The journey to a healthier you isn’t always quite as straightforward as you hope it will be. It takes patience, self-love and sometimes a good few attempts to find what works for you — something Ajohche Awungjia knows all about. Here’s her body positivity success story.
Occupation: Academic (PhD student, part-time lecturer in Linguistics at UWC), YouTuber (La Saws)
City: Cape Town
Weight before 2018: 79kg
Weight March 2019: 65kg
Weight January 2020: 72kg
Weight March 2020: 70kg
Time required to reach current weight: 18 months
Secret weight-loss weapon: “Lots of cardio, and being attentive and kind to my body.”
Growing up in Cameroon, Ajohche’s weight was never an issue. “Where I’m from, being overweight is okay. They called it ‘African beauty’, so whenever my class had to participate in a fashion parade competition, I was always selected [as one of the models],” she explains. As a consequence, she didn’t pay attention to her weight gain or unhealthy eating habits.
“I ate a high-carb diet: lots of bread, rice, potato chips… and did I mention bread?! I had little to no fruit and honestly didn’t like vegetables,” says Ajohche. She goes on to admit that she “flirted with the idea of exercising” instead of being committed to it. And while she was an active child, that all changed when she entered boarding school. “Exercising became a chore, one I was not great at anymore, so I would only participate to avoid punishment, which might explain why I started picking up weight,” she explains. When Ajohche left boarding school, she left exercising behind her too.
It would be a few years before Ajohche stepped into a gym again. “I’d been living with my ex. When we broke up, I moved out. For the first time in a long time, I was single and living by myself. I was finishing my masters and only worked part-time on campus, so I needed something to fill up the time. One of the things I decided to do was return to the gym,” she explains. But this time she wasn’t exercising to lose weight or out of obligation. Her goals were to get stronger and fitter. She sums it up like this: “I didn’t like panting after climbing the stairs.”
Along with exercising, Ajohche became more mindful about what she was eating. “One day a friend and I ordered food; I got chicken and chips and he got a salad. When I tasted his salad, my food suddenly tasted so dead [whereas] his food tasted so fresh. It was a simple chicken salad, so the next day I went to the shop and bought the ingredients for the salad and started making it for myself. As I did this more, I realised that I ate what I saw; so if I had biscuits I would eat biscuits, and if I had fruit I would eat that too with just as much happiness,” she explains.
The journey to self-love and body positivity
While Ajohche now had healthier eating habits and was consistently exercising, a mindset change was ultimately the key to having all her lifestyle changes fall into place. “The reason I didn’t quit this time was [because] I was not in it for weight loss. I accepted and loved my body as it was; there was no guilt or any added negative pressure to perform a certain way,” she explains. She attributes this to working on her emotional and mental wellbeing while tackling her insecurities and how she saw herself. “I [started to] believe that I was already fabulous, so the low self-esteem that would in the past make me cower to the back or doubt myself enough to stay away from the gym was now under my control.”
This change in mindset allowed Ajohche to achieve real body positivity and self-love, which in turn helped her take better care of herself. “Eating my greens and drinking water became self-care and me being committed to myself, rather than punishment for being fat. I treated myself with kindness and I think my body responded well to that.”
Knowing that she’s more likely to eat what’s in her house, Ajohche says that she focuses on buying whole foods along with proteins such as chicken breast and beans, and carbs such as rice and two-minute noodles. “If I’m craving a chocolate bar, I buy one and eat it, but I don’t keep a box of my favourite candy or chocolate at home. That way if I feel like snacking while at home, I only have healthy options like an apple or boiled eggs,” she says.
When it comes to exercise, she’s learnt that quality beats quantity. “I found a lot of value in learning how to do the exercises correctly rather than doing many reps. For instance, three push-ups with your body in the correct alignment and form are better than 10 wrong ones. Doing the exercises correctly means figuring out what muscles they target and how best to hit them. It means always having that mind-to-body connection when training,” says Ajohche.
Most of Ajohche’s progress happened in 2018 while she was not intentional about it. But in 2019, life got hectic and she reverted to her original weight. “I felt uncomfortable like I was in the wrong body. I still looked great, but I missed the energy I had when I was training… My mood and diet suffered even more,” she explains.
After two months of getting back to exercising, she’s lost two kilos – and it’s made a huge difference. “My mood is better; I’m more disciplined with work and other life engagements. If I manage to work out after an already productive day, I end up being in the best of moods. Don’t even get me started on the way sex gets just so much better; flexibility, strong knees and thighs, and high endurance. The cherry on top is I get to do all that in a banging body,” she exclaims. Body positivity epitomised.
Ajohche’s body positivity tips
- Find a bigger why than weight loss: “Losing weight is a great goal, [and] there are many benefits to losing weight, but the process is not straightforward or linear. It will take some time and lots of trial and error to find what works for you.”
- Get to know yourself: “Start figuring out how you got to where you presently are, why you behave the way you do, your triggers, sources of comfort – all of that, both the positives and the negatives. Having a good understanding of your current situation will help you intuitively know what will work for you.”
- Weight loss is not everything: “As long as you keep doing, evaluating and chasing your goals, and you refuse to give up on yourself, you will realise that weight loss was only the icing, not the cake.”