About one year ago, Perry Panesar's girlfriend of five years called it quits. For a while, he couldn’t figure out why. Then he stepped on the scale, took a hard look in the mirror, and realised that he had completely lost control of his weight—and his life.
Today, the 26-year-old real estate agent from Ontario hardly recognises the guy he was last November. No more late-night runs to McDonald’s after a long night of drinking. No more mindless eating.
But giving up those old habits didn't happen overnight.
“I was always the chubbiest kid growing up, always the ‘fat guy’ with my group of friends,” says Panesar. “That was my character.”
It didn't really hit him until he started college, though. In high school, Panesar joined the basketball team and loved spending time in the gym. After he graduated, he said goodbye to the team that motivated him to stay in shape. Before he knew it, Panesar was also in a committed relationship, which made him far too comfortable. “I didn’t feel like I needed to impress anyone,” he recalls. “I was eating all the time.”
Dorm food didn't help, either. Having a cafeteria nearby made french fries slathered in gravy and cheese the norm. “I never stopped eating,” says Panesar. “I just didn’t care. I thought to myself, hey, my role is the ‘fat guy,’ so I’ll just embrace it.” On top of that, he was out drinking with his friends at least two nights a week—the perfect combination for calorie overload.
“I didn’t have a lid on the food. I’d say I was pushing at least 4,000 calories a day,” he says.
It didn’t change once he left school. His friends would ask him to join in on pickup basketball games, but Panesar would make up some excuse, knowing he couldn’t run up and down the court. His clothes were fitting tighter, but he’d just replace them with larger sizes.
After his girlfriend broke up with him, he spent the rest of the year buried in work. His mood and energy tanked. Realising how unhappy he was, Panesar snapped a picture in the mirror, which you can see on the left composite above, and weighed himself—125 kilograms, the heaviest he had ever been in his life. “I told my sister I was going to lose weight. Telling someone made it more real for me, and held me accountable,” he recalls.
In January 2017, he started going to the gym every other day and severely restricted his diet to roughly 1,000 calories a day. “I developed a fear of food,” he say. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew I didn’t want to be the ‘fat guy’ anymore. I just didn’t want to eat.”
Cardio became his obsession. Panesar would start his workout by reading two chapters of a book on the stairmaster, which took anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes. Then he’d head over to the treadmill and do 20 minutes of high intensity interval training, finishing with another 45 minutes on the elliptical. But after about a month, Panesar knew it was time to familiarise himself with the weight room. Despite seeing progress in the beginning, he noticed that his body wasn’t changing quite how he wanted it to.
“I always had this sort of pear shape to my body. I was seeing that the pear was just getting smaller, not changing,” he says.
He also noticed that his energy was extremely low, but he kept pushing through, not realizing that he wasn't eating enough at the time. After three months, Panesar was bored.
That's when he discovered boxing. “I went out and bought all this new equipment: gloves, shoes wraps, a new sweatshirt, everything. I had a feeling that this was going to really change my life.”
Panesar took his first class mid-April and didn't look back. He went all in at first, and eventually toned it down to a maximum of five sessions per week. But he wanted to get better, so he started trading some of his group sessions for more personalised time tailored to technique.
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One problem persisted, though. “I was reading more and more about fitness and health and started to realize that I might need to change my eating habits,” he says.
After talking to a nutritionist, he got his wake-up call. "The first thing he said was, ‘Your calories are not healthy at all.’ I never ate carbs. I never indulged. Looking back now, I can see I was just scared,” says Panesar.
So he loaded up on more foods, and focused on eating enough good-for-you carbohydrates. “Now, there’s a lot of fun food," he says. "I eat oatmeal and bananas in the morning and something like a whole-wheat pita roll with avocado and tuna for lunch. I have protein shakes with berries as a snack.”
Once his diet started to shape up, his body followed suit.
On top of boxing, Panesar still hits the gym at least five days a week, but blows past the cardio equipment and heads for the free weights instead. He starts every lift with 15 reps. The second set, he goes down to 12 reps, followed by 10 for the third, ending with either 8 or 6 reps. “I up the weight every set, so I’m still working hard even though the reps are going down,” he explains.
Panesar is the fittest he's every been in his life at 81 kilograms.
“I hear all the time, ‘Oh, you look really good,’ but what it really comes down to is how I feel about myself at the end of the day,” he says. “There’s such a big difference between how I feel now and how I felt then.”
Now, he easily joins in on those weekly pickup basketball games. And yes, he even won back his girlfriend. But above all, he knows he's become the best version of himself.
“It’s more than just a diet or a workout plan, it’s a lifestyle,” he says. “Diets are meant to be broken. Finding active hobbies and making it as enjoyable as possible is what is going to help you the most.”
This article originally appeared on Men's Health