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Ugochi Ukah: I Am What My Grandmother Ate



Okay! So there is this popular saying – ‘You are what you eat’ and it has been trending for a while. It is also used as a health strategy to promote healthy eating and reduce overweight, and there have been different illustrations for this. The most interesting one I had come across was a drawing of two ladies, one as a slim carrot (depicting the healthy/vegetable eater) and the other in form of a round large doughnut (depicting the unhealthy/junk-food eater). Having always been paranoid about my weight and trying hard to avoid becoming a doughnut, I took this saying to heart a few years ago and decided to go on a diet, with the hope that I would lose some weight and look more like a carrot. So instead of my usual meals that are high in carbohydrates, I started having more of vegetables and fruits, and other meals with high fibre content.

On a particular warm afternoon during lunch time, I was famished because of the light breakfast I had that morning consisting of only a slice of wheat bread, a finger of banana and fat-free yoghurt. I hurried off to the staff common room, almost falling down the stairs, to grab my lunch from the refrigerator. As I sat down and opened my lunch box, I could not help but look disappointed at my unattractive meal. Although I had packed the lunch myself, the sight of the bland-looking Caesar salad almost made me lose appetite. Oh how I missed my former lunch packs of rice, chicken, crisps! I used to eat them with so much delight and even have a can of soda to wash the food down just before I began my diet. But with my new therapy then, that world seemed so far away as I began to chew my salad with no enthusiasm.

A huge man walked into the room and my eyes fell on his lunch as he sat down to eat. He was having a hamburger with fries and a soda awaited his belly on his table. I smiled as that used to also be one of my favourites but then, that must explain his big body size, I thought to myself. Curiosity got the better of me and my eyes strayed to the fit-looking lady sitting across from me and her lunch. From what I could see, she was having some type of vegetable soup made with celery, and carrots and she drank water from her bottle. Ooh, the carrot-type lady, I thought to myself again. The saying had to be true then – you are definitely what you eat. And so I started gaining more confidence and interest in my food until I got interrupted, “May I sit here please?” an Asian-looking lady spoke to me. “Sure” I replied, clearing off some items to make some space for her on the table. I could not help but notice how skinny she was as she sat down.

She began to off-load the contents of her bag on the table – a bowl of noodle soup, another with pork ribs, fried chicken, spring rolls, prawn crackers…you name it! It was just too much; it looked like she was having a feast that I had to continue creating more room for her whilst she continue putting more items on the table. Initially I had assumed that somebody else was coming to join her but that never happened. My eyes went wide as she continued eating alone and at some point I had forgotten that I also had my lunch to finish until she asked why I was not eating my food.

I could not hold myself any longer and so I asked her if she always ate such big meals and if so, how she had managed to remain not fat, as I tried to avoid calling her skinny. She laughed and said she could never get big no matter what she ate, “…you see, we’ve always been like this in my family. My great-grandma was like that, my grandmother is like this, my mother is also like me…” she continued happily “And I guess your daughter will also be like this?” I finished up her sentence in a scorning manner but her brain was probably too occupied with her food to notice or care. I left the common room that day with a heavy heart; it felt so disappointing to know that some people did not have to eat healthy to look healthy while some people strived hard and yet had nothing to show for it. Isn’t that how life is anyway? Sometimes some people work twice as hard but never achieve the results they want but for some, they never even have to work to succeed. After careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that “You are not ALWAYS what you eat; sometimes you are what life feeds you.” And so I decided to stop wasting my time and dumped my diet that very day.

I continued a pretty normal life, not thinking much about diet or my weight but with my new notion at the back of my head, until two years later when I attended a seminar on reproductive health. One the speakers had a presentation titled – You are what your grandmother ate. I chuckled when I saw the title as I thought it was quite funny but by the end of the presentation she had made some valid points. As a medical doctor with on a focus on genetics studies, her results and theory suggested that the fat cells of the baby developed while it was still in the uterus/womb and that the size of the fat cells that the baby acquired depended on what the woman ate. Now that baby, who might grow to be one’s mother someday would pass on similar genetic make-up which she had acquired on to her own child when she got pregnant and that child, could be you! Therefore, the fat cells in your body were originally determined by the first woman, your grandmother!

I had mixed feelings at the end of the seminar. First of all I was relieved because I now knew that I was not the cause of my problems – the thick skin which I had battled to shed for most of my life but I could not help feeling a little sad about what my grandmother had done to me. If only she had had some self-restraint and controlled her big appetite, I may have been like the Asian girl that I met two years ago in the common room. I decided forgive grandma especially because I knew that she had meant no harm and I loved her. Besides, she was long gone resting with her ancestors and practically, there was nothing I could do about it!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Erik Reis

Ugochi V Ukah is a student and loves writing in her spare time; using sarcasm, humour and wit to relay her thoughts. Visit her blog for more stories at: and follow her on twitter @vivio_gogo and IG: @ugochiukah


  1. DocDeola

    November 27, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Following grandma logic, then the asian woman should be fat, if her grandma ate like her, which she likely did or the asian woman’s grand daughter should be fat! It doesn’t completely work…in terms of genetics, there is the adaptable part of genes which up regulates genes, but there are some core fingers that can’t be changed. The leptin gene in Prader Willi syndrome. You missed a point, you are what you eat, if the asian lady ate up to a certain point, she would gain weight…she perhaps hasn’t or would never find her point. But if you stopped eating or ate the right amount for your body then you would achieve your normal BMI. It’s just different people different balance, not all fingers are equal but in majority of cases, carrot lady and hamburger man, you are what you eat. In Asian lady’s case, it’s her genetic make up and she may be skinny on the outside but her arteries may be furred up like a heart attack or stroke waiting to happen!
    You know low birthweight babies are more likely to be fat when food is available than normal birthweight babies as they make more fat cells to compensate. But if they never find the amount of food they will never be fat.

    • Beegal

      November 27, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      these Asians take green tea after meals o. Probably flushes their systems

  2. dolly

    November 27, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    I really love this write up because its very much me.Im quite careful with how i eat.Ive always eaten reasonably but im always the chubby one amongst my friends who can eat three times my portion.Sometimes i feel its so unfair.While im struggling to loose after delivery weight and eating very little.I see some of my friends eating unhealthy meals and they get back into shape before you know it ,tummy all flat.Ive learnt to love myself at any size so long as im eating healthy.

  3. cos I say so

    November 27, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    I forgive grandma
    … grabs sharwama and yogurt

  4. chi-e-z

    November 27, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    I think the mistake people make is eating skinny= healthy. But no the lady had a very balanced calorie in take high protein(meat), greens, grain, fruits. Your body needs food and calories you just have to do exercise and balance calorie intake. Micheal Phelps eats like 8 huge meals a day like huge but our muscles need it. I was wondering why I was so weak after becoming vegetarian then I started youtubing how healthy vegans and vegetarians eat and they eat in like huge deep dish bowls like the type you use to wash hands every meal just make sure they are active and eat less grain and fat than vegetables but do not eliminate the fats and grains. Well, I’m gonna eat for my granddaughter then.

  5. Chisky

    November 27, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    “blame the past”… Good excuse to turn into a doughnut…so how can d future be fixed?

  6. Personal Assistant

    November 27, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    Time to call my grannie and pray for her. On my mums side the biggest person is a uk size 12 and on my dad’s side if u see who big pass size 10, thank God. Though I know I am not a big person, I still watch what I eat because sometimes you are what you eat and drink. The key is to know what works for you, eat healthy and take less alcohol too.

    • Queen B

      December 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      LOL! i think we are from the same family. the only person who was fat in our family had diebetis and that was the cause of his fatness. Me i eat like an elephant but have not been able to move higher than size 8 for years now. I really don’t know what to do, Indeed I need to go sort out things with my grandma, cos she is also petite

  7. Audiee

    November 27, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    lol….u better watch it so your children and grand children wouldn’t have to stress themselves too much,trying hard to watch their weight

  8. Oluwabusola Adedire

    November 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Is there is evidence for this theory? That is, a paper showing a statistically significant result. Genes are not destiny.. If you eat junk long enough, you become obese. It is science!

    • Oluwabusola Adedire

      November 27, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      *Is there evidence for this theory*

  9. Chinny

    November 28, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Don’t be deceived my dear…You are what you eat!!!

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