What you need to know:
- The World Health Organization projects that deaths from lifestyle diseases will exceed those from communicable diseases (e.g. malaria, HIV).
- For more than 10 years, I tried every trick in the books but failed. Some six years of a vegetarian diet never paid off.
- Deep inside me I wanted change but I didn’t have the stamina to follow up on the doctors’ advice.
- Whilst discipline is key to managing weight loss, there is more that we do not know.
- The protein diet that helped me may not be ideal for everyone but it requires a lot of adjustments in all the variables I have discussed here in order to attain the optimal outcomes.
Of late, many people have been asking me one question: What happened? Others say nothing but their faces reveal sympathy to my new me.
I am certainly not the “hefty” Bitange Ndemo they used to know. I am a thinner, leaner, and more agile self.
I guess my eye-turning quotient has improved considerably as well.
To stop the wagging tongues, I feel compelled to tell the story of how I lost my weight.
My road to weight loss was long and never easy. But I can confess that it is perhaps the most important thing that I have ever done for myself.
Obesity is a major health hazard but many people are unaware even as governments mount campaigns against the increasing number of lifestyle diseases, sometimes referred to as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in developing countries.
The World Health Organization projects that deaths from lifestyle diseases (e.g. diabetes, cancer, hypertension and chronic respiratory diseases) will exceed those from communicable diseases (e.g. malaria, HIV).
THE DISCIPLINE FACTOR
NCDs are linked to environmental factors and the way people live.
Either rightly or wrongly, this was the source of my motivation to set out on a punishing journey to weight loss.
Today, although I have not hit my target, I have learnt a great deal and can reveal that weight loss is a function of several factors that you can control: your mind-set, discipline, food intake, exercise, diet and enough sleep.
For more than 10 years, I tried every trick in the books but failed. Some six years of a vegetarian diet never paid off.
At some point, the doctor told me politely that elephants are vegetarians but that does not stop them from growing big.
I broke multiple New Year resolutions to reduce my weight.
In retrospect, I never had the discipline. I couldn’t drink a sufficient amount of water that is essential in weight loss.
Year after year, doctors warned me that with onset hypertension, I could be diabetic anytime as my body mass index (BMI) always leaned towards obesity.
Attempts to do any form of exercise were fruitless. He was sure that I was headed on a wrong path knowing that the history of my family was replete with diabetics.
His prescription was just one: Exercise and reduce weight since that way I could delay most lifestyle diseases.
Although it sounded easy, at the time I weighed 115 kilograms and could barely run consistently for 500 metres.
Deep inside me I wanted change but I didn’t have the stamina to follow up on the doctors’ advice.
I was in some way a prisoner of my own sociocultural upbringing. While discussing with relatives about the incessant demand from doctors for people to reduce weight, one of them remarked, “Forget this doctor business...you’ve got to have some meat, Bwana”.
Soon afterwards, he had a mild heart attack. His arteries were clogged with cholesterol.
Then one day I met a friend who had clearly worked her way out of obesity indices.
Without hesitation I told her to tell me the secret. She recommended a protein diet similar to the Atkins diet.
I went through research papers on this diet and indeed several studies show that low-carb diets are effective for weight loss. That is if you can manage to go through the first phase, which is more like self-inflicted starvation.
The initial three months were critical. It is in that period that I marshalled exceptional discipline in managing my lifestyle.
I had to restrain myself from eating more than the recommended portions.
My 6pm dinner consisted of 80 grams of beef and a handful of vegetables. With all that my professor salary can buy, that was it.
By 11pm I was always clinically starved.
Several tricks can help when the urge to cheat becomes unbearable. Chewing not more than seven pieces of gum in a day is allowed and so are special sugarless crackers to eat in between meals.
Lots of water, at least three litres per day (easy said but is hardest to do), and some hot beverages were also allowed.
These often came in handy when the hunger pangs became too intolerable.
FRIENDS AS ENEMIES
Eating beyond 9pm was prohibited. Bread for breakfast was outlawed by the diet but you could have two slices at 10am.
I would either have a protein and vegetable or fruits and plain yogurt for the early morning meal.
Friends were the worst enemies during the preliminary stages of the programme. Many become dieticians, warning that rapid weight loss could be dangerous.
Sometimes, they lied that they knew someone who had died after trying to starve. Some even tempted me with all manner of scintillating dishes to test my resilience.
The best was to avoid situations that could expose me to temptations.
Instead I chose an exercise regime that took care of the entire body. Painfully, I discovered that in order to get rid of belly fat, the stomach required its own routine and while every other part of the body responded positively, the potbelly was simply a pain to deal with. Several sessions of abdominal exercises over several months did the trick.
The rewards are significant. Prior to my weight loss, I could hardly run more than 500 metres without struggling to maintain the same pace.
A few months into my exercise regime, I was fooled by my improved energy levels to sign up for the Lewa marathon. Big mistake.
I took four hours to cover half the distance, which translated to two more hours than my wife took to cover the same distance.
For a man born in Kisii, this was a public humiliation. However, I swallowed my pride, took everything in my stride but vowed to do better next time. What was just another run, became a source of motivation.
Slowly, I have improved to running a half marathon inside two hours. I no longer feel humiliated by my spouse, which is good for my psychological well-being as an African man.
My body now feels light. I can play tennis for more than two hours without much struggle.
More importantly, I have come to learn that the body actually likes predictability.
It organises itself to either receive food or exercise and that it can adversely react to unpredictable disruptions, such as travelling.
Getting to eat at different times in different time zones is such a recipe for disruption that adding two to three kilograms is not uncommon.
Over time, I have developed transitional mechanisms to get the body into a new regime that minimises disruption.
As a result, my blood pressure is fully under control measuring 130/70 down from 150/90 (see chart below).
Although I could feel soreness, there is a threshold before exercise becomes a joy. It took me about four months of exercising for everything I did to become a habit that is now difficult to break.
There are other benefits, including higher metabolism, greater energy levels, and greater confidence and, above all, in most cases you sleep like a baby.
Although I weigh 88kg today, my BMI is still high at 25.59 kg/m2 and I’m still classified as overweight. I need to lose five more kilograms to attain the required index.
The downside is the fact that I had to change my entire wardrobe. Other recurring problems include self-doubt.
Often, I found myself asking why I should go through a punishing routine while I could afford to eat anything I wanted. But fear of diseases prompted to keep waking up early and exercise.
In most cases, due to high metabolism, feeling hungry at odd hours is common. This too requires to be managed by snacking every two hours.
The burden of lifestyle diseases is yet to be measured in Africa but it is entirely a personal responsibility to wage war against it and not the government.
Buddha said, “To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.”
Whilst discipline is key to managing weight loss, there is more that we do not know.
The protein diet that helped me may not be ideal for everyone but it requires a lot of adjustments in all the variables I have discussed here in order to attain the optimal outcomes.
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito