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The Year Of The Dancing Star

Updated: Jan 2

It has been quite a while since I typed down reflections of a year gone by. My daughter's school often asks her to write down reflections on various activities that form part of their IB curriculum and pedagogy and I think it is a brilliant practice and one that not only improves writing skills but also helps kids express themselves to the best of their abilities.


I strongly feel that we should all spend some time, penning or typing down our short-term experiences for posterity because it also serves as a reflection, a retrospective on how we were and the factors that considered our decisions leading up to our future self. 


But in reality, most of us are so engrossed in carving or chasing our benchmarks of success that we ignore the obvious, the tranquil and the time that goes past every tick of the watch. I agree with Nietzsche when he says, "You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star". This chaos, once reserved for the gifted, is now thrust upon us as a necessity if we have to survive and thrive in modern society. 


And it is with this thought that I look back on 2023, for it has given rise to a few "dancing star" moments in my life. 


A Sizeable Downsize

For most of my life, I've been obese, and this has negatively impacted my life, my work and my mental acuity. It has been the total of bad decisions, circumstances and a mental make-up built over the years that has demanded sizeable calories in much the same way as an addict longs for drugs. In short, I'm responsible for piling up weight, all leading me up, precariously close to the point of no return at my age and time in life.


This year started in the same way where my calorie intake ensured that my brain enjoyed its calm and peace but my body disagreed as it had been for several years. And the aforementioned calm and peace is a temporary flight. Because it crashes sooner than later, leading to brain fog and a general inability to focus on work and life's details that must demand attention. And when you're obese, all of this works against whatever little desire you may have to get rid of this condition. Physically I was in a state of permanent lethargy where my brain refused to function beyond 20%, I found it difficult to sit down for long or stand up from a chair, you cannot walk for more than 20 minutes without feeling the need to sit, the acid reflux makes it impossible for you to sleep well at night and the breathing difficulties and snoring makes the rest of the night difficult to pass through. These are just a few of the several challenges that I was going through physically. 


But the mental situation is the personal one. In short, an obese person is inside a mental trap, at all times and while normal and healthy people might try to understand, it is practically impossible to understand what I and people like me go through on a mental level. 


Society looks down on you. People closest to you see your disability as a blocker for their own life's pace and all of this conspires against remnants of one's willpower. As I've mentioned, obesity is more of a mental condition than a physical one though it is the physical problem that the world sees most. 


It is akin to clinical depression and other mental disorders that require treatment and care. If you're obese and you have a support system in life that understands this as a mental condition and helps you gain the right attention, then consider yourself lucky. The rest of us have to fend for ourselves and are alone in this fight against our mental monsters.  


For me, 2023 provided me with a nudge. A dear friend in a rather similar condition demonstrated considerable weight loss, achieved over a year. This came in as a pleasant surprise and for me personally shone a ray of positivity and encouragement. Here was someone in a similar state who had achieved what I had dreamed of. It could be done - This is the message that I took home. With the help of professional guidance and motivation from family, I took a leap of faith, summed up all the courage I had (or whatever was left of it) and began a journey of transformation. Right before starting this journey, I remember going on a weekend vacation up hills and trying to stick to salads more than the richer items on the menu. 


The Journey

And so began my journey of physical and mental transformation. The first point of attack was my diet. Bringing it down from "Let's eat anything across the day when I'm stressed or not stressed" to "Let's eat sensibly and in controlled portions" was perhaps the biggest change. No matter what kind of diet-related non-sense you get to read on the Internet, the rules of this game are simpler than you can imagine:


  • A Caloric Deficit Diet: Eat less than you can burn. Practice portion control and rearrange the elements in your diet to give your body what it requires most - nutrients. Stay away from stupid advice, especially the ones stemming from social media influencers.


  • Physical Activity: Burn calories by physical movement and exercise. Simple. For the obese, getting started DOES NOT mean joining a gym. Begin by walking. I'm proof.


Every other hack, diet or system is just a marketing gimmick. Over the past few years, I've been on this journey time and again. I remember engaging a very popular nutritionist in Chandigarh, one who now has a sizeable following on social media and has diet centres across the country and even abroad. The entire effort was so difficult to sustain that I fell off the train in a few months. The diet plan consisted of more hacks than real advice like cumin-ajwain water which has absolutely zero value whatsoever except anecdotal and unscientific non-sense that all it leads to are more pee trips to the bathroom. This leads to immediate water loss and one sees the effect on the weighing scale. The result - The client is happy with weight loss! The reality - You've lost water, not fat!


This time around, I had the right people guiding me. With a caloric deficit diet that was easy and enjoyable to sustain and maintain, I got myself into portion control and management where I experimented with eating things that I had always loved but ones that were not nutritionally rich (The ones ordered through Zomato and Swiggy apps). This time, I practised portion control. And it does wonders. As I've mentioned, obesity is first controlled in the mind and with portion control, you can gradually train your mind to enjoy the food that you've always loved but in portions that ensure you are within your daily calorie allowance. Your mind stays happy and that is a huge win because the body follows. As I write this on 31st December 2023, I'm 9 months into this practice and couldn't be happier. I eat everything including pizzas, burgers, cake and pasta but such that my fat loss journey is steadily progressing!


A diet plan should not become a death plan. The 'die' in the word 'dieting' is not in the literal sense of the word. If your diet plan is not sustainable, and it doesn't become a habit that you can easily live with and enjoy, then it will never work for you and you should stop and reassess your journey. You do NOT need to get on an almond milk, vegan, kale and quinoa diet (especially for Indians because these things are not common here). Just eat fresh and local produce in a balanced way.


The other big challenge is physical activity. For an obese person, physical activity is a punishment. Getting up, sitting down, and walking are painful, and running is quite impossible. This is to the extent that even in the past, climbing up a flight of stairs to reach the gym has been reason enough for me to avoid joining one in the first place. 


And so this time, I started with plain vanilla walking. The goal set in front of me was to complete 8 to 10,000 steps every day. This is what everyone advises and is quite effective as I was to find out. I remember the first day as I huffed, puffed around my neighbourhood, knees aching, and raised my heart rate to about 135bpm. Mind you, I wasn't walking briskly. I was just walking normally. But a body at perpetual rest going into sudden motion caused my heart to jump up and panic. I managed about 5000 steps on the first day.


Over the next month, I increased this to 8000. Heart rate stabilized to about 120bpm during the walk which wasn't brisk or anything but covered a distance which was impossible a month prior. 


Fast forward to today where I walk 10,000 steps (~ 8kms) every day and beyond sometimes, without raising my heart rate above 110 bpm and that includes a 1 km jog without any rest in the middle. 


The result of all this is that on the 31st of December, 2023, i.e. today, I'm down by almost 35 kilos and have lost over 10 inches of stubborn fat off my waist. I've gone down from 6XL to XXL and I'm lighter than I ever was over the past 20 years! I don't snore, I breathe easy. Acidity is a thing of the past and I'm active!


I've finally joined a gym because walking and cardio lead to weight and fat loss but also lead to muscle mass loss if not coupled with strength training. And so far it's going great. The strength is returning and I feel better than ever with great cardiac capacity for someone in my condition. And though I'm still technically obese, I'm at the lowest level and almost about to exit that range on the scale. 


One additional advice for those looking to follow my lead is to get a step counter or a smart watch and measure your steps, calories burnt etc. You don't need to buy an Apple Watch. I use a Xiaomi Band which has a basic step counter and can log a few basic workouts. It has been more than sufficient for me to track activity and make sense of it. The battery life is outstanding at roughly 10 - 12 days and that after having it in possession for 3 years now. 


If you're reading this, and you're obese, then get in touch with me and I'll be happy to provide you with tips, motivation and advice based on my experiences. This is not a commercial service and I'm at your disposal, absolutely free. Because nothing would give me more pleasure than to help someone in the obesity trap - I know your pain. 


The Age of AI 

2023 also marked the official dawn of the AI age. The world of December 2023 is vastly different from that of December 2022. In December 2022, I came across ChatGPT and was stunned by its capabilities. This was like Alexa but a class apart! And while I won't go into the details of what AI has gone through over this past year, it is safe to say that we're officially in an AI-driven age now and this is quite like the industrial age or the time when man discovered the wheel. From text-based AI chatbots of late 2022 to video, voice and image generators of 2023, AI is growing exponentially and fast. What is relevant today will be obsolete in about two weeks. Never in the history of this world, have we ever witnessed such rapid growth in technology. And the fact that this age has just dawned makes me wonder about the stage we'll find ourselves in, 5 years from now. 


We're truly living in exciting times! For me personally, Generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney AI, Grok AI and GitHub CoPilot have become everyday tools. They've massively reduced the brain overload that I used to suffer from, have increased my productivity by an order of magnitude of about 10x and have become my creative assists. Just like it is difficult to imagine a world without mobile phones and the Internet, it is rapidly becoming difficult to imagine a world without tools like ChatGPT. This means that the NYT can shove it up their backside with their court case!


Encounters of the Neigh Kind

Summer vacations for kids are always a great time to indulge in a new hobby or pursue a passion for which regular school days aren't enough. This year, my daughter's school introduced a 10-day horse riding camp besides the usual STEM, painting etc. workshops. My daughter has always been an animal lover and my wife thinks that she's a magnet for animals because no matter where we go, animals are kindly attracted to her. Be it cats, dogs, cows and now horses, animals are attracted in a kind and loving way and she reciprocates their kindness as well. 


During the camp, Aliyah found a new love for horses one that she has carried beyond the workshop and has become an excellent rider over the past few months. As a father, watching her ride makes me incredibly proud and I'm in literal awe of her achievement. Seeing her control a beast that is way bigger than herself is a sight to behold. 


For this I'm deeply indebted to her school, the riding club and above all, her coach who takes great pains in ensuring she learns the tiniest of nuances. She is focused on taking up riding and its associated sports as a long-term goal now and I'm excited to see what 2024 will bring to this space.


2024

I'm really happy that I was able to embark on a successful transformation journey in 2023 without setting a stupid New Year Resolution and Goal because life's chaos does not work with preset goals and resolutions. We must learn to live life in the present and take quick and dynamic actions and detours based on what works best at the moment. This is what led to a quick and fast decision to lose weight and it worked and is working well for me. In 2024, I intend to end this journey by achieving my goal weight.


On the career front, I'm looking forward to something really exciting that I'm working on with renewed energy after putting it off for a couple of years. Exciting times beckon!


I seriously hope that this new year helps you gain mental peace because that is something we long for, amidst the maelstrom of life. It is peace, not money or job or business success that we must aim for, for everything else ensues. 


I wish you peace and happiness in 2024


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Happy New Year 2024! Bhaiya, your reflective journal is wonderfully crafted. It's not only a reflection of who you are but also inspiring and pragmatic. I am happy reading it.

I'm exhausted from all these fitness gurus peddling mere hype (so called #Rizz) rather than genuine fitness advice. I'll definitely seek your guidance for authentic tips.

Eagerly awaiting to witness your transformation and to learn more about your work with Renewed energy. All the best! Ankit Bhatnagar

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Thank you so much, Ankit. I'm always at your disposal.

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