Trying to fix your physique? Fix your plate first!

“A long time ago, I was overweight and unhealthy. I had a bunch of medical issues here and there, but one particular event changed everything for me. I went to the hospital, and the nurse said they’d need to check my weight before seeing the doctor. I said there was no need to check my weight because I was about 60kg, and she said that was impossible. Then she said I should get on the scale so we’d confirm, and I did. I got on the scale, and we saw I was 90kg. I was 19 at the time, and I also had symptoms of asthma. The doctor told me that if I added any more weight, it would develop into full-blown asthma. Then I realised that wasn’t right and felt the immediate need to do something about it. That’s when I started my journey to living healthy.”

Africa has an obesity problem. A 2022 World Health Organisation (WHO) study revealed that Africa is currently experiencing a rapid rise in obesity and diabetes, which leads to multiple health issues like heart disease, cancer, and muscle and bone issues. A lot of this results from poor nutrition and increased processed foods in our diets.

Lately, nutrition and elevated gut health have become major topics for people everywhere. There’s a yearning to eat clean and maintain healthy gut health as well as an overall healthy approach to food and diets. Joining in this conversation is Selema Enang, also known as “TheFitPriest.”

Selema Enang is a nutritionist, meal planner, fitness trainer, and nutrition consultant who helps people achieve their health and fitness goals and guides them from unhealthy to healthy. While studying nutrition and food science, Selema began to imbibe healthy meals into her diet, and after a year, she lost significant weight. She discovered the art of weight training through a friend in school and has since become a preacher of healthy eating practices and overall fitness.

“Navigating my health and PCOS status and being able to go from generally helping answer nutritional questions to tailoring advice to people– most especially women with PCOS– has driven me to do what I do and set the tone for who I am today, as a nutritionist.”

Working with people

In Selema’s career as a nutritionist, she has encountered multiple cases, but one that stuck out was her first case when she arrived in Nigeria. When she met the client, she couldn’t walk. The client lived in a duplex and could barely make it up a flight of stairs every day due to the excruciating pain in her legs. Every day, she would go downstairs with everything she needed and stay there all day before returning up at night. Throughout Selema’s career as a nutritionist, it was the most difficult case she had to deal with, but she found a solution to the issue. 

“I had to figure out a nutrition plan and an exercise plan to fit what she could do because she could barely stand, sit or kneel. There was a drastic lifestyle change, and we continued working together for a few months. After almost a year, she had a stroke, but when they did a full medical diagnosis, they realised she was clean.”

Due to the rapid change in her client’s diet, the client’s doctor asked to see Selema to understand her process of flipping the client’s health around completely. Before Selema came along, the client was pre-diabetic, had high cholesterol and had developed multiple issues which would’ve amplified the effects of the stroke and resulted in her death. However, the clean diet and consistent exercise helped reduce her risk of dying and earned Selema an extra point in the client’s eyes.

Nutrition is engraved in everything!

It’s common to hear people say nutrition is a small fraction of your journey to becoming healthy. However, Selema holds a very different opinion. According to her, your nutrition is 100% of the work, and so is working out. “Nutrition is your lifeline when it comes to how you live,” says Selma. “How you eat is very pivotal in how well you exist. Everything that goes into your body will affect how you sleep, look, handle stress and even your hormones. It is engraved in everything you do.”

Nutrition is an integral part of development, starting from childhood to adulthood. Good nutritional habits will manifest in many ways, but most importantly, in your appearance and how you solve mind-boggling problems. Just by what you eat, your future and the quality of life you live are determined, so it is important to be conscious about what you put in your body.

The common saying “you are what you eat” isn’t just an inspirational statement to get you to make good decisions, but you quite literally are what you eat. Studies have shown that your cells are replaced every few months, and the newly generated cells come from what you consume. “If you’re walking around eating burgers and cookies, drinking three bottles of soda every day and barely drinking enough water or sleeping and your stress levels are high, at the end of the day, whatever happens in regards to your health is coming from what you put in your body.”

The benefits or effects of nutrition result from consistent and continuous consumption of certain foods, whether good or bad. However, people tend to take advantage of the fact that the results of unhealthy eating are not seen immediately to adopt these dangerous habits, causing lasting harm to their bodies.

Importance of nutrition in the different life stages

“Think of nutrition and growth as a graph,” says Selema. “It starts from the bottom, goes all the way up, and when it peaks, it drops back down.”

Nutrition doesn’t just start when you are a growing child. Contrary to popular opinion, good nutrition starts from pregnancy. “The nutrients and supplements the mother consumes will affect how the child is born and what cognitive functions they lack when born,” Selema says.

While most people believe that eating healthy and clean is reserved for older individuals, good nutrition and clean eating are expected of everyone. Everyone should learn to incorporate a balanced diet in their meals, from children to adolescents and adults, to boost their immune systems. While eating clean and good nutrition for young children is important, it doesn’t mean they can’t have snacks or sugar; it means that it shouldn’t be the core of their diet.

“When you’re younger, you’re supposed to eat a certain amount of calories to develop properly. But the mistake people make is they now feed children with more packaged and processed foods. There’s no problem with giving children sugar; the real question is, is sugar the bulk of what they consume?”

As adults, your diet from when you were a child should significantly change. While children can consume high-calorie foods in large portions, as a 23-year-old with a desk job, you must look toward reducing the amount of calories and keeping your food nutrient-dense at all times.

At 30, you’ve peaked, your development stops, and your health and bone density start declining rapidly. If you are not as active, you will have less physical activity than you did in your 20s. At 30, you’d need to consider what will support your health: fewer carbs, sugar, alcohol, and more veggies and proteins in your meals.

“The food you eat in your teens and 20s will give birth to the body you see in your 30s. So, make wise decisions because the body never forgets at the end of the day. Also, what you do in your 30s nutritionally will manifest in your 40s. Your body keeps scoring, and so should you.”

It is important to make smart nutritional decisions early in life to avoid rapidly needing change later in life.

Nutritional Myths

Nutrition is a concept that continues to evolve through research and human observation. However, despite the availability of information on the internet, there are still many myths and misconceptions about nutrition we need to set aside, according to Selema:

Eating after 7 pm will make you fat

There’s nothing wrong with eating after 7 p.m. According to Selema, it is more about what you eat and the quantity than about eating at all. If you live a sedentary lifestyle and you’ve already had two meals during the day, go home and eat a huge serving of eba and soup at 11 pm, and then go to bed at 11:30, weight gain is inevitable. So, it’s more about what you are eating, how you are eating, and how active you are on a daily basis that determines if you gain weight over time.

You can only get healthy by going to the gym

Weight loss and healthy living are determined by how balanced your diet is and how much activity you can get. Whether you’re going to the gym or you’re walking, running, hiking or whatever, the most important thing is that you are active.

You can eat anything. You just have to count your calories

Counting calories is great, but having a well-balanced diet with a combination of fruits and veggies will provide better results. Eating anything is not a great outlook on nutrition and will cause you to develop issues in the long run, but ensuring that your plate is appropriately sectioned with veggies, proteins, and carbs will provide better sustainable results.

Detox is a scam

All the detox plans and programmes online are scams. If you have a properly functioning liver, you don’t need to detox anything. As long as your organs are working properly and you are healthy, your body will do the work it’s supposed to do. If you eat junk for seven days at a stretch, you don’t need to go on a four-day juice cleanse. All you need to do is stop and make a conscious decision not to eat junk food but to eat proper meals with enough protein, carbs, and veggies on your plate.

Finding what works.

“When it comes to nutrition and diets, there’s a lot of misinformation on what people should or shouldn’t do.”

Very early on in her career, Selema decided that she would do her best to positively impact people’s lives to the best of her abilities. Because of that, she decided not to become a generalised coach but rather create plans and diets that specifically fit the client’s needs. She decided simply because of how dynamic and unique each person’s dietary preferences can be. This is why she is a big advocate for tailoring meal plans and diets to each individual.

Selema first notes allergies, health issues, and body build when reviewing a client’s diet. By running multiple tests to determine what needs to be changed, she is able to tailor a diet plan based on her expertise to every client. So, before you choose a diet plan or a nutrition plan, find out what you’re allergic to, what issues you are genetically disposed to, and what you need to change medically before translating it to your diet.

It also helps to be disciplined and take a different approach to food. “I see food as fuel 95% of the time. I don’t take it as something to put in my stomach whenever I feel like it.” Nutrition dictates a large portion of the issues people encounter, especially for people with hormonal issues like PCOS and endometriosis; this is why it is important to always think of your health goals before making a food-related decision.

If you ever decide to start eating clean and adopt a healthy nutritional diet as a Nigerian, broccoli and cauliflower are not the only healthy options.

“Ugu, garden eggs and many more Nigerian staple meals are clean foods that can be adopted into your diet. Instead of draining the vegetable nutrients in oil and calling it soup or cooking it for 30 minutes, adopt healthy cooking habits like steaming and boiling to maintain the nutrients in the vegetables.”

Healthy nutrition is not a one-and-done effort. It is a conscious, habitual effort to achieve realistic long-term goals. Living healthy and curbing the issue of obesity in Africa is possible. All we need to do is promote healthy eating habits and make healthy diets by adopting healthy proteins, fats, vegetables, and fruits in moderate quantities and seeking a nutritionist’s help in dire cases. Are you ready to start your journey to eating clean? Let us know in the comments!


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