“You are young, you’re happy, and you’re full of life, but being overweight you are a ticking bomb.”
Big is Gorgeous founder Sharmilah Begum was offended. She had come to meet Xndo founder Lars Brittsjo to talk about how the Singaporean weight and health management company could collaborate with BIG. At the end of the discussion he had challenged her about the health implications of her own weight.
“When he said that I was a bit upset with him, because I felt that he judged me like everyone else,” Sharmilah said.
“Just because you’re overweight you would always be unhealthy, right? I didn’t tell him I was upset with him, but I felt why is he telling me I’m a ticking bomb, you know? I don’t think I’ll be a ticking bomb, because I’m so active right? I love to eat, but I do exercise.”
Sharmilah dismissed the challenge. Eight years later, the ticking stopped and the explosions began.
Obesity, diabetes, and sickness
A diagnosed diabetic, Sharmilah became sick; very sick. Small infirmities compounded and grew to become major problems. She was hospitalised several times and fought a constant battle with fatigue. The young, happy life she was living gradually disappeared beneath a cloud of pain and infirmity.
“I was going from bad to worse. I was coming out with a lot of things, and all of it was diabetes related,” she said.
“I had a carbuncle on my head that gave me a face stroke. I put a headband on and I wore big glasses. Everyone thought I was looking so diva, but actually I was going through head surgery. Underneath that headband was a bandage and behind those big glasses was a face that had melted down.”
Against doctor’s predictions Sharmilah’s face recovered and movement returned. She remained positive and upbeat, but the sickness continued. She had a second operation on her head, then one on her toe, then her hand. All the while her energy level was diminishing. A sugar and carbohydrate lover, her blood sugar level was three times the healthy range, and her blood pressure was up to a dangerous 200.
She pushed on but the normal demands of life and business often became too much and she’d fall sick again. Friends became worried, and business opportunities were lost. A seemingly continual stream of health conditions embattled her.
Diabetes reversed through eating
Eventually, with diabetes threatening her eyesight and doctors telling her she would go blind, Sharmilah saw Lars on Facebook and contacted him again. When they met, she reminded him of his words.
“I said I finally understand what you mean by I’m a ticking bomb. He told me if you are willing to listen now, I’m willing to teach you what to do.”
Following Lars’ advice Sharmilah began eating breakfast, a meal she had never liked. The effect was that she wasn’t as hungry during the day and ate less for lunch and dinner. She reduced carbohydrates in her diet, particularly white rice. She replaced her usually high calorie late night supper with an Xndo meal. She stopped eating sugar.
She began to lose weight but her recovery stalled. She became even sicker, though she knew and could feel she was getting better. Her feet swelled, and she suffered dizziness. She often fell ill.
Sharmilah said the detox process was long and painful. A lifetime of dependency upon carbs and sugar created a vicious kick back when they were removed, but she knew she had to endure it.
Painful Sugar withdrawal
“The whole body is telling you it can’t do it anymore. It’s going to give up on you. That’s how it is. I told myself to be gentle and patient.
“If I were to be impatient I think I would have just given up and think that it’s impossible; that what Lars told me was just crap. But he made me understand that it’s not something that I should rush.
As we talked I realised that he was trying to tell me that food is my poison, but food is also my remedy.
“It was hard initially. To tell me to give up on carbohydrate was the toughest thing to do. The first time when the doctor told me I had diabetes I didn’t cry. But when the nutritionist told me what I couldn’t eat, I cried, because I thought what is life if I can’t eat.
“But what I liked about what Lars told me was that you have to eat to lose weight. You just have to eat the right way. He told me eat more protein. Eat more fiber. Just cut down on carbohydrate intake. I said, you mean I can still eat? He said, yes you have to eat!
“As we talked I realized that he was trying to tell me that food is my poison, but food is also my remedy.”
Blood pressure and blood sugar normalized
It has been a long road back to health, but two years later Sharmilah is a changed woman. She has dropped 21kg and is no longer constantly sick. At last reading her blood sugar was normal and her blood pressure has also normalized. Even her eyesight has improved, reversing from diabetes-induced near sightedness to the (unfortunately) more normal far sightedness.
“I have to go and change my glasses, because I can’t see properly with these glasses now,” she laughed.
“This is the body that I had before I had diabetes – the feeling, the energy.
“It was terrible to live with diabetes. It was a living death. I feel that diabetes and obesity has robbed my life. My diabetes was due to obesity and because of this, I felt that I couldn’t go for the wealth that I wanted to, the business that I wanted to. I didn’t even want to have a relationship; I didn’t want to get married because I felt that if anyone was to be my partner it would really be an injustice to them.”
Big is Gorgeous has always been about making plus sized women feel beautiful, and to fall in love with themselves. The message that women are beautiful at the size they are has been the driving passion behind Sharmilah’s life work.
But her battle with obesity and diabetes has brought a change. She has faced a difficult truth and come through a terrible struggle. The carefree young woman who stubbornly continued on her way is wiser. BIG’s message hasn’t changed, but its messenger has.
You can do it too!
“I want to give my plus size girls hope now, because I know what obesity will do,” she said.
“I’ve always wanted them to be healthy. But how do we put out that message to them, to be healthy? I think being the leader maybe God wanted me to experience all this and pick me up again. I’m sure all of them are going through what I’m going through, the pain and everything.
“A lot of them are very impatient. They try something and expect in one week or two weeks time to see changes. I think you have to be gracious with yourself. You have to give your body time. You rush and you force and the body can’t handle it.
“I’m not 100 percent recovered yet. I’ve still got 15kg to lose to get to my right weight. I’m still waiting for my feet to recover, my eyes to fully recover. So I want them to join me in the journey to recovery.
“If they can hear my story, if they can understand my pain and I understand their pain, then we all know that we are in this together. I want to be a support to say let’s do it.”