At 18, she couldn't climb up stairs without pain. At 23, she's hitting 100kg deadlifts and has transformed her life
Anaheez Patel shares her (consistent and sustainable) diet and fitness secrets
As a formerly overweight teen, I have been on many a fitness journey. Idiotically starving my way through a few months at college and then learning to love working out. Subsequently becoming obsessed with it — running mini marathons, and taking on 20-day boot camps. Until recently. Suddenly, it all seemed to catch up with me. The years of see-sawing diets and over-exerting myself led to a physical and mental burnout at 31. Sounds familiar to your creaky knees? Read on.
While I’ve always been overly motivated, on the other end of the spectrum are the lazy folk, who need to be bribed to so much as go for a 500 metre walk. We all tend to fall on either end, yes overachieving Oindrilla, and Lazy Lata, but my ultimate goal is to be that in-between person. Balanced Bina.
The human who eats laddoos, and still has abs that you could roll a coin off of. The teacher’s pet of the fitness world, the over-achiever who enjoys food, working out and manages to do justice to them both without breaking out into guilt sweats after eating Doritos.
Anaheez Patel is straddling this middle path like a pro. Juggling a full-time marketing job and a rapidly growing fitness blog, she shares how she went from being overweight and unable to climb a few flights of stairs without huffing and puffing, to “Bombay’s fav gym bro” at the age of 23.
And yes, cardio fans, this lifter proves strength training is as essential to your fitness journey as consistency is to your diet.
My never-ending fitness journey
“I was always academically gifted but not sporty. My school extracurriculars included elocution, debates, dramatics. Then I started gaining weight at puberty. My eating habits were not the best either — I’m Parsi, and we love our food — and I’ve grown up in a no-restrictions environment when it comes to meals. That, combined with a lack of physical activity, made me gain weight.
After my 12th grade, I went on a solo trip to Melbourne, Australia to visit my aunt. Exploring the city alone, I went on a crazy food spree. It was winter, and I was always layered up, so I didn’t realise. When I came back to Mumbai, the first thing my mum said to me was, “Anaheez, you have gained so much weight.” The scale showed 10 extra kilos.
From then on, it became the first thing anyone ever mentioned when they met me. Our culture is such that we feel comfortable commenting on people’s physical appearance, and I just stopped going out because I didn’t want to hear it.
When you gain weight rapidly, it starts showing on your knees. My building doesn’t have a lift, so I used to climb four flights of stairs. I was just 18, and already feeling pressure on my knees. None of my clothes fit, people were commenting that I was too young to be carrying so much weight. I felt really targeted. All my life, being an achiever at school, I was used to compliments; the negativity wore me down. This was the turning point in my fitness journey.
Walking my way to a healthier me
I’m a big reader, and my sister is a doctor, so I started reading medical journals, and asking her for basic fitness and nutritional advice. You can’t believe everything you read on the internet, so I diligently researched. Even what I post on my Instagram is verified information from medical journals, articles and papers.
I began my fitness journey with improving my diet, and going on long walks. I was young, so the weight started to drop, and I lost the first 4-5 kilos easily. I read that without weight training, I was going to end up with a lot of stretch marks and loose skin, because of weight fluctuating so much in a very short span of time. I begged my parents to get me a gym membership. I was very young, and they wanted me to focus on studies not just on my fitness journey. We tried balancing college with gym for a month, and I fell in love with it.
I’m naturally strong, and the gym was an organic fit. Even after an entire day of college and extra-curricular activities, I would still hit the gym as it made me feel great. When I missed it, I didn’t feel like myself. The gym became a basic necessity — like taking a shower or brushing teeth.
I’ve never had a trainer but I made friends at the gym who helped me work out when I began, and then I would read up about exercises and forms from resources available on the internet. The floor trainers were pretty helpful too. I know that everyone can’t afford personal trainers, so I encourage people to chat with trainers at the gym to share their advice.
I have a list of websites and Youtube pages that I swear by, because you have to focus on the right information from the right resources. (Paul Carter @liftrunbang; Jordan Syatt @syattfitness; Megan @megsquats; Stefi Cohen @steficohen; Dr Aaron Horschig @squat_university )
I started sharing workout videos on my Instagram story, and people enjoyed it, so I started documenting more of my fitness journey.
People actually appreciated me and for someone who was quite unfit a short while ago, getting validation for your body was very fulfilling, so I started doing it more and then it just grew. Today it’s a combination. Women reach out to me to compliment my muscles, my fitness and ask for advice.
Of course, there’s the stray hater who says muscles are masculine. But I take the good with the bad. Most of my content is related to what people reach out and ask me about in my DMs. For instance, everyone’s obsessed with the numbers on the weighing scale, but it’s clear that if you have more muscle, you’ll weigh more. So the numbers on the scale are not the only parameter for judging your fitness journey.
Working out (and eating) like me
The ideal way to begin is with body weight exercises because only when you can take your own body weight, can you lift additional weight.
I started with body weight squats and toe touching and all that basic stuff and now I have a 100 kg deadlift. It took me two years, and lots of training and consistency to get there. I also have an additional disc in my back —a rare congenital condition — which twice resulted in slip discs. I was very lucky to go to a doctor who said that lifting can actually strengthen the muscles around your spine. I have no issues whatsoever, so it’s another major myth that deadlifts are bad for your back.
On the weekends, I go on runs – it’s important to have a healthy balance between your aerobic and anaerobic workouts.
In terms of what works best for your body, focus on weight training and progressive overload, and throw in cardio along with it. If you’re working out seven days a week, then five days should be your strength training, and two days should be cardio.
I have finally found a balance between working out and eating the things that I like, because my understanding of calories and nutrition has improved. As long as I am eating at a certain caloric level, within a certain amount of macros, my body is going to be okay plus, all the weight training and exercise helps. Someone who has a sedentary lifestyle can’t eat this way and look fit.
For example, if your body requires 2,000 calories to maintain your weight, and you’re eating 2,000 calories, you’re okay. You aren’t going to gain weight. But if your maintenance calories are 2,000 but you end up eating 2,400, then you are going to be gaining the weight of those 400 extra calories. When I say I eat a laddoo, I eat one laddoo, I am not gonna sit with the entire box.
About 80% of your calories and nutrition should come from nutrient heavy foods that will actually nourish your body and yourself and that 20% margin you can leave for something that you truly enjoy because honestly if you’re going to do a 100% clean diet, you are going to give up and binge at some point. You can’t say that you won’t eat bread for the rest of your life, it’s something we’e grown up on. Like your mother’s sandwiches you used to take to school.
Food is emotional. Tomorrow, if I am going to Delhi, I want to eat the chaat over there. I am not going to say ‘oh no, my abs will go away’.
I have accepted it as normal food and I don’t see them as my cheat meals or treat meals. I don’t follow this concept of cheat meals. The word cheat itself has a negative connotation. You think you are doing something wrong, when you are not. You are satiating your taste buds, and it should be a part of your diet in a limited way. This balance also comes with time. I also used to overly restrict myself — no sugar on weekdays, but I’d binge-eat sugar on weekends. That was pathetic for my fitness goals in general. Fitness is not something that you can do over one month or two months, it’s about consistency and sustainability.
I know I’m privileged — to enjoy the food that I like and that’s going to help me achieve my fitness goals. Not everyone has that sort of budget. But you don’t have to eat fancy food — simple homemade meals go a long way. I have explained to my followers using chicken curry as an example. I am going to have a good amount of chicken, but not too much gravy because it’s going to add on unnecessary calories. I eat what is at home, but pick and choose what works for my diet. Smart choices that add up.
For me, being healthy and fit is something I have to do for life. It’s not a 6, 8-month thing or a 2-month transformation thing. This is my lifestyle now. And both my workouts and diet have to be sustainable. In fact, I’m often asked how I juggle work, with this fitness blog, and everything else I’m doing, and I’d like to say, of course, there are some sacrifices.
I make a little time for myself on the weekend because that’s when I am not working 24 x7, so your social life does take a hit. But I prioritise my fitness over that. When I had exams in college or now have long days at work, I don’t work out, I give up because I know that three days of not working out is not going to make me unfit again.
You need to make peace with yourself that you are not always going to have the best day, you are not going to be 100% all the time. So leave a little room for adjustment, because you’re in it for the long run.”
As told to Chandni Sehgal
*Anaheez Patel is not a certified nutritionist, or trainer. She is simply sharing her personal fitness journey. Please reach out to an expert before you embark upon diet and nutrition plans