Obesity and stigma: A woman’s journey to a healthy lifestyle

Members of Slim n’ Fit during their daily workputs for the 90-day- challenge. / Courtesy photos

It all started when she had just given birth to her second child. Her weight began to escalate and as a result, she began experiencing chronic back problems.

“I found difficulty in even small things like bathing. The doctors said that obesity was the sole cause and advised me to lose weight,” Specioza Uwamariya shares.


Just as she was beginning to shed off the weight, her husband passed, on and this further deteriorated the condition. The fluctuating weight soon made it difficult for her to do anything by herself.


“When my husband passed in 2014, life lost meaning and I piled on weight quickly. I lost out on self-confidence, felt stressed and ignored by the people around me. Before I knew it, I was weighing 179kgs.


Specioza Uwamariya is currently on a weight loss journey to live a healthier life.

“At this point I just decided to wait for death because even doctors had recommended I travel abroad for treatment, which I couldn’t afford. All I did was stay indoors since merely walking to the compound also a problem for me,” she says.

Finding help

Then, a video by Isimbi TV circulated on social media about her condition. Slim n’ Fit, a health and fitness programme for women struggling with obesity, reached out to her, upon learning of her condition and offered to assist her lose weight and give her hope for a better health.

Since joining the third season of the 90-day-challenge that ends on March 28, Uwamariya has lost over 10kgs in 10 weeks, currently weighing 164kgs.

At the end of the challenge, the programme awards the ‘biggest loser’, as a way to motivate them.

Participants are required to go to the gym on a daily basis and also have a nutrition coach who guides them on the proper food diet, to aid them in their weight loss.

Florence Uwamwezi, the founder of Slim n’ Fit (middle), with some of the participants. 

“For me, dedication and positivity are key. My weight loss journey is becoming simpler by the day, ever since this programme taught me to love my body, eat healthy and exercise since weight loss and exercise go hand in hand.

“Right now I’m working hard to prove everyone that had given up on me, wrong and live healthy to raise my children,” she says.

For Jean Claude Ntawurungo, their aerobics coach, some of the exercises that they are trained help with relieving stress, one of the biggest contributor to obesity.

“Dieting without exercising cannot yield tangible results, so we work on mindset, and get them to enjoy exercise,” he says.

Dealing with stigma

Besides difficulty in mobility, the 52-year-old adds that she suffered venous insufficiency (improper functioning of the vein valves in the leg, causing swelling and skin changes) and faced stigma from almost everybody around her.

“I was never invited to weddings because people thought I would break their chairs, and I became the laughing-stock of people who saw me. Children would scream in shock and cabs often refused to transport me because I would cause their cars to break down. My family abandoned me and waited for death to bring flowers to my grave, people made me feel like I was not human,” Uwamariya says.

Like her, many women dealing with obesity are perceived as ‘lazy, gluttonous, lacking self-discipline’ by society, which leaves them vulnerable to stigma and discrimination, and does nothing in the fight against it.

Marie-Justine Uwizeye, 52, has been participating in Slim n’ Fit’s 90-days-challenge for the third time in a row and now weighs 120kgs.

Her determination was stirred by paralysis caused by obesity, having weighed 158kgs.

“I wouldn’t even climb the stairs and with stigma all around us, we suffer low self-esteem that you begin to isolate yourself from public events, but once you acknowledge that the body needs a turn around, it becomes easy to start the journey. At my age, it never occurred to me that I could actually lose weight and live normally, but I’m currently one of the best runners they have here,” she says.

Doris Uwiragiye, another member who has gone from 171kgs to 158kgs believes that obesity is caused by many factors that include biological, genetic and environmental, that critically contribute to the condition.

“We need encouragement and not humiliation, because obesity is like any other health condition that needs attention,” she says.

Florence Uwamwezi, the founder of Slim n’ Fit says weight stigma is a public health problem that undermines social rights and is a major stumbling block in the fight against obesity.

“We are all wonderfully created and so the idea that obese people ‘lack in self-discipline and personal responsibility’ is wrong. Rwandans should strive to eliminate this culture and consider obese people as human beings worthy of their rights and attention,” she says. 

She adds that she has been working to have more partners on board, to enable the programme reach out to as many women dealing with obesity.

“We have coaches, nutritionists and a fully-fledged gym that are all essential to their weight loss journey but due the expenses, it’s hard to reach out to as many women as we can. We are hoping to have more partners and open the gym to the public so that the revenue generated can go to helping these women fight for a healthy life,” Uwamwezi says.


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