I’ve just stepped off the treadmill after only twenty minutes of speed walking at four miles per hour, a speed that older women like my mother consider running and ten minutes of true running at six miles per hour. I used to be able to run at that speed for a solid sixty minutes, burning six hundred calories. After about four months of not exercising at all, my body could not handle the same amount of pressure and strain that I had prided myself on before.
During my first few year at boarding school, I had gained the Freshman 15. The weight gain continued for the next three years of high school, something I had never dealt with or feared before. My friends in middle school used to tell me, “Oh you’re so skinny and you eat so much!” I never really understood the connection between the two: pounds and food until my mid-teens. The stress of school made me ignore what I was putting into my body. Entering Georgetown University, I was 5’ 8” and weighed in at 150 pounds, which did not necessarily mean I was overweight or obese. However, I was incredibly unhealthy, passing by the salad bar at school for the calorie-ridden, delicious “make your own pizza” stand. On the way out, I’d grab two chocolate chip cookies and shove them down my throat. Clearly, though I had graduated from high school and moved onto college my eating habits had not done the same. I gained the Freshman 10, weighing in at an extreme 160 pounds.
Starting the new year, I began a rigorous diet and exercise plan. As a self-proclaimed “night person,” I forced myself to get up at in the morning, a time that most college students are sleeping in, utterly fatigued from the homework they have completed, and walk in the freezing cold air to the university gym. Surprisingly, I got up on time everyday and worked out for an hour everyday for two months straight, 30 minutes of elliptical and 30 minutes of biking. I did not rest on weekends nor on days that I had gotten only four hours of sleep.
A fear of scales had seized me ever since I gained that first fifteen pounds. I decided not to measure my progress by the scale but rather by my clothing. I could feel the first five pounds in my jeans, which started to sag. Never had clothing been too big on me, always too tight. March 1st, I weight myself and found the scale to read 145 pounds. I had lost 15 pounds in total, about 8 pounds a month! I found the drive to push myself after seeing my hard work manifest itself on the scale.
Thus, I began to face the treadmill, the one machine in the gym I ran from, not on. The first morning I ran at six miles per hour for only twenty minutes straight. By the end of March, I had reached seven miles per hour for an hour straight a day. Then I would do the elliptical for thirty minutes and the bike for twenty minutes. Such stress on my body caused me to injure my knee severely that walking on it to just go to class hurt so badly. I had to stop exercising, which was my worst nightmare. How could I lose weight now and eat well? I decided to cut my calories down to 1,000, way below the recommended 1,200 for women. Some days I’d even eat 800 calories. This nutrient and protein deficient crash diet plan definitely worked for the month that I did it. I weighed myself at the end of April and was the skinniest I had ever been in five years, 135 pounds. Most students gained weight their freshman year of college but I had managed to lose it, leaving Georgetown thinner than I had entered. I reveled in how great it was to be so skinny again, only give pounds from my goal weight, and believed I wouldn’t have to later pay the price for my extreme dieting.
At the beginning of the summer, I kept up my portion control and walked at least three hours every day since I did not have access to a treadmill. Unfortunately, once I got to Korea, the food became even more abundant and delicious. I began to eat more again as I had missed good food for so long. I’d eat a lot for all three meals, sweet pastries from Paris Baguette and when my uncle came back from work late at night, he’d offer to buy my brother and I Kyochon Chicken or Papa John’s Pizza. Eating this way for about a month must have shocked my body which had been used to only 1,000 calories a day. I gained about ten pounds. My worst fears came true: I was gaining weight back and losing the will power to control myself any longer.
When my grandmother and mother told me about this fasting program at the temple, they told me that Sunim said he could help me lose five kilograms, about eleven pounds. I did not believe what I was hearing. How could I lose that much in just three nights and four days? I had worked so hard for thirty days just to lose eight pounds. I didn’t expect the results Sunim promised to happen but decided that I might as well breathe the clean Yukjijangsa air, get some kind of exercise, and most important of all, get away from the temptations of food. I entered the fast with a sigh of relief that I would not be able to eat, welcoming the idea of fasting after stuffing my face with all types of noodles, meat, and red bean desserts. At least my time spent at the temple wouldn’t make my gain any more weight. The second day was the hardest, the day I wanted to eat a chocolate bar I had put in my luggage. However, I resisted after talking one on one with Sunim who assured me that he could help me lose five kilograms. Thus, I threw the bar away and kept fasting.
Even my grandmother told my mother not to hope for such weight loss. At the end of four days, I weighed myself at my grandparent’s house. I lost three kilograms, then one the next day, and another the last day. Five kilograms gone. In just four days, I had lost what doctors, nutritionists, and personal trainers say takes two months to lose.
The fasting diet program was a way to kick start my weight loss journey again as I was slowly losing hope once again and gaining pounds. It helped me find the will power again to keep going.Back at home, I continue to control my portions and run on the treadmill every day, though not as athletically and strenuously as I did before. I only have eight pounds to lose, which does not seem like that much any more. Without doing this fast and following it so strictly, I would have had about twenty pounds to lose. Thank Buddha that’s not the case.