‘Biggest losers’ on a mission to fight flab

It was the results of a weigh-in at a general wellness assessment at work that paved the way for Carol Gajana’s social network health revolution.

Called Team Asijiki (Xhosa for “we are not turning back”), the page provides a weight loss eating plan, exercise tips and recipe ideas to thousands of Xhosa-speaking men and women from across South Africa.

It also serves as a platform for these men and women to share their weight- loss experiences.

On the team’s Facebook profile and website, Gajana says she was spurred into action when nurses at the wellness day, who gave her a clean bill of health otherwise, revealed her weight to her.

The year was 2013 and Gajana weighed just over 120kg.

Gajana said she opted to join an online community, Sleekgeek, in January 2014, which offers support and motivation for those seeking healthy lifestyle goals – to either lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight. The Sleekgeek eating plan advises cutting out carbohydrates, starch, sugar, dairy and vegetable oil while consuming more protein, fruits and vegetables.

For her, this meant no bread, cereal, rice and pap.

Despite losing 6.8kg in 10 months, Gajana said she was not happy with the result.

She decided to step things up a bit by taking part in the Sleekgeek Reboot, a 30-day “eat clean” challenge.

Between November 2014 to May 2015, Gajana lost a total of 40kg.

It was during this journey that she started her own Facebook group informing people about her path to better health.

“In July 2015 I approached Sleekgeek founder Elan Lohmann and suggested a Xhosa-speaking Facebook Group to support others,” she said.

What began as a fairly small group of work colleagues, branching out to friends and family and their friends, now boasts 106 000 members based in various towns across the country.

Through the “Team Asijiki” Facebook page, written in a mixture of Xhosa and English, members are able to access, an eating plan which combines tips from the Sleekgeek and Paleo diet (which is based on foods that would be eaten by those living in the Stone Age) lifestyle, get exercise tips from other members, share recipe ideas and receive much-needed motivation to continue on their weight loss journey.

The Facebook group members themselves have taken it up a notch and formed small cluster groups in their various towns where they meet to exercise and to share tips.

Gajana said there were 10 groups in Cape Town, with other groups in East London, Mthatha, Queenstown, Tsolo, King William’s Town, Port Elizabeth, Fort Beaufort, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Mpumalanga, Durban – and even in the United Kingdom.

“When I started, I recruited 12 ladies at our workplace to join me and we did it for the first 30 days, averaging a 6.5kg loss,” Gajana said.

“They heavily relied on me for information as I had a year of following the Sleekgeek pages. We would book a meeting room at work and do Zumba and Tae Bo from a DVD, and we would do lunch-time walks.”

Once this had gone off well, Gajana, who works fulltime in events and logistics for a top SA company, decided to include her friends and family in the weight loss challenge as well.

“My circle of friends was interested but didn’t know where to start.

“I started a Whatsapp group and got them to start in February.

“This was my third month and their first month. I called it ‘Team Asijiki’. We were then about 19 Xhosa and Zulu-speaking members from across the country participating.

“We posted what we ate and drank for all meals and what we did as exercise. Again they relied on me for support. I have seen major results as proof of the success, such as photos, scale results and centimetre loss, as well as most of their health improvements. The community is predominantly female and members achieve excellent results with their health and weight-loss,” Gajana said.

The eating plan, which is available for everyone to see on the group’s Facebook page, completely cuts out carbohydrates, starch, dairy products, sugar and vegetable oil such as sunflower oil.

Members are instead urged to eat small quantities of fruit, plenty of vegetables, protein, to use coconut oil and to only season their foods with salt and spices which contain no additives or preservatives.

The eating plan is separated into three lists labelled green, orange and red.

The green list contains all of the food that can be safely consumed such as the different types of proteins, vegetables, fruits and spices allowed.

The orange list contains foods which should only be consumed in moderation such as butter, dried fruit, starchy vegetables and vinegar.

The red list are all the no-no foods, such as sugar, grains and alcohol.

Two nutritionists – Professor Tim Noakes who founded the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and wrote The Real Meal Revolution and Professor Salome Kruger from the University of the North West – had mixed views about the eating plan.

According to Noakes, carbohydrates should always be consumed in small quantities as, once eaten, the body’s digestive system breaks them down into digestible sugar, which then enters the blood stream.

As the body’s blood sugar levels rise, insulin is produced which stimulates the creation of body fat.

“When most people stop eating the carbohydrates, their insulin levels drop and some may start dropping weight,” Noakes said. “I must add that not everyone loses weight on a low-carb high-fat diet, but the majority do. Some drop weight extremely quickly while others lose little or none at all.”

Noakes said the most effective eating plans should have high fat, medium protein and low carbohydrates. He said these are the most sustainable.

“These eating plans take away hunger so you don’t feel hungry all of the time. When we eat high processed foods, which are addictive, we’re always hungry and we end up becoming addicted to food. With a high-fat, medium-protein and low-carb eating plan you are not feeling hungry all of the time so you’re automatically consuming less food.”

Kruger was of a slightly different view.

According to her, while it was easy to supplement the energy derived from carbohydrates by replacing it with good proteins and fat, cutting out certain starchy vegetables was not advisable as these provided the body with much-needed B-vitamins.

She added that cutting out dairy products meant the body received less calcium which could affect bone health. She said: “For weight control, there is little difference between the different fats. They all have a similar contribution to energy. There is no convincing evidence that replacement of one type of fat by another will cause more weight loss.

“Olive oil is the best source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are associated with several health benefits over sunflower oil, which is mainly a source of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

“Canola oil has a good balance of different types of fatty acids and has been associated with health benefits.

“Coconut oil has a different type of saturated fatty acid, namely lauric acid, while animal fats have more long-chain saturated fatty acids. A limited number of studies showed some health benefits of coconut oil, and apparently no adverse effects on cardiovascular health.”

Despite this, Gajana said members could lose a minimum of 4kg within the first month of following the eating plan. Member of the Amalinda group Gidakazi Cembi, who joined in January 2015, said she had gone from 96 to 65kg in a very short time.

Cembi said she joined with other East London-based members who were eager to exercise together on a daily basis to achieve their fitness goals.

A Whatsapp group was formed in February last year, which attracted 256 members, the total number of members a single group can have.

A second group was formed soon afterwards.

Members – who have organised themselves according to the different suburbs they live in – meet at 5am daily for a morning run.

On Saturdays the members get together for either an aerobics session – or to take part in city runs.

They sometimes meet on Sundays to socialise and exchange recipe ideas.

“As a group, we started by running five kilometres but now we are doing around 40km a day,” she said.

Gajana said the eating plan may come as a culture shock to many Xhosas.

“To us black people, whose tradition and culture is based on carbs like starch, sugar and grain it is not easy. ‘In moderation’ is not what we grow up knowing. Meat and carbs are our daily life and comfort,” she says.

“It didn’t make sense to me too, hence the patience to educate and educate some more.

“ It is a revolution. Is it easy to adapt? No. Is it do-able? Oh yes and it has many benefits!” she said. — zisandan@dispatch.co.za

Asijiki’s plan of action against fat


Taken from the Sleekgeek and Paleo lifestyle, the Team Asijiki eating plan focuses mostly on vegetables and protein, with limited starch, fruit and absolutely no sugar.

The list, which appears on the group’s Facebook page, separates the food into three lists.

The green list includes all of the food that members should focus on, the orange list is for all of the foods which can be eaten in moderation and the red list includes foods which should not be consumed at all.

Foods on the Green List are:

  • Meats including chicken, pork and beef;
  • Fish and seafood such as trout, tuna, salmon, hake and kingklip;
  • Eggs including the yolks;
  • Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms, peppers;
  • Fruits including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, bananas and oranges;
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, cashews, macadamias and hazelnuts;
  • Spices, herbs and salts;
  • Healthful oils for cooking such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil and macadamia nut oil; and
  • Drinks limited to water, teas, coffee, freshly juiced vegetables, fruit-infused-water and coconut water.

The Orange List includes:

  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut, pumpkin, squash, cassava and yams;
  • Certain legumes like green beans, sugar-snap peas, and snow peas;
  • Butter and ghee;
  • Dates;
  • Dried fruit;
  • Vinegars; and
  • Non-Dairy Milks.

Some of the foods on the Red List are:

  • Sugar including sweeteners such as agave, xylitol, honey, coconut sugar, stevia and aspartame;
  • Vegetable oils which include oils such as canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, margarine and hydrogenated oils;
  • Grains which include wheat, corn, oats, rice, quinoa, rye, barley and millet;
  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and cream;
  • Legumes including chickpeas, soy, lentils and peanuts;
  • Processed drinks which include alcohol, sodas, soft drinks, commercial fruit juices and energy drinks; and anything that has been highly refined, processed, or artificially made.

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