How I gain 50 lb in 12 years… The story of an African young man in America.
Like most African men, I came to America as a skinny 160 lb dark-skinned young man, full of life and zeal. Upon arrival to the States, the most common advice one receives is to eat to gain weight and use good lotion to improve your skin tone. As far as I was concerned no amount of lotion was going to help my skin as a result I gave up on the latter advice. The first one however was very easy to keep.
Mickey D’s and Wal-mart Experience
Coming from a place where we ate chicken on special occasions such as Christmas, and had ice cream by the divine provision of God, America was the perfect description of a land flowing with milk and honey. I remember my first visit to Walmart and seeing refrigerators full of ice creams, yogurt, shakes and several other dairy products. I stood in disbelief at the variety and their affordability. Ten containers of yogurt were selling for 3 dollars! And of course, I got all ten. I also could not resist the tantalizing whole chicken being roasted over open flames, especially when it was selling for under $5. Roasted chicken and ice chilled coca cola was my favorite staple. I loved ice cream, cookies, candies (toffee) and of course McDonalds. I remember fumbling through my first order to find out I received a burger, fries, ketchup and a drink. I said to myself, “I think they gave me too much.” Well it turned out that was the typical serving. Even more impressive was the fact that if I went into the restaurant, I could get unlimited refills on my drink. This kind of life seemed completely unreal but that was the reality, and I loved it!
The “Rich” Young Man
The Ghanaian dishes were no exception to my American experience. In Ghana having a lot of meat on your plate was a sign of great wealth or social prominence. Well it turned out I could enjoy this cultural designation of wealth without actually being wealthy. I became a carnivore overnight. I loved beef in all of it varieties at the store. Back home in Ghana, I had to kill the chicken myself, take it through a gruesome cleaning process and cut it up for use. Here someone has been kind enough to cut up the chicken and package my favorite part, the drum sticks. All I needed was salt and an oven and my drum sticks came out smoking.
Another one of my favorite delicacies was Kenkey, (Cooked corn dough). The Ghanaian Kenkey in America was so soft and so rich in texture how could I deny indulging in such greatness! Even more amazing was my my kenkey supplier was a fellow church member and so every other Sunday I would stock up two weeks’ worth of this amazement! Oh and life couldn’t get better with fufu. I was quite convinced the fufu flour was one of the best inventions ever. As a typical Ashanti man who loved his fufu not having to boil and pound was just too convenient! Of course I struggled with the soup initially but as long as I had enough meat I counted it all a blessing.
Then Came the Weight
God indeed blessed me with “good” food but He did not leave out the weight. Within a year I had gained 20 lbs, my waist size had gone from 34 to 36 inches. With the weight gain, came endless praise. Everyone who saw me related how good I was looking to the extra weight I had gained. When my family saw my new pictures they were full of praise, for God had “blessed” me. Within 3 years I had a pot-belly. Yes in my late 20’s my abdomen was already ahead of me. When people made comments about my belly being too big my initial response was “Nyame ehyira mi,” (God has blessed me) or “eye sike fuo” (It is the belly of wealth).
Unfortunately the excuses did not undo the reality. My suits were getting too tight, my pants will crawl up my thighs into the most awkward places and I completely avoided wearing shirt and pants because it put all my business out there, literally. I resorted to suits and sweaters as they were better at hiding my “wealthy” silhouette.
None of the inconveniences however was enough motivation to stop me from eating recklessly or ignorantly. Not even college or medical school where I learned all the health implications of gaining excess weight. In a typical African fashion I completely dismissed the facts, saying my weight has nothing to do with my health. And even if I became ill God was going to heal me.
A Good Marriage Didn’t Help Either…
As Africans one of the best ways of saying “I love you” is through food- good food! A good wife is expected to serve her husband the most delicious meal she can cook every day. My wife being a product of the women’s ministry in her local church had adopted this creed. I came home from work every night looking forward to her latest assembly of food. After enjoying her one-in-a million jollof rice, we will always get a nice dessert which was always in our freezer compartment. After supper we will sit around catching up on the days’ events or just watching television. Physical activity had no role in our lives. The weekend was my turn to say “I love you” at the dining table. I went all out from breakfast to supper. My specialty was pancakes, with sausage, bacon and a 4 egg omelet (Kyibom- Fried together). Certainly life was good; I was blessed with good marriage and everything that came with it.
The Wake-up Call
The wakeup call came after the birth of my second daughter when I went to the store to get new pair of pants. I had a rude awakening when I could no longer fit into the size 36, I had to get a size 38! The next size after 38 was 40, which implied I would have met one of the criteria for diagnosing metabolic syndrome, a condition which increases the risk of heart disease. When I made it home I decided to get on the scale and again to my utmost surprise read 207.4lb. I had gained 47.4 pounds since coming to America some 12 years ago!
Well, I had to lose weight. There were no questions or excuses at this time. I was quite skeptical initially at first as I was haunted by the idea of going to the gym every day. To complicate issues, as a medical resident and a father of two, I knew I was not going to be able to accommodate the gym with such a busy schedule. Well, I did it anyway. In six (6) months I lost 30lbs and this is how I did it…