As a teen, Ajay Sharma knew he wasn't happy with his weight, but he tried for years to hide it rather than own up to it. From wearing baggy jackets indoors to donning head-to-toe dark clothing in the heat of the Australian summer, he was so good at concealing his weight, he didn't even realize he weighed over 130 kilograms—about 286 pounds—by the time he graduated high school.
Feeling out of place and out of sorts in college, Ajay turned to lifting to become more active like his peers. Pretty quickly, the now 23-year-old realized he loved it. Not only did the iron help him drop over 50 pounds, it also helped him drop his preconceived notions of what was possible for his body and his life. Taking control of his physique and his future, Ajay stepped onstage for the first time in 2020 to compete as an amateur bodybuilder.
Here is Ajay's story.
I was an overweight teenager, and looking back, I can see that the reason why was that I didn't really have a reason to follow a healthy diet. I didn't really feel the need to do anything about my health and I never was much into sports activities or anything like that outside of what I was forced to do at school.
But I knew I was overweight. I used every trick in the book to hide how overweight I actually was. I'd wear jackets all the time and jumpers. Even when it was hot outside, I was fully covered. I'd go so far as to look up online how to hide my weight, what kinds of colors to wear—pretty much anything I could do to avoid showing what I actually was.
This actually worked quite well, because a lot of people had no idea how much I weighed—myself included. I mean that honestly; I wasn't trying to just hide this from everyone else, I was also trying to hide the reality of how unhealthy I was becoming from myself.
I Was Used to Going to School, Getting Home, and Not Much Else
Once I finished high school at 18 years old and was going to university, I just felt out of place among everyone around me. My peers were more fit and showing how active they were on social media. I'd never done anything like that. I was just used to going to school, getting home, and not much else.
As I began to notice this difference more, I realized I wanted to be a part of what everyone else was doing. That's when I decided to join the gym.
It was just as a pastime at first, just to get the ball rolling. And the first time going to the gym was quite daunting for me! Obviously, being quite overweight, I was used to hiding how I looked. For the first couple of weeks in the gym I still wore baggy clothes and jackets, even if it was 30-40 degrees Celsius (80-104 degrees Fahrenheit). Sydney is pretty hot during that time.
I could tell inside that I wasn't happy with myself, which is why I was trying so hard to hide. But gradually I became a bit more comfortable.
When I started training, I was weighing in at 130 kilos (286 lbs.). At this point, I hadn't ever done any sport or exercise to try to lose weight. But over the first 6-8 months, I dropped from 130 kg to about 105 (231 lbs.). This was not through diet or cardio! It was mainly just through weight training. I would lift weights for about 1.5-2 hours a day, 6-7 days a week.
I didn't really have a structured plan I was following, though. I was going to the gym, pumping some weights, feeling good, and the weight was coming off. I hovered around that 105 mark for the next year or so, just trying to increase my strength on certain lifts, like the bench press, deadlift, and squat.
It was going really well, and I felt like I was getting stronger and putting on muscle. I felt like I had made a good foundation of muscle, so I decided to lose some of the remaining fat to see what that muscle looked like underneath.
I Got Serious About My Diet
Starting in 2019, I began to research deeply into diet, nutrition, meal prep, and weighing my food. I've been vegetarian since I was 18 years old, so I wanted to be sure I was getting enough protein as a high priority.
I researched various diets, such as the keto diet and intermittent fasting. But rather than copy what someone else was doing, I decided to experiment with these different diets together. I tried to do keto diet for a bit, which involves having a very, very low carbohydrate intake. I found this worked well, although I felt I was lacking energy.
Then I tried intermittent fasting, usually not eating for 16 hours and eating during an 8-hour daily window. After just a couple of weeks, I was seeing very good results in terms of being able to drop body fat and maintain my strength and muscle.
So, I upped the fasting to 18-20 hours of intermittent fasting every day. Then I integrated concepts from keto to create a diet with a bit lower carbohydrate intake but not too low, just to have that little extra bit of energy.
I followed this more structured meal plan for about 4-5 months, and I was able to go from that 105 mark to about 79 kg (175 lbs.). Honestly, I was quite surprised I was able to do this! I would never have thought I could lose weight like that, especially when I started at 130 kilos.
From Just a Hobby to a Bodybuilding Journey
Initially, I just started out wanting to see the muscles underneath, assess where my strengths and weaknesses were, and where I could improve. I had made the switch to unveil the physique I was building underneath all that fat.
Then, as I started to see the results come in and see my abs for the first time, I started thinking in the back of my mind that maybe I could be onstage one day. So, I went to meet a coach. I was quite nervous meeting him. I told him that if he didn't believe I was ready to train for a show, I would take time and develop my physique. He told me I was ready, and three days later I was starting prep.
That's when reality struck me: I knew that I was actually going to go for a bodybuilding competition. It all started from just a hobby and way to be active and lose weight to an actual bodybuilding journey.
I Was No Longer Hiding
As I stepped on the bodybuilding stage for the first time, I was very excited and pumped up, but I also had mixed feelings. As I mentioned before, I grew up trying to hide, and now I was standing onstage in a very revealing pair of trunks. I hadn't planned to mention my weight loss, but my coach had other ideas. Right before I stepped onstage, I heard them telling the crowd that I had started at 130 kilos.
I never thought my weight loss would be recognized at that point, so I'd had no intention of even bringing that forward at the show. But I found that I was just happy to be there, regardless of how I placed. The community support in bodybuilding is incredible. Even backstage, these older guys came up to me and showed their appreciation for what I had done. They told me that they were proud of me, and some of them had even lost a lot of weight themselves.
That boosted my confidence. Seeing my friends and family and my coach in the audience, I was just filled with happiness when I stepped out there. Obviously, I felt some nervousness and worried about forgetting my poses, but once the ball started rolling with the first couple of poses and rounds, I felt quite confident and happy.
This October, I'll be competing in the ICM federation, as well as the Australian amateur bodybuilding federation. My goal is to keep pushing past each limit, and if I get a pro card, maybe possibly come overseas to compete. That would be amazing.
Going from just starting out, training for the sake of it, to actually competing and being touted as a possible pro bodybuilder is something I never thought I'd be able to do, but now everything feels within reach.
Ajay's Top 5 Fitness Tips
1. Don't Give Up Early
The first 3-4 weeks of working out, I didn't know what I was doing. So I just focused on the routine. I was just training for the sake of it and investing my time into developing my body. The more I kept showing up, and the longer I trained, the more I found I craved going to the gym to get a solid workout in.
2. Learn to Love the Feeling of Exertion
You know, Arnold said the pump is the best feeling, and it's true. I love the pump! In the early going, I also loved the feeling that with every workout the weight was getting a little bit easier to lift.
The results may not come as quickly as you'd like all the time, and sometimes they may come even quicker than you expect. You never know! But when you put in that time and effort, over and over, it will come through.
3. Find the Diet That Suits You
My diet was my own creation, but it worked because I took it seriously. I was nitpicky when it came to finding vegetarian protein sources that were lean and dialing in my macro- and micronutrients. These things were important to me so I calculated everything out.
Over time, I found what worked for me and what didn't and I never let it feel too restrictive. I'd find ways of making it fun, like protein pancakes or carbs from sweet potatoes. It didn't feel like an actual diet and I found that was the best for me.
4. Compete with Yourself and Only Yourself
As I was progressing more and more, I realized some of the tricks others use to look better online, like using special lighting or Photoshopping images. My problem with this is that it's never a true representation. I don't want to compare what I look like to someone else. What I've found is best is to use myself as my own piece of motivation.
I take progress photos every month and look back to try to see even tiny changes. I'm obsessed with how my body looks, not how it looks compared to others. I want to celebrate that definition coming out of a certain part of a body: abdominal muscles coming up for the first time, or even a new vein. From there I just try and dial in and make sure that I am making a change for myself, rather than trying to catch up or meet someone else's standards or physique.
5. Push Past Limiting Beliefs
When I first started losing weight people would say to me, "Oh, you look great." Those kinds of compliments made me think I was already at a good physique and not to want to push further.I thought that was the best physique I could achieve at that point.
Today, I know each new milestone is just another point along the journey. There's always an opportunity to grow and evolve and learn and try harder. My only limitation early on was myself. Once I realized I could do more, that's when my life truly started changing.
You can follow Ajay's progress on Instagram @ajayyy_sharma.
If you want to share your success story with us to be considered for publication, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.