Obsessed with weight loss

Young woman working out. Photo/FILE

What you need to know:

  • In early 2012, Chencha stumbled upon a weight loss group on Facebook. All members were women, aged between 25 and 34 years. They shared tips and tricks on achieving their ideal weight – meal plans, exercise regimens and personal experiences.

  • They also shared before-and-after photos from their weight loss journeys.

  • Looking through these photos, one cannot help but wonder if their losing weight has become an unhealthy obsession.

Thirty-year-old Janet Chencha admits that she has been obsessed with her weight on more than one occasion in the past 10 years.

“The weight obsession started when I was 20 years old, as a third-year student at a local university,” says the mother of two who now sells weight-loss accessories like home-exercise DVDs.

“My family is genetically predisposed to be fat so growing up, I was always the chubby and fat girl amongst my friends.”

 And throughout her early adult years, the obsession with her weight was never too far from her mind.

"Any photo I took between 2007 and 2010, I can tell you exactly how much I weighed and the regimen I was on at the time to lose that weight.

My weight determined my social life: it determined whether I would meet my friends or whether I made new friends. I remember telling myself I would not attend such and such an event if I had not lost, say, three kilos by then.

I wanted to learn how to swim but I didn’t because I wasn’t confident about how my body looked in a swimsuit. My weight even determined my dating life.”


Chencha continues, “I tried so many unhealthy options to lose weight, most times with limited success: 90-day slimming pills; extreme dieting, where I would eat nothing all day except for black tea and peanuts. I combined that with rigorous exercise in the gym plus walking 10 kilometres to and from work, daily. It was crazy!

The programme was so extreme that it lowered my immunity and I would fall sick often.

Then I would have to eat to regain regular bodily function. And then I would be back to square one again.”

Thus the cycle continued. Chencha says she was a binge eater who sought comfort in food – disgusted with herself for not losing enough weight, she would eat, and the remedy to shed off the excess weight that came with eating was always an extreme measure, she says.

“I had my first child in 2010, when I was 26. All the weight I had been struggling to lose piled right back on.

After delivering my son, I resumed my programme and was able to lose 18 kilos that year,” she says. She had her second baby in 2012.

But she was unable to lose the weight as she had with her first baby.


In early 2012, Chencha stumbled upon a weight loss group on Facebook. All members were women, aged between 25 and 34 years. They shared tips and tricks on achieving their ideal weight – meal plans, exercise regimens and personal experiences.

They also shared before-and-after photos from their weight loss journeys.

Looking through these photos, one cannot help but wonder if their losing weight has become an unhealthy obsession.

An obsession that doesn’t consider the good state of their health: The women are obsessed with the measures on the weighing scale – counting the kilos lost, the number of calories burned, the hours spent exercising at home or in the gym, BMI and whatnot, which clothes have more room in the waist or thighs than before, what and other foods have been cut out of their diet plans, and in some extreme cases, the large sums of money poured into the regimens. It begs the question, also, whether the weight achieved in the after-photos is healthy or not.

Saturday Magazine spoke to two members of one of the social media weight loss groups to understand this obsession with weight.

Thirty-four-year-old Christine Hito from Meru has been a member of the group since February 2013. She joined the group at 106 kg and has lost 20 kg to date. She now weighs 86, but she is not done with weight loss yet. Christine is now going on what she calls an 82-day weight loss challenge.

“Between now and December, I want to have lost four kilos to weigh 76 kilos by Christmas.

I have even joined another group to help me reach this goal. This group’s focus is fitness. The accountability and support will be good for me.” Christine admits that anyone from the outside looking in on the group will conclude the members are obsessed.

But she is quick to add, “Women who have been through several weight loss programs with limited success will naturally become obsessed with their weight.

“It is those who have not matured in the journey  who can easily become obsessed with their weight loss. It becomes the encompassing purpose in your life,” Chencha observes.

Jane Mwende, another member, agrees. The 30-year-old dentist used to be a stress eater with a huge appetite before she joined the group in December 2012. Her weight then was 70 kilos.

"Thanks to the group, I am now at 53,” says Mwende. Mwende doesn’t support the idea that group members are obsessed with their weight, “The group is a support system. That’s all.”  Yet at 53kilos, Mwende says that she is still not satisfied with her weight.

“I feel that my stomach is not tight enough. I have seen photos of some women on the group with six packs and with super-flat stomachs. That’s now what I want for myself.”

To achieve this, Mwende says she has returned to the gym, exercising three to four times a week.

She has also completely removed sugar, wheat, junk food, and fizzy drinks from her diet, all in a bid to get to the ideal weight of less than 50kg.


Researchers have long advocated for the group structure for people who have a shared goal. Groups act as a support network and a sounding board. Members of the group help each other with ideas for changing their current situation, and hold you accountable along the way, says the American Psychological Association.

“You may imagine you are the only one struggling but you’re not. It is a relief to know others are going through what you are, and that you are not alone.

Diversity is another important benefit of these groups. People have different personalities and backgrounds, and they look at situations in different ways.

By seeing how other people tackle problems and make positive changes, members can discover a whole range of strategies for facing their own challenges.”

Chencha, Christine and Jane all share these sentiments. Christine adds, “Without the group I would not have lost the 20 kilos I did in one-year-and-a-half. Sharing photos of what I ate, what I looked like at what weight, and the exercising held me accountable to them.

And hey, they cheered me on when I was making progress with losing weight. That felt really good.”


Yet despite their strength, says Nduta Wambura, a certified nutritionist, group members need to understand that what works for one person will not necessarily work for everyone.

Thus the importance of consulting independent experts: “Whenever one wants to lose or gain weight, she should consult a doctor, registered nutritionist, and certified fitness coach to draft out a personalised weight management regimen. The doctor will assess the clinical facts surrounding your weight.

The nutritionist then gives a personalised meal plan and dietary choices.

The coach recommends the best exercise, based on the doctor’s report.

Some people may require more cardio exercises than press ups or push ups.

Others who would want to gain muscle need to lift weights more than they need cardio exercises and so forth. In short, different people, need different plans. Therefore beware before adopting what someone else tells you worked for them.

Duncan Kyalo, a fitness coach with Fit Kenya and Boot Camp, says that where such groups go wrong is in the kind of motivation they give each other.

“There are strict timelines and abnormally small spaces of time to lose weight. The public perception and approval they seek from each other pushes them to achieve this desired weight – and beyond – without exercising or changing their lifestyle habits.”


Much ink has been spilled on the trending weight-loss bandwagons that have hit the market.

Nutritional experts have taken to the rooftops time and again broadcasting the dos and don’ts of weight loss programmes: We have been warned about what quick-fix weight-loss remedies to stay away from (slimming herbal teas, miracle water, laxatives, ‘detox’ programmes, aquatic ionic bath, body wrap/slimming suit), who we shouldn’t rely on for weight-loss advise (a travelling salesman, non-registered practitioner, a friend who tried a programme that worked for her, and so-called experts on social media groups).

You need take into account your medical history, blood group, daily activity levels, regular workday before embarking on a weight loss programme and strive for a total lifestyle change that is sustainable in the long run for healthy weight management.

But while most women have heeded this advice from the experts, there is still the obsessive handful who inadvertently drive themselves to eating disorders.

“There are women who are obsessed about being thin. Such women may not eat at all, leading to a disorder called anorexia. Or they may force themselves to vomit after eating heavily, a disorder called bulimia.

The problem is not common in Kenya but there could be women with either disorder who are suffering in silence,” says Nduta, the nutritionist.

Excessive weight loss is of particular concern because it can ultimately lead to death.

Reversing it is a whole other concern. So how does one re-gain this weight in a healthy way? “Regaining weight is interestingly a great challenge,” says Nduta. “Women with eating disorders need to first seek the counsel of a psychologist to change their state of mind that being thin is the most important aspect of life.

After this, there are two things to consider – nutrients and calories.”

“Begin with foods dense in nutrients as opposed to foods high in calories. Nutrient-dense foods are carbohydrates and vitamins,” says Nduta.

Next, consider the number of calories. Nduta continues, “You need to calculate how many calories you need based on your age, weight, height and activity levels. According to the Kenya National Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics Reference Manual, a sedentary adult needs 30 to 35 kilocalories per kilo. An active one needs 40 to 45.

Once you have these figures, chose foods which are calorie-dense. Calorie-dense foods are those rich in protein: Foods like chicken, legume, whole grain or fish.

“Once you have identified your nutrient- and calorie-dense foods eat five times a day. And in those five times balance your carbohydrates, vitamins and proteins. Drinking your foods is also a solution so protein shakes come in handy,” says Nduta.


 The ‘SCOFF’ questionnaire used by doctors asks:

  •    Do you make yourself Sick because you’re uncomfortably full?

  •    Do you worry that you’ve lost Control over how much you eat?

  •    Have you recently lost more than One stone (six kilogrammes) in three months?

  •    Do you believe you’re Fat when others say you’re thin?

  •    Would you say that Food dominates your life?

 If you answer “yes” to two or more of these questions, you may be obsessed with your weight.



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