In January of 2017, I was invited by my friend Hilton Pockpass to attend his running club’s social event. They meet up every couple of months and invite a special speaker to motivate the running team. The speaker at the event I was going to attend was a man who had once been 148 kilograms (326 pounds).
However, instead of sharing another story about dramatic weight loss, what I saw and heard was a testimony about the kind of fortitude that left me astonished and absolutely inspired. The speaker’s name is Nezaam Isaacs and this was his journey to health.
Nezaam was quite an active man earlier in his life, but he admits that at some point he allowed the distractions of life to consume him to a point where he stopped being active. Like many other busy people, he relegated health and fitness as “nonessential”. Non-activity and junk food become such a regular part of his daily life that he grew to the unhealthy weight of 148 kilograms.
The World Heart Federation reports the following alarming facts about obesity:
- Globally, over 1.5 billion adults are overweight; 150 million of them are obese.
- Nearly 43 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2010.
- Around the world, obesity has more than doubled since 1980.
- Worldwide, overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths than underweight.
- Overweight and obesity increase the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
- Almost 3 million deaths a year are attributed to overweight/obesity.
- Overweight and obesity is the fifth highest risk factor for death, ahead of alcohol, unsafe sex, or poor sanitation and water supply.
- Obese children are more often ill or disabled in adulthood and are likely to die earlier than those of normal weight.
The above statistics painted a picture of the life that Nezaam faced. By February 2008, he had developed chronic scleritis, which turned into rheumatoid arthritis—the most severe form of arthritis—due to all of the medications that he had to take. His doctor repeatedly warned him that his condition was serious, but like many of us, he chose to continue living his life of non-activity and junk food.
The start of Nezaam’s journey to health
It wasn’t until Nezaam finally said “yes” to his brother Waleed and friends Ebrahim and Farouk’s persistent invitations to their running group, that his story began to change. To his great surprise, Nezaam began to enjoy being active and, with the special ingredient of a support team, he started to become healthier and fitter, ultimately dropping his weight to a phenomenal 64 kg (141 lbs).
This affirms Dr. Rolando’s observations, as he states the following in his article about why New Year’s resolutions don’t work:
“When it comes to fitness, various studies have shown that exercise with other individuals can significantly improve one’s performance. According to a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine3, when we exercise with a friend, we can double our performance, or more. That’s significant! That’s 100% more output, 100% more burned calories, and 100% easier to commit to a resolution.
And then there’s diet. In her book The Wahls Protocol, Dr. Terry Wahls explains how she reversed the effects of her multiple sclerosis with a good diet. She also claims that she has yet to see an individual who has successfully reversed his or her condition without the participation of friends and family. In other words, when our families are involved in our diet, we’re able to heal, but when they’re not, we may never succeed.
From here, we can conclude that in both exercise and diet, we need others to be with us.”
Where is Nezaam now?
Nezaam has leapt from one fitness level to the next. He’s completed several ultra-marathons and is a competitive trail runner as well. Admittedly however, he shares that his accomplishments in competitive running haven’t been without trial and error. His experience has been characterized by a theme of constant learning and growing, and continues to be so. Observing and studying proper running techniques, and understanding how the human body can perform optimally, have become his missions in life
Eventually in December 2016, Nezaam’s studies led to upgrading his lifestyle to a plant-based diet. A plant-based diet could be considered the original diet of mankind. In the ancient cultures of India and Greece, a plant-based diet was considered to be the norm. Quite interestingly, one can go back much further, to the biblical account recorded in Genesis, the first book of the Bible:
“Then God said, I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” Genesis 1:29, NIV
Remarkably after his shift to a plant-based diet, Nezaam noticed that his running performance improved exponentially. During his shift, he had also cut out all refined sugars, which caused him to make even more healthy weight loss. But then, one morning just two weeks into his plant-based diet, he woke up and could hardly lift his head. He felt drained of energy. What went wrong?
Nezaam says, “the one thing some people forget to tell you is the critical need to ensure that you incorporate vitamin B12 to your diet when going vegan.” Vitamin B12 is largely regarded as “the energy vitamin”. It’s crucial for the development of the following:
- Red blood cells
- Brain, and
- Immune system
B12 is a vitamin that the body can’t produce on its own. John Davis, world-renowned commentator of nutrition, writes:
“Plants pulled from the ground and not washed scrupulously may contain remnants of B12 present in the surrounding soil. B12 is also found in lakes, before the water is sanitized.”
Quite fortunately for plant-based folks, B12 is readily available in a variety of supplements. This is how Nezaam now receives his healthy daily dose of B12, and his energy is back to a healthy level.
Nezaam’s story teaches us that we have the gift and power to choose to live life better. How long did it take for him to lose 84 kilograms (185 pounds)? Rather than a numerical answer, he offers practical advice:
“That’s for you to determine for yourself. Set your own goals on what you want to achieve and by when you want to achieve it. Stay committed. As for me, I’m not going back.”
World Heart Federation. Obesity: A Growing Danger. N.p.: World Heart Federation, n.d. Print.
Fulgencio, ND Rolando. “3 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work.” Life & Health Network. Life & Health Network, 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 07 Feb. 2017. <https://lifeandhealth.org/lifestyle/3-reasons-why-new-years-resolutions-dont-work/156602.html>.
Davis, John. “Was Vitamin B12 a Problem for 19th Century ‘vegans’?” Was Vitamin B12 a Problem for 19th Century ‘vegans’? – Vegsource.com. Veg Source, 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Feb. 2017. <http://www.vegsource.com/john-davis/was-vitamin-b12-a-problem-for-19th-century-vegans.html>.
“Vitamin B12.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_B12>.