Mogadishu, Somalia – Mohamed Abdi is a man on a mission taking on a task many in Somalia dare not attempt.
Mohamed, popularly known as Mo Fit, is a 29-year-old fitness consultant and nutritionist in a country where having a “full figure” is seen as the ideal body image.
Four years ago when he began his business as an online fitness consultancy, many in the Horn of African country advised him to find another battle because they saw his chosen line of work as unwinnable.
“What our people see as beautiful, the rest of the world has moved on from that. Our people when they are overweight, they are proud of it,” the father-of-one told Al Jazeera.
“If a lady does not have big legs or meat on her face, people say she is not VIP. If men don’t have big bellies, they are seen as poor. That is not the case [in] the rest of the world,” he added.
Since moving back from Rotterdam, the Netherlands where he grew up, Mohamed has encountered numerous business challenges but says he now sees light at the end of the tunnel.
“Slowly, our people are waking up to the reality, that having a big belly is not healthy and absolutely not unattractive,” Mo Fit, a former bodybuilder, said.
At first, it was a struggle to get the city’s residents to buy into his message. But after campaigning relentlessly on local radio, television stations and social media, he has become a celebrity and his message is finding more keen ears.
He now employs half a dozen staff to help him get Mogadishu fit. And on the day Al Jazeera went to his third-floor office in Mogadishu Mall in the city’s Hamar Weyne district, visits were strictly by appointment to accommodate the deluge of potential clients.
Mohamed’s biggest struggle, an ongoing battle, was to change the eating habits of his fellow countrymen.
“Every country has a culture and unique food. The way our people consume food is not right. Most of our food is carbs. And many of our people don’t live beyond 40 years,” he said. “Every household it is either pasta, rice or anjeero (Somali pancake) that they consume. Those foods are not necessarily bad but the way we cook, what we add to it and our portions are just wrong.”
Mohamed also noticed that for many people there was no set time for eating meals.
“Our people eat what they want to eat when they want to eat. We don’t pay attention to what we are putting in our bodies,” he said, his muscular body slumping back into the seat.
And now he is winning the trust of an increasing number of the city’s residents. One is Ahmed Aden Ahmed who never imagined he would be able to shed the pounds before he met Mo Fit almost a year ago.
“I used to be fat. I was used to wear large clothes when going out. Now, I’m able to do a lot of things that I was not able to do before,” the 25-year-old engineer told Al Jazeera after finishing an early morning workout session under the watchful eye of Mo Fit.
“Before, I was 158kilograms (348 pounds) and now I’m 95kg (209 pounds). I have shed 63kg (139 pounds) in a period of ten months. When people see me they ask ‘Ahmed have you been sick? I tell them that I have signed up for gym and transformed myself. But many still don’t believe you can lose weight by going to the gym,” he said, smiling while wiping sweat from his brow.
Seeing that most of his clients were struggling to eat healthily and not consuming the right portions, Mohammed saw a business opportunity and started a meal plan and supplement line.
Clients order the food via an online app and it is then delivered by motorbike anywhere in the city.
Farah Omar Suleiman, an office worker, says he leads an active lifestyle but has always struggled to eat healthily.
“I chose Mo Fit meals because the food is balanced. The food tastes good and is clean,” Farah, 25, told Al Jazeera. “Before, my weight was going up. But now I’m maintaining my weight at the target that I wanted.”
What started as a hobby is now such a big deal that Mohammed is now in the process of opening up gyms in the city next.
In the interim, he says his one-man fight against obesity in Somalia will continue.
“You will see a lot of people going to hospitals, they are all feeling unwell. But they don’t need to go to hospital. They need to control their diet, exercise and have good sleep. That is all they need,” he said.
Follow Hamza Mohamed on Twitter: @Hamza_Africa