Thomas Kwaka aka Big Ted had a pretty much normal life when growing up and was the big-eyed, tallboy. “I grew up in Eastlands and during my early schooling, I was a lean kid,” he narrates. However, towards the tail-end of primary school, Ted started gaining weight and by the time he joined Nairobi School, he was a bulky teen.
Big Ted says he was not able to join in the activities that the other boys participated in as his weight was slowly becoming an issue, which was gradually eating into his confidence. “I had become the fat kid in the group and it was weighing on me socially and my self-esteem dipped,” he explains. “I watched as my peers dated the pretty girls, who preferred the boys with well-defined abs since I did not have the confidence to approach the most beautiful girl in the group,” Big Ted narrates.
Today he is no longer that fat kid who could barely kick a ball as his description fits the tall, dark, and handsome stranger and is a far cry of the obese teenage boy who struggled with weight into adulthood. As he joins us for this interview, it is clear he no longer has self-esteem issues as he confidently walks towards our direction, sure of his every step. It is hard to imagine this gentle giant who stands at 6 4′ struggled with self-esteem issues as a result of obesity.
“When I was traveling by public means, no one wanted me to sit next to them in a matatu or on the plane. I was so big I always asked for an extra safety belt in the plane,” explains Ted who weighed 168kg at his heaviest. Having tried every diet he could lay his hands on, Big Ted, who says he added the word, ‘Big’ before his name to feel socially accepted, resigned to his fate as none of the diets worked for him. It was a big blow to him as he could not get the kind of clothes he would have loved to wear in his size. He recalls wearing a Size 68 suit at his heaviest, which he says was very humongous. “I could not go to the coast and remove my shirt like all the other guys,” he remembers. But he continued to seek comfort in food and he confesses to eating two kilograms of meat and one kilogram of ‘ugali’ alone in a sitting.
“When I first heard of bariatric surgery as a way of losing weight, I did not give it much thought since I had tried everything to lose weight in vain,” explains Ted. I had tried running and even starving myself but none of it had worked, he adds. Ted flew to India without telling anyone of his intentions to undergo bariatric surgery other than his fiancée as he was still undecided. “I knew that if I told people of my intentions before surgery, most would have talked me out of it,” says Ted. “I am very stubborn and I knew that if I did not like what I saw in India, I was done,” he explains.
Ted says the reception he received at the hospital reassured him as they run so many tests before the procedure that he felt they must know what they were doing. “To me, it showed the thoughtfulness they had put into the procedure,” Ted says. “In addition, there were other people, some twice my weight who had come for the procedure and it felt safe. I chose laparoscopy,” he says. Despite the reassurance, Ted says he was scared of dying. “I remember the only question I asked the doctor before the procedure was if I was going to die,” he recalls.
Ted came to 45 minutes later with a tight feeling around his tummy and feeling thirsty. “When the anesthesia wore off, I just peeped to be sure I was still here on earth,” he narrates. “I recuperated in the hospital for about three days and on the fifth day I was in a flight headed back home,” he says. “I could no longer eat the large amounts of food I ate before the procedure as my stomach gets full quicker. I’m also cautious about what I eat and have adapted a healthy lifestyle, which includes playing basketball once a week.
“Owing to my love for fashion and good dressing, I guess my proudest moment was when I fitted into a Size 56 suit at my designer’s shop. That was undeniably a defining moment for me not to mention the feeling of being socially accepted. I feel brand new and my life has taken on a new trajectory. I lost 68kg! Lots of weight affects your self-esteem. I currently weigh between 100 – 103 kg, which is good considering I’m really tall. Socially, it feels nice to be noticed as the tall, dark, and handsome guy as opposed to the overweight guy,” he says.
After getting used to being looked down on by others, including I looking down on myself, it’s refreshing to be looked at differently; social acceptance is one thing that every human desire. It has also changed how I view and value myself and my confidence has grown to higher heights, which means I have to keep reminding myself on striking that healthy balance between humility and pride, he says.
Ted says he is glad about the role Viva Serenity played in his weight loss journey. “Viva Serenity is like your local mechanic,” he says. “If I feel any sort of discomfort, I just call them and someone answers me and helps me out. It is very consoling having them around and knowing that they are only a phone call away,” he says in conclusion.