Simple changes started Zahida Jaffer's weight loss journey

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At the age of 33, Zahida Jaffer looks like the picture of health. The North Vancouver painter has completed three marathons and is planning a fourth. In an interview in the lobby of the Steve Nash Fitness World at the corner of Marine Drive and Capilano Road, Jaffer tells the Georgia Straight that she runs a minimum of 40 to 50 kilometres a week.

“I can top out over 100 [kilometres] if I’m leading up to a marathon,” she adds.

It’s hard to fathom that just six years ago, Jaffer clocked in on the scale at 285 pounds. That was when she was at her heaviest. She also reveals that she was already “significantly overweight” by the time she was 11 or 12 years old, and that by secondary school, she was well over 200 pounds. Not surprisingly, she despised running in phys. ed class.

She says that her weight had an impact on every aspect of her life, undermining her confidence, affecting relationships, and leaving her with less energy to devote to her family.

The turning point came when her father died of a heart attack. Jaffer credits her doctor for being very honest with her about the risks she faced because of obesity, not to mention her elevated blood pressure and cholesterol level. But Jaffer says that at the time, it seemed “impossible” to address these issues.

“The hardest part was deciding to do it and losing the fear of trying,” she recalls. “Once I started, it was easier than I thought it would be.”

At first, she says, she thought that if she lost 10 pounds it would make a huge difference in her life. She began with a short run, and though she didn’t get very far, she felt good to be moving. Then she went for a swim.

“It felt great,” Jaffer says. “I started to make some simple changes to the way that I was eating. The weight started to come off.”

After she shed those 10 pounds, she started becoming more active, completing a five-kilometre race. Even then, she never expected that there would be a marathon in her future, let alone three.

Eventually, Jaffer recognized that she could make more progress if she consulted with fitness experts. “I realized I couldn’t be successful just running by myself, not having people to ask questions to,” she says. “I needed to work on becoming strong, so I came here to Steve Nash and I asked to meet with a trainer. The rest is history.”

That history includes losing 134 pounds over a three-year period. And her improved confidence has trickled into other parts of her life.

“Slow and sure was the way I went,” Jaffer emphasizes. “I wanted it to be a sustainable change, a full lifestyle change. I didn’t want to go on a diet and feel I was depriving myself. I wanted it to be a full-on change that would be for the rest of my life.”

Through it all, she’s enjoyed the support of her partner, Cam. According to Jaffer, he put up with her when she started to change his diet, and he still comes to all of her races, taking pictures and waiting at the finish line. “He’s been really incredible and supportive,” Jaffer says.

Nowadays, many of her friends are athletic because her interests include long hikes, trail runs, kayaking, and going up the Grouse Grind. Jaffer says she likes to exercise not only because it keeps the weight off but also because it reduces stress.

“I don’t really remember the old version of me,” she admits.

Sitting beside Jaffer during the interview is Nastasia Genova, a personal trainer and district fitness manager with Steve Nash Fitness World. Genova tells the Straight that she, too, went on a “weight-loss journey”, losing 30 pounds and 15 percent body fat.

“I had low self-confidence,” Genova confesses. “My social network had started dwindling and I was becoming a person that wasn’t me. I didn’t like that, so I decided to take it upon myself and understand that the power was within me, but I needed help.”

She hired a personal trainer who gave her the confidence to maintain results. She entered the fitness industry eight years ago and began working for NBA player Steve Nash’s company a year ago.

“Everybody has their own story,” Genova says. “What our job as personal trainers is [is] to help you write that story—and everybody’s story is different. So it’s not us pushing our beliefs on you. Rather, it’s us helping you figure out what you want to accomplish in the gym and us helping you make a plan.”

And, yes, Nash drops in on his gyms, particularly in the off-season, without a lot of fanfare. “He’ll come in his baseball cap and work out,” Genova says. “I think I walked by him four times before I noticed that it was him.”

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