Keepin’ it real: Dina Toki-o and YazTheSpaz share their struggles with body image

Two of the world’s most recognizable Islamic fashion and lifestyle personalities share their struggles – and ultimate victories – with their body image and weight. Written by Yasemin Kanar and Dina Toki-o.

Eat well, look great!

We call YazTheSpaz a “creative powerhouse” because of her countless creations in the realms of fashionbeautybaked goods and art. Yet it is her bubbly personality and honesty that shine through the most, as they do here in the story of her weight loss journey.

If you had asked me two years ago how I felt about myself both physically and emotionally, I would have told you that I was satisfied. Back then I was at my heaviest, weighing in at 74.4kg. My friends and family never thought of me as plump or chubby. This was mostly due to my high level of self-esteem, which always radiated energy that surpassed my looks and allowed everyone to see me for who I really was – a cute, outgoing and funny young gal!

I started putting on weight when I entered university at the age of 18. There’s a term here in the US that applies to first-year university students, also known as freshmen. “Freshman 15” refers to the tendency of students to gain 15lbs (6.8kg) in their first year of university. This weight gain can come from a lack of sleep, high levels of stress, medication, or even increased feelings of happiness! Lo and behold, by the age of 20 and in my second year of university, I had gained 9kg.

When we have gained weight, we tend to feel insecure and less energetic. We become more prone to depression and fatigue. And many of us get upset about not being able to fit into our clothes. Once I lost the weight I had gained, I looked – and felt – even better, both in my skin and clothing.

By this point perhaps you’re asking, “Okay Yaz, how much weight did you lose?” Well, the answer is: I lost 13kg. It may not seem like a lot to those wanting to lose even more, but for me, it made a huge difference.

Eat smart

By now, all you want to know is how, right? The main factor in any weight-loss program is your diet. By simply changing what you put into your mouth, you can start to “lose” fat! For those who drink lots of soda, cutting it out of your diet will help to prevent tooth decay and osteoporosis (weakening of the bones). Reducing your intake of soda and other drinks high in sugar will also decrease your chances of getting diabetes, and help to lower your odds of becoming obese.

Processed sugars are also enemies of a balanced diet. These are found in almost every sweet or dessert, so try sticking to naturally sweet things like fruits and raw honey. Oatmeal with naturally sweetened blueberry jelly and cinnamon is a breakfast favorite of mine.

When it comes to your proteins, stick to lean meats like fish, chicken breast and egg whites. During my weight-loss spree, I might have overdosed on egg whites – not because they were fat-free, but mostly because I loved the taste of them! Also, make sure to stay away from refined salt. Too much-refined salt makes your body retain liquid, which in turn causes you to gain weight and feel bloated.

Finally, you must be thinking: What about carbohydrates? Well, try to keep your carb intake at a minimum. Bad carbs are basically anything white, such as white bread, white rice and pasta. I like to eat good carbs such as brown rice, brown pasta, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, sweet potatoes and even starchy veggies – yes vegetables are considered carbs!

Of course, results will vary for each person. But I think that by simply starting to use these tips, you should see improvements in your health, weight and, ultimately, your energy levels. I hope that my experience can give you that extra push to start your own weight-loss journey, because as you can see, with dedication and might, anything is possible!

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The difference between fact & photoshopped

Dina Toki-o is a prolific stylemeister with a global following that is hungry for her candid opinions on everything under the sun. All that sassiness belongs to a woman with her own story to share about body image issues.

We’re always reading about eating disorders, confidence issues, diet problems, the body images of women, and articles with titles like “how to look good naked” in certain magazines. And there’s always a tragic story somewhere in the pile telling us about a young girl who is facing death, has attempted suicide or is living in a state of utter depression, all because she’s been told that she is fat or not beautiful enough. She might be going through bulimia, anorexia, binge eating or something else similar. Such magazines, with their photoshopped images of “perfect” figures and “beautiful” faces, brainwash our minds and feed off our insecurities. Their pages are plastered with society’s distorted idealizations of how a woman – and even a man – should look.

I didn’t know it then, but my method of weight loss was a type of bulimia

The mind of a young girl, who is otherwise perfectly healthy and who should be happy, is thus occupied by unrealistic sentiments of this pitiless world. She is bombarded with messages telling her that she’s not perfect, doesn’t fit in and isn’t attractive. All because a couple of glossy pages told her so.

Reading about these girls, we may not imagine ourselves or those close to us going through such a traumatizing experience. Many of us don’t know anyone who could ever let herself be affected by the distorted images that the media throw at us.

But for some of us, these problems settle close to home.

It doesn’t always stare you in the face, an eating disorder. Sometimes it creeps up on you when you least expect it. You may not even realize that there’s a problem until someone points it out to you. By then, you could possibly be in denial.

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Struggle within

I started to struggle with my weight when I was about 15. I’m not one of those people who can indulge in absolutely anything without piling on the pounds, so my weight was always up and down until recently. There was a time when I was overweight. I wasn’t hugely so, but I was considered a “chunky monkey”. At that time in my life, I was bulimic. I didn’t know it then, but I realized a few years ago, after I’d stopped, that my method of weight loss was a type of bulimia. It wasn’t the kind that involved regurgitation. But I used to throw myself into three hours of a crazy exercise workout routine every night after school and, of course, after bingeing on food.

I remember having to go on the exercise bike in the attic every night and not getting off until I’d broken into a sweat and could smell the burning of the wheels. I remember feeling like I couldn’t go out the next day unless I did that, because I convinced myself that otherwise, I wouldn’t fit into my clothes.

Yet I just couldn’t give up overeating. I tried every diet under the sun and always ended up stuffing my greedy gob with just about anything I could find in the cupboards. I wasn’t fussy with food and I generally just loved eating.

And then, one fateful day, the exercise bike broke.

So I proceeded to use the stepper every night – in the kitchen this time. But this little machine wasn’t burning as many calories for me as the bike did. I felt that I needed something else to help get rid of the food I would binge on almost every day. This led me to try laxative pills. For almost a year and a half, I was taking laxative pills, which can be bought from any supermarket in the medicine section. I started on just two a night. When they no longer gave me the effect I wanted, I gradually increased my intake until I was taking 40 a day. I knew it was unhealthy and dangerous, but I made myself believe that it was okay.

In Egypt, you can get a laxative tea that advertises itself as a weight-loss solution. I’d rather not go into the gory details, but so many women drink it as if it’s normal to be stuck on the toilet with the runs every night after dinner. It’s mindboggling!

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Lessons learned

People have asked me many times how I keep slim or for tips on weight loss. I’ve ignored every request because I believe that I’m not the right person to give this sort of advice.

Now you know why.

My bulimia didn’t help me to lose any weight whatsoever. It just made me unhealthy and played on my already weird relationship with food.

So, how was this battle between food and I sparked?

That I cannot answer, because I have no idea. All I know is that I’ve never been happy with my figure. I know I’m not fat and that I don’t need to lose weight. But like so many other women, I have never been 100-percent happy with my figure. I sometimes look at someone and wish I were as slim as her. I am also aware that although she has the perfect figure to me, I can almost guarantee you that there is something she wants to change about her body.

No one is perfect. And no one has the right to force images of what “perfection” is upon others. Who are we to decide? The most important thing is to learn to live with your body and work well with it. Take care of it, stay healthy and don’t listen to any negativity from anyone – unless it’s a health warning from your doctor, of course!

A Wellness Consultant Comments

Many of us have tried various diet programs or exercise routines to lose weight, become more active and boost our confidence. At the end of the day, it is our body that will tell us what is best.

To do what is best for our body, we must understand how it works. We should also learn what nature intends for us through the food it produces for us. It is, after all, a form of ibadah that we study the splendid works of Allah’s creation.

Be kind to your body, keep it healthy, and it will take care of the rest. — NurAishah Chong P L, wellness consultant