Mogadishu, Somalia – Mohamed Abdi is a man on duty taking on a mission that many in Somalia dare not attempt.
Mohamed, more commonly known as Mo Fit, is a 27-year-old fitness consultant and nutritionist in a country where having a “full figure” is considered the ideal body image.
Four years ago, when he started an online fitness class, many people in the Horn of Africa country advised him to find another fight because they found the job he had chosen to be impossible.
“What our people saw as beautiful, the rest of the world started from there. Our people are overweight, they are proud of it,” the father-of-one told Al Jazeera.
“If a lady has no big legs, no flesh on her face, it is said that she is not a VIP. If men don’t have big bellies, they are considered poor. That’s not the situation [in] rest of the world,” he added.
Since moving back from Rotterdam, where he studied in the Netherlands, Mohamed has faced numerous business challenges but he says he now sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
Mo Fit, a former bodybuilder, said: “Slowly, our people are waking up to the fact that having a big belly is unhealthy and not unattractive at all.
At first, it was a struggle to get the townspeople to accept his message. But after campaigning non-stop on local radio, TV and social media, he has become a celebrity and his message is getting more attention.
He now employs half a dozen employees to help him get Mogadishu just right. And on the day Al Jazeera arrived at his third-floor office in Mogadishu Mall in the city’s Hamar Weyne district, visits were made on time to accommodate the large influx of potential customers.
Mohamed’s biggest struggle, an ongoing one, is changing the eating habits of his countrymen.
“Every country has a unique culture and cuisine. The way our people consume food is not right. Most of our food is carbs. And many of our people don’t live past 40 years,” he said. “Each household is the pasta, rice or anjeero (Somali pancakes) they use. Those foods aren’t necessarily bad but the way we cook them, we add them and our portions are just wrong. “
Mohamed also noticed that for many people there is no set time to eat meals.
“Our people can eat whatever they want. We don’t pay attention to what we’re putting into our bodies,” he said, his muscular body slumping into the chair.
And now he is winning the trust of more and more city dwellers. One is Ahmed Aden Ahmed, who never imagined he could lose weight before meeting Mo Fit almost a year ago.
“I used to be fat. I’m used to wearing loose clothes when I go out. Now, I can do a lot of things that I couldn’t do before,” the 25-year-old engineer told Al Jazeera after finishing an early morning workout under the supervision of Mo Fit.
“Before, I weighed 158kilograms (348 pounds) and now I’m 95kg (209 pounds). I lost 63kg (139 pounds) in a period of 10 months. When people see me, they ask ‘Ahmed are you sick? I told them I signed up for the gym and changed myself. But a lot of people still don’t believe that you can lose weight by going to the gym,” he said, smiling as he wiped the sweat off his forehead.
Realizing that most of his clients were having a hard time eating healthy and not consuming the right portions, Mohammed saw a business opportunity and started meal planning and a line of supplements.
Customers order food through an online app and then have it delivered by motorbike to anywhere in the city.
Farah Omar Suleiman, an office worker, said he has an active lifestyle but always tries to eat healthy.
“I choose the Mo Fit meal because the food is balanced. The food is good and clean,” Farah, 25, told Al Jazeera. “Before, my weight was increasing. But now I am maintaining my weight at the target level that I want.”
What started as a hobby is now such a big deal that Mohammed is now in the process of opening gyms in the next city.
Meanwhile, he said one man’s fight against obesity in Somalia will continue.
“You will see a lot of people coming to the hospital, they are all not feeling well. But they don’t need to go to the hospital. They need to control their diet, exercise and get enough sleep. That’s all they need,” he said.
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa