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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 comfort as a child, but my parents would always ensure that I never overindulged in unhealthy foods and would monitor my diet. As such, I grew up with a fairly healthy diet in my younger days.

Ajay Suriyah, 20, is a recent graduate from Temasek Polytechnic.

Ajay Suriyah, 20, is a recent graduate from Temasek Polytechnic.

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Eating fast food brought me comfort as a child, but my parents would always ensure that I never overindulged in unhealthy foods and would monitor my diet.

As such, I grew up with a fairly healthy diet in my younger days.

It was only when I hit my teenage years and gained more autonomy in my food choices that fast food started forming a larger portion of my overall diet.

Whenever I felt stressed or anxious, I turned to fast food as a quick solution, despite many attempts I made to fix my eating habits. I knew it was an unhealthy thing to do, but I couldn't help it.

Exercising regularly was also a struggle for me as a teenager.

I would often start a new fitness routine, but was never able to stick to it and gave up within a few weeks. Just like with my diet, I struggled to remain consistent when it came to staying physically active.

So, I eventually started to gain weight as a result of this unhealthy lifestyle, and I was about 15kg heavier by the time I turned 16.

My confidence began to drop, as did my level of fitness. All of these factors combined made things like going on a run or visiting a gym regularly even more mentally and physically exhausting.

I could not accept this as my way of life in the long term.


For a time when I was 17 years old, I remember dragging myself out of the home to start exercising vigorously every day, whenever I had more time and energy to invest in my fitness, such as during school holidays when commitments did not get in the way.

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

However, I was forcing this on myself and did not enjoy any part of it. Although I felt a slight sense of relief that I was no longer overweight, I also remember constantly feeling mentally exhausted.

So, one day, my regime of forced exercise inevitably came to an abrupt end.

I was under immense stress and pressure from school and part-time work at the time. I was constantly busy and often sleep deprived during this period which lasted several months. 

As a result, I started neglecting my fitness again. I had gone back to my old routine of attempting a fitness schedule that could only last for a week, and not more.

These repeated failures made it even harder to avoid falling back to my previous tendencies, including fast food.

Eventually, my fitness became worse than when I first started.

The lowest point in my teenage journey with my personal health was when I was graded “moderately obese” after attending my pre-enlistment medical screening in July last year. 

Seeing the word”‘obese” on an official document related to my fitness for the first time was a sobering wake-up call.

I felt a sense of shame as I thought about how my actions for the past year had led me to this point.

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

Whenever I would attend a gathering, people would pull me aside to tell me I had to start exercising more. This happened fairly often and always left me feeling humiliated.

With the type of lifestyle I had, I also had no confidence when it came to taking part in sports. As a result, whenever my friends invited me to do things like play basketball or go on a hike, I always chose to stay home instead.

This caused me to miss out on many opportunities to socialise and remain in touch with my friends. As this became a cycle in the long term, I also started feeling empty and unfulfilled in my social life.

Then, there was also national service itself. I decided then that I couldn’t continue with my unhealthy habits during my national service, because fitness often plays a huge role. 


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

First, I had to learn to accept failure and to be kinder to myself, so that I don’t lose motivation and spiral into a worse state than before.

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

These would include simple things like allowing myself to eat anything I wanted, but in smaller portions, and creating short workouts with exercises that I enjoyed. 

I would also do things like go on runs in the wee hours of the morning where there were less people around, to keep my anxiety and lack of confidence from hindering my progress.

The effectiveness of some of these goals were somewhat limited when it came to boosting my fitness level. But I was able to remain consistent with these shorter workouts, preventing my newfound motivation from dissipating. 

It also became easier for me to start pushing myself a little harder, setting a slightly higher bar each time, to achieve better results.

Secondly, I also needed to deal with my stress, which I saw as the root cause for my relapse into unhealthy eating.

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

This wasn’t a linear process, as there were still times where I would experience high stress levels and briefly neglect my fitness.

However, whenever I found myself falling behind, working on my hyper realistic goals would get me back on track.

Earlier this year, I went for a medical review to have my body mass index taken again before my enlistment. 

As a result of the changes to my approach, I managed to drop about 12 kilograms and was now considered to be of a healthy weight. 

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

While my old habits would resurface from time to time, I now know how to work through these urges and have gained more confidence in myself.



Ajay Suriyah, 20, recently graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a Diploma in Communications and Media Management. He is currently serving national service.

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Gen Z Speaks lose weight fitness mental health

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