Health & WellnessLifestyles

Chasing the elusive 200-pound mark

Chef Jamal Small says he refuses to be discouraged

Coming into 2022, Jamal Small was chasing a 200-pound weight loss goal – six months in, he continues to chase his elusive goal, chalking up his derailment to being consumed by work and life. But he said he is not discouraged.

Now, at 225 pounds – five heavier than his plateaued weight at the beginning of the year, Small, a chef by profession, said that as he strives to get back on track, he is happy that he was intentional in his approach to not fall back into bad eating habits as his exercise regimen fell off.

“I tried my best not to go back into the bad habits,” said Small. “Weight loss is 80 percent what you put into your mouth and 20 percent workouts; so when life got in the way, as far as work and extracurriculars, I tried to balance what I put into my mouth to negate the lack of exercise. And I haven’t been working out because of all the hard work and all of my extracurriculars. Sometimes, work and life just consumes you, so you get off track. It takes a toll.”

Small said he had many days when he tried to push himself to get his workout in, but simply could not find the time.

“Some days, you’re just too tired because you’ve put in so much.”

He is looking forward to his daughter Ariya Small’s summer break which he said will allow him to get back on track, and focus on himself again.

“My advice to anyone who is trying to lose weight is to not give up, and don’t get discouraged. You may fall off, like I have, but get back on track, which is what I plan to do. The minute you slow down, do your best to try not to pick up bad habits.”

He said for him, it is definitely a lifestyle change.

“You have to keep up with it,” he said.

In the waning weeks of 2021, Small saw his weight loss effort plateau at around 220 pounds, owing to the fact that he fell off his workout routine, but he did not gain any weight, which he said was his motivating factor to kick his weight loss effort into gear once again with the goal of getting to 200 pounds or less.

At his heaviest, in the summer of 2020, Small tipped the scale in the 370-pound range.

COVID-19 and his daughter brought Small to the realization that he needed to lose weight. Seeing people die from the coronavirus he said made him realize he needed to be alive for his daughter. He began his weight loss journey.

“I said this thing [coronavirus] taking people out and I have to be here for Ariya, because she’s my world. I only have one child and I have to make sure that I’m around to walk her down the aisle one day.”

Small is proud of his approximate 150-pound weight loss, to date.

The chef has said many people make resolutions to lose weight and, on his journey, he has encouraged them to not get discouraged when they experience “valleys” – advice he has also had to take.

“Everyone plateaus. But I want to encourage them to never get discouraged because if they allow themselves to be discouraged, they can rest assured that they will stop. They will get comfortable and they will put the weight back on.”

Small’s efforts to shed the pounds resulted in his 56-inch pant being reduced to a 38-inch waist. The 4XL shirts had to be thrown out because he now fits comfortably in an XL shirt. He has even seen his shoe size shrink from a size 12 to a comfortable size 10.

Small, 34, who previously had to purchase his clothes from Big and Tall or order online from stores that stocked up to a 4XL, is proud that he can now walk into any store and purchase clothing for himself. He said to now be able to walk into any boutique store and pick up clothes makes him feel good. And that it actually gives him the impetus to refocus on his goal, even if he falls off every now and again.

Getting to this point, he admits, took “lots of discipline”.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even a modest weight loss of five to 10 percent of a person’s total body weight is likely to produce health benefits such as improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar.

Modest weight loss, according to the CDC, can decrease a person’s factors for chronic obesity-related diseases.

For as long as he can remember, Small said he has had a weight problem.

“I was the fat kid from inception. I was always the chubby guy, so it never bothered me, and I never got teased either.” So, he said he never developed a concern about his weight.

“It wasn’t even a thought in my mind.”

He was a kid who loved great takeout, and grew into adulthood where he cooked amazing food for a living, and continued to live and enjoy his life, which he said entailed eating great food and drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

He also said his weight never interfered with his life.

“My body adjusted. The weight didn’t affect my work. I was able to still push, so there was no problem,” said Small, who was a member of The Bahamas’ 2018 gold medal-winning Caribbean National Team of the Year, and who also won gold and was inducted into the coveted “Hall of Fame” for winning overall “Caribbean Chef of the Year”.

He added that the weight did not affect him being able to play with his young daughter.

“I was carrying around a lot of weight and it didn’t matter.”

Looking back, Small admits his weight got out of control during his college years. During the pandemic, he said, he realized he had a daughter to think about and knew something had to give.

He began his weight loss journey slowly, first by cutting back on his consumption of alcoholic beverages.

“Quitting drinking alone was a change in body mass,” he said.

“And then, I went all in – full 100. I changed my eating habits and concentrated on portion sizes rather than depriving myself of anything.”

This, from the man who said he would eat at any time of day and didn’t care.

“If I was up at 3 a.m. and my belly wanted a snack, I would eat it,” he recalled. Now, when he eats, he gives himself a five-hour window before he even lies down.

When he began his weight loss journey, Small said his average day was jumpstarted with water and vitamins, before he got in a workout, then had a shake. He ate a light lunch of protein and veggies, or a meal replacement vegan shake chockfull of protein. Dinner, he said, was a balance of protein, veggies and some days, if he’s seeking to indulge, a properly portioned serving of rice. He drank no less than a gallon of water a day.

He said he did not deprive himself of anything. If he wanted rice or a piece of conch, he had it, but he watched the portion size. If he wanted to eat sushi, he said he knows that he had to burn it off. And he worked out, sometimes putting in up to four hours a day.

Small said he knows what it is to relapse and get back on track, and will continue to chase the 200 pounds or less on the scale.

When he lost his first 20 pounds, he said he didn’t even notice it. As the weight continued to drop off, he still did not see it. It wasn’t until a friend snapped a picture of him that he noticed the change.

“I was still of the view that I was the big guy. I didn’t pay attention to the scale until a wedding photo that [fellow culinary national team member] Derrick Blackmon took and sent to me, and I said, ‘Whoa! Who is that? Why do I look so small?’”

While he was comfortable with his weight for decades, Small admits that he knows he should not have been, and advises others to not feel, “comfortable” with themselves and to do what they have to do. He knows that for weight loss to work, a person has to do it for themselves.

“It’s self-love,” said Small. “You have to love yourself and do it for you. And don’t give up. A lot of people start, lose two … three pounds and give up, or when sickness rolls around, say they will start again. [He admits to having done that.] COVID should have taught us all to get serious about health and about what we’re doing with our body.”

He also remembers being scared silly before starting his weight loss journey, certain he had diabetes, although it turned out he didn’t, despite tipping the scale at 300-plus pounds. Now that he’s doing something about his weight, he said he continually surprises himself.

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Shavaughn Moss

Shavaughn Moss joined The Nassau Guardian as a sports reporter in 1989. She was later promoted to sports editor. Shavaughn covered every major athletic championship from the CARIFTA to Central American and Caribbean Championships through to World Championships and Olympics. Shavaughn was appointed as the Lifestyles Editor a few years later.

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