Free food was the deal in exchange for promoting his local Genghis Grill restaurant and improving his overall health — so optometry graduate student Kourosh Zakeri took the opportunity.
“I like challenges, and I thought it would be a good way to have a set date and a set challenge to help me with my weight,” Zakeri said. “Because it’s very hard to lose weight if you’re just trying to generally eat less and generally make better choices. It’s easier if you have a specific date or a specific challenge.”
Zakeri swapped his usual once-a-month visit to Genghis Grill for the Genghis Grill Health Kwest, which required him to eat a bowl every day for 60 days while promoting the restaurant via social media. The contestant with the most points, which are gained by percent weight loss and being active on social media, would win $10,000, and the second-place contestant win $1,500.
At the 30-day mark, Zakeri ranked eighth of 100 at nearly 1,626 points, 250 points less than the first-place contestant.
“If I don’t win, I still have won for my weight lost and the positive influence it had on my health, but at the same time it would be nice to win — I still don’t know the result — but it would be nice to win some money to help pay for school and such,” Zakeri said.
The Genghis Grill Health Kwest ended Friday. Zakeri won’t know whether he won for a few weeks, but during the 60-day competition, he lost 52 pounds; dropped from a 46 to a 38 in pants size; uploaded his first YouTube video, which received more than 1,000 views; and has developed a love for frozen veggies.
“It’s very easy to go to class and study all day and having to just eat out always,” Zakeri said. “I’m a big fan of frozen veggies. I feel I discovered something we all already know – the key to weight loss is simply exercise and diet – there’s no magic to it.”
Along with healthy habits, the Health Kwest proved to have other unexpected benefits for Zakeri.
“I thought I wouldn’t be very much involved in knowing what others are doing throughout the contest or even thinking about them or them thinking about me, but I ended up caring about others in the contest and developed friendships,” Zakeri said.
“There were definitely the stresses and challenges that were related to befriending people in the competition and having those lines blurred of who you’re competing with versus who you just want to be friends with. But at that same token, I made some very good friends in the contest, and I am quite confident I will be friends with them for life.”
Barbara Nixon, a fellow Health Kwest participant, is now good friends with Zakeri. They met on the contestants’ Facebook page and began encouraging each other.
“I was surprised how much I ended up caring how others were faring in the competition. I love seeing people’s before-and-after photos that they are posting,” Nixon said.
Though she lost about a pound a week, Nixon said she does not think she will win. Instead, Nixon is rooting for Zakeri.
“Kourosh reminds me so much of my sons,” Nixon said. “He’s encouraging to others and also cares that people are treated fairly. He’s bright and compassionate — two qualities I love to see in my children and my friends.”
Computer science graduate student Katie White helped Zakeri every step of the way. She would go to Genghis Grill with him, take walks with him, keep him away from pasta and bubble tea and encourage him to work out even in the midst of overwhelming school work. Zakeri exercised on the elliptical or treadmill while simultaneously studying daily.
White said within a week, she could see a change in Zakeri’s weight. She even lost 13 pounds in the process.
“It’s been very awesome watching him go,” White said. “Even if he doesn’t win, he’s done amazing things for his health. It’s been kind of funny seeing friends we haven’t seen in a month or two so they’ll see him again — we’re busy college students so we don’t run into people for a little while — and they’ll look at him and look at him again and say, ‘Wow, you look amazing. What happened?’”
White said Zakeri has always been interested in health — hence his study of optometry — and is always encouraging others to be healthy. His participation in Health Kwest was a testament to his identity.
“It’s not a change for him. It’s more of accomplishing who he is. And that’s another thing that this competition is probably a good thing for: letting people know doing the right thing isn’t necessarily all that terrible to do,” White said. “He’s very passionate about his own health.”
Zakeri’s advice for Cougars who want to get healthy is to record and analyze their diet and stay motivated.
“For all those people who actually want to lose weight and become more healthy, there’s no secret to it. I’m not someone who is genetically thin. I don’t genetically lose a lot of weight or anything. I just pushed myself and reminded myself of what motivates me,” Zakeri said. “All you have to do is remind yourself of what your motivation is and be true to it.”