Trigger warning: Mentions of Anorexia, an eating disorder (ED).
“There was a time in my life when I used to starve myself, just to look thin. But over the years, my life experiences broke it down to me that weight gain or looking a certain way doesn’t matter. Being fit and stronger does. That realisation helped me embrace fitness and respect my body,” says Radhika Nihalani, a fitness enthusiast, mother of two and successful entrepreneur.
Donning many hats, she aces a good balance between her family, work life and, of course, her wellness. Though she says, “It wasn’t an easy journey and it still isn’t.”
Having a love-hate relationship with her own body ever since she was a teenager, Radhika recalls her weight loss journey from being an overweight teen to being borderline anorexic to dealing with postpartum weight gain and finally getting into a fitness routine.
“All women, especially mothers, might relate to me. I’ve had a roller coaster ride throughout till I finally embraced fitness as a major lifestyle change,” says the 39-year-old who runs two PR companies.
Always the “plump kid”
While growing up in Delhi, Radhika says that she was called the “plump kid” throughout her childhood and never had to experience body shaming or body image issues. “When I was in school, there were no discussions around fat shaming or body image issues and I always felt okay in my skin. Even when people made subtle comments on my body, it didn’t bother me much,” she says, adding that her perspective and her sense of body image changed as she became a young adult.
It was when she joined the college that she started noticing her weight had increased over the years. She recalls that her weight was around 80 kg during her early years in college which she felt was a “big size for a 5’2” girl of that age”.
“It never occurred to me until I joined a dance class that every single person in the class was a certain size and I didn’t look like them. That triggered me,” she recalls.
“There was also another incident which happened in my own house. One day my cousin and I decided to weigh ourselves on our newly bought weighing machine. I was sure that my weight wouldn’t be more than 55 kg but when I weighed 78 kg. I could not believe that I had gained weight as I was least bothered about it up until that point,” she elaborates, adding, “These two became the turning points in my life.”
Radhika then went on to take extreme measures that resulted in unhealthy weight loss. “I stopped eating food properly and starved myself to lose weight. There were days when I just ate an orange. Besides, I went for extreme exercise regimes like running for 20 km a day, that too without eating enough food. My weight dropped drastically from 80 kg to 48 kg. This led to a lot of health issues and also affected my period cycles,” she says.
“From that point onwards everything in my life started revolving around “being thin or fat.” I started lying to people that I had eaten when I hadn’t,” she adds.
The weight woes continued even after she moved out of her house to pursue her post-graduation. “I continued the same drastic regime there and the fact that I was out of my house added to it, as I was deprived of good food too. I ate very little and deprived my body so much that on certain days when I would let go, I would stuff myself with food. It was just extreme [behaviour], either I would starve myself or eat like it was the last day of my life,” she says.
Later, it was one of her college friends, who specialised in Psychology, who pointed out that she might be borderline anorexic. “At that time, there were not many available resources like we have now on the internet. So, my friend made me read a few books on anorexia and I realised that I might have it. That’s when I understood its severity and also that what I was doing to myself was not right,” she recalls, adding that this was a much-needed reality check.
She says that it changed her way of thinking and made her determined to do something about it. It took her a lot of effort and self-discipline to break out of her anorexic lifestyle. “I was determined, I thought, if I have the willpower to starve myself for so many days then I can train my mind to be better for myself. Eventually, I started eating nutritious food and alongside I started working out,” she adds.
By giving importance to fitness and nutrition Radhika says that she eventually found a balance in her life. In 2006, she moved to Mumbai after her studies and later got married to the love of her life.
“When I got pregnant with my first child, I took it as an opportunity to eat everything I felt like. Gaining weight during pregnancy is normal and every mother faces it. I was confident that even if I gained a lot of weight, I could lose it easily after the delivery,” she elaborates.
But post her delivery in 2018, Radhika realised that it wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be. “I thought I would start working out immediately and would be back in shape soon. But the reality was different. There was so much stress and anxiety as it was our first child. I started stress eating and gaining more weight. I didn’t have the motivation to work out,” says Radhika.
It took her around a year to start thinking about working out to get back to her healthy weight. So, she took up a 100-day fitness challenge on Instagram where she posted about her workout every single day. “That challenge was an experiment that maybe if I put myself, I would be consistent and reach my goal. And it worked,” she says.
When she had her second child in 2021, she says that it gave her a whole new perspective regarding body weight and fitness. “I knew my body would change again and I didn’t want to get stressed about it. So, I decided to eat healthily and take it as it came. After my delivery, I realised that it isn’t the shape or size but the health and strength that mattered. Most importantly, I have to take care of my two children and for that, I need to stay fit and healthy,” says Radhika, who now works out daily and aims to be consistent with it.
When she started sharing her workout routine on Instagram, her followers started writing to her asking for instructions. “If you put your mind to it, anyone can do it. Of course, it isn’t easy! But try to take that 30 minutes out of your life every day and do what works best for you,” she advises.
“I do hit the gym but there are days when I miss them. But on those days I make sure that I compensate for it by walking to work or ditching the lift and climbing the stairs,” says Radhika.
She adds, “Most importantly, it is the mindset that needs to change. Choosing fitness is a lifestyle change and a long-term goal. It’s not a short sprint, but a marathon. It might take time but slowly you will see the changes.”
Edited by Yoshita Rao
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