second round – a physical test. Here, he says he was rejected on the grounds of being morbidly obese, weighing 130 kilos.
“The severity of the situation hit me hard when my weight stopped me from getting a job. This is when I knew I had to change my lifestyle. So, I approached my family doctor for counselling and constructing a diet plan,” says Shivaram.
After one session of counselling, he started by going for a walk and began limiting the calories he consumed. The following week, he took it up a notch by starting intermittent fasting.
“I would eat food only between 9 am and 5 pm. After that, I would not eat anything. This helped me lose several inches and a few kilos. I also used an application named HealthifyMe to keep track of my calories,” says Shivaram.
A healthy diet
To ensure his diet did not have too many calories, he had to cut down on carbohydrates. So, he stopped eating boiled rice, dosa and idlis.
“While it was the easiest dish to cook, I knew that rice is high in calories and could lead me towards diabetes. So I started replacing it with millets such as foxtail, bajra, sorghum, ragi, jawar, and barnyard millet, among others,” says Shivaram.
Even amid COVID-19, Shivaram did not give up. He focussed on his goals and continued exercising.
“I would go for walks early in the morning and brisk walk for 3-5 kilometres. After returning home, I would prepare meals for myself,” says Shivaram.
With the free time he had during the lockdown, he began experimenting with new recipes and made upma, khichdi and a variety of dishes using millets. For nine months, Shivaram had no cheat days. Even on his birthday, his mother made him a cake using ragi flour and dates for sweetness.
“By October 2020, I had lost 60 kilos and weighed 70 kgs. It was the happiest day of my life. I went to my family doctor for a check-up, and he could not recognise me. He said that I was his first patient who was determined, and showed obvious change,” says Shivaram.
The joy of losing weight gave Shivaram new hope. He started looking for jobs again and landed himself a role of his choice in a Bengaluru-based company.
Today, he continues to follow a calorie-deficit diet and eats millet-based food. While he does not find time to do strenuous exercises, he ensures to check his weight regularly and maintain it between 75-78 kgs through strict diets.