Atamba Lakeli on Living a Healthy Lifestyle

#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks to Atamba Lakeli (AL) on Living a Healthy Lifestyle.

RK: Welcome to #360Mentor Atamba

AL: Thanks for the invite.

RK: Great! Atamba, were you born doing pushups?

Al: I was quite athletic during my primary, secondary and university days.

RK: Why?

Ll: I liked it. I liked proving my strength, showing off too in the tag of wars, soccer match with the teachers, running, it was more like a competition for me.

RK: Let me ask you a naughty question; how do you roll with the main man?

AL: I always get asked that. I was asked that on TV too and I was very shocked. But I guess that is about sexual orientation and not your physical abilities or strengths. It’s really about orientation. Anyone can be aggressive or anything like that.

RK: Let’s get to know you better; who is Lakeli?

AL: Atamba Lakeri is a registered nurse. I mainly major in the fitness and nutrition side of things. I am a lifestyle coach. I went from a clinical practice to this so I could help people one on one. We could have like 100 patients a day and you would go through everything so fast. You would just tell someone to go off sugar because they are diabetic, or tell them to do physical exercise. There was never a chance to go to the details. And most times people would not get what you meant by just getting off sugar. Someone would just cut out sugar but they continue eating posho and other processed foods. I wanted to give people comprehensive information in a slower manner and also have the time to observe them applying the different advice. And make a true difference. So I went out of clinical practice to do the one on one.

It started as a postpartum recovery venture.

RK: Can you first speak English, what is postpartum?

AL: Postpartum is the months after you’ve given birth. In clinical practice, when a mum comes in, instead of asking for the growth chart of the baby, the weight and all those other things, it is always about the baby.  When the mum complains about their own pains, we would just tell them they would be fine. But when I gave birth myself, I couldn’t imagine how much we were ignoring the mums. So, the amount of trauma the body goes through is so much and you have to recover from that through physical activity, knowing what to eat and things like that. It began as a postpartum venture to help mums then it blew up to other things like hypertension, diabetes and other diseases. I could get to people before their emergency level and help them through their life to be better.

RK: Let me ask, are you Ugandan?

AL: Yes, I am. A munyankore from Bushenyi.

RK: You talked about your time in school as being athletic. Where did you go to school?

AL: I was homeschooled till about P4. My parents are both teachers. I had an accident at home so they home schooled me for that time. After that I went to Kampala Parents for the rest of my primary school days. Then I went to Namagunga for six years and then Mbarara University for my undergraduate.

RK: How did this athletics help you?

AL: For most of my life, when you are in your 20s, you take for granted your strength and agility because you are young. I took it for granted that I could do pull ups or that I could run around and do push ups. But the months of pregnancy cleaned me out of all my energy. I kept working till my contractions but still I lost a lot of my strength. When I went back to my exercise after giving birth, it was so hard. I could do a push up properly. I wasn’t myself. I went through something that causes the separation of your muscles after giving birth for some women. It comes with a weak back and your entire body is aching and you cannot stand straight. I realised there is no medicine for treatment except practising and doing physical exercise. And when you tell people this, they assume you just want them to long for your program until they go through something like that they understand how important physical exercise is before and after pregnancy or in your 20s, 30s for men. That is how it started for me.

RK: I want you to explain to me, you talk about a healthy lifestyle; physical exercise, nutrition and mental health. How can I ensure that I am gauging all the three at an optimal level?

AL: The habits that help you with physical health like preventing cardiovascular disease, improving your weak bones and then the habits that help you to maintain a good healthy weight, good cholesterol levels and then there are habits that help you to maintain a good proper mental health. All of them, when done together, create a  positive feedback loop. They feed into each other. Waking up and planning out your day, eating healthy natural foods, drinking lots of water. Making sure you have enough sleep. Sleep is so much ignored by the youth. I don’t know why. It’s like we are trying to stay awake all the time.

RK: They are on a blast. Don’t worry, they will catch up later.

AL: Reading and trying out new things and exercising at least 15 minutes a day, taking walks… all those create a positive feedback loop.

RK: 15 minutes is little.

AL: No Robert, you have to understand that these are people who have never exercised. Some people have never trained and don’t even like the aspect of it but then grow accordingly. From 15 to 20 to 30 like that. So all those habits come together and synergise to improve your mental health, physical health and nutrition too. They all go hand in hand.

RK: Talk to people who need to be challenged to start.

AL: Trying to get people to eat better or live better goes back to information. The knowledge about nutrition and fitness is usually abstract for most people. People in the medical field usually gatekeep it. We rarely sensitise people about it. There is always a lack of information on what a healthy lifestyle is like. You always find snippets of information online. And you never really know where to start or why you should even start. So it goes back to getting information about that. And for me where you start from, the baseline is knowing your parameters well. So if you don’t know your baseline or what your body is composed of, you should find out your weight, height, body circumferences. If you have never done tests to find out your cholesterol levels, glucose sugar levels, these are simple tests you can always get done.

RK: But someone will ask you, why must I go through this?

AL: The analogy I will use is of a car. What happens to your car when you don’t start it for like three months?

RK: It stops. Sometimes it doesn’t even start.

AL: Your joints and muscles are all meant to move. Most times we ignore that and we think the little standing up and sitting down is enough. But you need to move your body to be well functioning. The way people take care of their cars and gadgets is the same way you move and take care of your body. And there is a saying that we are not here for a long time. But why not? why not be here for a good long time. Why reach your 50s when you can barely get up. Or why get to 35 and get a stroke and you have to go through physiotherapy to revive your muscles. This isn’t the aesthetic but it is about saving your body for the long term.

RK: I will tell you. In 2019, I sort of dropped the ball. I really put on so much weight. At one  point, for me to be able to put on my shoes, I could only bend sideways. It was so embarrassing. And my daughter would be laughing at my potbelly and I knew something had to be done. I know what you mean.

AL: The true functionality of your body is moving daily. You find patients who cannot kneel, pick up something or squat on a toilet. The thing about your body is that it is very gradual. It will compensate for your eating badly, for your being inactive slowly then you get to a point and you cannot move. And it should not come from a point of  “I hate my body”, it should come from “I understand my body has my back”. If it helps you go through life every day, why can’t you service it? That’s how you should look at it, not when you have got  a potbelly or when something is trending. It is more about functionality. There are people who have resigned themselves to body aches. They are like when you get to your 30s, you get aches. They resign themselves to such a life of bloating gas, feeling uncomfortable but when you tell them to drink some water for the bloating to go away, they still want to stick to their lifestyle.

RK: Help me with this, what is a starter pack for the workouts especially for someone who has not been working out

AL: To understand where to start from, it goes back to understanding your body. Your physiology and what it is made up of. The body is made up of muscle,  fat and fluid. To be essentially more healthy, you have to have more muscle mass than fat percentage. Most people look at the their weight on the scale and worry but whatever kilograms you are, how much of it is muscle and how much of it is fat? So once your muscle percentage is more than your fat percentage, then you are less predisposed to cadi vascular diseases. That should inform your decisions when you are going to eat better or do more training. On your plate, what food is going towards building muscle mass and what food is going towards fat storage. You always know if our plate lacks food that builds muscle it is the wrong plate.  You should have that background when you are eating. How can I build my muscle as I build my fat at a minimum. And that informs your training.

When you are training, you look out for exercises that will increase your strength as they shed your fat. When you have that, everything else falls into place. let’s say you are 60kg but after like an hour of signing up for mass, you are feeling tired. You can’t stand for a long time, when your body is very loose. When you sleep, you get tired very fast, you  struggle with breathing. Most times, whatever size you are, even if you feel like you are in a good BMI, most times you have mostly fat other than fat. So you are not strong. It shows that your body lacks a good metabolism.

Robert, what comes to mind when I mention metabolism?

RK: Functioning of the organs. The ability to break down food?

AL: All the processes your body goes through to change whatever you’ve eaten into an energy source is your metabolism. How fast your body is able to do that is your metabolic rate. So you find that many of us, due to our lifestyles, our bodies ability to break down the energy source is very minimal because we have little muscle.

Think about it this way, the part that utilises the food you have eaten in your muscle mass. Even though you eat one meal a day or eat very little food, you are still going to get fat.

RK: First wait, let me divert you a bit, is there like a misunderstanding of these things?

AL: I will tell you Robert, we don’t have many nutritionists and trained lifestyle coaches, so we are not so saturated. But in the US and Europe, the market is so saturated that they will push food to you that they are selling. But the best details are always the same. When you go to the internet, you will see soy milk, almonds and you will think it’s what you will need to get healthy. The basics are all about physiology and how the body works. Once you understand that, you can make your own diet. I just want to empower people to make their own diet. Leave internet diets, they will confuse you. Eat your food at home but understand how to break it down. Once you understand how your body works, you can always go to any buffet and pick whatever you want to eat.

There are body composition scales that you can always step on to know your waist circumference  and put it against your weight and height. For most men, if your circumference around the belly button is beyond 40 inches, there’s a problem. Then for women, 35 and above is quite alarming. You can tell by looking at your abdomen that you are getting there. You can be a higher weight than you are now but then your waist circumference is minimal and you know your muscle percentage has increased and fat percentage decreased.

Imagine you measure your kilograms and find out you are 80, then you want to go down to 60 but your waist circumference is not shifting that much, most probably you are just losing muscle rather than fat which you don’t want. If you are to take away anything from this conversation, it is muscle mass. It is precious and it is important that you keep it where you are shading or gaining.

RK: I am going to start being a kanyama.

AL: No. No. Robert. Muscle is not about being bulky. It is about building strength and being toned. You don’t have to bulk up.

At around 40 or 35, for most men, your testerone levels start dropping little by little. It comes with the loss of muscle mass. As your testosterone reduces year by year, you have to prepare for that eventuality by preparing early enough. It is harder to keep up your testosterone levels when you are older. Please start strength training when you are younger.

For women, we have to go through menopause, that is a must. The hormone that makes us us, the oestrogen hormone and most times that comes with bone density and most times your bones become fragile. They become weak. We always get those complaints when we are at the hospital. Start preparing for that when you are younger. It is not about how you look, it is an investment about your body in the future. Age hits really hard.

RK: The starter pack?

AL: Let me first explain about cardio vascular exercises. All those things that improve your heart health, lung capacity like cycling, jogging, swimming, running all help your heart to pump blood around better. They help your immune system improve your lymphatic system.

RK: And let say this to all of you, sex is nnot  acrdio vascular exercice. Continue Atamba.

AL: Cardio does not build muscle. You realise that even when you have been jogging and all this, you still don’t have muscle tone. You need to incorporate resistance exercises. You don’t have to go to the gym. Anything that extends and folds a muscle is a good exercise. Things like squats, lunging, press-ups, anything that works your muscles is good.

Then we have mobility exercises for keeping your joints flexible. Your starter pack should have a cardio workout, a strength training regimen and some mobility training. Because most of us are very stiff.

Again, depending on your goals, let’s say you want to shed fat. The first two months, I will do like three days cardio, two days strength training. The next three months, I will do three days of strength training, two days of cardio to keep building my muscle after I have shed some fat.

For people who are trying to maintain and not lose so much, involve cardio just enough to get your heartrate up but not too much to make you lose. Then you go to your strength workout.

Then for those people who want  to  gain weight, they should keep the cardio to a minimum just enough to warm up and then double up on lifting off the weights. And then of course, training goes hand in hand with eating. When you train you have to give the body raw material.

RK: People who play golf, is that also exercise?

AL: Golf is a mobility exercise. A  golf player you must have flexible wrists, ankles and knees. It is quite gentle but involves a lot of walking.

RK: For the nutrition starter pack, what would you say? Some people just want the meat.

AL: First, I will put a disclaimer that everyone’s body is different. Let’s talk about body types and then food. There are people who metabolise food really slowly, those are the ones  that gain fat more easily and struggle with bringing it off. Those are called endomorphs then we have those that  are very lean and it is hard for them to gain muscle. Those are called ectomorphs. Then we have those who are in between the two. Once you understand where lies through your body and history and size, once you know this history, then we start looking at food.

Look at natural health foods. Carbohydrates, protein, fat and fibre. Then we have the vitamins and minerals. Let’s say you are the person who gains weight very easily, you will need less of the carbohydrates and more of the protein fibre and medium fat. If you are an ectomorph your carbohydrates will be 50%. Then proteins and vitamins and the rest. It is about how you easily gain or how hard you lose fat or your level of activity during the day.

People always ask about carbs. They have been demonised. It is more about how you utilise them. On the spectrum, we have the natural whole carbohydrates and the processed ones. The natural carbs include; fruits, vegetables and starches. The starches can include grains like maize, brown rice, brown wheat, sorghum, millet, then we have root tubers like cassava sweet potatoes, irish. I want you to take a moment and jot down under each food group, your favourite. The ones you won’t get tired of eating every day.

Within that list, look at what  is available to you without you trying so much without you trying so much to find them. What can you afford in your budget so that you don’t complain that eating healthy is so expensive.

After underlying those, formulate a food plan where the bulk of those comes from fibre, vegetables, fruits.

RK: For me, I like bbuga.

AL: That’s a good start. But for colour and range, you will add some tomatoes and colours. Then go to your favourite fruit. Then favourite starch. Depending on where you are in life, you can have two carbohydrates per day.

Most of us are very inactive but you should have at least one starch a day, not matooke, cassava and irish on one plate. It’s enough.

After that, at every meal, breakfast, dinner or lunch, there should be  a measure of protein on your plate there. always have some protein on your meal, however small.

When you have set up, by the end of this conversation, you should have a meal plan of sorts. Don’t go to the internet to look for a meal plan.

RK: We need to put to rest two things; chapati and mandazi. People become neurotic the moment chapati is mentioned.

AL: I talked about the natural foods and then we have processed ones. Processed foods are those that cannot be altered in any way. When you squeeze juice out of a fruit, you are altering it. you get the sugar and take away the fibre.

To understand the carbohydrates, you have to look at it in terms of quantity and quality. For quality, a good carbohydrate is one which  has more fibre than sugar. Whatever carbohydrates we eat, the body will always break out into sugar. Then the body absorbs it, taking it  as an energy source. When you eat a mango or cucumber, the part of that fruit that is sugar is just enough for your body to use up all of it without an excess. The end storage of sugar is always fat. The fruits and vegetables just give you enough and there is no excess.

What happens with refined flour, sugar and candy or things like chapati fall, that flour lacks fibre. They take away the fibre and give you instant sugar. Because these foods don’t have fibre, the moment you have just a bit of them, the body is going to use like 20% of it and the rest is going to be stored as fat.

It’s not that these foods are bad, it’s just that we cannot utilise them fully. It is like charging your phone for the whole day and never using it.

The fat that should bother you is the fat that sits around your muscles and causes you hypertension.  

RK: I didn’t know about that until that time I was struggling. I went to see Kasenene and he told me about the raw fat. He told me, we worry about the fat that we see but the one that is covering the organs, kills you like creeping plants kill the mother plant.

AL: Chapati is made of refined flour, how about getting a balance. For example, instead of having one every day, cut back to one a week. Or before you indulge into this one whole chapati, how about, you add on some substantial fibre to fill you up first. For me it is always about balance. Restricting people leads to binge eating later. And a very bad relationship with food.

RK: Tell me about this thing of time and eating.

AL: I will look at it in two ways. Firstly, what are you eating? If you are eating unhealthy but you don’t eat beyond 9pm, still it is not going to help. It is about what you are eating in the first place.

Secondly, eat at least three hours before bed time. Give your body a chance to use the food you have given it. Don’t just eat and sleep.

The other thing is that your body slows down at night when you are sleeping so it’s better you eat some hours before bedtime.

Comrade Otoa: Could you please talk about the importance of a trainer and accountability partners.

AL: This is quite important. The trainer helps you to cut out on the right information you need. Having a trainer or someone to guide is important in helping you start properly.

The thing about having a coach is that they have to make you self-reliant. You cannot have a coach for years. You have to learn the names of the exercises and eat better. After a year, you should be self-reliant after a while. It is also important for you to know enough what is important for you and what is not. don’t  just follow.

We now have a number of coaches who know what they are doing. Right now, trainers are well equipped. If you are going to start strength training, please, get someone to teach you the basics. Because if you don’t do it right, you might get things wrong or even get injured.

Accountability partners help you to stay longer but the motivation comes from within you. Find your own motivation and start but find partners to push along. And I have realised that after like five years, what helps is when you try to help others.

Dark and Lovely: I easily burn out after like three months and it takes me like the same time to pick up, is there a way to help out. Secondly, why is it important to go into workouts after warming up.

AL: We all get demotivated and it is for different reasons. For me, it’s for my mental health. I have days when I have panic attacks. However, one thing I have realised is the specificity in your goals, most of us, our goals are so wide and so ambiguous. Specifying your goals goes a long way in pushing you forward. For example you can decide to work on squats and you want like 60 squats at the end of the month, that will help you. Get very specific goals. Also do things you enjoy; dancing, football with friends… Most times we lose motivation because we do not specify our goals.

And warming up, I have warm-up videos which I will share.

RK: If people want to work with you, where do they find you?

AL: The entire Lifestyle ALT is supposed to be a virtual setup, we are working towards an application. But for now it is all virtual but for special sessions, we can arrange for a physical address. We have a whatsapp number, twitter dms, instagram dms. It’s hard pushing online stuff but it’s catching on.

Rk: Thank you Atamba. We shall continue with Mental health next week.

AL: Thank you for having me.

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