It was 15 years ago, when I first saw that weighing scale cross 100. To ensure I understood I’d crossed a line, the makers of that scale had, very kindly, marked 100 in red. I got the point.
Not that I needed a number to tell me that I was unfit. The fact that I couldn’t run more than 250m at a stretch, or that I couldn’t look at my feet standing straight, or that I frequently felt a pain in the centre of my chest — should’ve all been markers enough. But somehow, in all those years, I was never able to get up and do something about it.
Then one day I did. I lost 35kgs in 10 months! Woah!
Simple. I went bat-shit crazy. I stopped eating. And started running.
I ran in the morning, I ran in the night, I ran in the scorching Delhi afternoons (At the time, I had this strange belief that the more I sweat, the more fat is melting away. So I’d run at 2pm. In peak Delhi summers. Yup, stupid.)
It was madness. And it was about a girl who’d rejected me. A rejection of me that I read as a rejection of my body. So I ran.
And it yielded stellar results. I consistently dropped about 4kgs and 1 inch off my belly, every month. That’s going from 105kg and 39inches to 69kg and 30inches. In 10 months!
Impressive, right? Calls for a celebration? The ‘fat’ dragon has been slain! Let the revelry begin!
Atleast that’s what I thought. In my head, I was ‘thin’ now. And so I could live (and eat) like other thin people around me. So I did.
Here’s what really happened.
By the time I was out of college and over the girl, I was back at 85kg+. In the decade that followed, this same weight-loss-gain cycle repeated itself thrice.
Along the way, as I battled my recurring obesity problem, I became obsessed with researching the topic. From books, to blogs, to talks to seminars — I guzzled through a ton of information in an attempt to find the holy grail of fitness:
How do I get fit and then stay so?
Is it about diet or exercise or both? Is fat the problem or carbs or both or none? Does everyone lose fat the same way or are we all built different?
The more I explored, the more the picture blurred. Experts couldn’t seem to agree. Scientists seemed to point in diametrically opposite directions. And personal experiences varied so widely that you couldn’t draw a pattern.
As I lay there, drowning in a sea of divergent information, a new, bigger question started troubling me. How is it that an issue that has so much written about it, that concerns almost half of humanity, hasn’t been solved yet?
Why is obesity a bigger issue today than it’s ever been in the history of mankind?
Part of the answer, I realised, lies in Economics.
‘Fitness’ is an industry worth billions of dollars. Dollars that wouldn’t know what to do if the obesity question got answered. So they find themselves in a unique spot. They’ve got to sell us something that looks like the answer, while ensuring it never really is. But how do they achieve that?
They do it by answering questions they want to answer. Not the ones you are asking.
Who doesn’t love a clickbait?
Think of the last 3 fitness related articles you read. Here are mine:
- The 22-day KILLER abs workout
- 6 foods you need to eliminate from your diet TODAY
- This One exercise can help you lose 2 inches in 10 days FLAT
As I read and re-read these articles, it became apparent to me that, like most content, fitness content too is being written for clicks. Not for results.
It’s built to feed off our insecurities.
You wouldn’t believe the number of side crunches I’ve done in life, trying to lose my love handles. It took me 5 years of wasted efforts, and some 20 peer-reviewed studies, to conclude that spot-reduction (reducing fat from a specific area of your body) just ain’t possible.
Similarly, during my second weight-loss stint, I kept replacing my regular foods (cornflakes, juices, salad-sauces) with ‘No Sugar Added’ variants, thinking that I’m making healthy choices. But when no amount of substitution lead to any weight-loss, I realized that all these manufacturers were just replacing sugar with sugar-alcohols that don’t need to be declared as ‘sugar’.
Even on the exercise front, I got into running marathons, thinking that the more I run, the more I’d lose weight. No one told me that beyond a point, running to lose weight can be downright dangerous. Nor that long distance running, without re-fuelling, can lead to severe muscle-loss, which in turn reduces metabolism and sets you up for life-long weight-gain.
Imagine. All that effort, for the opposite effect!
These, and many, many other forms of trickery, have revealed themselves to me over the past 15-years, as I’ve continued on my own path to fitness.
Unfortunately, our 21st-century brains love piecemeal information served in a clickbait-y way. So lists like ’10 weight-loss shortcuts you’d never believe’ or ’7 morning routines to kill belly fat’ continue to be more click-worthy than ‘How do I begin my weight loss journey?’ or ’Should I just stop having carbs completely?’
The latter, as you’d notice, are simple questions with complex answers. Questions, framed the way your brain actually asks them (Have you ever woken up thinking — ‘What are the 9 absolutely shocking truths about Avocado?’).
Problem is, no one’s ever put their answers together in a narrative and served them, backed with personal experience, to you.
Follow FITShots, My Column For FIT
My attempt at remedying this situation. *drumroll*
Over these past 15 years, I’ve waded through the murky ‘fat-to-fit’ waters enough number of times to now, finally, know my way around the landscape. A landscape littered with ’10 ways’ and ‘How to’s’ and ’14 truths’. This column is my attempt to guide you through these landmines and weave a narrative that your brain can actually absorb and deal with.
What is FITShots?
It’s a bi-monthly fitness column @FIT.
Every fortnight, we pick up one ’simple-sounding — yet-complex’ question about fitness and dive deep into it.
We start with my perspective on the issue and the personal experiences I’ve had while trying various approaches. Along the way, I shall provide links and references to the scientifically backed resources that I’m basing my point of view on.
The Deal: Read through my take on the topic → Find anything along the way that intrigues you → Follow the links and go as deep as the rabbit hole does.
All the years when I was struggling to get my fitness journey started, I hoped and wished for something like this. A one-stop solution that answered one-question at a time. I never got my wish, so now I’m doing it myself.
Come. Let’s separate what’s FIT, from what’s SH*T.
(Shashank Mehta started his fitness journey at over 100kgs, 15 years ago. In the decade that followed, he taught himself fitness, lost 40kgs, ran several marathons, and helped many friends and colleagues get onto the fitness bandwagon. An IIM graduate, he has self-experimented with every fitness-fad and quick-fix out there, and now writes a health blog that is read by thousands every week, and that’s made him a Top Writer in 'Food' & ‘Health’ on Medium.com. )