The Covid-19 pandemic may have led to some people here putting on the pounds, but it had the opposite effect on senior staff nurse Nadiah Erniyanti Maliki.

The 35-year-old, who works at Tampines Polyclinic, has lost 15kg since the circuit breaker last year, in a bid to manage her health so she can take better care of her patients.

Despite having been a nurse for 16 years, Ms Nadiah was not so health-conscious earlier.

“Actually, I did not have any personal exercise routine,” she told The Straits Times.

Prior to the pandemic, she would occasionally go for a walk or run when she felt like it.

What she did do regularly, however, was eat dessert – at least once a day, every day.

“I love food, so I did not really take care of my diet,” said Ms Nadiah.

She would also consume sweet drinks and snack very often, and have rice at almost every meal, with fried chicken or fish. Vegetables were not essential for her, and she carried 90kg at one point on her 1.65m frame.

Ms Nadiah said she had always been aware that as a healthcare worker – “an advocate for health”, as she put it – she should try to keep herself healthy, but it had never been a priority for her.

Everything changed when the circuit breaker began on April 7, 2020.

Like other front liners in the healthcare sector, Ms Nadiah found her daily workload increasing, as she now had to handle additional duties such as swabbing patients.

She was also assigned to support a medical post in a migrant workers’ dormitory. This meant she had to wear full personal protective equipment, including a mask and goggles, under the hot sun for about four hours a day.

The physically taxing work took a toll on her.

“There were days I would feel more tired, very sluggish, and I realised I would not be able to keep up with this,” she said.

She also did not want to fall sick and be out of action at a crucial time when Singapore was seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases.

“It was during this period that I realised it’s important for me to keep myself healthy so I could care for the community and the foreign workers,” she said.

This prompted Ms Nadiah to start exercising regularly, something she had never done before. She started slow at first, carving out time on her days off to do simple exercises she found on YouTube.

The process was difficult, especially when her daily nursing duties would leave her exhausted.

“There were definitely days when I just wanted to slack. The struggle is real,” she said.

But she kept going, telling herself that since she had already started, it would be a waste to give up.

And less than a year later, her lifestyle is a far cry from what it used to be. She now goes to the gym once a week and attends yoga and Zumba classes. She also hikes every two weeks.

Ms Nadiah was motivated to start exercising regularly as she did not want to fall sick and be out of action when Singapore was facing a surge in Covid-19 cases. Credit: Kevin Lim/ST

In addition, Ms Nadiah has made huge changes to her diet, cutting down on carbohydrates, making sure she has two servings of vegetables with her lunch, and going for stir-fried or steamed chicken, with fried chicken being just an occasional treat.

The daily desserts are now a thing of the past, as she treats herself to them only once every two weeks. Most of her meals are home-cooked as well, rather than takeaways.

And her efforts have paid off – she now weighs 75kg and feels healthier and more energetic.

The changes have helped inspire her family – consisting of her parents and her sister – to eat healthier as well, and she also encourages her colleagues to push themselves to exercise.

In addition, her time spent in the dormitories has led her to try and seek out opportunities to volunteer with migrant workers.

Reflecting on the radical changes in her life, Ms Nadiah said: “The circuit breaker made me realise the importance of feeling healthy so I can care for myself and my loved ones, and for my patients.

“I believe it’s never too late to embark on something you want to achieve in life. As long as you have the capability, you should just get it started. There’s this saying – that it’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.”

She has words of advice and encouragement for others who might be thinking of making a change.

“If you have a goal in life, no matter how tired or lacking in motivation you are, just keep at it. At the end of the day, you will feel better that you did it.”

Text: Timothy Goh/The Straits Times