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Vuyokazi Nkunjana escapes death, loses 56kgs and gets fit.

Growing up, I remember always being slightly overweight. I was a shy and awkward child and found comfort in being solitary and eating. I also grew up as an only child so I was spoiled by my parents. I only really started taking notice of my weight when I was in high school. I was still shy, but by this stage had learned to hide that with sarcasm and humour.

The first time I tried to lose weight was in preparation for my matric farewell and I decided the best way to do this was starvation. It worked and I lost a few kilos. I couldn’t maintain the starvation especially because it started giving me insomnia. I soon went back to my old ways and the weight started creeping back.

Fast forward to my 1st year at varsity. It was my first time being on my own and I didn’t have unlimited food. For the first few months I lived with my 2 friends off campus and we walked to classes everyday. The increased activity, stress and decreased calories helped me to shed some weight without even trying. I soon moved into res and my new roommate loved going to the gym so I also joined the gym.

My eating and training were inconsistent  so my weight fluctuated. In my final year, some friends and I tried various low calorie diets that led to me shedding a lot of weight. At my lowest I was 78kg wearing size 38 pants and couldn’t be prouder.

I started working as an intern and didn’t have an access to a gym so I would do “taebo”  in the morning and ate salads, but I never felt like I had a handle on my weight. I’m an emotional eater so every time I was thrown into a new environment,  the stress and loneliness would cause me to medicate with chocolate and sweets.

This cycle of weight-loss and gain continued until 2012 when I finally decided to get some professional help by getting a personal trainer.  This was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. We had a fantastic relationship because she knew how to push me to do better. I had picked up weight again from my various moves through different cities and jobs and she helped me shed 20kgs and get from 99kgs to 79kg.

This was when I realised that I had a deeper problem. I had lost all of this weight and I had assumed losing it would make me happy, but I was still deeply unhappy with my body. I’d lost weight, but I still saw this fat, ugly girl in the mirror.  I was 27 and I had such low self-esteem, no amount of weight-loss could fix it. People would compliment me and I couldn’t see what they were saying. I still binged on chocolate and sweets and felt like everyday was a struggle to maintain that weight. I felt like I was under such scrutiny and everyone was watching to see if I would gain the weight back once again. It felt like I was holding on by the skin of my teeth.

Suddenly my life was thrown into turmoil and I had to fight for it

Around September of 2012, I started noticing swelling around my eyes and assumed it was allergies. I even took a photo to show my friend how bad it was. Being a pharmacist,  I self-medicated with some allergy tablets and moved on with my life. The swelling quickly spread to my extremities and the rest of my body and I was finally admitted to hospital for investigations March 2013. I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus with Nephritis. Basically,  my immune system had declared civil war on my kidneys and was systematically destroying them. I was in stage 4 renal failure and I was terrified that I was going to die before I even turned 30.

Toxins were building in my body so I was placed on dialysis. The first 3 days of treatment were brutal as I was placed on 1g of prednisone and the side-effects were unforgiving.  My weight ballooned to 120kg, my skin tore from the excess and rapid strain. I was placed on immunosuppressants, several blood pressure and diabetes medications (to counteract the prednisone side-effects) and my life was thrown into turmoil.

I spent the next 3 weeks in hospital and another 3 months at home recovering. I could no longer continue with the high protein diet to which I had become accustomed.  I had to follow the “kidney diet” which included carbs, moderate protein and very little dairy. I tried to exercise, but it wasn’t helping me shed the weight so I eventually just gave up. I had lost my body and  my hair, but not my will to live so I focused my attention on dealing with the medication, the swelling, the frequent infections, the doctors appointments. I gave up on my weight.

Banting and Sleekgeek

I was declared in remission in 2015. By this time,  I had married my long-term partner and we decided to try starting a family. Coincidentally,  this is when I met a rep at work and she introduced me to banting. She was so passionate about it and told me about the book and I decided to give it a go. I joined the gym yet again. I didn’t bother to research banting properly and just threw myself in and started off at the gym with light cardio.

My friend introduced me to the Sleekgeek Group around this stage, but I never really paid attention or participated in the group. Even though I didn’t have all the information, I still lost 10kg and fell pregnant.  Falling pregnant meant that I gave in to the fatigue and cravings and returned to my sedentary lifestyle of overindulgence. I had an easy pregnancy until right at the end when I had pre-eclampsia and gave birth to our daughter at almost 8 months .

My husband and I were never ready for the demands of a newborn. I had very little time to cook so supper was often takeaways. I was also told by relatives that I couldn’t diet as I was breastfeeding.  Having my daughter was the best thing that ever happened to me and I wanted to do so many things with her and to be there for her as she grew, but I started to recognise that my weight had become a problem.

Time for change!

I was 136kg and all I wanted to do was stay home and hide. We went on a family vacation to Durban and I was self-conscious the entire time. I was happy in my life, but unhappy in my body and knew I had to make a change. In January 2017, I bought the banting book and read through it in one afternoon. My husband would be working in Cape Town for the whole of 2017 so it was the perfect time to make some changes. I cleared out my pantry and fridge and started on my banting journey in February. My goal was to lose 60kg. I lost 10kg in 3 weeks and was so motivated that I started searching the internet for some home exercises and started doing those. I was very strict in the beginning, but I have slowly, but surely learned find balance.

I wake up at 4:30 am 6 days a week so I can prep my meals and workout. My meals are mainly made up of protein and veggies with some added healthy fats. I keep things very simple and I have found this helps with my consistency. I used to do a lot of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) when I started training but in September 2017, I started introducing weights in the form of dumbbells and kettlebells.

56kgs down!

I started following Whitney Simmons on YouTube and Instagram and use a lot of her dumbbell only workouts.  Pinterest has also been an amazing way for me to source workouts I can do at home with limited equipment. I have lost 56kg (size 36) and even though I’m close to my goal, weight-loss is no longer my primary objective. The important thing for me is to be more active and vital.

Even though I workout alone in the morning, I couldn’t have made all these changes without my incredible support system. My family have been so wonderful and constantly giving me compliments and encouragement. My little sister has been amazing in helping me build my self-esteem and learning to love the person I am at every single stage of the journey. She has really helped me banish the negative self-talk by telling me to be my own best friend.


This sentiment was echoed in Sleekgeek where I was encouraged to be my own hero.

This time around I made the conscious decision to immerse myself in the group and participate and it has made all the difference.  I have a place where I can feel supported in my lifestyle and not seem like a crazy person when I talk about health and fitness. My close friend have also been instrumental in my success by always being supportive of my choices. They always make sure to have banting-friendly meal options when we have our get togethers and that has made all the difference.  

This journey has taught me so much.

  • It’s taught me resilience. Falling doesn’t mean lie down and stay down.
  • It’s taught me balance.  I always used to feel so stressed in the past trying to hold on. Now I know it’s ok to let go sometimes so long as you do it in a controlled manner and get right back to the journey (no lingering).
  • It’s taught me integrity because things eaten in secret will show up on your hips.
  • It’s taught me self-love. It’s taught me to love myself at every stage of this journey. I eat healthy and train not to punish myself, but because I love myself and I am worthy of that extra care and attention.

The highlight of this journey for me has just been all this energy I have gained. I’m a better mother, wife and person in general because I’m more open to living life to its fullest and trying new things. In the new year, I bought a swimsuit and wore it to the beach without worrying about people looking at me. I just had the time of my life with friends and family. I’ve also joined Park Run and it is so much fun. I’ve always claimed I’m not a runner, but I think that may change in 2018.

The lows that I have had to overcome are my body image issues. It’s something I am working on everyday. I look in the mirror and find one thing that I love. It’s a journey in progress,  but this body is my home and no one can show it love like I can.

My life has changed a lot. Instead of spending all my free time on the couch , now I’m almost always outside on a park run or swimming with my daughter or taking a walk. My doctor is very happy with my blood work and my weight and I now no longer spend ages obsessing over food.

My tips for people who are starting out

  1. Start with small changes and stay consistent with them.
  2. Start now and start where you are. You don’t need a big budget or a gym membership.  The internet can be such a valuable resource. The Sleekgeek community is so friendly and always ready to answer any fitness-related questions.
  3. Drink your water. Sometimes thirst feels like hunger.
  4. Find balance.  Trying to be strict 100% of the time can lead to completely falling off the wagon.
  5. Have a support system. You’ll need a few cheerleaders in your corner on those low days.
  6. Create a no-fail environment. I did this by completely removing junk food from my house for the 1st few month. I also always put out my workout clothes the night before and always carry a packed lunch to work.
  7. Believe in yourself. You’re stronger than you think. You’re tougher than others believe.
  8. Be kind to yourself

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