Collen Maine on why he needed to have weight loss surgery: “I was going to die if I didn’t change things”

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

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.”

Read more: Collen
Maine, Zukisa Faku resign as MPs

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

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.

Read more: North
West ANC Youth League want Maine out of parliament

“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.

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