Spooning two tablespoons of golden maple syrup into a cup of hot water, Shanice Zakuani stirred the gooey mixture before gulping it down. Ignoring the rumbling of her stomach, she guzzled down another cup of the sugary drink to curb the hunger pangs stabbing through her body. Then she slammed the cup down on the side and rushed out of the kitchen before she caved in and reached for the nearest chocolate bar.
By now Shanice, 22, a mum-of-two, from Peterborough, hadn’t eaten solid food for four days and her mood swings had become uncontrollable. But she was convinced it would be worth the sacrifice to achieve the perfect figure.
Looking down at the sparkling engagement ring on her finger, she reminded herself why she was punishing her body like this. She was following the gruelling Maple Syrup Diet to drop from a size 14 to a size 10 in just weeks. It seemed an almost impossible feat, but Shanice was willing to do anything to transform herself from frumpy mum to sexy bride in time for her wedding.
Her boyfriend, Peterborough United footballer, Gabriel Zakuani, 26, had surprised her by proposing and then announcing that he’d already booked the wedding in Las Vegas – in just four weeks’ time. It meant Shanice wouldn’t have the usual few months to prepare for her big day, and slim down slowly ahead of the event like most brides. “So I became obsessed with having the perfect body in time for my wedding day,” she says. “Even if it meant going to extreme lengths. "I absolutely couldn’t bear the thought of walking down the aisle feeling fat. “Every girl dreams of having the perfect wedding and I was no different. I wanted to look like I was worth a million pounds. "There was no way I was going to get married in a size 14 dress, but my wedding was only a month away. I needed fast results.”
Shanice first heard about the diet in 2006, when Beyonce made it famous after losing a stone in just two weeks for her role in Dreamgirls. “It seemed extreme but I was convinced it was the answer I needed,” Shanice explains. “So I gave up food entirely and started on the diet.”
Shanice began downing up to 12 glasses a day of the syrup, lemon juice, water and cayenne pepper mixture the diet prescribes. She even went one step further and combined it with drinking tea laxatives in an attempt to shift pounds even quicker. “The weight started flying off,” Shanice recalls. “After just six days I’d dropped 9lb. I’d have at least three laxative teas a day. "I was going against medical advice, but I didn’t care as long as it worked. I was starving all the time and my mood swings were uncontrollable. "I’d snap at the kids constantly and was a nightmare to live with. "But every time I got on the scales and saw that I’d dropped another few pounds, it made me carry on. "It became my life for four weeks... and thankfully Gabriel supported me.”
Shanice never thought about the dangers of such extreme dieting – including vitamin deficiencies, muscle breakdown and blood-sugar problems. Depriving the body of vitamins and minerals from food can actually weaken the body’s ability to fight infections and inflammation. And the laxative tea can cause dehydration, which can lead to kidney damage, and in extreme cases, even death. Laxative abuse can also upset a person’s electrolyte balance and cause improper functioning of vital organs, like the heart. So Shanice was taking a huge risk with her health.But she felt her extreme dieting paid off – and she dropped from 11st 2lb to 9st 7lb in a month. She even bought her dream size 10 wedding dress just three days before the ceremony, the day they flew out to Vegas. “When I stepped on the scales that morning I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d done it! As I walked down the aisle I felt every inch the perfect bride. "My hourglass figure looked stunning in my size 10 dress. I went to hell and back to achieve my dream figure. But it was all worth it.”
As a teenager, Shanice had a size 6 figure and was proud of her toned abs and pert breasts. But her weight crept up after she gave birth to her son, Ajae, now five, and she was soon wearing size 12 clothes. “When I was a teenager, I loved nothing more than throwing on the latest fashions,” says Shanice, also mum to 10-month-old Trendy-Blue. “It was all about revealing outfits and aiming for the ‘wow’ factor. “When I was a size 6, my body was never an issue. I rarely exercised and still had a killer figure. "But during pregnancy my body went through the typical hormonal changes. My boobs ballooned from a B cup to a D cup and my hips became bigger. “After I gave birth to Ajae, I managed to shake off the extra baby weight but when I looked in the mirror I was horrified. My boobs were all saggy and I was left with horrible stretch marks on my belly. I hated my body but I tried not to let it get to me and buried my feelings.”
In October 2009, Shanice began dating Gabriel after they met through a social networking site. “I was flicking through Facebook when I came across Gabriel’s profile picture,” recalls Shanice. “I sent him a cheeky message introducing myself and it went from there. “He was such a sweetheart and we had the same sense of humour. We hit it off straight away. “Our relationship was perfect, except for my secret self-loathing. I refused to show off my body to Gabriel. "I never took off my bra and insisted the lights stayed off during sex. "Gabriel would tell me all the time that he loved my body, but I was obsessed with negative thoughts about my saggy breasts and flabby belly.
"As a footballer, Gabriel is extremely fit, and I always felt like a mess next to him.”
Shanice began going to the gym every day to get herself into shape. She toned up and got down to a size 10, but no matter what exercises she tried, she couldn’t firm up her D-cup breasts.
In December 2010, the couple were delighted when they discovered Shanice was expecting their first child together, Trendy-Blue. But the pregnancy affected her weight again and she went up to a size 14. Her boobs were so saggy after the birth that Gabriel offered to pay for her breast enlargement – from a D cup to an F cup – in February this year. “I’d hated my boobs for so long I didn’t think twice about having the surgery,” says Shanice. “And when I looked in the mirror and saw my new breasts I was ecstatic.” But Shanice also wanted to sort out the rest of her body – especially after Gabriel proposed in April, telling his bride-to-be that he was whisking her away to get married in Las Vegas on May 13 in just four weeks. With the flights already booked, Shanice knew it would be a race against time to slim down to her dream weight. “I needed results fast, so that’s why I started on the Maple Syrup Diet,” says Shanice. “I had the perfect boobs but I wanted the perfect body to go with it.
“Any other time, Ajae and Trendy-Blue would be my first priority, but for that month I put my body first. I had a nanny to help take care of the kids and I saw a personal trainer every day. If I hadn’t got down to my goal weight I still would have gone through with the wedding. But there’s no way I would have allowed any pictures to be taken of me.”
Shanice and Gabriel married in a private ceremony in The Las Vegas Wedding Chapel. “I felt amazing,” says Shanice. But Shanice still isn’t 100% happy with her looks and is planning on having more surgery later this year. “I want a bum like Kim Kardashian, so I’m planning on having implants in August,” she explains. “I’m thinking of getting liposuction on my love handles, too. I’ve stopped the diet now but I’m still taking laxative teas as I want to slim down to under nine stone. “People may judge me, but I want to look the best I possibly can. I have the perfect husband, the perfect children and now I want the perfect figure. Once I get that, I’ll be the happiest woman in the world.”
Extreme low-calorie eating regimes like the Maple Syrup Diet can cause a whole host of health problems: “The diet will work and you will lose weight on it because your body goes into starvation mode. "But this isn’t a healthy way to lose weight as it doesn’t give your body any of the vitamins and minerals it needs – none of these fad diets do. “Vitamin B is needed for energy and healthy function of the nervous system and the body also needs vitamins C, D, E and K to help protect blood, cells and tissue. “There is vitamin C in the lemon juice but a very small amount and the only calorie intake would be from the syrup. "Calorie intake should predominantly come from protein, fats and carbohydrates, not from sugar. "Also, taking regular laxatives like the laxative tea means you will be excreting electrolytes and they are very important to have for controlling heart rate and activity.”
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