Swati Parashar is Head of Marketing at a leading IT Company and is a part of our esteemed jury for the Restore Awards. We at Unhurry interviewed her about her own very real yet extremely inspiring journey as body image warrior after having lost 35kgs. The interview below will inspire a lot of women who are struggling like Swati did.
Q. You have been overweight since you were a teenager, you told me. What were some of the things that stayed with you even today when you have lost all the weight? Any comments, traumas that you can recall? So sorry to make you visit them but it will help people relate to their own struggles.
SP: I was obese since I can remember, much before I was even a teenager. My earliest childhood memories are of me being the biggest in my class, on the playground and in any social/ family setting.
My angst amplified as I entered the teenage years, the obesity now coupled with facial hair. There was nothing medically wrong, blood tests did not diagnose anything. This hirsutism was termed idiosyncratic and dismissed.
Suggestions, tips & tricks, and jibes disguised as encouragement were free flowing. I cannot remember a social setting where I did not receive advise on how “I would look so nice if only I lost a little weight”.
Barring a very few, most school mates would call me “Moti”. And then in 1998, when I was in 11th Standard, the Bobby Deol movie Soldier hit theatres, and overnight I went from “Moti” to “Bobby” – the resemblance of our sideburns uncanny. 24 years since, I still catch myself wondering – how did it start? Did they meet up and decide or did someone just start the trend all by himself/ herself? I guess I will never know; this will remain one of my life’s greatest mysteries.
School was a cakewalk in comparison; it was a steep uphill journey – the college years. There’s a reason why movies have a “fun-fat-friend’ stereotype (gender notwithstanding). The one who is always cheerful, the shoulder to cry one, gives sagacious advice, but no one delves deeper into this character. Unless there is a makeover, and suddenly from the “fun-fat-friend” they become the leading lady/lad. I have lived that stereotype; I was that stereotype.
However, even after I decided to be my own fairly godmother, take matter into my own hands, exercise and try fad diets and drinks, my “magic makeover” did not happen.
When I started working, a “boss-type” told me to my face– “I cannot take you to any client meetings, look at the way you look”.
Angst led to agony, which led me into believing I could be truly happy and successful only once I reached a certain weight, only once I was a certain size. I was so tormented by the constant ridicule, I started beating people to it. I would ridicule myself before anyone else could.
Then I was diagnosed with PCOD. I thought to myself – if this gets cured, I will lose all the weight and the facial hair will just fall off. None of those things happened. The PCOD was cured, the weight remained.
In 2013, I read up a lot of fad diets, went off carbs and lost a little weight. This gave me the courage to enter a gym. I started walking on the treadmill with a vengeance. Cut to 2015, I was limping around with a torn ACL. A botched-up surgery later, at age 34, I had Grade 2 & Grade 3 damage in the cartilage of both knees. Chronic knee pain ensued with this early onset of osteo arthritis.
I have spent all of my conscious years trying to deal with the stigma of being obese. It has been exhausting 40 years. I have always felt like an outsider, looking into a world full of people much smaller in size. This feeling has stayed me, I still feel like I do not belong, scared I might out stay my welcome.
Q: What prompted you to start the weight loss and healing journey?
SP: I came across this blog series on unhurry.in by Mr S Sivakumar, where he shares his health journey under Rachna’s guidance. To say that Mr. Sivakumar is a global industry stalwart, and a visionary beyond compare, would be putting it mildly.
His story was in equal parts inspiring and a wake-up call. Inspiring because here was proof that with the right guidance and drive, it was possible to achieve one’s health goals. I also say wake-up call, because the “I am busy” excuse just did not hold water anymore.
And then I logged on to RachnaRestores.com, read the stories people had shared and learnt about Rachna’s own journey with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
This rekindled hope – hope that I can in fact lose weight.
It was then that I finally connect with Rachna and we started on this healing journey. Her sheer passion and kindness made sticking to the program easy and enjoyable. Because, in this case, well begun was definitely not half done. It was just the first step.
It is strange how a chance encounter with a blog and a kind conversation with a total stranger (i.e. Rachna) can change the course of one’s life! But it did for me.
Q: What were the difficulties you faced when you were put on an extremely restricted program? Right in the beginning, what were your thoughts?
SP: Early on in the program, there were times I would spend hours browsing through the most sinful street foods from across the world and feeling sorry for myself. This led to me having harsh conversations with myself frequently. These internal dialogues can be summed up as, “You ate your way to obesity, so now you deserve to starve. Suffer fool!”
However, turns out this was stemming from how poorly I was treating myself – not an iota of the gentle, loving care I usually dole out for everyone else. It was a mental block, which needed to be broken.
For the first time, I was spending time to thoughtfully prepare meals for myself, eating fruits and nuts and lots of vegetables, spending time to breathe, relax and unwind! These were blessings, a privilege, not restrictions!
As the weight started sliding down, I also remember finding myself terrified and panicking – what if I messed up and ate more than was prescribed. Or just “fell off the wagon” and ate the “wrong” food. I was walking on eggshells and stressing about make belief social situations where I could not refuse food. This again reflected the bad relationship I had with food – which Rachna uncovered for me as part of the program. She also helped me work through many anxieties and is teaching me the fine art of striking-a-balance.
I read this quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Ans yes – this program is a different way of looking at food, the right kind of exercise, nutrition, time management and stress & anxiety awareness. But in hindsight, I would refrain from calling the program “restricted”. Clichéd as it may sound, the program for me was nourishing to the body, mind and soul.
Q: How much weight did you expect to lose through this programme?
SP: I did not have a weight goal in mind – any weight loss would be welcome. I was suffering from chronic knee pain and a long line up of several failed attempts to lose weight.
After the initial assessment and blood tests, Rachna informed me that I could expect 16-18 kgs weight loss in 6 months, and that complete weight loss would take 10-11 months.
This was more than I could ever dream of, so I entered the program singing “que sera sera…”
Q: Today as you look back, you are slightly less than what your weight should be as per your height. How do you feel about it?
SP: Under Rachna’s nurturing care and guidance, I lost 35kgs in 11 months. I am now faced with a new set of challenges – and quite frankly, these are the best challenges I have faced ever –one of which is of setting up a whole new wardrobe. I can now walk into almost any store and buy “regular size” clothes; I have never had so much choice in clothing, ever! And frankly, this is so overwhelming for me that I still wear the old clothes.
On a more serious and sombre note, the next step for me now is to accept the “new” body and accept that I will not slip up & balloon out. And even if I do, I have the tools and knowledge to restore myself back to a weight range where my overall health and mobility are not compromised.
I am working on acceptance – that this is indeed my new life for the rest of my life. My same old self, in a smaller, and definitely healthier body/ frame.
I am also very grateful for and cognizant of the health outcomes of the program – 2 months into the program, the chronic knee pain was gone! In August of 2021, I was unable to get up from a chair without support. I would lay awake and wait for my body to just pass out, because the knee pain made it virtually impossible for me to fall asleep. I used to suffer from bouts of migraine, be in a constant state of panicked frenzy, and eating my emotions – while putting up a brave, happy, cheery front.
I am now more acutely aware of my emotions and am learning to be a calmer person.
Q: As a jury member for the awards, what is your message to kids who struggle/men and women who struggled with teenage weight in the past and have frustrations associated with the same?
SP: The one learning I would like to share from my experience is to be kind to yourself.
Weight is not just about vanity or looking a certain way or wearing clothes of a certain size. Struggles with weight can and do have a profound impact on every aspect of life – please don’t discount your pain. Acknowledge what you have gone through – it takes courage.
And be gentle to yourself. You owe this to your body, to your soul, to yourself.
When you are kind and gentle, you will be able to make the right decisions and choices.
The “diet” will not seem restrictive – it will be nourishing; the “exercise” will not be cumbersome – it will be energizing; there will be no “cheat-meals” – it will be little treats you give to yourself because you deserve it.
And along the way, you might realize the journey is the destination. There is no goal post – life will not change when you reach a certain weight/ size/ shape; life is changing even as you read this. Make the journey enjoyable.
Q. Today, what would you advise the 15-year-old Swati?
SP: To 15-year-old-Swati:
- You is kind, you is smart, you is important – from the movie The Help
- Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? – from the great Jedi Master Yoda in Star Wars- The Empire Strikes Back
- Happiness isn’t good enough for you – you demand euphoria – just like Calvin does, From Calvin and Hobbes
Because 15-year-old-Swati and 41-year-old-Swati, both draw inspiration from pulp fiction, movies and comics.