Fitness coach Karl Henry in Cavan putting Susuana through her paces.

Healthy body image

Operation Transformation returned to our screens in recent weeks with Cavan Town’s SUSUANA KOMOLAFE a natural star of the series. Here she tells DAMIAN MCCARNEY about English bums, where she gets her commendable body confidence from and why she’s determined to hit target for the first time...

Susuana Komolafe is a breath of fresh air on this year’s Operation Transformation. Not only is she the first African-Irish participant, and a representative of Cavan’s increasing diversity, but she has a commendable attitude to her body.

Anyone who has ever watched the popular RTÉ dieting series will know that the panel of experts focus in with excruciating detail on every aspect of the participant, while they’re standing in grimly unflattering lycra underwear. Even a super model would be forgiven for feeling a little self conscious in such circumstances. Susuana stands proudly before the panel and the scales.

In episode one, the scales read 18 stone 11lbs. When fitness coach Karl Henry noted that Susuana’s body fat accounted for over half of her body, while she was surprised, she didn’t breakdown. Henry followed up that bombshell by revealing she has the metabolic age of a 62 year old.

Susuana immediately hit back with: “Wow, and I look 16!”

Talking to theCeltlast Thursday - after a difficult week in which she not only missed the target again, but put on half a pound - the Cavan Town mother of three credits her positive body image comes from her mother, Grace Olawunmi Olatunji.

“When I was growing up as a child my mum, she would tell you a story that makes you think that everything about her body is just perfect. She has a flat bum. I used to go to school and boast about it,” Susuana says with a laugh that’s seldom far from her lips.

“My mum used to say, ‘Oh I have an English bum’. So when I was at school, I was always like, ‘Oh my mum has an English bum’. If someone was trying to be negative about her bum, she would just tell you, ‘Look, my bum is the best, this is an English bum, it’s different from yours’. That is the type of person she is.”

Susuana adds, that her mother’s eyebrows meet in the middle, but if a comment is made about it, her mother would respond: “‘It is only our family that has that uniqueness’. She can’t let you make her feel less of a person. I used to admire her when I was young as a child, just look at her.”

It fed into her pride for her family.

“I think that is what helped me as a person. It gave me that confidence about myself. I love the way I look, there’s nothing to complain about, but I am happy to get rid of the weight because my health is important and I realised it was affecting it.”

She observes that in Nigerian women the fuller figure is celebrated. The Celt wonders, if by losing weight, she could lose body confidence?

“I’m not going to lose that kind of weight – I’m going to lose weight but it’s not going to stop me from keeping some of the curves I want to retain.

“It’s just the tummy and the fitness. To be able to walk down to Lidl, to do my bit of shopping, walk without feeling, what have I done?”

Susuana knows that key to improving her health is to undertake regular exercising, specifically walking. She wants to have a sustained change of attitude to it, and actually enjoy it. To help her achieve her goals, fitness coach Karl Henry paid her a visit to her Cavan Town home on the Ballinagh Road.

“It wasn’t just walking,” she said of the paces he put her through, “it was running, and increasing your speed. He was like: ‘Keep going!’ And when I wanted to stop, ‘There’s no room for stopping.’

“I was happy to see him, but by that time I was, ‘Oh, I’ve had enough.’”

Her son Henry Oluwamayowa, who also features in the show, has a fitness training background and is helping Susuana knuckle down to the resistance training, such as sit-ups.

Her neighbour Caroline Williams is proving a tremendous help in motivating her to do her walks.

“She is a darling,” Susuana says of Caroline. “In life one thing you need is a good neighbour – you just need one, you don’t need too many. And that’s what Caroline is.”

She notes that with Covid keeping people cooped up at home, and working from home on the computer, it’s sometimes hard to generate the motivation to exercise.

“For me I’m not used to this cold cold cold country. When I open my door and see rain and poor weather, Caroline is like, ‘Come on!’

“‘No it’s too cold.’

“‘You are in Ireland, come on!’”

In week two, she lost 3lbs, just 1lb shy of hitting her 4lb target, and that was seemingly without pushing, so upping her exercise considerably – as backed up by the data collected – Susuana had anticipated losing even more last week.

“I was disappointed,” she admits when the scales showed she had actually put on half a pound.

“I worked extremely hard that week and I was expecting to achieve the target, and also to have even lost the extra one that I was unable to meet last week. So in my mind I was going to at least lose 4lbs. That’s what I was expecting, so I felt disappointed, but I’m not going to break down.”

Wondering why she didn’t lose weight, Susuana did a little bit of research and came across studies, which suggest that people of an African heritage burn calories slower than Caucasian people.

“From the little study I have done, it shows we need to eat less because we burn our calories slower; and then we need to exercise a little bit more because of the way we burn our calories is at a slower pace.”

This is just one of the instances where she believes her participation brings a new dimension to the show. Also last week she took the recommended meal plan and adapted it to cater for her understandable preference for African flavours.

“This is the first time for the past 14 years they have been running the programme that somebody from the African Carribean community will have participated,” says Susuana who runs the Afro Diaspora Centre Ireland, essentially a chamber of commerce for African businesses. “When I was signing up to the programme that was one of the things I said, because I want it to be a life-changing experience for me. But the only way it can be a life-changing experience for me is if I can also eat my own food. “Because I don’t want to finish the programme and then go back to my food and I then don’t understand how to manage it, to allow me to lose weight – that is important to me and I had that conversation with them [the panel].”

TheCeltnotes how at ease she appears at the weigh-in but checks, do you dread the weigh ins?

“This week, I’m dreading it,” she confesses.

“When I didn’t lose it last week, and I know the effort I put into the exercise was double, triple what I did initially, and I know my food was well controlled, so at the time I saw the weight, the first thing that came into my mind was what can I do more? I wasn’t sure I could push myself to do more than I did last week. That is the scary thing about it. I gave everything to it last week, will I be able to continue with that kind of momentum? Because I need that momentum to do anything.”

It seems she still has that momentum as she tells theCeltshe has been walking around for the course of the 40 minute interview. Part of the reason for her determination to keep going is down to her friends giving her the lift she so badly needed at just the right time.

“When I came home after the weigh-in, as I was driving home, I saw the cards my friends and neighbours made - big boards with my name - that just brought me to tears. You realise it’s not just about you, even though this is my journey.

“Other people want you to do well, and with that expectation, you don’t want to disappoint the people around you.

“I was so delighted to see that, but at the same time I was like – oh I have to do it this week!”