Are you closing in on 40 and feel like life is passing you by? You're not alone. For a moment, Abdulswamad Shariff was there.
In 2014, he was in Dubai, ready to strike one major item off his bucket list — skydiving at sunrise.
It is the dream of every enthusiast to soak up the dawn beauty of Dubai, as a plane whisks you up 10,000 or 14,000 feet above the sea.
From 14,000 feet comes the thrill of a parachute jump above the glowing sunrise and a glistening city-skyline.
But it was not going to be. The Mvita MP was turned away at every skydive club whose doors he knocked.
“They said, ‘You are overweight. You won’t defy gravity and the parachute won’t hold you’,” he recalls.
Most parachutes are made to hold up to 120kg for men. If that weight is exceeded, the gear is much more likely to tear, to break lines or even to disintegrate during the course of deployment. At 130kg, Abdulswamad would simply put his life in danger.
And fitness is important, too. The most difficult and potentially dangerous part of the jump is coming in to land. He could easily break his ankles.
“In 2014, sometimes people also mistook my wife for my daughter,” says the MP, now the Public Investment Committee chairman.
This was one of his lowest moments in life. But it was also the moment he took complete hold of his life, making decisions that have inspired thousands of people across Kenya.
“I immediately decided to live healthily. The most difficult part for anyone is mental, not the physical part. But you have to be disciplined to do it,” Abdulswamad says.
He slowly dropped from 130 to now 84kg, mostly muscle weight. Abdulswamad says his regime involved physical training and proper diet.
Where he was previously chubby, the second-term MP is now lithe and one the most vibrant politicians in Parliament.
Mvita MP Abdulswamad Shariff donates blood in 2015. /FILE
His wife began training earlier than him. But soon, Abdulswamad hit the gym, training five or six days a week. Each session lasted one hour, sometimes two.
“I also completely cut out carbohydrates. But now I eat carbs moderately. But you should not blindly follow what I’m doing but seek advice from a nutritionist.
Weight-loss specialist Dr Nyambura Mburu told the Star it is important for people seeking to live healthy to work with a nutritionist because all bodies are unique.
Weight, she says, is carefully regulated by hormones, and people do not control it any more than they control their heart rates.
“This is automatic, under the influence of hormones. Our weight has nothing to do with how much we eat or how little with exercise. Weight gain is a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric imbalance. Insulin is the major hormone that drives weight gain. The other is Cortisol, to a lesser extent,” she explains.
She says high insulin, excessive cortisol, insulin resistance or a combination of all three causes weight gain.
“Identifying the right trigger for a particular individual is the key to weight loss,” says the UK-based Kenyan medic.
“The logical treatment is to regain the hormonal balance by adopting strategies that lower insulin, lower cortisol and reverse insulin resistance. This is why a personalised strategy for weight loss makes sense. It is not just about losing weight. It is about changing how your body works, to keep the weight off — for good,” she says.
Dr Nyambura, who operates a London-based weight management consultancy called Insulean, says as well as frustrating problems like breathlessness, fatigue and joint pain, excessive weight gain can lead to severe psychological problems and serious health conditions.
“Losing weight, therefore, confers a whole host of physical and psychological benefits,” she said.
Abdulswamad also believes in professional support. “When they train, people think their trainers do not know. You should listen to them. You also cannot defy science. Your body will react to how you treat it.”
He also discourages checking one’s weight all too frequently. “You get demoralised if you weigh yourself daily. What you did to your body in 30 years cannot change in six months.”
Abdulswamad encourages people considered fat, saying sometimes their bodies respond better.
He wishes he began early enough. “You should stop procrastinating. I regret I didn’t do this early in my life. I have now changed from fat to packs. I wore trousers size 44 but now I’m size 34,” he says.
The benefits keep pouring in. “I can work 16 hours a day. Sometimes I go to eight events in a day without fatigue. It was impossible to do that in the past,” he says. “I also sleep deeply for six hours every day.”
At 44 years, he feels more vibrant in his legislative duties and in the community.
MP Abdulswamad Shariff at Parliament Buildings. /JACK OWUOR
In early 2017, the Mvita MP was rated the best-performing MP at the Coast, and the ninth-best countrywide by Mzalendo, a non-governmental organisation, for his efforts in improving the living standards of his constituents.
He was particularly praised for the Skills Mtaani project, which enables youths to earn a living and acquire the skills to fit in to today’s job market.
The programme, launched in 2014, has provided thousands of youths with financial management skills to help them manage and expand their businesses. So far, 15,000 youths have benefitted across the constituency.
“I’m finding deeper happiness and value for life now than ever before,” the legislator says.