When he weighed in at 153kg, Brian Berkman’s health started deteriorating.
He knew he had to do something, and fast. A year and a half later he is 71kg
lighter and has a healthy new lifestyle to go along with his new physique.
However Brian, a former high-profile restaurant critic, did
not just lose weight, he turned his health around and is now fitter and healthier
than ever before.
“I am fundamentally changed – I look so different now that I
have to introduce myself to people who haven’t seen me in a few months. Aside
from being physically stronger and fitter, I think I’m also smarter and better
able to handle work stress than I could before. I feel that no longer lugging
around 70kg that I don’t need has freed me.
I also don’t have the cravings I once used to so I totally subscribe to
the view that sugar and carbohydrates are drugs to the body. I was an addict. “
How he did it
“My high blood pressure and diabetes were not well
controlled and I was already on the maximum oral medication for both when I was
at my heaviest. I had also developed neuropathy, a complication of diabetes and
had chronic lower back pain which meant that I’d be popping Panamor SR
anti-inflammatory tablets sometimes twice a day,” he says.
Brian had tried several methods of weight loss before, from
Weigh-less and Weightwatchers to psychotherapy. He had worked with dieticians
and personal trainers and had even undergone hypnotherapy. But nothing had
really worked for him.
He was on the verge of taking the big step of having
bariatric surgery done when he decided to try one more time at healthy eating. He
decided to try the “Paleo diet”, which has recently been popularised in South
Africa by Professor Tim Noakes.
“Basically I restricted myself in terms of fat, carbs,
sugars and alcohol. The biggest difference and what I believe is the single
biggest contributor to my weight-loss and managing to sustain it is very few
He also started exercising and says that exercise played “a
significant role in gradually allowing me to get fitter without injury” and he
worked with a biokineticist to work out a programme that was targeted
specifically for him and his situation.
While Brian says he is no longer dieting but now rather
focusing on eating healthy and exercising, he has also signed up to do the
online SleekGeek eight-week Comeback Kid Challenge to increase his upper-body strength.
“I’d heard about SleekGeek from the social-media grapevine
and I imagined it was more for people
who had clear body goals they wanted to achieve rather than simply those of us
trying to shed weight. I wished I’d found them sooner as I think what is offered
is so necessary.”
A new Brian
“I’ve met someone I didn’t know ever existed. As someone who
was obese throughout my school life (in high school I was so large that I had
to have school uniforms tailored to fit) I avoided sports and PT class with
“So today, to enjoy getting out on my mountain bike or
walking, quickly, up the mountain in Pringle Bay behind our house, is something
I never, ever imagined I could or would do. I’m also surprised to experience
myself as someone who is fit – in a year and a half I have improved my health
and fitness to the point that I no longer take any prescription medicines and
can’t think when last I had backache. “
And the cherry on top he says, is that recent blood tests have
confirmed his blood-sugar control is normal, and his cholesterol places him in
the low-risk category and he has a resting heart rate of about 45 beats per
minute as opposed to 80 a year ago.
“That fact alone to me means that my heart is working half
as hard as it did a year ago. Whether that translates into living twice as long
remains to be seen, but I have discovered many surprising things about myself
because of this.”
Advice for others
Having been on such an incredible journey himself, Brian
hopes his story will encourage others who are in similar situations to do the
same. He offers the following advice:
- It is hard but not as
hard as you imagine it will be.
- Be clear on why you want to lose weight – I found sessions
with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist very useful in helping me be clear on
not only what I was giving up but also what I was gaining.
- Be prepared for change. If you’re anything like I am (and
why wouldn’t you be) you’ve lost and gained weight many times before. Be
prepared to change – your habits, your lifestyle, your wardrobe, even your
relationships if the new you threatens them.
- Make being healthy your primary objective. We cannot be of
service to others if we are not well enough, ourselves.
- Give yourself a year,
two or three in which to shed your weight. Make your goals easier to achieve.
Decide on a path and as long as the trend is towards weight loss keep at it. It
is a mistake to chop and change plans too soon. Low carbs worked for me.
- Having healthy snacking options is important. As the PR guy
for Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, the largest supplier of South African apples and
pears, I always have a stash of fruit in the house. I think that Granny Smith
apples are a super-food because of their high antioxidant and pectin/fibre
content. I keep them in the fridge which increases their crunch and juiciness.
When I want something sweet, I eat a Fuji apple or a Cripp’s Pink – very few kilojoules
and lots of health benefits. I used to love eating Game Biltong but with all
the bad press around food labelling I’m a little more cautious.
Brian Berkman is now working on a book about his experience called From Decadence to Discipline – How I shed 70kg and took back my Life. You can follow his blog at t www.BrianBerkman.com He encourages people to write to him at weightloss@BrianBerkman.com. He is also looking for partners to support a few healthy-lifestyle ideas he’s working on. Follow @BrianBerkmanZA on Twitter.