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#FitCheat: Kartik’s Fitness Journey

Swim. Fast. Cheat. Repeat. 

You read it right. 

I try and be fit so I can cheat and eat chocolates, kababs, pizzas, ice creams and every other conceivable form of food sin you can think of. And despite doing this ‘cheating’ for 15 years, I’ve been able to keep away the 20kg I lost in my pool in Otters Club, Bandra.

My Story Begins Here

I had just returned from an 8-hour flight from London with a back-ache that wouldn’t go away. When I made my first visit to an orthopedic doctor he showed me the X-ray of my back where the last few vertebrae had come close to each other and were bulging, making me a prime candidate for a slip disc. 

My immediate response was to curse the seats of Jet airways and the chairs in office. But the doc’s diagnosis was different. 

He pointed not to my back, but to my belly

Weighing 90kg and carrying around a 38 inch waist wasn’t doing me any good. No exercise in my 30 years of existence, coupled with a bad smoking habit (a pack a day), had made me unfit. 

I thought I was living it up. But clearly, I’d been cheating myself out of good health. And now this deceit threatened to break my back and plunge me into a spiral of health problems.

When in doubt…Jump (in a pool)

Truth is I hated exercise. 

A bigger truth is I loved food. Loved eating out! 

These two truths made it extremely hard for me to start. Running wasn’t for me and neither was sweating it out in the gym.

The answer, I realised, lay in my club’s swimming pool

I used to love swimming as a kid (nothing competitive though -had never done more than 10 lengths). With my weak back, running was ruled out, but swimming was recommended to strengthen my back muscles. 

The Start

On Aug 15, 2003, 6am I decided to begin my journey for freedom from fat, cigarettes and laziness. The goal for weight loss was a mere 5kg.

The first swim was tough. After ten lengths of breast stroke, which took me more than 30min, I collapsed. It felt as if I’d climbed the Himalayas. 

But once I recovered, I couldn’t believe what’d just happened! I’d managed 10 laps! That small, early win, felt so big that it kept me going every morning. 

Soon 10 lengths turned to 20, then 30 and then 40. Before long, I was swimming a kilometer a day! Sure enough I was able to lose 5kg in 6 months. I was still over weight, but with smoking out and swimming firmly in, I felt healthier than ever before.

Taking it to the next level

I never imagined I could do 40 laps of freestyle in the pool, but when I started this stroke, I was able to finish the laps in just 25 mins! 

So I decided to push it further.

Every week I would increase 10 lengths, and my body would respond by finding another gear. Soon I was swimming 120 lengths(3km) every day, in an hour and fifteen minutes. 

I’d found the perfect no sweat workout before going to office!

Best of all, all this swimming, jacked up my metabolism and increased my appetite. I could eat all of my favorite foods, and yet continue losing weight. 

The 5kg loss soon became 10kg, and I felt it was time to aim for my dream weight. 

True Freedom

70kgs. That’s what I weighed at the time of graduation. I wanted that body, and those levels of fitness back. 

The next ten kilos, I knew, would need a bit of diet-control too. I couldn’t eat and swim my way to 70. So I started cutting down on carbs at night (weekends, till date, have never been sacrificed for diets). That meant only 1 chapati at night for dinner and lots of veggies.

I’d also recently discovered underwater music through Waterfi that protects iPods with waterproof earphones for swimmers. Swimming had become even more joyful. 

My new, global job  (which meant lots of travel), was a complication. But here too, swimming was a boon. Every hotel I visited had a pool! 

Jetlag and lack of sleep notwithstanding, I decided I would never miss a swim. Even if I’d just landed, I’d first hit the pool and finish my 3kms. And that would give me license to have my favorite food and drink no matter which country I visited. 

Basically, come what may, I completed my 3km every day, 5 days a week, for a year. The key was to ensure that the swim was always scheduled into the day -even if it meant starting meetings later.

By Aug 15, 2004, I’d lost 20kg. I was now the weight(70kg) and waist(34 inches) I wanted. 

I thought this was it. I was done. But life had other plans. 

Parenting and the Big 40

As I took on my most wonderful role ever, that of being a father, my kids became the focal point of my day. Weekends too became less about food or swimming, and more about spending time with my kids. Even at the cost of my swims. 

And that cost me. Soon enough, 8 out of the 20kg I’d lost, came back. 

Age was catching up too. As I turned 40, my swim times started increasing. I could no longer do as many laps, or in as little time as I used to. 

My hard earned fitness was beginning to fall apart. I decided it was time to shake things up.

Running

I took up running as an alternate to swimming.

Swimming had made my back stronger, but still I started on the treadmill to gain stamina and form. The real revelation for me though, was outdoor running. Once I tried it, I was hooked. The fact that it burned so many calories, was a bonus. 

Running outdoors made me happy. In a few months, I could run 21km in 3 hours, just as leisurely run. And with a combination of running and swimming, the 8kg was gone again.

This time again, I though my fitness life was sorted. But yet again, life had other plans.

Another Twist

Running was always a risk for me. And I’d pushed my luck too far. 

My back finally gave in. I had a slip disc. 

Running had to take a back seat. So I decided to up my swim set to 4–5km a day. Which meant spending 90min to two hours in the pool. 

While this did keep the kilos off for a while, but the ever increasing work travel finally started getting the better of me. I was out 2–3 weeks every month, discovering new places, new people and new foods (& drinks) every day. 

I treat work as play and spend a lot of time with my team in the evenings. It’s who I am, and I wasn’t prepared to change that. But sticking to this routine came with a cost. Those 8kgs were coming back again!

Intermittent Fasting

A close friend Tanay introduced me to Intermittent Fasting. I wasn’t much of a breakfast person anyways so I found it easy to skip breakfast and eat lunch directly, leading to 16 hours of fasting. 

In this, my third tryst with weight-gain, IF came as a boon. 

The results were quick. IF, combined with swimming 5 days a week, was a a potent combination. I lost 10kg in the next 6 months. 

My Current Routine

Even with IF, I never gave up on evening team outings. Instead, on days I know we’ll go out, I stretch my IF to 20 hours and save it all for an indulgent meal in the evening!

During the break from running I learnt Pilates, and that’s helped me get back on the road. But now I take it slow and don’t run more than 5–6 times a months. 

Swimming is an “always on” exercise on weekdays. It is tough to fast after a morning swim or run, but I love my work and meeting my team who help me stay distracted from hunger pangs. 

When I am not traveling, I am also careful about my food and limit the intake to 1000 calories a day, from Monday to Thursday (weekends are still off limits for diets )

The #FitCheat Way

My fitness and weight management approach can be summed up as :

  1. Fit(run/swim) and Fast : Monday to Friday
  2. Controldiet to 1000 calories a day when home : Monday to Thursday
  3. Cheat : Friday night, Saturday and Sunday

More importantly, this is my life’s fitness philosophy :

A road is for running….A pool is for swimming…Food is for indulging

And life… is for living

That’s the #Fitcheat Way! 

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