In a world full of people panicking over gaining weight and being simultaneously lazy and confused about what to do, I retained my stoical attitude for a long period until last December.
I am a working father from an atomic family which means I need to take care of my own chores and my daughter while sharing these responsibilities with my wife.
Being a super obese person through most of my 30-year-old life, I once reduced my weight by following a foolhardy diet containing only a handful of cucumbers and plain pieces of toast; a dippy idea I found in an internet article about how Adnan Sami turned into a handsome man.
But this was 13 years ago. My weight then nosedived from 105 kgs to 85 kgs within a few months by the grace of intense cardio sessions in the gym and parks. This reduction left a lot of scars -- I became weak and dizzy, my immunity decreased. The worst of them all, I lost my concentration. I did not do enough research. I was frustrated and gave up hope for a healthy life.
More than an era later, with my body mass index nearly crossing a whooping 42, which is mega obesity, and difficulties with everyday life, including diseases induced from obesity such as high blood pressure, prediabetic symptoms, asthma and chronic spinal pain, I thought it was enough!
On a December evening last year, while I was playing with my 22-month-old toddler, I found myself fighting to catch a breath to match up to my daughter's energy level. I felt concerned, not for myself but for her.
I am very keen to be around her eighteenth birthday. I want to embrace her at her graduation ceremony. I cannot wait till I see her getting married. All I could think of is that perhaps I may not last long enough to experience all this with such a lifestyle.
I instantly went on the internet again to find help. But this time, I was more focused. I kept telling myself that I am doing it for my baby.
An intense article-reading and video-watching session later, I thought I will experiment with the ketogenic diet - a popular, perhaps controversial, form of lifestyle everyone has been talking about.
I found that I would need to consume copious amounts of healthy fat, a plethora of green vegetables, adequate amounts of protein, a lot of water and minerals, and finally absolutely no rice, flour or sugar.
Standing at an unbelievable 146 kg mark on my analogue bathroom scale, I started the keto diet from day one of 2021.
The first few days were recklessly challenging. With the traditional winter invitations to relatives' homes where food is the main attraction, it was unbearably difficult for me to stay focused. I printed a hashtag I generated: #stayfitforgolpo, Golpo is my daughter, and pasted it everywhere I went.
I replaced the background with this image on all of my devices - phone, office desktop, laptop. Even my work-from-home desk had these pieces of stickers stuck on it. Sounds silly, but it helped.
I was not sure about what to eat. I bought kilos of nuts and extra virgin olive oil. My sister helped me find pure ghee and butter. Winter blessed us with various types of vegetables. The corner shop owner in my neighbourhood went suspicious. "What are you doing with all these eggs? Did you start catering baked items?" he asked.
It took me six days to enter into ketosis -- the phase when your body would learn to deal with your newly chosen food habit -- while I suffered a lot of nausea, vertigos and diarrhea-like symptoms.
This apparent sickness is called "keto flu" - a natural process when the body tries to adjust to the new lifestyle. But from day seven, I felt very energetic and focused. I am a journalist and most of my work requires going for a majority portion of the day. I used to get hungry and eat a lot of junk food before. But since starting keto, I barely ate outside. And surprisingly, I was not hungry either!
After the first fortnight of my newly adopted lifestyle, I realised that I was a member of a Facebook group called "Keto Community BD", which turned out to be a big source of motivation and tips.
My newly made friends in the group taught me about the importance of consuming pink salt, apple cider vinegar and supplements of specific minerals. I learned what would kick me out of ketosis and new recipes to help me step out of mundane items. I learned about the One-Meal-A-Day diet, water fasting and keto cycling.
To my understanding, it is very important during a keto diet to remain open minded to suggestions and ignore bad remarks such as "You won't survive very long without rice" or "you will faint without energy". People are doing it everywhere in the world. If you do it correctly, nothing bad will happen.
I was worried sick about my diet when I was heading to Chittagong to attend a wedding at my in-laws' in January. To my surprise, I did not feel even the slightest urge to eat Kacchi biryani or platefuls of rice with the mejbani beef. I had a lot of meat, true, but I did not touch the carbs.
I stayed at my in-laws' for two weeks and continued the One-Meal-A-Day diet, cooking for myself.
By this time, you must be thinking who am I to share all these tips? Well, I lost 19 kgs in the first 50 days of doing keto. Then, my weight started stalling, meaning it stopped reducing.
This is the point when people start to think of giving up. But someone doing keto must realise that this is the key test for them. I initially panicked and thought that I was losing it. But as soon as I read some more articles, I understood and tried keto cycling. With this, I felt a sigh of relief.
I stopped my regular keto diet for a few days and consumed regular food including carbohydrates. It confused the body and restored my digestion system to its previous state. I resumed keto and started from scratch. I started losing weight again!
Maintaining keto is expensive. It is difficult to maintain such a lifestyle for a middle-class person like me. This thought restricts many people from trying ketosis. Depression and anxiety make things worse and they end up overeating and gaining more weight - which has partially been my case as well.
From my experience, the best way to maintain keto is to plan it smartly. Buy your groceries from wholesalers such as those in Karwan Bazar and Old Dhaka. Online stores often charge threefold the regular price of a product compared to that of the physical kitchen markets.
Keto requires some amount of physical activity like any other diet in order for it to work. I figured the best way is to simply start moving around by yourself. Nowadays I opt for the stairs instead of the elevators. I bought a bicycle and started cycling at least once during the weekends. I walk small distances instead of taking rickshaws.
I can already feel the difference. I can squat for longer while playing with my daughter and my sleep cycle has improved a lot.
What I have realised is that the ketogenic diet is not a temporary thing but one should embrace it for life. Does it mean you will have to say goodbye to the Kacchi, pulao and aloo parathas forever? Not really! Have your cheat meals and flush your ketosis once in a while. But come back again to this beautiful lifestyle.