If sticking to a weight loss diet were easy, so many people would not be overweight. However, there is a rising number of Kenyans struggling with excess weight and looking for the right formula to shed the extra kilogrammes.
This has opened a window of opportunity for nutritionists selling vegetable smoothies, dietitians advocating for protein-only meals, gastric surgeons to personal trainers.
In Nairobi’s Westlands, Sunita Nathoo is running a relatively new way of losing weight — metabolic balance programme. She started it less than two years ago and she says that so far she has had about 300 people.
“A blood test determines which foods best work with someone’s body. We look at 36 different parameters like kidney and liver function, lipid profile, thyroid level, haematology and more. We look at the sugar levels and see the active protein that can be an indicator of how much inflammation and acidity one has in the body, and that determines the diet plan,’’ she says.
The nutritional programme that resets the hormones in order to reach a natural weight is quite popular in Europe and it is slowing picking up in Kenya.
Ms Nathoo says because Kenyans eat a lot of nyama choma, red meat, too much lentils and beans daily, about 70 per cent of her clients’ blood tests come back with very high levels of uric acids.
‘‘After the test, I might restrict red meat for a month or two to bring the uric acid down,’’ she says.
Ms Nathoo did the metabolic weight-loss programme three years ago when she was a size 18. She says now she can fit in size 8 clothes after losing 16 kilogrammes.
“After that I decided to be a coach. I took online classes,’’ she says, adding that it was an easy transition having studied nursing in undergraduate and worked in Canada as a nurse.
Albert Odongo, a financial services consultant, is one of the Kenyans who has used the blood test programme to lose weight.
“All my favourite suits couldn’t fit me. After joining the programme, I lost 15 kgs,” he says.
Mr Odongo says that because he has a small family, planning everyone’s meals differently is not very complicated.
“But it is easier if couples living together can do the diet programme together. The most difficult part is when travelling because you have no direct control
of your food,” he says.
The diet plan takes three months but it can be longer for those who need to lose between 60kgs and 80 kgs.
Janet Gitau, a human resource specialist and a management consultant says she lost 26kgs and now looks like a different person.
“My blood was checked and I was given a customised diet. By the end of the first month, I had lost 3.5kgs,” she says. Ms Gitau says because the diet revved up her metabolism levels, she can cheat a little with other foods and when she does she adds a kilo or two kilogrammes.
Beside the diet, she works out on a treadmill and sometimes walks outdoors or stretches four to five times a week.
Her meals include regular foods like beef, chicken and vegetables, but she had to reduce the portions. New additions include pumpkin seeds and almonds.
“I had high blood pressure for many years and was on medication,” she says, adding that losing weight has helped her sleep well.
Ms Gitau has enrolled her 16-year-old daughter in the programme to help manage a medical condition.
“She is in boarding school and at 16, she has learned how to eat well and the school supports her. She will watch her friends eat cake and custard but will wait until Sunday which is her treat day,’’ she says.
Ms Nathoo says besides losing weight, the diets helps manage conditions such as type 2 diabetes, migraines, menopause, thyroid conditions and other hormonal related conditions.
Rules of the diet
For the diet to work, customers are given eight guidelines. The weight-loss regime limits eating to three meals a day in a five-hour window each day. During the five hours, sugar levels are low and insulin drops, allowing the body to go into a fat burning mode.
This can be hard especially for those who love snacking on tea, mandazi or biscuits at 10am or 4pm.
The Sh40,000 programme does not focus on calories and people can eat enough portions so as not to feel hungry in between the meals.
“We don’t count calories because we don’t believe in under-feeding the body,” Ms Nathoo says, adding that anytime the body is denied food or specific nutrients, there are high chances of binge eating.
Another rule is that only one protein is allowed at a time.
“Usually when there is a feast or buffet, people serve fish, chicken and beef yet the body can only absorb amino acids from one protein at time,” she says, adding she also advises her clients to ditch wheat and eat rye instead because it does not raise the blood sugar.
Christine Ambetsa, a technology sales leader for Oracle Corporation who has lost 17 kgs says after a few months of following the diet, a person no longer craves junk or sugary foods.
“You acquire a taste for new foods and you no longer have tolerance for certain things you used to crave. I used to eat a lot of junk food and have big portions. I could eat a lot of rice, mandazi, chips and potatoes, and wasn’t working out either,” she says.
Before, she says, she would have a whole plate of pasta then feel hungry after two hours and eat more carbohydrates or sweets.
On her new eating pattern and after adding pumpkin and sunflower seeds, salmon, oats, cheese and lentils, she gets hungry after five hours. Ms Ambetsa says contrary to beliefs, healthy eating is not expensive because one spends more money on junk food or dining out.
“It’s not a lot of money to sustain the diet because portions aren’t excessive and you only eat thrice a day without snacking,’’ she says.