While in college Ludfi Jaafar regularly exercised at a traditional gym. A traditional gym at that time was a muscle gym, or ‘gym besi karat (rusted metal)’ as Ludfi says. At that time getting fit was about putting on the pounds and bulking up with heavy weights. At six foot one, Ludfi weighed between 85 and 92 kg, and life was good.
Growing up and getting a job after college was the natural progression of life. He found a job in the construction industry and got caught up in the whirlwind of the rat race. Working for long hours daily became a common practice. After all, there were tender deadlines, and he was a responsible young employee. It felt important to be in charge of the construction of agriculture, aquaculture, F&B and plantation projects.
“Unlike studying, you don’t get to procrastinate till the day of the exam and start working,” Ludfi said. It was constant work, and for days when he had to complete tenders he would stay up for 30 hours or more. It was tough, and coffee was not his cup of tea, so he found that sweets did for him what coffee did for others. They kept him raring and on the go.
From a fit young man, he became an overweight, mentally, and physically tired man. Three years in the construction industry packed on the kilos until Ludfi weighed a whopping 142 kg. On an average, from 2009 - 2012 he had put on about 10 kgs a year. He was so into eating that he couldn’t tell when it was time to eat anymore. He could eat a big meal with some friends, and when he got home, would still be able to eat the delicious meals his mother cooked.
Shuffling along, he moved jobs to a local airline. Life was hectic and he was frequently tired. There was no time for exercise, even though he was aware that he was still piling on the kilos. At his new job, he saw colleagues who were in their early 40s being diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. At that point, he was 29 years old and realised that staying the way he was was not an option anymore. After all, he was only ten years away from the age of his colleagues who were afflicted by all these health issues. In their shoes, he would be in a much worse situation. He said he “immediately felt my blood pressure spike a few notches that day.”
Realising that he may not have had the motivation and would, as always, find as many excuses as he could not to exercise, he made a life changing decision to get his health back on the right track. It was after an assignment in Shanghai that he started going back to cardio. His friends were very supportive and suggested he try a workout called Tabata, also known as H.I.I.T. (High-Intensity Interval Training).
Ludfi said, “The training was a 20 seconds workout, with 10 seconds rest. You repeated eight sets four times with a minute break between each cycle. I combined Tabata together with 20 minutes of cardio, so my total workout would be 40 minutes.” It was a far cry from when he was in college and would spend two-and-a-half to three hours in the gym with many long breaks in between. Tabata was a breath of fresh air; he was now doing productive exercise in a much shorter time. The free and easy days of college were over, and time was an expensive commodity now.
He did the Tabata workout two times during the first week with a day of futsal thrown in, and gradually increased it to three days in the second week. He maintained that routine for the following weeks. “The first two weeks were really difficult,” confessed Ludfi, and YouTube was his saving grace. It was no easy task when it came to losing the weight that he had easily and ignorantly put on. But he was determined and said, “I missed the years when I was still fit. I could feel the difference in the way I walked. It was tiring and difficult after I had put on all that weight.” He learnt to progress - with help from YouTube - from the various stages of exercises. In the beginning when he started out, he was unable to perform full pushups, but with hard work and determination, he progressed from knee pushups with two proper pushups, to three, and eventually was able to easily do pushups in the conventional position. He mentioned that if the routine got too comfortable he would add weights in order to increase resistance so as to provide a challenge for him to up it to another level.
Further breakthroughs came when, “My friend introduced me to this app called ‘myfitnesspal’ where it helps count how many calories you take in a day,” Ludfi said. Myfitnesspal helps users to count calories based on their height and weight. With the goal to lose one kg a week, Ludfi diligently keyed in his breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day to keep track of his calorie count. While learning to use this app, he wanted to eat a roti canai, and so thinking that it was just one measly roti canai that would not really fill his stomach, he checked the calorie counter… it was 300 calories without the curry! His friend informed him that it would be better if he had rice, grilled chicken or fish, and vegetables which also makes up 300 calories but was a healthier and more nutritious option which also kept him full. He began to learn to make better choices with his food. With persistent exercising and good food choices, Ludfi lost a total of 14 kgs in the span of three months.
Ludfi was more than happy to share his exercise routine and new-found nutritional knowledge with colleagues who had seen his transformation and wanted to know his secret. “Tabata training can be tweaked to suit any individual. From the skinny to the obese, anyone was able to do the same exercises I did, only with different resistance levels based on individual capabilities.
However, Ludfi was not satisfied with his physique, but had no idea how he could look better even though he felt healthier at that point. His weight then plateaued for more than two weeks even after vigorous exercise. As luck would have it, when he met an old friend and shared his predicament, his friend gifted him with eight sessions of a personalised exercise programme with a personal trainer. The personal trainer would tailor his training programme according to his body fat composition.
Delighted, Ludfi began a streamlined exercise programme. He was told from the beginning that he had to completely cut out sugar and carbohydrates for a whole three weeks. A clear warning was given that in the three weeks, he had to stay clear of all sugar and carbohydrate consumption. If at any point he failed to adhere, he would have to begin from the very start of the three-week regime. “When I heard that I had to cut out carbohydrates, it was fine, but then I was told I had to cut out sugar and I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to cut out the sugar?’” This was a challenge that he had to face if he wanted to progress to the next level. He thought perhaps he could cheat his way out of it, then told himself, “no, it’s no point if I do, besides I am already halfway through the journey, might as well finish it.” Ludfi was completely taken aback by that experience. To say that he was stunned was an understatement. According to him the three weeks was sheer hell.
He went through the torturous and grueling three weeks and was allowed one ‘cheat meal’ on the first day of the fourth week. With two large pizzas, one big burger, a tub of ice cream and a diet coke, that one cheat meal was enough for him to binge eat to the point that he felt like he was about to vomit.
He learnt that the three weeks free of sugar and carbohydrates gave him the opportunity to convert his existing fat to energy instead of relying on the usual sugar and carbohydrate intake. He dropped another six kgs. Following that, he began to manage his one cheat meal a week without binge eating, for he had learnt to use his existing source of energy and not rely on external sources. He learnt the hard way that losing weight is 70 percent about the food and 30 percent the exercise.
After the no carb and no sugar diet was over, the most important thing Ludfi learnt was how to be able to eat proper, healthy food anywhere. “When I was obese I was constantly giving excuses like, ‘there is no healthy food where I work’, or ‘I have no time to exercise’. You can always make your own food – check out YouTube! – and a Tabata workout can be performed anywhere, anytime for only 20 minutes. No cardio machine? Just jog around your neighborhood for another 20 minutes!”
Currently, Ludfi, now 31, has lost 30 kgs from the third quarter of last year. He is trying to lose another 10 kgs from his now 96 kg weight. His journey just goes to show that grit and determination are the only ways to success. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. I read this in a motivational book years ago, but I can’t remember which one. I really believe this is true,” said Ludfi.