General Z speaks: I used to beat myself up for being unhealthy. Accepting failure helped me pursue my fitness goals

Eating junk food made me feel good as a kid, but my parents always made sure I would never overdo it with unhealthy foods and would keep an eye on my diet.

As such, I grew up with a fairly healthy diet in my younger days.

It was only when I reached my teenage years and gained more independence in my food choices that fast food began to form a larger part of my overall diet.

Whenever I feel stressed or anxious, I turn to junk food as a quick fix, despite my many attempts to fix my eating habits. I knew it was an unhealthy business, but I couldn’t help it.

Exercising regularly was also a struggle for me as a teenager.

I’d often start a new fitness routine, but I’ve never been able to stick to it and gave up within a few weeks. Just as with my diet, I’ve struggled to stay consistent when it comes to staying physically active.

So, I finally started gaining weight as a result of this unhealthy lifestyle, and I weighed around 15kg by the time I turned 16.

My confidence started to drop, and so did my fitness level. All of these factors combined have made things like running or visiting the gym regularly more mentally and physically exhausting.

I couldn’t accept this as my way of life in the long run.

I force myself to exercise

By the time I was 17, I remember pulling myself out of the house to start exercising vigorously every day the more time and energy I had to invest in my fitness, such as during school holidays when commitments weren’t in the way.

I’ve been able to keep this up for over a year and have made great progress. I managed to keep this up for over a year and as a result, I lost about 20 kg.

However, I was imposing this on myself and didn’t enjoy any part of it. Although I felt a slight sense of relief that I was no longer overweight, I also remember a constant feeling of mental fatigue.

So, one day, my system of forced exercise inevitably ended abruptly.

I was experiencing tremendous stress and pressure from school and part-time work at the time. I was constantly busy and often sleep deprived during this period of several months.

As a result, I started neglecting my fitness again. I’m back to my old routine of trying a fitness schedule that can only last a week, and no more.

These repeated failures made it difficult to avoid returning to my previous tendencies, including junk food.

In the end, my fitness got worse than when I started.

The lowest point in my teenage journey with my personal health was when I was classified as “moderately obese” after attending a pre-enlistment medical exam in July of last year.

Seeing the word “obesity” in an official fitness document for the first time was a wake-up call.

I felt ashamed when I thought about how my actions over the past year had led me to this point.

It brought back bitter memories of how I struggled with sports and fitness-related activities at school that resurfaced in my mind.

Whenever I attended a meeting, people would pull me aside to tell me I should start exercising more. This happened a lot and always made me feel insulted.

With the kind of lifestyle I was leading, I also had no confidence when it came to participating in sports. As a result, whenever my friends invite me to do things like play basketball or go hiking, I always choose to stay home instead.

This caused many missed opportunities to socialize and keep in touch with my friends. As this became a long-term cycle, I also began to feel empty and incomplete in my social life.

Then there was also the national service itself. I decided then that I could not continue my unhealthy habits during my National Service, because fitness often plays a big role.

what worked

So this time, unlike my previous futile efforts, I wanted to do things differently.

First, I had to learn to accept failure and be kinder to myself, so as not to lose motivation and get into a worse state than before.

What worked for me in the end was setting “overly realistic goals” that required little effort to achieve.

These might include simple things like allowing myself to eat whatever I want, but in smaller portions, and creating short workouts with exercises I enjoy.

I also like to do things like running in the early hours of the morning as there were fewer people around, to keep my anxiety and mistrust from hindering my progress.

The effectiveness of some of these goals has been somewhat limited when it comes to enhancing my fitness level. But I was able to keep it consistent with these short workouts, preventing my newfound motivation from dissipating.

It also became easier for me to start pushing myself a little more, putting a little higher limit each time, to achieve better results.

Second, I also needed to deal with my stress, which I saw was the root cause of my relapse into unhealthy eating.

To better manage my mood, I spent more time doing things I was passionate about. I enjoy working on creative personal projects such as creating graphic design or making short films with my friends. So, engaging in such activities during my spare time helped me keep my spirits high.

This was not a linear process, as there were still times when I felt high levels of stress and briefly neglected my fitness.

However, whenever I find myself falling behind, working on my hyper-realistic goals will get me back on the right track.

Earlier this year, I went for a medical review to take my BMI again before enlisting.

As a result of the changes in my technique, I was able to lose about 12 kilos and is now considered a healthy weight.

In my opinion, this felt like a temporary victory in my journey with fitness, even though I still had a long way to go.

While my old habits will resurface from time to time, I now know how to work through these urges and have gained more confidence in myself.

About the author

Ajay Surya, 20, recently graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a Diploma in Communications and Media Management. He is currently serving in the national service.

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