How this role-model dad lost half his weight

SINGAPORE - Over three years, senior system analyst at StarHub Mr Kartono Wihardja lost nearly half his weight, shrinking from 115kg to 59kg.

The Indonesia-born Singaporean had to overcome mental obstacles. But Mr Wihardja persevered. He said the first 2kg lost was hardly noticeable. When he shed more weight, others noticed and this prompted him to exercise more intensely. It became a routine to weigh himself daily, but he stopped after he lost 20kg so as not to be "obsessed with the numbers".

The 37-year-old took to heart the best advice that was given to him: Not to aim to lose weight but to aim to eat healthily and exercise regularly.

"That way, the weight will take care of itself," said the father of a daughter, seven, and a son, four.

When his daughter saw his old pictures, she said she preferred him the way he is now. He felt "all the blood, sweat and tears were worth it".

He was one of 649 StarHub employees taking part in the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Singapore 2013. The 5.6km team run/walk at Marina Bay was a walk in the park for MrWihardja, who has completed six marathons and one ultra-marathon. His best marathon timing was 4hr and 10min.

What do you do to keep fit?

I run at least three times a week, covering between 8 and 15km each time. I often do so by running from my workplace to my home, a distance of about 12km.

I mostly run alone but occasionally, I run with friends and colleagues or in running groups.

On some weekends, I run 1 to 2km with my family. However, I do not force the children to run with me as I do not want them to hate exercising.

Several times a week, I do a 40- to 45-minute workout in the office gym.

Has there been a time when you were not fit and fabulous?

Yes, for most of my life in fact. I used to be very lazy and never exercised at all.

In my hometown in Jakarta, exercising in public places was regarded as dangerous, so you never saw anyone running on the roads.

I had been overweight since I was young. I put on even more weight after I started working at the age of 23. I ate and ate, but never exercised.

I loved to eat fried food and could wolf down four pieces of fried chicken, the accompanying side dishes and a drink in one sitting.

What prompted you to lose weight?

When my second child was born four years ago, I was at my heaviest at 115kg. I noticed that I was panting just by carrying the baby, who weighed slightly more than 3kg.

It was then that I set my mind on losing weight to be healthy so that I could be around for my children, watch them grow up and be a role model for them.

How did you start exercising regularly?

Initially, I was very embarrassed to be seen exercising, so I would get up at about 4am every day to walk 1.6km around the neighbourhood.

I would be out of breath, perspiring and sore in my knees by the halfway point. I would sit down to rest, and ask myself if I was being crazy or if I would ever slim down. What kept me going were the thoughts of my health, my children and my family.

When I could complete walking that distance, I incorporated jogging with walking.

I also started to play badminton, thinking it would be easier than running. Boy, was I wrong. My whole body ached after each session. I also played squash, cycled and went to the gym as cardiovascular exercise would help me to lose weight.

Now, I am quite adventurous with my exercises. Late last year, I started to do punching bag exercises at home. This is a form of upper body strength training.

How did you change your diet?

I switched to healthier food options, such as brown rice or oats, instead of white rice, and wholemeal bread instead of white bread. Wholemeal options keep me from feeling hungry.

My wife supported me by tweaking her cooking methods, choosing to stir fry, boil, steam or grill instead of deep frying the food.

What is your diet like now?

I am now a pescetarian, which means the only meat I eat is fish.

I eat mostly vegetables and have fish once a week.

I decided to adopt such a diet at the end of 2010 for the sake of my health. For the first few months, it was hell as I loved meat. Now, I do not react even when you put a plate of roasted meat in front of me.

What are your indulgences?

Nuts and dark chocolate, though I rarely eat them and only in very small amounts. I choose baked or raw nuts, not fried. I have them once, or at most twice, a week.

How do you relax and maintain a healthy work-life balance?

To me, exercising is relaxing. If I do not exercise, I would feel uncomfortable, almost like how it would feel not to eat.

If I get some unexpected free time because a meeting or appointment has been cancelled, I use it to exercise.

What are the three most important things in your life?

Without health, nothing can be done. Family and friends are my huge pillars of support.

I also believe we need to work, for financial reasons and also to stimulate our brains which is a form of exercise.

What is your secret to looking fabulous?

Exercising regularly and eating clean and healthy food. Food is our fuel. We are what we eat.

Would you go for plastic surgery?

No. I am naturally beautiful the way I am. Even if I were still fat, I would not go for plastic surgery.

Do you think you are sexy?

Yes, especially now that I am healthy. I will never trade my health for anything. I have earned it through blood, sweat and tears.

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