Dramatic weight loss journey began after having enough of 'family's negative talk'

For many Pasifika, attending family functions require extensive mental preparation and a whole lot of thick skin.

Being overweight in a Pacific family often means you're guaranteed to be caught in the crossfire of digs, jokes and comments from family members about your weight.

It's a feeling Samuel Sooupu Nanai​ knew all too well, and started him on a dramatic journey to lose weight.

"Growing up I've always been big, every year when we would meet up for Christmas my cousins would call me and my other cousin, fat.​

"I had enough of negative talk especially from family members," says Nanai.

He believes Pasifika need to be careful with how they use their words.

"As Pacific Islanders, our jokes like Kipi Le ai or cut the food really does play a mental part especially on young Pasifika children.​"

Starting at 130 kilos, Nanai says the turning point for him was seeing a close friend transform and change their life. ​​Now sitting at 91 kilos, he's noticed his weight loss is inspiring others too. 

"The great thing about it is I'm not only losing weight for myself but I'm also inspiring others, a lot of family members, church members the people that used to mock me ask me about my weight journey.​"

Nanai's journey began last year after the first lock down, after which he has since participated in two weight loss challenges.

Weight loss challenges

For many Pasifika losing weight is a matter of life and death. Nearly two-thirds of Pacific adults are obese, according to the Ministry of Health.

But more Pasifika are now turning to weight loss challenges as a way of taking ownership of their health.

However, health experts are concerned about the sustainability of a weight loss challenge.

University of Auckland's Associate Dean Pacific Doctor Collin Tukuitonga says: "The problem is not always losing the weight, the problem is about keeping it off."

Dave Letele who runs a free weight loss programme Brown Buttabean Motivation agrees: "The real challenge begins at the end of a challenge.

"What I don’t like seeing is everyone being good on the challenge and then after they’re all having a party and going back to an unhealthy lifestyle."

He says challenges are good to kick start a health journey.

"But the whole time people are doing it that seed needs to be sown that this is a lifestyle, this is the new way we live now. Use it as a chance to educate," says Letele.

Dietician Mafi Funaki warns Pasifika to enter weight loss challenges with realistic expectations.

"Often they want miracles to happen and weight to come off really fast, so they make changes that they do not look to make as a habit long term.​"

The danger with a dramatic loss of weight in a short period leads to a loss of muscle rather than fat.

"So eventually the body will try and bring back the loss muscles and that’s when people get into the yo-yo diet - where they will lose a lot of weight but when those habits don’t continue than they revert back and gain a lot more weight than they usually start with," says Funaki.​

A weight loss challenge typically runs for either six, eight or twelve weeks, but  South Shred Lifestyle coach Alex Paasi runs a sixteen week challenge.

"To get that dramatic before and after photo in​ a six week challenge is by dropping your calorie deficit so low which is really unhealthy for your body, whereas in sixteen weeks you can create a minimal deficit and go small, small, small gradually which will look after their insides," says Paasi.

Tukuitonga commends Pasifika wanting to lose weight and suggests people should start simple by changing their eating habits.

He says: "It might be better if people have a more modest set of expectations, focusing on better eating habits, less sugar, less fats, less salts.”

Funaki agrees that ​small steps are the best way to go.

"Small steps means you’ve looked at what’s real for you and your usual lifestyle are. Small steps you also look at things that are going to be changing but you’re going to be ready to have it as long term.​"

Nanai encourages those wanting to embark on a weight loss journey to "go for it".

"But also have a core reason as to why you're wanting to change."


Photo PMN News