To lose 20 kgs is commendable, but to lose 20kgs in five months and stay on track is exceptional. And no, 34-year old Kabeyu Ng’ang’a did not check herself into a secluded wellness centre to achieve this. She was at the time of her reality check, the Marketing Manager at Samsung Kenya with a hectic work schedule and a young family and husband who constantly needed her attention. However, she knew she had to for the first time be selfish (which she calls selflove). This meant making adjustments to her busy life to adopt a regular fitness schedule and clean eating which are now sacrosanct parts of her life.
She had a rude awakening one morning, which was in the form of a hideously voluminous pantie hanging in the shower that she could no longer recognise as hers. The fact that it was folded into two to fit in the desired space turned her stomach even more. She then stood in front of her mirror and was repulsed with the flabby size 16 woman that gave her an ice-cold stare, like a village bully daring a teenage boy to fight back after snatching his ball. It was as if a film had suddenly been pulled off her eyes.
When she walked over to her closet, she could not find a single fitting -leave alone flattering- outfit to wear to work, much as she had been constantly purchasing bigger clothes over the past couple of years to accommodate her ballooning body. That morning, she vowed not to spend a single cent on new clothes but instead use the cash to sign up to a gym if she had to.
From her regular posts on Instagram, one might be fooled to think that it has been a walk in the park; what with the constant smashing of targets as her weight dropped from 78kgs in March last year to 58kgs in August. She had actually set herself a nine-month target but was pleasantly surprised when she met it sooner. It has been anything but easy, as she reveals to me over a light meal of grilled chicken wings and wontons at The Arbor in Lavington. It is a Saturday morning and I am half an hour late to this interview.
I scuttle along the paved walkway, framed with young plants for sale on either side. A swarthy man with neat sideburns is sitting cross-legged on the endearing swing, his white t-shirt and blue jeans complementing the swing’s thick maroon cushion. Some kids and a dog play near the house. I look straight ahead to see Kabeyu perched on one of the wooden couches under the gazebo, ferreting around in her handbag for something which I am hoping is not her car keys which would mean my time is up. I walk over to her, my hat in my hand. She smiles and stands to give me a hug.
“I have a perfectly good excuse for my lateness.” I say to her. “I was looking for money for our lunch.”
“That’s a good one! Don’t worry about it.” She laughs. “You called to say you will be late. It’s ok.”
“No, it’s not. I would never wait for half an hour without wanting to murder someone.” I say.
“That was me in the past, Joy. But lately, I have learnt not to sweat the small stuff. Rather than ruing the fact that you can’t keep time (she says I can’t keep time like a have a history of being late haha, I guess I do though), I chose to read a book and enjoy my space.”
“Okay, Oprah!” I poke fun at her. She chortles as she moves her hand bag to make space for me. She sips on her juice. The waiter comes to take my order.
“I’ll have a Sangria, please. Red.” I say without missing a beat. Besides Talisman in Karen, I cannot think of another restaurant that serves perfect Sangrias. We settle for a light meal of chicken wings and wantons.
“You look even smaller in person.” I compliment her as I eye her outfit. She’s donning a small maroon t-shirt and navy-blue tights, something that has been a dream of hers for years. She never thought she could wear a top that ran above her hips as she always felt the need for long tops that covered her bum. Or at least her body demanded for that.
“Were you ever a small girl or is this your first time being small bodied?” I ask her.
“Growing up, I had self-esteem issues because everyone around me was smaller.” She says. “I was a size 8-10 then but my friends were mostly size 6, so I always felt big.”
Kabeyu is married with two kids, her eldest son 8 years and her daughter 4. She tells me that she never had time or the mental space to gain significant weight during her first pregnancy.
“I was in Australia for five years and graduated in 2008 during the economic recession. I burst tables for a living, something I loved for the money it earned me and the people I met. However, I was pregnant with my first child and it was not sustainable. My baby daddy dumped me when I was seven months pregnant and at 8 months, I decided to come back home. I was only 26.” She says.
Dealing with being jobless, having a baby at a young age and a failed relationship left her no space to gain weight. She moved from 53kgs to 60kgs when the baby was born, a fairly decent amount of gain.
Seven months after her son’s birth, she got a job at Ogilvy where she met her future husband. She only allowed him to meet her son when he was over two years old, at which point she was convinced that he was there to stay.
“I was not going to have my son call every man Uncle.” I laugh hysterically at this as I didn’t know that’s how boyfriends are introduced to kids.
Her weight piled up after her second pregnancy. She was content with life, having just gotten married. Her pregnancy was smooth and her husband would drive all the way from South B to Prestige plaza to buy her Pilau, or Mediterraneo at the Junction for pasta every so often. She used to hydrate with a litre of Ribena every day.
When her daughter turned seven months, she one day stepped on the weighing scale and it swung all the way to 72kgs. This is where her first weight loss decision was made and she immediately joined a gym and attempted to eat clean. She lost 2kgs but shortly after she moved to EABL and later Pernod Ricard where they had an entertainment budget and were always schmoozing and dining clients. The weight loss story naturally went through the roof! Then she moved to Samsung where the company provided them with buffet lunch every day and it was a wrap.
She went on a solo travel to Dubai last year in January and when she came back, she started feeling the pressure to lose weight. I am tempted to ask if the Emiratis are that skinny to induce that kind of pressure. Perhaps everyone struggling with weight loss just needs to visit Dubai to get their watershed moment. I am curious about this solo travel story though and I ask her how she managed to get a Visa from her mister.
“Don’t forget I am a marketer. I put my pitch together like I would for a client, complete with the trip’s benefits not just to me but to him and our kids.” I wonder if they have a projector at home for such sessions. She went to Dubai again this year in January and she tells me that she has already booked her ticket for next year January. In case like me you have are wondering whether the rest of the world does not move her needle, she tells me that I need to visit Dubai to see why she keeps going back.
“Who books their ticket a year in advance though? Are you that structured in life?” I ask.
“I am a military kid. My dad was in the army, so you can imagine. Also, living abroad for five years made me this way. Mzungus don’t travel because they have shit load of money, they do because they plan ahead.” For your information, she paid Ksh 25,000 return for this year’s Dubai trip.
Our wings and wantons arrive, served with soy sauce and chilli dips. My first bite of the wanton takes me all the way back to Hoi An, a quaint little town in the central coast of Vietnam where I had loads of them for breakfast late last year. It was a beautiful encounter, both with the wantons and the city. She dips her wing in the chilli sauce, sinks her teeth in it and carries on.
“When I came back from Dubai last year, I couldn’t fit into any of my clothes. I felt more tired than I was when I left which beat the purpose of going on holiday. At this point, I decided to make another attempt at weight loss, but this time, I went for a complete overhaul of my life. I was going to sort out my mental space, the spiritual which meant reconnecting with my God and fix the physical, this time for good.”
I reach out for my Sangria and take a long refreshing sip as I wait for the story to unfold.
She tells me that one month later, she started doing one hour walks at Jafferys every day and use that time to pray and organise her day. Next, she combed the internet in search of fitness groups and nutrition programmes. On Saturdays, her aunt would join her at Jafferys and they would walk for 10kms then treat themselves to breakfast at Valley Arcade, where she one day sported a gym as they were leaving.
The gym manager allowed her a free session to help her decide if it was her kind of place. She took up the offer the following day and when she realised she could burn 300 calories in an hour, something even the 10km walk had never rewarded her with, she was sold. She got herself a personal instructor from the gym.
She then found out about this nutritionist (Paula) who helped her carve out a meal plan, one that entailed small portions every two hours. Brown rice, lean turkey, half an apple, that kind of stuff. This did not work for her as she found it too taxing and she hated most of the meals. Her nutritionist suggested Keto, which she now lives by. In summary, Keto is a high fat, high protein, low carbs diet whose idea is to consume fats to break the existing ones. You can google it for proper definition. This worked for her because she could eat meats, preferred veggies and healthy fats, something she would enjoy. Paula gave her a new Keto focussed meal plan that was more exciting. For your information, Paula now makes meals for busy people so should you feel the need to embrace healthy eating and have no time to prepare the meals, she has you covered.
Within five months she was 20kgs down to 58kgs and on her one year weight loss anniversary last month on March 23rd, 2018, she was down to 54kgs.
“How have you managed to stay on course?” I further add that this is one thing about her journey that has completely blown my mind away.
“Through portion control. And if I feel the need to go for seconds, I wait for seven minutes to see if I still want to. I learnt that the mind can only focus on one thing for seven minutes.”
“Wow, that’s an interesting realisation!” I exclaim. “I’ll definitely apply it next time I want to consume a large pizza by myself.
She adds that she is always researching on exciting healthy meals to avoid hating her food and that she also still prepares her meals in advance to keep off bad eating decisions caused by hunger pangs. Also, she is very deliberate about her cheat days which she plans for with so much enthusiasm.
“Whether it’s a bottle of wine or a sinful dessert, they are always planned and well-earned. And thereafter, if I have to do a double session at the gym, I will.” She adds.
Her biggest challenge has been sticking to her meal plans, especially when she’s invited for functions. She used to worry that the host would take offence if she only had water but now she’s learnt to stand her ground. Even on pizza Tuesdays at home, she makes her food so interesting that her kids want to eat her food instead. She’s also a big smoothie buff as she’s not good with veggies so she prefers to drink them instead.
Without prompting, she tells me that her biggest support has been her husband. In the months when she went to the gym on Sundays, he would watch the kids for her. He helped her put together a decent gym wardrobe and bought her the right gym socks when she got blisters. And the cherry on the cake? He arranged for spa sessions every so often to help ease the body aches.
At this point I fee short-changed when I remember that my mister believes that exclaiming “Waaaah, si you’ve lost weight!” every time I undress is all the support I need. I am tempted to send him my bill for my next physiotherapy session.
I absent mindedly grab my glass and take a sip only to realise my Sangria is over. The chilli dip has made my flu worse, causing me to sneeze every few minutes. The Sangria was making me feel better but when I think of the calories I am consuming, I decide to wait for seven minutes.
Shortly after, the waiter walks over and asks to refill my glass but I ask for the bill instead. Kabeyu’s seven-minute rule really works!
“What advice would you give other ladies struggling to lose weight?” I ask.
“Find out what fitness activity works for you and when you do, do it well. Be consistent and patient. I tried running but my knees were constantly in pain and I hated it, but the gym is my happy place.” She says then grabs her Mac lipstick from her bag and gives her lips a stunning plum look.
“If it took you four years to gain the weight, what makes you think you will lose it in four weeks?”
She adds, “Trust the process and always remember why you are doing it in the first place. Without a goal, you will go nowhere. When you lose your first four kgs, the rest will be like magic. Also, remember that only 20% of weight loss happens at the gym and the other 80% is what you eat. Be true to yourself.”
I chuckle when she tells me that she used to joke that if she ever lost 20kgs, she would take up space on one of the prime billboards and strike a pose in a bikini.
“So how would you sum your biggest take from this journey?” I ask her as we walk towards the parking lot.
“My outlook in life has changed and I now know with certainty that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”
She goes on to add that displaying her undies in the bathroom is no longer a dreadful affair, and she has never felt sexier in a lingerie!
Victoria Secrets, if you are reading this, your model is only a phone call away. She’s waiting, with a banging body and a marketing pitch that will make your brand go viral.