How I Turned from an Overweigh Smoker into a Healthy Runner

by Sylvester Janssens
by Sylvester Janssens

There comes a time in one’s life when one decides that changes must be made.  As a kid I was always quite overweight. Although I laughed the pain away, the dream always consisted of having a healthy body.

My diet gone wrong

After my relationship ended six months ago, I was feeling terrible and stopped eating. The only thing I found joy in was smoking. I started smoking when I was a kid, but became a heavy smoker once I’d experienced trouble. You could say it was something I could fall back to.

After having smoked for about six years, I could sense my lungs were becoming damaged. The fact that I smoked was always a drawback for me to start exercising. My endurance was a joke and I always ended up puffing after small exercises

Due to smoking all day and not eating, I found myself losing weight quickly. This method is extremely unhealthy and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but it opened up my mind. I sensed it was the ideal moment to begin improving my quality of life.
My Body Mass Index (BMI) had dropped from 37 to 35 in a month due to the fact that I almost didn’t eat anything. It number may not sound severe but I wasn’t losing fat, I was losing muscle mass. My muscles were weakening, which made me feel weak and insecure.

Every diet I tried just failed. I didn’t have the commitment to continue with the strict rules of a proper diet, but I truly had to take action.  The first week was terrible, the only thing that was on my mind was food and how I never felt this hungry. But after that, my stomach and metabolism adjusted. I became fanatic by barely eating. I just ate some vegetables everyday and that was it, nothing more.
The reason why I was dieting so severely was because I didn’t see physical results at first. The scale showed  my progress, but I couldn’t see it in my reflection. It took me four months to see the results of this weight loss to a point that I lost a lot more than just excess body fat. At that time I lost nearly 20 kilos and my BMI reached the more acceptable stage of 30.

Anorexia Nervosa

I finally was seeing results, and other people were seeing them as well. The few people that still cared about me, after my self-inflicted social isolation, pointed out to me that it wasn’t healthy to continue (not) eating like this and my psychiatrist diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia is actually a funny affliction; you may only think that skinny people suffer from it, but this proves the opposite. I finally realized that I was wrong; this was not the right way to lose weight. The matter of the fact is, I found myself with more physical restraints and my vital body functions began to plummet. After 5 months of suffering from Anorexia, it was time to move on.

I wasn’t slim at the time, but you could definitely see where I was coming from and the amount of weight I had lost. I needed to pick up a more thriving method of losing weight. But I decided that losing weight was no longer my goal, it was to improve my general quality of life. And I decided to start running.

Getting back on track

I began eating more regularly, sometimes more than once a day. It was still not sufficient, but enough to power my body with the energy needed for running. I was starting to pay attention to what substances are vital for living a fit life and adjusted my dietary. Now I was ease up on the diet and compensated it with running.

I never felt comfortable about running in the past; I didn’t want to run outdoors because I was afraid that people would think things like:  “there’s that fat guy running”.  To prevent a lot of people from seeing me, I always ran at night, on closed roads with the least traffic possible. Luckily where I live, there’s a lot of untouched nature.

Starting to run is hard, especially when you’re overweight. But since I had already lost 20 kilos, it was easier than before. In my first week of running, I was clearly pushing myself; I wanted to run faster than my body could allow me. I ended up puffing after each 5 minutes of running, after which I started walking for two minutes before moving on. I was unaware that I was doing some basic interval training, but it felt good.

Running has affected so many things, I start to feel good about my body again and it’s addictive

The main issues that prevented me from continuously running were my lack of any endurance and my lungs. I felt that my lungs weren’t capable of transmitting the oxygen needed for this kind of efforts. Again, I could notice the damage that smoking had done to my body.
I always suffered from high blood pressure which resulted in an increased pulsation of my heart.  To keep track of my heart rate, I bought a Polar watch. I’m truly glad I did that, because I had a pulse of 185 when I started running. Such a high pulse showed me how bad my physical condition really was.  I knew I needed to pace myself down, but I figured that my pulse would eventually lower when my endurance would regain. Luckily, I was right.

The second week of running, my pulse stabilised at 165, which is far healthier than 180. I still wasn’t able to run long distances without occasionally pausing, and I increased the length of my pause interval by five minutes. That week was a milestone; I finally got over the fear of running when people are nearby. I didn’t mind anymore about what they would think.
I also noticed that I suffered less from my smoking habits. I still smoked a lot but I had this feeling that running was making my lungs stronger and capable of fulfilling its function better than before.

The present day

It has been 3 months since I started running. My pulse is constant at 160 and I’m able to run for more than an hour straight. I run 3 times a week for about an hour and a half each session.  My weight isn’t decreasing as much as I’d like to, but my body is actually starting to look better.
Running has affected so many things. I start to feel good about my body again and it’s addictive. After each session I feel euphoric, most likely because of all the endorphins my brain produced.

It’s not just the way that running affects my body; the activity of running is fun as well. Music on, running equipment ready and my mind turned off.  Time flies when I’m running on music.


There’s some advice I’d like to give overweight people that want to start running.

  • Start slowly. It’s normal that you don’t see results immediately.
  • If you’re not comfortable running during the daytime, run in the evening.
  • Buy yourself a heart rate monitor (it looks like a watch), people with excess weight tend to have a higher heart rate.
  • Don’t save out on equipment. Running shoes should be comfortable but more importantly, they should support your running activities based on your running style and body style. You can get this checked by a local sports store.
  • I can’t stress this hard enough: learn how to stretch. Especially if you’re body is not adjusted to activities such as running. Do some research or ask someone with some knowledge about it. Stretching before a session will prepare your body for action. Stretching after a session will help you not feeling sore afterwards.
  • Running won’t make you instantly lose weight. But here’s the good thing; you won’t solely lose some weight, but your entire body will benefit from it.
  • Even though smoking still remains bad for you, don’t let it remain a factor that keeps you from running. Your lungs will start to feel better and you’ll get more oxygen in comparison with smoking without any form of sports.