More than 500 people unhappy with their weight applied to become an Operation Transformation leader.
Now whittled down to 20 hopefuls, the finalists met for the first time in Sportslink gym in Santry, Dublin, yesterday, to be physically and emotionally assessed for inclusion in the seventh series, which is due to be screened in January.
When RTÉ’s John Murray had a poignant “circle of truth” session with the group, it was clear how their weight has affected their confidence, lifestyle, and wardrobe.
“We’ve seen in previous series, and I know only too well, that a healthy body and a healthy mind are so closely connected to each other,” he said.
The broadcaster returned to the airways earlier this month after a six months’ absence while he battled with depression.
One of the finalists is Jennifer Bonus from Douglas, Cork, whose husband, Noel O’Donovan, died last year after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease in Mar 2011.
Jennifer said she wanted to lose weight and get fit for her daughter, Tara, 12.
“My mum, Pauline Bonus, died of heart disease when she was just 46 years old,” she said. “I don’t want to go the same way — I want to be there for Tara.”
Jennifer reckons a lot of her unhealthy eating and drinking was stress-related.
“I need to get control back and I need to change my focus on life, not just for Tara, but for Noel too.”
Noel always encouraged Jennifer to get out and exercise but she never did.
“I would love to do a 10k walk or run in his honour,” she said.
Two new experts have joined the panel: Aoife Hearne, a registered dietician, and Dr Ciara Kelly, a GP and expert in family health.
Next week, Operation Transformation host Kathryn Thomas will travel to the homes of the five selected leaders to let them know they have been chosen.
Kathryn said she admired the bravery of the finalists.
“It’s a huge undertaking, to become an Operation Transformation leader,” she said. “There’s a camera crew shadowing you constantly. It’s intense, but that’s why it works — it’s easier when there’s a support network around you who want you to succeed.”
Around 544,000 viewers watched the 16 episodes of the previous series.
‘I want to be able to look in the mirror again without hating myself’
Adam Egan, 30, Bray Co Wicklow: 17st 7lbs
The father of three, who in September married long-time partner Emma, found getting measured for his wedding suit a traumatic experience.
“I am on Operation Transformation because I am disgusted with my eating habits and want to end my relationship with the fridge.”
Anne Cummins, 52, Clonsaugh, Dublin: 14st
The mother of two has been caring full-time for husband Dermot, 70, since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 12 years ago.
“I have lost myself a little bit over the years and want to find myself again.”
Annette Temple, 41, Mullingar, Co Westmeath: 15st+
The single stay-at-home mother of two daughters says she drives her children to school in her pyjamas.
“I just don’t want to be invisible anymore.”
Brendan Dalton, 31, from Mountmellick, Portlaoise, Co Laois: 18st 2lbs
The father of two, a truck driver, has promised his 75-year-old father he will climb Carrantuohill with him, and is determined to get fit enough before it is too late.
“I am here because I want to be a better dad and husband.”
Deirdre O’Donovan, 29, Cork: 18st 9lbs
The mother of two works part time in the Mercy Hospital in Cork as a night-time care assistant.
“I want to learn how to stop emotional eating.”
Fionan O’Sullivan, 45, Banagher, Co Offaly: 17 st 7lbs
The father of one was a professional cyclist, representing Ireland seven times. He gave up cycling at 27 but not the massive appetite he developed.
“I am here to lose three stone and get back to healthy eating again.”
Jennifer Bonus, 37, Douglas, Cork: 12st 4lbs
She lost her husband, Noel O’Donovan, 18 months ago after a short battle with motor neurone disease. Lives with daughter Tara, 12, and wants to get her life back on track.
“I would love to do a 10k walk or run in Noel’s honour. I know he would be very proud of me.”
Joy Lundberg, 36, Donabate, Co Dublin: 13st 6lbs
Joy, who lives with her skinny sister Kim, 28 and her fiancé, Tom, cannot understand her failure to look after herself.
“I badly want to change and I need help to do it.”
Marc Gibbs, 44, Clane, Co Kildare: 16st 10lbs
The father of five, a security guard, has always struggled with his weight.
“I want to be in Operation Transformation because I am searching for a balanced, healthy lifestyle.”
Mark Hazzard, 45, Naas, Co Kildare: 21st 6lbs
The father of four has doubled in size since meeting his wife, Ger, when he was 16. His family are very worried about him.
“I am here to prolong my life for my wife and children.”
Nicole Ward, 19, Coolock Dublin: 12st 8lbs
Nicole, who describes herself as an “insecure mess”, suffered from online bullying — nasty comments about her weight on AskFm — but no longer uses the site.
“I am here because I am still young and I want to go on holidays without having to hide in the apartment.”
Paudie O’Mahoney, 61, Killarney, Co Kerry: 20st 10lbs
The Kerry GAA star feels embarrassed about himself when walking in Killarney because he let himself go.
“I am here because I have just become a grandad. I want to inspire the people of my generation.”
Paula Gribbin, 45, Darndale, Dublin: 14st 13 lbs
The separated mother of two, who recently started a job as a carer in an nursing home after being unemployed for two years, says her weight is the only thing stopping her from being truly happy.
“I am here because I want to be able to look in the mirror again without hating myself.”
Richard Harnett, 63, Castleisland, Co Kerry: 18st 9lbs
Richard, a father of three, runs the Castleisland Co-op and Live Stock Mart, and is also involved in the North and East Kerry Development Association that helps combat rural isolation and loneliness.
“I am here to lose some weight to get to Australia to see my son next year.”
Siobhán McKillen, 35, Clondalkin, Dublin: 13st 12lbs
The mother of two used to love going to the gym, just 300m from her home, but nowadays can’t seem to find the time.
“I’m here because I’m fat.”
Yvonne Gregory, 52, Granard, Co Longford: 17st 8lbs
Yvonne, who lives with her adult son, knows her weight is seriously impacting on her health — she has type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea.
“I am here to prove to myself that, for once and for all, I can beat this battle with my cumbersome weight.”
Ruth McEnaney, 28, Dundalk, Co Louth: 21st 9lbs
Ruth, the most popular stylist in her hair salon, drinks four or five bottles of Lucozade a day because water makes her gag.
“I am her because I want to start enjoying my life again.”
Sarah Campbell, 24, Kildare: 15st 8lbs
The mother of two is planning to marry Mark in June but is determined not to be a fat bride.
“I want to be here because I want to know what it is like to get up in the morning and be happy, and I want my kids to know what it is like to have a good mum, who thinks positive all the time.”
Shannon Kenny, 20, Trim, Co Meath: 17st 12lbs
Shannon, who lives with her mother and sibling, was wearing size 16 clothes by the time she made her Confirmation.
“I am here because black is not such a slimming colour when you are 18 stone.”
Yvonne Longmore, 32, Bray, Co Wicklow: 19st 6lbs
The nurse manager, who lives with her son and works in St Michael’s Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin.
She advises patients on health and nutrition while struggling with her own weight.
“I would like to make a permanent and positive change for both myself and my son, Cian.”
*Operation Transformation’s new doctor says losing weight is a lot of hard work and she should know after struggling with her own weight.
Ciara Kelly, a GP in Greystones, Co Wicklow, who lost three stone over the past four years, said her weight problem developed after having four children.
She told RTÉ’s John Murray her weight struggle would help her to relate to contestants.
“It’s all about putting in the effort. I think one of the big issues is portion sizes,” she said.
Dr Kelly, pictured right, who replaces Eva Orsmond, said she agreed with the no-nonsense obesity specialist that, when it comes to food, it should be everything in moderation.
“But I don’t think I will be telling them to cop on — they should see this as a huge opportunity for life change,” she said.
Also joining the show is Aoife Hearne, pictured left, a registered dietician in Waterford who worked with the Tipperary hurling team when they won the All-Ireland title in 2010.
“We must connect with what we are doing,” said Ms Hearne. “So often we are eating not because we are hungry but because we are looking for something else.”
Asked if she might be a “Dr Eva”, Ms Hearne said she would be more likely to give contestants a hug but would be firm at times.
“When you work with people, it can be really frustrating when you want so much for them and they just don’t seem to be connecting to it,” she said.
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