Amara Opurozor, Weight Loss Expert, Talks about How Keto Has Brought Health and Wealth to Nigerians

Amara discusses with me how keto has helped transform her country, Nigeria, getting a people whose staple crops are yam, cassava and rice to eat more protein, vegetable, and fat.

 

Ama opening pic

Amara, thank you for granting this interview. Please let’s get to know you.

I live in Lagos, Nigeria from where I run a weight loss and wellness group on Facebook called KETOLCHFNIGERIA with the support of my husband, who is also an administrator on the page. I coach people on weight loss and healthier living through a low-carbs high-fat ( LCHF) way of eating. Before starting the group, my career was in operations and marketing in the telecommunication and banking sectors. I have also done a lot of professional courses including one I concluded in project management last year. My focus right now, though, is to get as many people as possible to achieve optimal health without the burden of hitting the gym or counting calories.

Given that you have no background in healthcare, or even nutrition management, what motivated you to adopt wellness coaching as a career?

I didn’t set out to make a career out of this way of eating. But it happened that I needed to lose weight for medical and other reasons. I was obese and my midsection was too big to conceal under any decent wear. After having my three kids, my stomach became very big that I was often referred to as “iya ibeji” (pregnant woman). I looked 6 months pregnant even when I wasn’t expecting. While I discourage body-shaming and agree that what matters more is what’s on the inside, I must admit that I felt uncomfortable around people because of my weight. An air hostess actually told me once to sign an undertaking on air for being a safety risk. She thought, and for good reasons too, that I was expecting and far along in the pregnancy. It was that bad. Sometime in 2016, I met someone living the lifestyle and I found out that she was losing weight just by eating right. That was how my journey began.Through consistency and determination, I achieved my goal. I started by reading and researching. I found out the lifestyle worked and I officially started in May 2016. I was weighing 92kg (203 pounds) and I’m just about 5’4”. In just 3 month into the lifestyle, I weighed 75kg (165 pounds) and my stomach reduced significantly. I presently weigh 70kg (154 pounds) and that’s my desired weight.

Ama Before After Trad

Could you explain to the uninitiated what keto or LCHF is in a nutshell?

LCHF means Low Carb, High Fat. This means that those who adopt this way of eating, eat low carbohydrates usually in forms of veggies, high healthy fats, and moderate protein.

It could be strict which requires consumption of less than 20 gram carbs of carbs per day, moderate which allows 20 to 50 grams of carbs, or 50-100 grams per day for those who adopt the lifestyle liberally.

The level one adopts depends on what one wants to achieve. The idea behind this diet is to reduce to the barest minimum, the sugar we consume daily. Sugar has been recently discovered to be the root of most ailments. Since energy can also be derived from eating healthy fats, why eat lots of sugar and stand the risk of type 2 diabetes and other ailments?

What are the benefits of embarking on this lifestyle?

The benefits are enormous including fast weight loss, reduced hunger, better blood sugar control (Dr. Bernstein is the leading advocate for the usefulness of using this lifestyle to manage diabetes; He is a type 1 diabteic himself), fertility issues especially polycystic ovary syndrome, enhanced cognitive performance, age reversal, reduced risk of heart disease etc. In addition, because of the weight loss benefit, it helps manage high blood pressure. It helped me manage mine so I no longer need nor take high blood pressure medication.

What’s the science behind it?

A keto diet makes it easier for the body to use its fat reserves, as their release is no longer blocked by high insulin levels. This is one reason why eating fat produces a feeling of longer-lasting satiety than carbohydrates. It’s been shown in a number of studies: When people eat all they want on a low carb diet, caloric intake typically drops. Because of the high fats, they feel more satiated and tend to eat less, hence the drop in weight. So, no counting or food weighing is necessary. You can forget about the calories and trust your feelings of hunger and satiety. Most people don’t need to count or weigh their food any more than they need to count their breathing.

With diabetes eliminating sugar and foods that eventually convert to sugar—mainly carbs—is like a no-brainer to achieving normal blood sugar levels, thus eliminating all the complications that come with high blood sugar levels. I think that’s common sense. Dietdoctor.com is a rich resource for those who need to research further on how low-carb diet helps eliminate the need for medications in diabetics.

 You started your Facebook Group KetoLCHFNigeria less than a year ago and you now have over 15,000 members. I know a thing or two about running online campaigns and I know it is not always easy to sell such an unconventional idea to people, so what is the secret of your success?

Yes, I started the group in October 2016 because of the need I saw around me. As I got transformed, a lot of people asked me daily what I was doing, how I did, what I ate. I got so many calls, WhatsApp and Facebook messages etc. I spent quite some time explaining to them, using up my airtime which is still pay-as-you-go in Nigeria. I added so many of the people inquiring about the lifestyle to my parent group. I found out that they kept asking me further questions. I decided to create my own Facebook page. It has not been easy maintaining an online presence. But what moves the group forward is that the people who are adopting the lifestyle are seeing results. Another thing I do is make sure I write extensively on the things I preach. If I tell you to eat high fats, I do an extensive post on why you should eat healthy fats, the pros and cons, etc. With that people are convinced and they go on to introduce other people.

 

Besides the health benefits, I notice that LCHF has opened up a new way of income for coaches, vendors, etc. What business opportunities do you see this way of eating creating in Nigeria in the next five years?

In the next five years, I see so many people becoming self-employed, producing keto compliant foods like coconut flour and vegetable swallows—and they already doing so. There are now Youtube channels for preparing keto-complaint Nigerian meals. I also see most of our markets are now flooded with keto products; importers changing their import priorities. In the future, I envisage restaurants selling basically keto and low carbs meal in every nook and cranny of this country. I see entrepreneurs sprouting up daily producing foods to support this lifestyle.

 

What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge for people who want to get on this lifestyle, but who seem to never get around to it?

The greatest challenge, I think, is discipline. Many can’t get around to eating this way because they are not ready to give up noodles, pasta, fufu , pap, spaghetti, and the likes. Some complain that their challenges are finances but I don’t think it is the greatest of other challenges.

I just got my lab results and my cholesterol is normal despite my being on this lifestyle. But there are concerns in some quarters that high consumption of oil in the LCHF lifestyle may lead to adverse health effects like high cholesterol, what do you say to that?

So many people raise such concern but the truth is that this lifestyle does not encourage just any fat. It encourages high healthy fats which includes saturated (lard, tallow, chicken fat, duck fat, goose fat, clarified butter / ghee, butter, ,palm oil ,coconut oil), monounsaturated (avocado, macadamia and olive oil), and polyunsaturated omega 3s, especially from animal sources (fatty fish and seafood). These fats do not impact negatively on your HDL (high density lipoproteins (HDL/the “good” Cholesterol) neither does it increase the LDL (low density lipoproteins (LDL/the “bad” one negatively. LDL is a lipoprotein and delivery man as well. It transports cholesterol after production from the liver to the body’s tissues. This diet could increase the HDL which is not bad at all. This is opposed to the unhealthy fats that increases our LDL. Anyone who already has cholesterol issues shouldn’t really bother about the healthy fats because they are good for everyone. But to allay any fears, people should always seek the advice of their doctors. Doctors are always in the right position to advise better.

What services do you provide to members of your group and others starting this journey?

We empower members through daily update on the page on relevant issues about the lifestyle. Remember they say information is power. We have several meal plans on the page to assist beginners; we make all the products easily accessible to members through our different vendors as most of the products are yet to be easily sourced in the local or open markets. We also offer specialized coaching and customized meal plans for members who are serious about achieving result especially in terms of weight loss.We also organize boot camps for a token where participants are camped in groups for usually 30 days and are coached intensively to achieve results. We also have one –one –one counseling for those who are still skeptical about embracing the lifestyle. We have an email(ketolchfnigeria@gmail.com) through which we can address other concerns. And this month, May 2017, we plan to do a free 20 day challenge, to coach as many people as possible especially those who cannot afford our paid boot camp services.

Are there people who may need close monitoring by a doctor while they are on this lifestyle?

Yes, I usually advise people especially those with peculiar health issues like HBP, diabetes, cholesterol issues, infertility and the likes to see their doctors first and speak to them especially if they are on any medication. This is important so that the doctor may monitor their progress and probably reduce the dosage of their current medication as they progress. I also encourage them to run some tests and do a trial for a month and then go back to check again. Most times, their status improve.

What motivates you to keep helping people? I notice you spend a lot of time on your Facebook group informing and answering questions from your clients.

The most motivating factor is that I receive messages almost on a daily basis from people I have never met thanking me and praying for God’s blessings on me; sometimes they pray for me over the phone and all I could do is just cry and praise God. One called and told me that I saved her life that she didn’t know how to pay me back, just after our 30 days boot camp. It’s enough motivation for me to do more.

Which client’s success story has touched you the most?

I have had so many touching stories. I will tell you two of such from the Reborn boot camp that ended two months ago. The client was so fat that she stopped working. She also had breathing problems. She said she had tried so many medications. She doesn’t live in Nigeria. She was only allowed to work for only three hours daily at least to support her family. Just 3 weeks into the boot camp, her breathing normalized and she resumed work full time. She lost 9kg (20 pounds) in 30 days. After she told me her story, I understood why she constantly told me that I saved her life. Another one that touched me too was one of the boot campers whose period seized for 3 years. Her period stopped coming after she did family planning. Just one week into the boot camp, her period resumed. She couldn’t believe it that she called me to share her joy.

What’s your goal for KetoLCHFNigeira in the next five years?

I hope the group would have touched uncountable lives, have members running in hundreds of thousand, and have vendors all over Nigeria. We presently have in seven States inlcuding Lagos, Abuja, Rivers, Abia, Imo ,Enugu and Anambra.We are looking forward to signing Ogun , Delta and Edo soon. KetoLCHFNigeria shall have its own website, online shop and would have become a household name.

Many Nigerians feel that embarking on this journey limits their food choices. What do you say to them and do you have a meal plan tailored to Nigerians?

I too thought I would feel deprived until I started the lifestyle. But I now realize I have more food options than when I was bingeing on carbs. On LCHF, one has so many options on all classes of food; any food we eat on high carb diet has a perfect replacement in low carbs. For example, you can ditch the buns and wrap your burger in lettuce, etc. The diet makes one creative and a super chef too. We have tailored meal plans for Nigerians who seek to embrace the lifestyle.

Are you open to accepting clients who are not resident in Nigeria?

Yes. We accept clients from Nigeria and all over the world. Our last boot camper who lost 9kg lives in London.

Any Special Note to diabetic patients? I consider its reversal of diabetes keto’s greatest benefit. What is the greatest mistake diabetics make in their food choices?

Ketogenic diet is perfect for diabetic patients. I coach diabetic patients. Before they start, I usually insist they meet with their doctors and run some necessary tests before they begin. And most times, their medications go down drastically after the first month. One of the greatest mistakes diabetic patients make is avoiding the obvious foods loaded with carbs like pasta, rice, bread, fries but still eating foods that are high in sugar, example fruits like water melon, that are loaded with fructose. For complete reversal of diabetics and to get off medication, patients may need to stop all fruits except avocados and berries. Even beans, unripe plantain, wheat, and all carbohydrates even those with seemingly low glycemic index should be given up. Replacing healthy fats with carbohydrate for energy will be a more lasting solution to diabetes.

And for High Blood Pressure Patients?

Ketogenic lifestyle may be the most effective remedy for lowering blood pressure naturally. In some cases it may even normalize blood pressure completely. If you’re on blood pressure medication and start a low-carb diet there’s a risk of getting low blood pressure. You may relatively quickly become too healthy for your medication. This blood pressure lowering effect on low carbs can happen within days, but it may also take months or even a year to reach full effect. If you feel weak, tired, dizzy etc. you should check your blood pressure. If it’s low, e.g. below 120/80, you should contact your doctor to discuss lowering or stopping your medication for just weight loss.

What advice do you have for people who are yet to adopt this lifestyle?

Well, LCHF is not just a diet, it is a lifestyle and not a quick fix. If you are adopting it, you are embracing healthier life, optimal weight and good looks. It’s a must embrace, no one loses anything trying. Anyone who has questions can email me at ketolchfnigeria@gmail.com or contact me on WhatsApp at +234-803-471-4137.

Thank you, Amara, for introducing me to this lifestyle.

You’re welcome. Thank you too.

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So You Want to Lose Weight? Here are Calorie Facts and Maths You Must Know

Update: A Nigerian reader suggested that having the weight measurements in this post in Kg will help Nigerians understand this post more. I appreciate that feedback. 2 pounds (2lb) is 0.9 kg. So if you see 110 pounds, read 55kg (110lb actually equal 49kg but you don’t need that exactitude to appreciate the idea conveyed in this post). Thanks to the reader who drew my attention to the unit of weight measurement in Nigeria.

Years ago, when I was living in boarding school, I’d finish a packet of golden morn (with heaps of powdered milk) in three or four meals ignoring the labels stating the packet contained 16 servings. Now, I still eat more than the recommended serving of Honey Bunches of Oats but with a proportionate dose of guilt.

I began getting a grasp of calories and what it means for my health when I started watching daytime TV shows like Lose Big With Ali Vincent a few years ago. I am sharing some of that knowledge with you with a caveat that I am not a health professional. That said, here are five basic facts you should know about calories to help you make better choices and informed decisions about your health.

1. You Need to Eat Only Between 2000 and 2700 Calories a Day

Calorie is a unit of heat used to indicate the amount of energy that foods will produce in the human body. Recommended calorie intake depends on factors such as age, size, height, gender, lifestyle and overall general health.

The body needs calories to provide basic life functions, such as breathing and pumping blood. The number of calories the body needs to do this varies from person to person, and it’s known as your basal metabolic rate. You can determine your BMR with an online calculator or a mathematics equation.

Using this online calculator, I found that I have a BMR of about 1,500 calories. So even if I don’t engage in any physical activity, I will still need to consume about 1,500 calories to maintain my current weight.

The average male adult needs approximately 2,500 calories per day to keep his weight constant, while the average adult female needs 2,000. 2,000 calories is 500 in excess of my BMR because light activities like walking and cooking uses up the 500 calories not used for my BMR.

2. 3,500 calories equal one pound of body weight.

Generally if you want to lose wait, you have to dump an average of 1,000 calories per day in an effort to lose 2 pounds of body fat per week.

So let’s say you need to lose 110 pounds (approximately 50kg) and your recommended healthy weight requires 1,500 calories to support but you consume 3,500 calories per day, you can reduce your daily caloric intake to 2,000 calories – thus losing about four pounds per week or 16 or more per month. In only a couple of short months, you could have dropped about fifty pounds and at this point would be mid-way through your final weight loss goal.

Calories can add up quickly than you think and that is why losing eight is easier said than done. So let’s say you are doing all the right things to reach your weight loss goals, just consuming an extra 100 calories (approximately the calorie in one banana or apple) every day for 35 days will result in a weight gain of one pound just for the extra banana or apple. To counter its effect, you will need to walk about thirty minutes each day just to burn the 100 calories.

3. Empty Calories, Carbs, Fats, and Sugars are the Enemies

If you consider that weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise, you will make smarter decisions in what you eat. And this makes sense: if you don’t put in excess calories in your body when you eat, then you don’t have to engage in intensive exercise because there is nothing to burn.

I was watching one of my favorite Nigerian Vloggers cook yesterday and I cringed at the quantity of oil she used to prepare her stew. Now, vegetable oil contains about 130 calories per table spoon. From what I saw in the vlog, and given that the stew prepared could serve only about five people, anybody that ate that food would have consumed about 750 calories just from the oil alone. Prepare your meals yourself so you can be sure that what you have in your food is in line with your dietary preferences.

You know that soda (‘mineral’) is bad for you but do you know that malt drink is not any healthier. A bottle of malt (nutrition information may vary by brand) contains about 210 calories–43 grams of sugar (that’s about 11 cubes of sugar) and more than 17% of daily carbohydrate need. This knowledge has since made me find malt unappealing (and no you are not doing that elderly relative a favor by offering her malt because you think it is more nutritious than soda). A bottle of malt doesn’t offer any nutritional value but takes up about one-tenth of one’s calorie daily allowance. If you are predisposed to diabetes, taking a bottle of malt becomes a death-sentence.

Fruit juice is just as bad–forget the ‘fruit’ in it. Eat whole fruits with the fiber etc. Sugarstacks.com has helped me reduce my intake of sugar because of its visual recreation of sugar contained in most food. It will help you think twice before you gulp down another can of soda.

When you fill up with empty calorie foods like sugary drinks, donuts, french fries etc, you have little room to take in healthy foods like broccoli (a few days ago my daughter asked me to give her more ‘trees’ when she was requesting for more broccoli. That made me laugh. Indeed they are miniature trees, the stalks look like tree trunks and the crown like tree branches with leaves), kale, ugu, cucumber (one of my best, only about 45 calorie for one cucumber but it keeps you full and nourishes you without taking much of your calorie allowance), lettuce etc.

If you are counting your calories, then you must make every calorie count. A good guide is to fill half of your plates with vegetables at each meal (no, a meal of jollof rice, chicken, and fried plantain is anything but a balanced diet). On average, you should take about 5 servings of fruits and vegetables everyday.

4. Read Your Food Labels
Reading food labels will help you make healthier choices. The bottle of malt I mentioned earlier comes from a carton we got from seven months back. I used to consider a chilled bottle of malt a treat but since learning how little they offer in the way of nutrition, I avoid them and take a sip occasionally. So read you food labels and you will be surprised what you find.

While I don’t know if Nigeria has laws requiring the food industry to label food packages, most imported foods come with them. In any case, google is your friend. You can calculate how many calories are contained in a plate of rice you cook from scratch by googling the individual foods you use to cook the rice. For example you can find the nutrition information for rice, tomato, vegetable oil, onion online and then add them up to determine how much calories is contained in that steaming-hot-oil-loaded-fried rice.

Reading food labels will also help you know when you shouldn’t eat more food because you have exceeded your daily limit. So if for lunch you stopped at a McDonald’s and ate a meal of Big mac, french fries and a can of soda, you may have to skip dinner or you will derail from you weight loss goals.

5. Exercise In Order to Burn More Calories than You Consume
Weight loss is a game of numbers. Fitness experts stress the importance of exercise for weight loss because exercise helps burn calories and get rid of excess fat. So if you burn 350 calories by engaging in intensive exercise everyday for ten days, you will lose 1 pound in ten days solely on account of that exercise.

A good combination of healthy diet and exercise regimen is the surest way to lose weight. Not sure if you need to lose weight? Calculate your Body Mass Index here.. You will be surprised that as a mother of five weighing 70kg you are overweight.

To conclude, here are a few practical tips to help you reach your weight loss goals:

    1. Incorporate vegetables in your meal as often as you can (for example, cook afang soup (without the excess oil) more than oha soup);
    2. Throw in mixed vegetable like carrot and peas when cooking indomie and white rice;
    3. Always have cold water (water contains zero calories; it doesn’t get any better than that) in the fridge as it makes it easier to overlook the chilled sodas (even better, don’t keep soda in the house);
    4. Offer your kids apple in place of ice cream for snacks;
    5. Shop the frozen sections at Shoprite for a variety of vegetable–they are cheaper than fresh ones;
    6. Use paprika instead of red oil to color your food (a 6 for 130 calorie sawp); and
    7. Exercise with workout videos on Youtube in the comfort of your home; you don’t need to register in a gym

I hope this blog helps you stay healthier this year. Let’s keep fit!

P.S: Please don’t expect to see an Agbani next time you see me. I’m a work in progress myself. And Like I said in this blog, I learn by blogging.

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