Mother's love brings son from overweight to over-wow

By Pham Nga   May 1, 2023 | 12:06 am PT
At this time last year, Vo Tan Phat was glued to his computer screen gaming till dawn. His only breaks were to eat instant noodles and use the restroom.

He barely ever slept.

Back then, he was 140 kg, which is 60 kg overweight for a 1m-76-tall man. Phat was suffering from insomnia, and gaming was his only escape from reality.

Phat’s mother, the 48-year-old Ngo Thi Dieu Hang, told VnExpress that she had tried to instill healthy eating habits in her son every sine he was a baby. However, Phat has never paid much attention, she said.

"He ate what he wanted, that’s why he grew chubby," she said.

Phat never worried about his weight until he noticed that in 10th grade his heart began pounding hard anytime he walked faster than normal.

Additionally his friends started making fun of him for being fat and calling him fat.

"The doctor said if I didn’t take up playing sports and dieting, I would have high blood fat level and several cardiovascular diseases," Phat recalled.

Finally, the young boy was concerned.

He wanted to lose weight so Phat started skipping breakfast and limiting his food intake during lunches and dinners. He also started going to the gym every afternoon. He worked out for one hour at home before hitting the gym, and would then stay there until the evening.

After maintaining this intense routine for three months, Phat hadn’t lost much weight and was exhausted. So he gave up. He came back to his "eat what I want" lifestyle.

"Whenever I think about the gym, I get depressed," he said.

Walls caving in

As he lacked self-confidence because of his weight, his relationships suffered. He rarely went out, and he only had a few friends.

He had a crush on a girl, yet his self-awareness about his weight prevented him from talking to her. He was unable to perform various physical activities, including running, playing football, and even walking, as these activities made his heart pound and he experienced breathing difficulties.

Gaming and eating were the only things that gave Phat a sense of happiness. "Every night, I ate three packs of instant noodles, then played football video games till dawn," he said.

Phat weighed 120 kgs during his sophomore year of high school. Photo courtesy of Phat

Phat weighed 120 kg during his sophomore year of high school. Photo courtesy of Phat

Phat’s uncontrollable weight began to affect all aspects of his life.

Every night, his mother sighed when she heard her boy, now a young man, scrounging for food in the kitchen. She even had to mentally prepare for a future in which she had to support Phat all his life. Many times she tried to convince her son to change his ways. But nothing worked.

Fate intervenes

Hang never would have expected that it would be an unexpected encounter with a stranger that would change her son’s life forever.

Last August, Phat passed by Khanh Linh, a nutrition coach at his school, on the way to his dorm. Linh noticed the boy was having trouble walking. So, she approached him.

"Do you want to lose weight?" she asked.

Phat nodded in silence.

During a survey with Linh, Phat cited his passion for football, his mother’s sighs, his grandparents’ sad glances, and his untold feelings towards his crush as his motivations to lose weight.

"After analyzing Phat’s motivations for weight loss, I started to customize his diet and workout routines," Linh said.

The now 21-year-old student then joined a healthy dieting support group.

One of the members of the group was keen to encourage Phat.

"If you manage to change, the happiest one will not be you, it’s your mother. Just look into her eyes, and you can see her undeniable happiness." Since then, Phat set his goals and motivations and committed to a plan. He strictly followed Linh’s eating instructions and resumed working out.

Caterpillar to butterfly

Phat transformed himself.

One day all he knew was how to "cook" were instant noodles. The next day he was preparing himself elaborate and healthy complete lunches. Now, whenever he eats out with friends, he takes photos of what he orders and sends them to his coach Linh asking her advice as to what and how much he should eat.

Still, it wasn’t an easy journey.

In his first weeks working with Linh, he was eating mostly bland steamed or boiled foods. He thought about giving up several times. But then, he reminded himself of his goals and renewed his even more powerful commitment to getting healthy.

Linh considered Phat an exceptional case, "People his age often work because of things promised by their parents, for example a new iPhone. Meanwhile, Phat regarded his parents true wishes for his wellbeing as his motivation."

At the beginning of December 2022, after losing 20 kg, Phat began running.

"Rather than running, I actually began by walking a-bit-faster-than-normal, as I had breathing difficulties after going for around 100 meters," he confessed.

Phat then asked advice from a friend from high school who was an amateur athletic runner. The friend encouraged Phat to set a long-term goal of completing a 12-kilometer-long running mini-marathon contest.

"Phat was really patient, whenever he had free time, he would practice. Even when it was raining outside," said Phat’s runner friend Tran Quoc Hieu Thuan.

"I encouraged myself by saying that when I finish the big run, I’ll bring my medal home to give to my mother as a gift," Phat said.

To prepare for the long-distance run, Phat gradually expanded his short distances. First he extended his runs from 100 meters to 300 meters, then 500 meters, and then 1 kilometer. He knew he was going in the right direction because his mother kept supporting him.

However, his body weight exceeded his physical limitations. One month after starting training, Phat enrolled in the race that he was deeply worried he would not be able to finish. After completing eight kilometers, Phat felt like his legs were being stabbed by nails every step he took.

"It was extremely painful. I couldn't run anymore," he recalled.

He fought with himself over whether to continue or to give up.

Eventually, the familiar words, which he had always repeatedly throughout his proves, the words that always helped him overcome obstacles, rang out once again loud and clear in his mind: "Run to bring home the medal to mom."

Phat swallowed his pain and simply focused on moving step by step, one foot in front of the other. Before he knew it he was about to complete the remaining four kilometers of the event. He ultimately completed the 12 kilometers in two hours and 20 minutes. He was the last, but maybe the proudest, contestant to pass the finish line.

"But to me and my mother, this was win. I overcame myself, and felt happy as I made my mother proud," Phat said.

After the mini-marathon, Phat joined Thuan as a member of their local district’s running club. He was impressed that one member was over 70 years old. Seeing the elderly man put all his strength into the running track, Phat felt ashamed of having wasted his youth. He then became even more inspired to run.

Phat completed five kilometers at the VnExpress Marathon Ho Chi Minh City Midnight, in February 2023. Photo by VnExpress Marathon

Phat completed five kilometers at the VnExpress Marathon Ho Chi Minh City Midnight, in February 2023. Photo by VnExpress Marathon

After eight months training and following a strict diet, Phat had lost a total of 34 kg. He’s also tapering off gaming and instant noodles as well.

Phat needs to lose 24 kg more to reach his body-types average healthy body weight of 80 kg. In his most recent update, he completed a 10-kilometer run in one hour and 19 minutes.

"Other people consider this normal, but to me, it was very meaningful," Phat told VnExpress.

He’s now planning to complete a half-marathon contest by the end of this year and continue getting healthier and healthier over time.

Hang is happily surprised to see her son changing every day. Instead of sighing, she now trusts his hard work and smiles more frequently.

To Phat, the things he’s overcome have helped him realize that miracles can happen as long as he is self-confident and puts his whole heart into whatever he does.

"If you have a dream," Phat reflected, "you can work hard until you retrieve it."

go to top