How I lost 71 kg

Then and now.... Brian Berkman shows his dramatic 71kg weight loss.
Then and now.... Brian Berkman shows his dramatic 71kg weight loss.
Hetty Zantman

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 carbs.”

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.

Keeping focused

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 serious commitment.

“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.
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
27% - 9957 votes
73% - 26323 votes