“For someone who was 130kg, I have a lot [of stretch marks]. As I got older and wiser and allowed God to do work in my heart, I began to view them more like battle scars.” This is the energy Bunmi George, founder of ShredderGang, is on. Having shed 55 kg, and founded one of Nigeria’s largest weight loss communities, Bunmi is determined to empower and inspire other Nigerians to pursue and maintain a healthier lifestyle. She speaks about being bullied as a teen, why breakfast is the most important meal and how you can be part of the Shredder Gang. – Sonia Irabor
You mentioned in an interview that your weight affected your self esteem, in what way did that manifest itself?
I gained weight very quickly in adolescence, and so it affected how people would relate with me, and at that age, you don’t really know you are. You typically get your sense of self and identity externally. I never wanted to take pictures because I didn’t want to see what or how I looked. I also wasn’t one to speak up so as not to draw too much attention to myself.
Were you ever shamed/discriminated against because of your weight or was it always an internal struggle for you?
Oh yes I was, almost every single day of life. Family friends would come over to our house and comment on my weight, sort of warning my parents that they needed to take control of my weight. They would make comments like “The baby that is bigger than the mother”, “Oh my god, what are you eating?”, “Your weight is getting out of hand!’’ Classmates at school would tease me, even people who didn’t know me had an opinion; I could be walking on the street and hear someone scream “orobo!” So it wasn’t only internal. It was actually the words of those around me that scarred me and that resulted in low self esteem and self hate.
You lost 55 kg in 14 months, what kept you going on that course and was 55kg the initial goal?
A few months after I turned 18. I found out I was pre-diabetic, and since diabetes was quite common in my extended family, I was determined that that wouldn’t be my story. All I could think about at that point was being fit and healthy. And if I’m being completely honest, fashion was also a big plus too. I wanted to rock the latest trends and not be concerned about my belly, or my back rolls. 55 kg wasn’t the goal, the goal was just to look and feel good. Once I got to 55 kg loss, I felt like I had done a phenomenal job.
You have said that ShredderGang wasn’t something you set out to do but you did study clinical psychology and dietetics at University. What was your original plan?
ShredderGang was never the plan. The original plan was to be a certified clinical psychologist. Along the journey I decided to add dietetics. I wanted to understand human nutrition and diet regulations. Food fascinated me and so I wanted to be an expert in order to help myself lead a healthier lifestyle. So I ended up pursuing Dietetics.
Though there is a growing interest in health and fitness, Nigeria is still dealing with an obesity problem. How can the good word about health and fitness spread in areas outside of major cities?
With our modern lifestyles, we are definitely not as active, we are eating more calories than we burn. People need to know that being overweight or obese can cause a whole cascade of health problems, like diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer. We need to promote healthy eating habits and encourage exercise, and this doesn’t just mean going to a gym; find whatever sport or activity gets your heart rate going and stick to it. We also need public policies that promote access to healthy, high fibre foods. Also, health care professionals need additional training so that they can effectively support people who need to lose weight and help others avoid gaining weight.
Where diets are concerned, how difficult has it been for Shredder Gang convince people to cut out certain Nigerian staples from their diet?
Oh it was pretty difficult in the beginning. Most people were not having it, but rather than telling them, don’t do this or don’t eat that, we decided to educate them on the benefits of eating and living healthier. We found it easier when they understood the reason why such and such might not be the best option for them. ShredderGang is also big on providing alternate options, so instead of cutting a type of food out of their diet, we teach them how to prepare it in a healthy way. That way they don’t feel deprived.
How do you stay body positive even in moments when you aren’t quite loving what you see in the mirror?
I used to be pretty insecure about my stretch marks. For someone who was 130kg I have a lot, but as I got older and wiser and allowed God to do work in my heart. I began to view them more like battle scars. I won the battle against obesity and these are the scars to show my victory. I decided that I wasn’t going to let stretch marks define who I was or my confidence. People still often ask me about them and I use that as an opportunity to tell my story, and probably offer some sort of advice on body positivity and living a healthy lifestyle.
Did you feel any kind of pressure after the birth of your kids to “snap back” into shape?
If I’m being completely honest, yes. I did feel a bit of pressure. A lot of people were watching, thinking, let us see her bounce back. Others looked to me for support, motivation and inspiration, kind of like “Bunmi If you can do this, then I can too.” But I didn’t let the pressure drive me to do anything too drastic. My priority was first to my baby. And so I gave myself a good 9 months to bounce back each time.
How important is fitness for one’s mental health?
It is very important, just 1 hour of exercise a week is related to lower levels of mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders. There are studies that show that people who engage in regular physical activity are less likely to have depression, panic attacks, and phobias.
How do you think young women can be inspired, reminded and encouraged to love themselves and their bodies despite the loud voices (theirs and society’s) telling them otherwise?
Whether you’re a size 6 or 20, loving your body lies in changing your mindset. The way you perceive your body and how you believe others perceive it. Body image lies at the core of self esteem and self confidence. Once you change your mindset, you can accept your body the way it is and then start to appreciate it. When the negative feelings arise you can say to yourself, “I am valuable no matter my size.