It’s been almost a year since ANC Youth League president Collen Maine had his weightloss surgery. We look back on his journey to getting control of his body and his life.
For the longest time he was mocked and called “Oros” because of the extra rolls around his waist. That’s why many were shocked when an image of a sleek, leaner-looking Collen Maine emerged on Twitter where it trended for hours.
Gone was the so-called Oros man – his big boep and neck fat melted away seemingly overnight. “Has comrade Collen Oros Maine started banting?” one social-media user asked. Yes, he’s on a healthier diet, he confirms, but the former ANC Youth League president also went under the knife for a weight-loss procedure.
“As a leader you get called names, but I didn’t do this procedure because of that. I did it because of health reasons,” Collen tells us when we catch up with him at The Maslow Time Square hotel in Pretoria.
The procedure he underwent – laparoscopic biliopancreatic diversion – involves removing about 80% of the stomach, leaving a smaller tube-shaped stomach. It limits how much you eat and reduces the absorption of nutrients, including proteins and fats. Before his surgery in March last year, Collen says he battled with hypertension and high cholesterol levels. The straw that broke the camel’s back was his struggle to breathe at night, a condition caused by sleep apnoea (see box).
“Doctors told me I would stop breathing about 50 times in the night. That really scared me.” To address the problem, Collen had his tonsils removed before the weightloss surgery. “I had the bypass surgery a month after the tonsils, and I can tell you I could do the bypass surgery again – not the tonsils. That was painful.”
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His weight had never bothered him until it started affecting his health, he says. “Having a big body makes you a candidate for illnesses. I had tried eating healthy and going to the gym, but nothing was working.”
Collen was constantly sweating “and I always wanted to be in air-conditioned rooms”. Things got so bad that in 2016 he gave up flying because he’d become claustrophobic and didn’t want to be in enclosed spaces. “This meant I had to drive to various political meetings around the country, and it was not easy. Sometimes we would have to be in two or three different provinces in one weekend and I would have to drive there.” These days the high-flying politician is back to travelling in style for business trips.
After tipping the scales at 136kg he’s currently less than two kilos shy of his goal weight of 80kg. Collen has cut down his intake of sugar and fatty food because it can cause complications, and no longer orders lamb as he finds it too fatty.
Now he enjoys steak, fish and chicken. “I get to cheat once in a while,” he admits, adding his favourite cheat meal is hot chips with achar. Yet Collen, who hits the gym twice a day, three times a week, says he’ll never go back to his old habits.
“I start each session with 20 minutes on the treadmill, then weights and a circuit workout. I feel healthier, lighter and can do whatever I want to now. I’m not getting tired like I used to and I’m falling asleep easily.”
Over the years, he developed bad eating habits because of his busy schedule. A typical meal used to include fatty meat, pap, achar and lots of starch. He’d also enjoy generous servings of ice cream, chocolate, hot chips, burgers and other junk food.
“I would try salads, but in my heart I wanted pap.” After numerous attempts to get his health on track, he acted on the advice of a friend. “A comrade suggested I go to Netcare Waterfall City, where I met Professor Tess van der Merwe who told me I was on the brink of dying.” Van der Merwe is an endocrinologist and chair of the South African Society for Surgery, Obesity and Metabolism, and Collen can’t stop singing her praises. After examining him, she gave him a long list of ailments.
“My lungs and my heart were getting bigger because there was too much fat around them. I was forced to act.” He saw a dietician as he had to lose at least 6kg before surgery could be considered. “At my heaviest things weren’t looking good. I was taking about 25 pills three times a day because I was going to die if I didn’t change things.” He followed a strict high-protein diet, reduced his fat intake and cut out sugar.
“At one point I lived on plain yoghurt,” he says. “I stopped drinking alcohol even way before the operation, so I’ve cut that completely,” he reveals. “After the operation, all those problems are gone. The operation has really helped and that’s why I’d encourage people to try it.” T HE politician says he is very aware that this kind of surgery is something far beyond the reach of most South Africans. “Some medical aids pay a portion of the costs and I was fortunate enough that mine paid 80% of my medical bills.
“This is why the NHI [National Health Insurance] bill needs to be signed into law so all South Africans can benefit from the same kind of medical benefits. I would recommend this to anyone who can afford it,” he says. Collen proudly says he’s dropped five sizes – from a size 42 waist to a size 32. Sharply dressed in chinos, a golf shirt and jacket, the ANC member is thrilled to be shopping for a new wardrobe. “I enjoy wearing slim-fitting clothes and skinny jeans.” The 39-year-old has a new zest for life but there’s another reason for the pep in his step.
“I have somebody in my life. It feels very good,” says Collen, who was previously married. “We are actually engaged, the wedding will be sometime this year. My kids have met her, and they are also happy.” He’s certainly living his best life. Collen buttons his slim-fit jacket as he gets up to take pictures with our photographer. “I can button my jackets and see my belt and everything,” he jokes. “Now they call me Sweeto. So you see, people will always have something to say,” he says with a chuckle.