Winters in Vaishno Devi can get bitterly cold as Siddesh Vojhala knew all too well. It was 2013 and he was standing at the foothills of the temple covered in six layers of clothing in the sub-zero temperatures in the company of his friend and his family.
The ride up to the temple was a steep 16km slope, accessible by horse but as Siddesh stood there, none of the horse handlers approached him. One by one, his party set off for the temple to leave him alone.
“They (the handlers) must have thought that I was too fat,” Siddesh says. “Uska ghoda mar jayega. That was very embarrassing. The others were well-built too but the comparison really struck me.”
A man came up to him and offered a palanquin but Siddesh turned it down as he was neither old nor infirm. Finally, he was approached by a man with a mule and the man said it could carry up to 150kg.
Desperate to not get caught in the cold at night, Siddesh agreed and began the journey uphill. At a toll gate, he had to dismount while the handler showed his ID card. That’s when his troubles got worse.
An eye-opening trip
“My pants tore in the middle while climbing back up the mule. It was even more embarrassing than not getting a horse. The guy gave me his shawl since I didn’t have any other option. That trip opened my eyes. People laugh when they hear the story but only I know what I went through. ”
After his return, Siddesh started reading articles about losing weight the proper way but hadn’t started working out yet. It took his third eye-opener for him to begin the change.
The month of March marked his birthday and he went shopping to the only plus-size shop that stocked his size.
“When I went to the shop, I saw that my waist size had increased from 44 to 46 inches. I thought this is it. I looked at my father and said, ‘areey size aur badh gaya'. He replied, ‘It’s you who have to do it. If you want you can take it.’”
Siddesh didn’t buy clothes that year. Instead, he started going to the gym and the results were immediately apparent. He lost 4kg in the first month and, once he saw the results, kept up the pace. By October, he had lost 25kg and began focusing more on his nutrition.
“That Diwali was a very good Diwali for me because I came down from a waist size of 44 inches to 38 inches. From there, it’s all about maintaining yourself. Going to the gym is the easiest part of getting fit but what you put on your plate in the remaining 23 hours is what makes the difference,” he says.
Muscle gain for vegetarians
As a South Indian Brahmin and vegetarian, Siddesh faced a unique problem. “I don’t even consume eggs so people used to wonder how I would gain protein and muscle mass. I studied more about it and realised that protein is protein irrespective of what source it comes from. It goes into your body and converts to amino acids and hardly makes any difference. That’s all I wanted.”
Getting below 100kg was a big moment for Siddesh and he was glad to be in double digits but his weight loss was not all smooth sailing. “If you are obese and do more cardio than weight training, it burns muscle mass and your skin starts sagging and becoming loose. That is why you only have to concentrate on weight training if you are obese. I learnt that excessive cardio leads to loose skin the hard way.”
This year, Siddesh turned 29 in March. Since those embarrassing incidents, he lost almost 52kg and now weighs 74kg. His weight loss transformation has even affected other aspects of his life too. “Absolutely everything has changed. The discipline that I acquired through fitness and eating proper meals has brought many changes to my life. If I want to achieve anything I just have to stick to it by wearing blinkers and I am going to achieve it. Nothing is impossible.”
“When I go to family functions, people wonder, ‘Is this the same guy?’” He regales us with another interesting incident. “Once, while going to Thailand, I faced an identity crisis when the security didn’t believe it was me from my old passport photograph. I had to show my other ID cards to prove who I was.”
The right way to exercise
“I only had one thing in mind. The next time I got to Vaishno Devi I want to go barefoot,” Siddesh tells us about what went on in his mind while working out. “Once I started seeing results, I thought it was very easy and achievable. You can’t always be motivated but you can always be disciplined. If you are properly disciplined you can always achieve your goal. There are some low days and some high days but you just have to keep going.”
When he weighed 130kg, Siddesh used to feel sluggish along with risking numerous health hazards. Now, he feels lighter but can still lift more weight than before. He is currently pursuing his nutrition level 2 from the Institute of Nutrition and Fitness Sciences and wants to guide others so that they can also know how to lose the weight the right way.
“Nobody in the world will come and tell you to lose weight. It is your own inner self that will tell you that this is too much work and that you have to do it. Only at that point of time you will start doing it,” Siddesh encourages others. “If you want to start, just start small. Don’t decide to lose weight in 10 days or because Diwali is approaching. It is good to be specific but I want you to start easy with your body. Once you start the first 2-3kg, the next programme gets very easy.”