For years, Norman Nel was a prisoner trapped in his own body, bedridden and unable to do much for himself.
He weighed nearly 300kg and was left bedbound for nearly five years after following an extreme detox diet that left him seriously ill.
But Norman recently stood on his own feet again, something he hasn't been able to do for ages, and he's been hard at work eating healthily and exercising too.
About 10 years ago Norman and his wife, Malanie (both 42), who live in Bellville, Cape Town, lost their jobs as admin clerks when the company they worked for suddenly shut down.
As the couple, who’ve been together for 17 years and married for six, struggled to find new jobs, they sought comfort in food.
People around Norman began pointing out how much weight he’d gained, and the more remarks people made about his appearance the more depressed he became and the more he ate.
So in March 2016 he found a detox diet online and lost a massive 67kg in just 73 days.
But three months later he was hospitalised with severe dehydration, magnesium and protein deficiencies and an electrolyte imbalance that left him immobile.
Spending three weeks in a hospital caused his muscles to weaken.
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“There were times I had no hope. There were times I was in this bed thinking about how I wasn’t going to make it,” he tells YOU.
When Norman was discharged he had to face the reality of being bedridden at home.
“It was difficult when I got home. I couldn’t even move from the bed. My daughter was in a state as we used to do everything together. At least when I was 297kg I could still get around,” he says.
He had to depend on his wife and daughter Micayla (15) to take care of him. Malanie had found work as a credit controller and when she went to work and Micayla went to school, he spent his days at home alone, unable to even roll onto his side.
Two years ago he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and he also has a hernia.
Norman knew he needed to do something, and after spotting the Banting Baker Gigi page on Facebook, he asked Malanie to contact the owner, Gizelle Loots.
Banting Baker Gigi offers keto-diet meal plans and weight-loss support and in September, Gizelle assembled a team of volunteers to offer counselling, exercise, meals and medical care for Norman.
Once the team provided the Nels with the information they needed to live a healthy lifestyle, the family embraced a low-carb diet.
This time, with proper supervision, Norman began eating three meals a day consisting of vegetables, meat, konjac pasta and rice.
“I realised this isn’t a diet, but a lifestyle," Norman says. “In the first week I wanted to lose 10kg, but now I realise it doesn’t work like that.”
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He started his low-carb eating plan at 234kg and now weighs 208kg. He recently stood up for the first time and can also sit up and do squats, which he hasn’t been able to do in years.
He now wears a hernia belt and could be weaned off his diabetes medication as his health improves.
He exercises regularly and has no desire to eat the wrong food, he says. He deals with headaches and nausea as his body adjusts to the changes, but it’s worth it, he says, as the kilos are dropping away.
Malanie, who’s been on her own weight-loss journey, went from 111kg to 91kg and hopes to lose at least another kilo before 2022.
Norman's goal weight is between 120kg and 160kg.
Another goal is to visit his dad, who lives in Worcester, and to spoil Malanie and Micayla, whose support has been unwavering.
“I just want to take my daughter and wife out. Right now, if they go out they need to be back before it gets dark, as I can’t do anything for myself. I’d love to just show my appreciation to them.”