Shiko Ndung’u started her weight loss journey in December 2018. Since childhood, she had struggled with excess weight, but after hitting the highest weight ever — 114 kilogrammes — it gave her a new push. She spoke to Doreen Wainainah.
There was a point you were vegan, what made you want to try that?
I went vegan after two major life events. In 2017, I lost my father to cancer and I was moving to the UK for my MBA. While my father was ill and even after his passing, I was obsessed with cancer research. The one thing that stood out in terms of lowering the risks was diet.
At the same time, I had come across the vegan diet and decided to try it. I truly enjoyed the new food I ate, how I felt and my improved fitness. When I think about it now, I see I was driven by fear of becoming ill and gaining more weight given how cheap and accessible fast food is in the UK. Even so, it was a good decision at the time.
What made you stop being vegan?
Well, I took a different approach to my health, one not driven by fear. As a vegan, I felt my best, but the weight loss felt super slow and I didn't feel like I had the luxury of time. I do have vegan days as my ultimate goal is to adopt a whole foods plant-based diet.
You are currently on keto diet and intermittent fasting. What guided this choice?
In my quest for yet another diet to solve my obesity problem, I came across keto and intermittent fasting online. It appealed to me because it explained the science behind it in a way that resonated with me. Moreover, I wouldn’t have to starve myself or eat boring tasteless food like many of the other diets I had tried. I really got into it, reading, watching videos and talking to anyone who would listen. The icing on the cake though, is that one of my mentors had lost about 25 kgs in about eight months on it and so I got someone cheering me on. Now I swear by it having lost over 15 kgs in the last six months.
Do you adhere to keto 100 percent?
Oh no! It has been a struggle because I am trying to unlearn a behaviour I have had for over 30 years. Besides consuming simple carbohydrates and sugar in every meal, I have overindulged all my life so on a very good week, I'm probably at 85 per cent adherence. But even the remaining 15 percent, I try keep it clean with eating complex carbs and natural sugars.
Do you have a meal plan?
Yes. I take time each week and look for recipes online that are keto-friendly and I create a weekly meal plan. I don't really enjoy meals prepped days in advance so I shop for the ingredients over the weekend and make the different meals throughout the week. Creating a meal plan ensures I am not tempted to indulge in old habits due to lack of preparation.
How did you deal with the keto slump (withdrawal of carbs aftershock)?
There are two parts to it. First, when starting off, I began by making healthier substitutes. So instead of my usual white bread, white rice, white ugali, I ate the whole meal options. Going cold turkey just made the slump really bad and pushed me back to old habits.
The second part is to then introduce the keto foods as you gradually eliminate the non-keto foods. So, for example, taking out the rice completely and eating cauliflower rice instead. You still experience the slump but manageably and after a couple of weeks, I could hardly feel it.
How do you keep within the plan with external forces like friends and relatives who are not on the same meal plan as you?
It is one of my biggest struggles. My partner, for example, is not on keto and we have most of our meals together. My friends and relatives as well. What I first did was share my journey. You would be surprised by how supportive people can be when you tell them how obesity can make you drop of a heart attack. They keep you accountable, in that if they see you making poor choices, they call you out on it.
The other thing is to always be prepared. For instance, when I have my food ready and my partner wants to get pizza, it’s easier for me since my food is right there and for sure he will not let me have his pizza.
I also eat before going to a party. It’s hard to overindulge on a full stomach.
How do you keep going?
It's just better understanding how important my health is. On accountability, I have my friends and family cheering me on and an Instagram page @shikondungu_ where I share my journey; the real highs and lows of beating obesity. Because I have many people watching and cheering me towards my goal to get to 80 kgs by the end of the year, I get super motivated.
How long do you plan on being on keto?
For the foreseeable future. I probably won't keep at it for six days a week after I get to my goal weight, but I will maintain it to ensure I keep off the weight for good.
Any health side effects?
The weight loss is the best side effect! The other one I found strange was the reduced number of trips to the bathroom, because you are eating less of course. Everything else feels normal.
Did you consult a nutritionist before you started?
I relied on several books written by nutrition and health experts.
How long do you work out daily?
I take a 30-minute walk on a high incline at medium speed on the trend mill six times a week. I have come to appreciate the truth in the phrase that “you lose weight in the kitchen and get fit in the gym.” As the kilos drop, I also gain more confidence in outdoor activities. So over the weekend, I go swimming or on long walks.
How do you handle the anxiety?
You mean on my Instagram page? I use the anxiety to keep me focused. Because I know each Monday I have to post my weight on @shikondungu_ I have to give it my best each week. It’s so powerful that on a few weeks I didn’t weigh in, I didn’t actually lose weight. So, I just use the anxiety for my benefit.
What would you like people to understand about the journey you are on?
Keto and intermittent fasting is what has been working for me, we are all different so something else may work for you, the key is to just be consistent with your plan. Have an accountability plan and plan in advance. Within no time, you will be a completely new person; healthier and hopefully happier.