Gen Z Speaks: I used to beat myself up for being unhealthy. Accepting failure helped me pursue my fitness goals

Eating fast food brought me solace as a child, but my parents always made sure I never ate unhealthy foods and monitored my diet.

As such, I grew up eating a fairly healthy diet from a young age.

It wasn’t until I reached my teens and gained more autonomy in my food choices that fast food began to form a larger part of my overall diet.

Whenever I felt stressed or anxious, despite many attempts to change my eating habits, I turned to fast food as a quick fix. I knew it was unhealthy, but I couldn’t help it.

Regular exercise was a struggle even for me as a teenager.

I would often start a new fitness routine but could never stick to it and would give up within a few weeks. Just like with my diet, I’ve struggled to stay consistent when it comes to staying physically active.

As a result of this unhealthy lifestyle, I ended up gaining weight and was about 15 kg heavier by the time I turned 16.

My confidence started to drop, as did my fitness. All of these factors combined made things like jogging or regular visits to a gym even more taxing, both mentally and physically.

I couldn’t accept that as my way of life in the long run.


I remember for a time when I was 17 I would drag myself out of the house to exercise vigorously every day whenever I had more time and energy to invest in my fitness, such as during the school holidays when commitments didn’t get in the way of the day.

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I was able to keep this up for over a year and made significant progress. I was able to keep it up for over a year and lost about 20 kg as a result.

However, I forced this on myself and didn’t enjoy any part of it. Although I felt a slight sense of relief that I was no longer overweight, I also remember feeling constantly mentally drained.

So one day my forced practice inevitably came to an abrupt end.

At that time I was under enormous stress and pressure from school and my part-time job. During this period of several months, I was constantly busy and often lacked sleep.

As a result, I started neglecting my fitness again. I had gone back to my old routine of creating a fitness plan that could only last a week and no longer.

These repeated failures made it even more difficult to avoid relapsing into my previous addictions, including fast food.

Eventually my fitness got worse than when I started.

The lowest point on my teenage personal health journey was when I was classified as “moderately obese” after completing my pre-medical exam in July last year.

When I first saw the word “obese” on an official record of my fitness, it was a sobering wake-up call.

I felt ashamed to think of how my actions over the past year had brought me to this point.

It brought back bitter memories of how I used to struggle with sports and fitness-related activities at school.

Whenever I attended a meeting, people would pull me aside to tell me I needed to start exercising more. This happened quite often and always left me humiliated.

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Also, with my kind of lifestyle, I didn’t have confidence when it came to exercising. So when my friends invited me to do things like play basketball or go on a hike, I always chose to stay at home.

This caused me to miss many opportunities to socialize and keep in touch with my friends. As this became a cycle over the long term, I began to feel empty and unfulfilled in my social life as well.

Then there was national service itself. I decided at the time that I couldn’t continue my unhealthy habits during my military service because fitness is often a big factor.


So this time, unlike my previous futile efforts, I wanted to do things differently.

First, I had to learn to accept mistakes and be kinder to myself, lest I lose motivation and fall into a worse state than before.

What eventually worked for me was setting “hyper-realistic goals” that required very little effort to achieve.

This included simple things like allowing me to eat whatever I wanted but in smaller portions, and creating short workouts with exercises I enjoyed.

I would also do things like run in the early hours when fewer people were around to keep my anxiety and lack of confidence from holding back my progress.

The effectiveness of some of these goals has been somewhat limited when it comes to increasing my fitness level. But I was able to stay consistent with these shorter workouts and didn’t let my newfound motivation go to waste.

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It also became easier for me to try a little harder and raise the bar a little bit each time to get better results.

Second, I also had to deal with my stress, which I believed to be the main cause of my relapse into unhealthy eating.

To better manage my mood, I spent more time doing things I enjoyed. I enjoy working on creative personal projects like creating graphic design or making short films with my friends. So, engaging in such activities in my free time helped keep my morale high.

This was not a linear process, as there were always phases in which I was very stressed and briefly neglected my fitness.

However, when I found myself falling behind, working towards my hyper-realistic goals got me back on track.

Earlier this year, I went for a medical exam to have my body mass index remeasured before I was hired.

As a result of the changes in my approach, I was able to lose about 12 kilograms and was now considered healthy.

To me, this felt like a temporary triumph in my journey with fitness, although I still have a long way to go.

While my old habits resurfaced from time to time, I now know how to manage those urges and have gained more confidence.


Ajay Suriyah, 20, recently graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a degree in Communications and Media Management. He is currently doing military service.

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