Always hungry? This is how one SA woman lost 40kg when she beat the constant cravings...

By Jana Smit
11 March 2016

Tarien Fourie believes a hormone deficiency caused her hunger pangs and went from a size 44 to a size 36 when she found the right diet and exercise plan.

Today she's slim and sexy in her tight jeans and black top – even though she used to weigh 116 kg.

When Tarien Fourie (27) from Germiston looks through photographs of her "fat years", memories of the merciless teasing inflicted on her by other kids come flooding back.

“You must have some illness,” was one of the cruel phrases she heard regularly from her fellow learners when she was at school.

Tarien Fourie, after she lost 40kg. Photo: Dino Codevilla Tarien Fourie, after she lost 40kg. Photo: Dino Codevilla

Tarien knows she was fat. Even as a cute baby, she was more than just cuddly. Her mother, Annatjie Otto, says as an infant she was always hungry and could just carry on drinking milk without ever seeming full.

Right through her school years Tarien retained her insatiable appetite. She would have a solid breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast, later pop into the tuckshop, and eat six slices of bread in the afternoons. Pizza and buffets were her real weakness.

“I would just eat and eat and eat.” And for supper she’d often have a second helping.

She was nine when she first tried a diet, and in the next few years diet followed diet.  Annatjie spent thousands of rands on diets and Tarien tried everything from appetite suppressants to injections and supplements. But nothing had lasting results.

“I would lose weight only to put it on again. I once lost almost 30kg, then put on 40kg again.”

When she was about 12 and still packing on the weight, her mother took her to see their GP at the time. After blood tests showed nothing abnormal, the doctor mentioned Tarien could be suffering from a leptin deficiency. Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain you’ve had enough to eat.

Read more: Sneaky diet tips and tricks from the experts

Sending her for tests to confirm this would have been costly, and the family wasn’t on medical aid. But Tarien still believes she had this deficiency and that it contributed to her battle against the bulge.

The doctor suggested she eat smaller portions, but that proved difficult for a child who was always hungry. “You become obsessive about food. From the moment you wake in the mornings it’s all you think about.”

And her weight problem played havoc with her self-image.

Tarien’s weight continued to climb until, 17 months ago, she tipped the scales at 116kg. And that’s when she decided enough was enough.

Almost a year and a half later, there’s not a gram of excess fat on her midriff. And it all started when she changed her lifestyle in September 2014. “I was uncomfortable with myself and unhappy.”

The change started when she consulted an online nutrition coach, who created an eating and exercise plan for her. Tarien now eats five meals a day and weighs all her food. What she eats varies from day to day and her exercise plan, which includes five days a week in a gym, is worked out accordingly.

Feeling great in her new body. Photo: Dino Codevilla Feeling great in her new body. Photo: Dino Codevilla

Every day she exercises a different part of her body. She also drinks six litres of water a day.

On a day when I’m exercising the big muscle groups I’ll eat porridge and egg white. At 10:30 I’ll eat vegetables and protein such as chicken or tuna.”

For lunch she’ll have steak, mince, chicken or fish with vegetables. And with every meal she’ll eat a healthy fat such as avocado, olive oil or peanut butter.

At 4 pm she’ll eat white rice and pineapple to give her energy for the exercise sessions ahead. In the evening she’ll eat quinoa or brown rice.

Read more: 5 warning signs you’ve picked the wrong diet

Tarien lost the first eight kilograms within two months. To date she has lost a total of 40kg and now weighs 76kg. Her body fat has dropped from 42 per cent to 17 per cent. Her goal is 14 percent body fat. Previously her clothing size varied from 42 to 44, but these days she wears a 36.

“It’s now such a pleasure to buy clothes. I can now dress much more sexily.”

In April she wants to take part in a fitness competition for the first time and is working hard towards that goal.

She’s hoping the fact she only managed to lose weight through the correct diet and exercise will motivate others. “I want to show people you can lose weight by eating the right food and doing exercise.

"I have taken no supplements. It’s important to eat the right food at precisely the right time. I’m now a lot happier than I was. Everybody’s willpower is stronger than the food they feel they have to eat. And the more weight I lose, the more motivated I feel.”

Read more: Lose weight AND increase your metabolism with this 3-week eating plan

What is leptin deficiency?

Johannesburg dietician Tanya Alberts says leptin is an important energy regulator which is secreted by the fat cells and reacts with hypothalamic leptin receptors to control appetite and boost energy.

“Leptin levels are reduced by fasting and increased by inflammation. If you go on a very low-calorie diet, your leptin levels can drop and lead to a reduction in your body’s fat-burning mechanisms. One of the functions of leptin is to protect your body against starvation. During a reduction in food intake (such as during dieting) your body perceives stored body fat as a major asset for survival."

Tanya says a leptin deficiency occurs when you have a lower than normal leptin production level in your body. A leptin deficiency and leptin-resistance leads to symptoms such as increased appetite and reduced energy usage. These symptoms can result in obesity and insulin-resistant diabetes. It can also cause a reduction in the body’s muscle mass and have an effect on its immune function.

“Tests to determine a leptin deficiency are extremely expensive because a frozen sample has to be sent to France. It can cost anywhere between R33 000 and R40 000,” Tanya says.

She adds treating a leptin deficiency with hypodermic leptin injections can have a positive result on the body. For most this sort of treatment is neither viable nor affordable. The solution for recovery from leptin deficiency or resistance in obesity is therefore not necessarily leptin infusion.

The more affordable, achievable route is to repair the original abnormality that caused the insensitivity. This includes: weight loss, a calculated calorie-limited diet which will provide the necessary nutrition and which includes small meals to reduce insulin-resistance. You can also repair the metabolic receptor sensitivity and cut out sugar.

Full grains, beans, legumes, fruit, vegetables, low-fat protein and dairy products must be included in your diet and it’s important to do physical exercise. Recovery from a leptin deficiency can lead to a reduction in appetite which leads to reduced energy intake. This leads to a reduction in body fat mass, excessive amounts of insulin in the body and hyperlipidaemia (an unusually high concentration of fats or lipids in the blood).

By addressing the shortage, the plasma hormone, which plays a role in metabolism and energy usage, is improved.

Read more: ‘I lost 84kg in 7 months’ – meal plan, recipes and exercise programme

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