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Opinions of Friday, 4 March 2011

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

Iced Kenkey – My Struggles with Obesity – Part 1

I am not a nutritionist. Everything I say here is derived from my personal research and experience from my long struggle with obesity. I hope that writing this article will not only motivate me to continue my personal battle to maintain my weight, but will also inspire others to try to do the same. I welcome people more knowledgeable on the topic to chip in with some tit bits in the comments for the benefit of us all.

Loosing weight is not fun. Because, basically, being hungry is not fun. During the 1983 food crisis in Ghana, a man collapsed in the centre of Kejetia, and as is our wont, a few Ghanaians surrounded him and began to share ideas as to how best to help him;

“Leave him alone for a while. He must be tired. It’s too hot today” said Mr A
“No. Let’s take him to hospital” said Miss B
“I think we should buy some ice-kenkey, add some milk and give it to him” Mr C said.
On hearing Mr C, the collapsed man suddenly raised his head, rolled his eyes to the heavens and mumbled ever so softly;
“Listen to what Mr C is saying”

Obesity is a killer. There are no nice euphemisms for saying this. It increases your risk, not only of developing diseases like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, but also of dying prematurely from complications of these diseases. It causes often forgotten problems like snoring and sleep apnoea with interrupted sleep resulting from blockage of the wind pipe at night and subsequent tiredness during the day. Erectile problems for men may also be worsened by obesity.

In women, in addition to the above, there is an increased risk of cancer, especially of the womb, but also of the cervix and breast. Excessive unwanted hormones produced by fat deposits interfere with the natural cycle of hormones so the monthly periods become irregular and achieving pregnancy becomes more difficult than usual. And if you do become pregnant, your risk of having a miscarriage, having an abnormal baby, developing diabetes and blood pressure during pregnancy or having complications during childbirth, are all increased.
In women seeking pregnancy, the single most important thing they could do to help themselves is to loose weight. Often, weight loss results in regular cycles and pregnancy soon follows, of course, if all other factors are normal. That is God’s grand design to maintain procreation in mankind at all times including periods of famine. You see, the last thing on a hungry man’s mind would be to have children. So God has designed us such that loss of weight increases the women’s fertility and enhances sexual arousal in men. How clever is that.
The strongest scientific evidence for this is in very large men and women who undergo surgery to, among other things, close part of the space in their stomach. (Bariatric surgery). It was found that, following surgery, women who had tried for years to get pregnant to no avail, suddenly became pregnant. Also, people who had adult-onset diabetes often realised, that they did not have to take their medication anymore and indeed, it is the belief among some scientists, that in the future, this kind of surgery may be recommendable for the treatment of adult-onset diabetes.

The official definition of an obese person is anyone with a body mass index (weight in kilograms divided by height squared) greater than 30. Recently, the waist to hip ratio has been found to be a better way of determining health. So all the young men thinking they are generally slim and alright, remember your little “pot belle” may mean that you have a higher waist lenght/hip length and make you prone to similar diseases as obese people. The people of South India are smallish people and yet they have a high rate of heart disease and diabetes. This has been found to be due to their higher percentage of body fat compared to others. So even if you are small, you may still benefit from watching what you eat.

I was a slim young man before I got married. So I have every right to blame the regular fufu from a dedicated wife for my obesity. Of course, the beer did not help either, as my wife is often quick to remind me. At my worse a few months back, I was 110kg. My mother, may her soul rest in peace, died of complications of diabetes and high blood pressure and at a routine check-up, I was told both my blood pressure and blood sugars were borderline. I had to do something.
Over the past few months, I have lost a total of 20kg. It has not been easy and I still have a daily battle to try not only to maintain the weight, but even to loose some more. As the weight fell off, I kept a little screw driver in my room to make new holes in my belt so they could fit better. Making a new hole was always a joy to me and that singular act kept me motivated.

My wife turned to me one morning and said a tad sarcastically, I thought, that I had become the young man she met again.

“What do you mean?” I asked suspiciously.

“Well, you know.....mmmh” My wife has a great sense of humour.

“So why didn’t you tell me before that there was something wrong?” I asked?
“I never thought of it before” she said “but I think I prefer you this way. Let’s face it, who wants a panting perspiring man on top of them?”

I have had my lapses. But the secret is not to give up but to get back on course as soon as possible. I remember that night when I was watching television with my wife. I had had my small portion of fufu but on this one night, the hunger pangs would not go away. Soon, my wife started to nod off. Normally, I would just go upstairs with her or allow her to sleep in the sofa and wake her up when I was ready to go. But this day was different;
“Go and sleep sweetheart” I said
“Oh, I am waiting for you” she said sleepily
“Go and sleep sweetheart, you are going to work tomorrow” I said
My wife looked at me suspiciously and went upstairs, but she did not sleep. She waited a few minutes and came quietly down to find me enjoying a huge bowl of gari, sardine and shitto. We both had to laugh.

But I am determined to battle on. I have put on some 2kg from recent lapses, but I am deliberately still using the last hole I made in my belt. I won’t loosen it, ever, even though it squeezes the hell out of me. For, it is a constant reminder, of the difficult daily battle I am faced with.

So, the next time you see me collapsed in Kejetia, please remember, not only to get the bottle of ice kenkey, but also to quickly loosen my belt. It just might be squeezing all the air from my lungs.

NB - Part two will detail how I achieved my weight loss

Papa Appiah

Lexeve1@yahoo.co.uk
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