It took 9 years but he lost 85kg and reclaimed his life

John weighed 175kg at his heaviest. He stands at 90kg now.

85 kilograms. That’s how much 39-year-old John H.D. has lost since making a commitment to fitness nine years ago.

At his heaviest, John weighed 175kg.

“The number – 175kg – was actually an approximation by the doctor because the maximum weight the scale could record was 160kg, ” the 1.76m-tall John opens up to StarLifestyle about a pivotal moment on his weight loss journey.

“So when I stood on the scale, the needle went from zero to 160kg, and then back to zero.

“When I saw that, ” he pauses, his face awash with disbelief, and continues, “... that’s the kind of stuff you see in cartoons.”

“At the same time, I wasn’t surprised. I couldn’t have had the eating habits that I had and not be that heavy.”

Today, John, a digital content creator, weighs 90kg.

Getting there wasn’t easy. There were breakthroughs, there were also relapses. But the process transformed John, not just physically, but emotionally.

Creating a persona

John remembers being made fun of growing up for being overweight.The first time John made the decision to get fit was when he took up the challenge of trekking Everest Base Camp in 2011. Photo: Instagram (@johnzillahd)The first time John made the decision to get fit was when he took up the challenge of trekking Everest Base Camp in 2011. Photo: Instagram (@johnzillahd)

“I wasn’t in the obese category at the time. I was just chubby. They would occasionally slip (a weight comment) in. Maybe they didn’t mean to, but it did hurt, ” he remembers.

As college rolled by, he only grew more self-conscious about his weight, especially when his friends started dating.

“At that age, you want to know what it is like to go out with a girl or have a girlfriend. I felt I couldn’t be taken seriously by girls.”

He felt he needed to take on a different persona rather than just being “the big guy”.

“So I decided, instead of being the joke, I’d be the joker. It was a coping mechanism,” he explains.

John became the funny guy, the livewire and partied excessively in order to fit in and be accepted by his friends.

The problem with his new persona was all that late-night partying led to further weight gain.

In 2007, a visit to the doctor revealed he now stood at 175kg. The realisation prompted a change in lifestyle for a while.

He started exercising and eating better, and saw results, losing about 20kg. But John wasn’t consistent and eventually returned to his old lifestyle.

“I wasn’t where I needed to be yet and I celebrated prematurely. I kept falling into bad habits.”

The game changer

“There were two major breakthroughs in my fitness journey, ” he reflects.

The first took place in 2011 when John’s father offered to take him on an all-expense paid “holiday.” The destination? Everest Base Camp, which stands at more than 5,000m, and typically takes 12 days or more to trek.

“At first, I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ But then I saw the itinerary and realised I would have to trek 10 hours a day and have a lot less oxygen to deal with. That’s when I went into panic mode, ” he remembers.

John, then 30, only had 10 months to train.

“I couldn’t run because that would be putting too much strain on my knees. So I did uphill walks for 40 minutes to an hour at least once, sometimes, twice, a day – every day. I also did basic weight training.”

It turns out the extra nudge by his father worked. He dropped a whopping 40kg. Now weighing 110kg, he completed the trek.

However, in the years that followed after his momentous achievement, John got complacent and his weight plateaued.

Next, he decided to set himself up for another challenge.

As his drastic weight loss in 2011 led to excess skin, John wanted to undergo surgery to remove it.After his drastic weight loss, John underwent surgery to remove excess skin. After his drastic weight loss, John underwent surgery to remove excess skin.

“But the doctor told me he wanted me to go down to around 80kg before he would perform the surgery. The doctor felt if I could lose so much weight without the help of bariatric surgery, I had the ability to lose a bit more, ” he points out.

“I felt 80kg was a number that was impossible for me to hit so I put it off for a few years.”

John eventually committed to another drastic change of lifestyle in 2017. “For an entire year, I decided to cook all my meals at home, go to work, go to the gym and come straight home. That would be my routine.”

Physical and emotional work

To prioritise his fitness journey, John – who, for years, built his persona around a vibrant social life – sacrificed his social commitments.

“I stopped going out. My friends would beg me to go to the bar, and on the rare occasion I went, I’d just have tea.

“Through this process, I found out who my real friends were. There were a lot of those who were in it just for the fun.”

He also gradually learned he didn’t need to be the funny guy or the party guy to be accepted.

“For me, the social currencies are completely different now. The gym is my idea of a social club, ” John, whose primary form of exercise is weight training, contemplates.

“I enjoy the gym and I enjoy meeting people from all walks of life there. They all have different motivations for working out and I feed off them.”

At the end of 2017, John reached his lowest weight yet – 81kg – and was finally eligible for surgery.

The procedure removed 2kg of excess skin.

“I needed it removed because because I felt as long as I still had that excess skin, I haven’t completely achieved what I’ve set out to do.”

Salmon yong tau fu, anyone?

After the surgery, he was ordered to be on bed rest for two weeks.

During this free time, John got to thinking wouldn’t it be great if he could indulge in his favourite foods but not compromise on his diet? In fact, their nutritional value could be dialled up!

“For example, I’ve come up with a nutrient-dense yong tau fu dish. So I mash prawns and salmon, add chives, and stuff it all in a giant chilli instead.

“I’ve also experimented with making batters that incorporate more whole grains instead of bread crumbs and flour. I can use the batter to fry chicken. I can also modify it a little and make a healthy pancake.”

Experimenting with these recipes have made healthy eating a lot more sustainable for John now.

“People always think eating healthy is like a death sentence. Honestly, I’ve never enjoyed my diet as much as I do now, ” he says.

Also read: She lost 30kg but felt weak and unhappy... until she started lifting weights

John sees the gym as a great way to meet new people and be inspired by their motivations for working out. Photos: KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The Star Location: @ironandhammerJohn sees the gym as a great way to meet new people and be inspired by their motivations for working out. Photos: KAMARUL ARIFFIN/The Star Location: @ironandhammer

John adds that he still feels insecure about his weight sometimes. “I still feel like I have that obese kid mindset. Like when I’m at the pool and there are a lot of people around, I feel conscious about taking off my shirt.”

He reveals he felt nervous in the days leading up to our photoshoot and interview, feeling he isn’t in the tip-top condition he was previously (at 81kg), standing at 90kg now.

Due to a hernia repair surgery a year ago, John is required to lay off exercises that are too vigorous for at least 18 months.

Despite the slight weight gain, John feels in control of his weight today.

“This 90kg is as heavy as it gets. I’ve been tracking my eating and exercising as much as I’m allowed to. After the 18 months, I’m going to shed the extra weight. I can’t wait.”

Ultimately, John says it’s not about fussing over the number on the scale, it simply boils down to one thing: “It’s not about building the physique. It’s about achieving happiness.”

An easy workout to kickstart your fitness journey

John says the wall squat is a simple exercise everyone can do at home that helps to strengthen the legs. Simply place your back against the wall, plant your fit out in front of you, slide your back down until your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle, and slowly stand up.

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