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SHE LOST 260 POUNDS iIN TEN YEARS by Claude Mills Featured

Archive Written by  Claude Mills Wednesday, 26 December 2012 09:35 font size decrease font size increase font size 0
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    MORLYN MANGAROO-McBean struggled up the steep face of the ravine, clutching at the green shrubs and small trees nearby as she made the muddy climb up to the road, where minutes earlier she had careened out of control over the lip of the weed-choked gully.  

"I was saved from tumbling further into the mud pit by a single tree, this thin," she explained recently, holding up her 'pinky' finger.

It is a metaphor that is steeped in her self-awareness of size, a big woman who lives in a world that worships at the altar of the thin.

As Mangaroo-McBean made her climb, each tree and shrub broke in her hand because of the weight of her body. Smiling, she sent up a silent prayer to Allah that she had not decided to wait to shed some of the extra weight she had piled on before and after her three pregnancies. At one point, during her early 30s, she tipped the scales at 480 pounds.

That near-death experience happened more than three years ago. For McBean, it was a watershed moment in her spiritual life, instilling in her a greater appreciation of life, family and Allah.

Luckily, the turning point as it relates to her physical size had arrived seven years earlier when she decided to shed the excess weight that had buried her under a mountain of fat.

Today, she is less than half the woman she used to be. In the last decade the 45-year-old has lost 265 pounds to become a super-healthy, svelte 215 pounds.

We caught up with this delightfully voluble woman last week to find out about her incredible fight to transform herself into a healthier, happier woman.

It is Monday, February 10. The reporter is waiting inside the Kingston high-rise apartment for Mangaroo-McBean, co-proprietor of the Moby Dick restaurant located at the corner of Orange and Port Royal Streets in downtown Kingston, to arrive. Outside the window, a red-necked vulture rides the air thermals. Below, the city of Kingston dozes in a late afternoon daze.

The doorknob spins. The door opens, and in walks a smiling 5' 11" woman dressed in a red pants suit. She has a beautiful smile and her hair has been touched by an early frost of white streaks that give her an air of distinction. She apologises for being late, then excuses herself to go to pray. She's a Muslim who prays five times a day.

She returns five minutes later and shoots a sheepish smile at the reporter.

"Where do we start?" she asks.

"At the beginning," the reporter responds. She laughs. The interview begins.

Morlyn grew up in a middle class family of three sisters who called Job's Lane in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, home.

"Life was difficult growing up, I just ate whatever was available, I didn't have a good diet, I just had to eat what was there."

Always a bit hefty as a child, she escaped the stinging barbs of her adolescent peers because she stopped going to school after age 10 to stay home and look after her father's grocery shop and bar on Job's Lane.

"My father used to worry about me a lot going to school in Kingston. One day, when I was 10, some men ran me down, presumably to rape me, but I saw a friend of mine and we were able to outrun them," she explained in her rapid-fire way of speaking. At the time she was attending St. Martin's Preparatory school on Upper Ivy Road.

"I never felt really disappointed about not going to secondary school, I was there to look after my sisters and my father. I did what I had to do. He (my father) told me that my future would be in business anyway.

"My father was always there for all his daughters, at each step of the way through puberty, he showered us, taught us to change tyres and how to cook. I raised my sisters to an extent, I was the eldest so I took care of put me under tremendous pressure, everything ah me and I guess the bad eating habits just got out of hand."

As to her mother she had this to say: "Although mommy was not there for me when I was young she has made up for all the losses and I love her dearly. She has played a vital role in my children's lives."

Her father got ill and became handicapped when she was almost 17. At 24, she got pregnant, moved out, and got married to Clinton McBean. Her first daughter, Cherrida was born, and by the time her second child, another daughter, Calema, was born, Mangaroo-McBean was tipping the scales at close to 400 pounds.

In 1986 the couple and their children moved to Kingston and bought the Moby Dick restaurant. The restaurant proved to be a successful venture and her hands-on approach, secret sauces and culinary mastery made the restaurant a prime time hit in Kingston.

"A lot of successful people came to the restaurant, people like Kenny Benjamin (Guardsman Security) would pay me compliments and say, 'you have such a pretty face and so on', and after a while, I wanted to do something about the weight, even though my husband seemed to like the way I was."

She began to power-walk at the Police Officer's Club in 1991. It was here that she reached the nadir of her personal life in terms of her self-esteem. "One night while I was walking (at the Police Officers' Club on Hope Road, Kingston) I twisted my ankle painfully, it was badly swollen and I couldn't move. I sat on a wall by myself and waited until the middle of the night when everyone else -- people like Michael Manley, and Lucien Chen at that time -- was gone because I didn't want anyone to see me struggle to my car. My husband was worried about me because I didn't have a cell phone and he hadn't heard from me that night."

Her family doctor later warned that her ankle would not heal properly unless she did something about the weight.

"I decided right then and there that this is it. It stops here."

So began her decade-long pilgrimage to the oasis of health. She signed up at the Fitness Factory (now Technofit) gym in New Kingston and began to attack the flab with something approaching religious fervour. She worked out Monday through to Friday between 4:15 and 6:00 a.m.

She has never missed a day.

On weekends, she power-walked in the UDC parking lot in downtown Kingston, before recently switching to Emancipation Park.

The years sped by and Mangaroo-McBean first lost weight in fits and starts, then eventually by leaps and bounds. Last year, she won the Most Improved Female award from the Technofit gym.

She is faithful to a daily regimen of vegetables, fruits and-water that would offend the taste buds of most people. "When I wake up in the morning I eat a bowl of vegetables -- broccoli, tomatoes, carrots and lettuce. I might have some porridge to drink at 11:00 a.m., and I eat a light dinner of either sardines or mackerel between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. I don't eat anything after that unless it's a cup of tea. I drink a lot of water as well -- between three and four litres per day and, if I can, lots of fruits."

"Whenever I go out, and overeat, I always spend an extra 30 minutes in the gym to burn it off."

Her husband, Clinton, was not initially supportive of her weight-loss campaign because of the late hours she was forced to keep sometimes. "He worried about the hours I would come home and so on, but I stuck with it. I never weighed myself a lot during these years, but I knew I was losing weight because the dressmaker would have to come and make alterations every two months," she said, turning out the inside of her pants leg to show the most recent adjustments.

"I am just addicted to it now, I am 215 pounds and loving every minute of it. I like the stares that I get, people who knew me when I was bigger sometimes just walk past me because they don't recognise the new me, and I get a lot of double-takes from people who are trying to recognise the new, reduced me."

Although she has lost weight, cellulite hangs off the backs of her arms like bread dough. Not a fan of cosmetic surgery she adds: "I was never a vain person. I am OK with how I am, exercise is a way of life now for me."


How does your family like the new you?

"My sisters, Charmaine (43 and fat) and Yasmine (41 and skinny) are very supportive. My husband says that he liked me when I was fat, so he's still a little reserved on it. My youngest, Clinton, seems to like it because his friends used to laugh at me when I came out of the car when I went to pick him up at St. Peter and Paul prep school a few years ago."

Is your husband overweight? "Yes (laughing)...oh yes! I've been trying to get him to lose weight too, but he doesn't seem to want to."

She continues to keep the pounds off because "I don't drink, don't smoke, I don't watch TV, and I don't have too much of a social life, it's just religion and exercise for me. I never want to stop. I am very happy, I couldn't ask for a better husband."

He's a practising Catholic who wears a rosary. She's a Muslim who prays at least five times a day and wears a tasbee (a string of 99 beads) which she uses to say her ziker, in remembrance of Allah. Still, "We never argue about religion. I don't cross myself when I go to his church, and he has no problem coming with me to my Mosque. He even wakes me up to pray sometimes in the morning."

Mangaroo-McBean and her sisters spend as much time as possible with the patriarch of the family, Lester St. George Mangaroo.

"I love my father dearly. He is not so well these days, but I owe all who I am and what I have accomplished to his love, and I will always appreciate what he did for me and my two sisters."

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