COVID-19 and two-year-old Ariya Small brought Jamal Small to one important realization – he needed to lose weight.
“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.”
Since August 2020, Small has lost approximately 120 pounds.
At his heaviest, he tipped the scale in the 370-pound range in the summer of 2020 and today weighs in around the 230 mark.
His 56-inch pant has been 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, 38, 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 in New Providence and purchase himself clothing.
“To now be able to walk into any boutique store and pick up clothes makes me feel so good,” said Small. “It actually gives me the impetus to keep going to my goal.”
Getting to this point he admits took “lots of discipline”.
And he is proud of his accomplishment, but he is not one to celebrate just yet. His goal is to get under 200 pounds.
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 diseases related to obesity.
For as long as he can remember, Small, a chef by profession, 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.
His weight gain he said 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.
Small said his average day is now jumpstarted with water and vitamins, before he gets in a workout, and then has a shake. He eats a light lunch of protein and veggies, or a meal replacement vegan shake chockfull of protein. Dinner he said is a balance of protein, veggies and somedays if he’s seeking to indulge, a properly portioned serving of rice. And he drinks no less than a gallon of water a day.
“I don’t deprive myself of anything,” said Small. “If I want rice or a piece of conch, I have it, but I watch the portion size. If I want to eat sushi, I know that I have to burn that off. I did it before – cut out everything and I relapsed over the course of two years, and put the weight back on.” He does not want that to happen again.
He has also added workouts to his daily routine, and during COVID, stuck at home, he said he worked out sometimes up to four hours a day. And does it all sans trainer.
He tries to do at least two hours of cardio aiming for up to two miles on the bike or treadmill, or taking to the road, adds in some resistance work and incorporates some weight training.
Small said for him, his weight loss goal is a lifestyle change.
“It’s just in my head – nothing formal, nothing on paper.
“If I want to eat anything, I know I have to burn that off and I got in the habit of burning more than I put in, and that’s jumpstarted my metabolism.”
When he lost his first 20 pounds, he said he didn’t even notice it. As the weight continued to come 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?”
Now, as people see him out and about, they are astounded by the weight he has lost.
While he was comfortable with his weight for decades, Small admits that he knows he should not have been, and advises others to not “comfortable” with themselves.
But he advised that for weight loss to work, the 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.
“I went to the doctor in August to do a checkup, and he said my blood sugar was perfect. I went scared and really afraid, but turns out I was just morbidly obese.”
Small said he had no comorbidities at all.
Now that he’s doing something about his weight, he said he continually surprises himself.