With the eighth series of Operation Transformation about to begin, we meet the 19 hopefuls dreaming of changing their lives by participating in the hit RTÉ TV series. Rita de Brun also sat down with last year’s inspirational leader, Deirdre O’Donovan, who says the show taught her ways to battle depression and anxiety.
WHEN Deirdre O’Donovan makes up her mind to do something, she does it. A year ago, the 30-year-old mum and hospital worker, from Carrignavar, County Cork, decided to lose weight. She did: seven stone.
Deirdre’s identity was based on her weight. “When I weighed 18 stone, 9 pounds, my confidence and self-esteem were so low I doubted my problem was fixable,” said the former Operation Transformation leader.
“Even though I wanted to go shopping with friends for clothes, I avoided social gatherings and dressed like a woman of 50 or 60, in clothes bought at the specialist stores that catered for my size”..
Deirdre had bouts of depression in her 20s and post-natal depression after the births of her sons: “I looked after my mental health by taking medication, but I didn’t look after my physical health, and in the ten-year period up to last year, my weight ballooned.”
At her heaviest, she felt she was “doomed” because some days it was hard to get out of bed in the morning. “I could hardly walk up the stairs, or sit on the floor to play with my kids. Sean is 12 now and Will is three-and-a-half. I used to be very caught up with Will’s autism but now, my focus has shifted to family fitness and wellness and the whole lot of us have become fitter as a result.”
Deirdre says personal responsibility is crucial: “While others can help when you’re debilitated by depression, you have to help yourself. My husband, John, has been a fantastic support. He weighs me every Monday. But I help myself by running on Sundays with my friend and confidence booster, Ricky Deverearux, a coach at Youghal AC”.
In the dark evenings, Deirdre keeps her spirits up by training hard. “This seems to be working for me,” she says. “It releases stress and anxiety and that’s important, as I stopped taking anti-depressants in September.”
Emotional eating is still a challenge for Deirdre, but she’s not succumbing to temptation. “When sad or excited, I no longer allow myself to turn to food in response. Instead, I eat and workout at set times and, when craving a snack I ask myself why that is and whether I’m hungry or upset. I’ve become mindful in that way.”
Adapting to the Operation Transformation plan was a learning experience. “I had to Google ‘courgette’ and ‘butternut squash’, as I never heard of either of those before participating in the show. Previously, when someone said ‘vegetable’, I would think ‘tin of peas,’ but not anymore.”
Was she discriminated against when she was heavy? “Some would look at me and decide I was lazy. But it’s not that simple. Some overeat for emotional reasons, others do so for comfort, out of habit, or when they give up smoking or drugs,” Deirdre says.
Critical of those who “make a lot of money from heavy people who are desperate to lose weight, people who would pay anything for a quick-fix to slim down,” she says: “There’s no need for expensive gyms and programmes. All you need to do to lose weight is quit eating rubbish, get a pair of runners and get some exercise.”
Deirdre’s getting a bike for Christmas and isn’t deterred that she never learned to cycle. “The last bike I rode had stabilisers,” she says.
How have people responded to her great success? “Some were shocked. They didn’t expect me to succeed as much as I did. But, then, I was surprised, too. I never thought I’d lose so much.”
How has her journey changed her? “When I meet people who’re suffering with weight problems, especially those with more than five stone to lose, I feel their pain.”
Insisting that the memory of how she used to be will always haunt her, Deirdre keeps a photograph on her fridge door of herself at her heaviest. “If ever I’m down, this reminder of how far I’ve come will stop me from falling back to where I was,” she says.
She has come a long way. This time last year, she took her first flight in more than ten years. “I had to get the girl sitting beside me to pull back my stomach, so I could fasten my seat-belt,” she says. “I was so upset, I had a panic attack. Two weeks later, I applied to The John Murray Show to participate in Operation Transformation. My husband was delighted. He’d been so worried about my weight, he feared I’d have a heart attack. We filled out the application together, sent it off, and the rest is history.”
MEET THE PARTICIPANTS
Veronica Horgan*, 24, Dunmanway, Cork.16st 3lbs.
“I want to be happy with myself.” Veronica and her Italian mother, Irish father and sisters left Sicily to live in Ireland when she was four. Bullied at school because of her weight and for being ‘foreign’, she now has a boyfriend and a job she enjoys. * Selected as a leader this week
“I no longer want to be the fatty of my family and friends”. Sandra and her husband, Ian, waited eight years for their first child to arrive. Baby Liam arrived just 10 weeks ago . Sandra, who believes her weight and fertility are tightly linked, is not willing to wait another eight years for a second child.
“I’d like to think I am half way through my life”. Mark, a father of four, wants to lose weight to set a better example for his children and stop worrying his wife, Michelle, a nurse. The successful salesman for a growing company also feels his expanding waistline is affecting his work.
Michelle Quigley, 34, Devlin, Co Westmeath 17st 2lbs.
“I would love to go on a shopping spree in Penneys”. Michelle, a mother of three, has already had two heart operations after being diagnosed with a congenital heart problem at the age of 25, just days after meeting her husband. She does not want to miss her children growing up.
“I just want to be around for my kids.” Roy, a taxi driver, who lives with his wife, Ruth, and three children has developed a ‘driver’s belly’over the last seven years. With his 40th birthday coming up in January he wants to be able to wear smart clothes on the day.
Leanne Merriman, 29, from Clane, Co Kildare. 18st 9lbs.
“I want to start a family and want to be fit and healthy from the outset”. Leanne and her boyfriend, Eoghan would love a baby but Leanne thinks her weight is preventing her getting pregnant. Overwhelmed by the prospect of losing weight, the more she thinks about it, the more she eats.
Eilish Kavanagh*, 48, Bunclody, Co Wexford. 13st 10 lbs.
“I would like to be able to wear my black frock for my daughter’s wedding next year”. Eilish runs a café called TLC after her three children – Tomás, Laura and Chloe. Her weight became an issue after she started picking at food at work after giving up smoking. * Selected as a leader this week.
“I have been overweight all my life and just want to feel fit and happy”. Elissa feels she is existing, not living. She fears ending up fat and lonely forever. She has never had a boyfriend and never achieved her ambition to become a midwife. She lives on her parents’ stud farm.
“I want to have the confidence to socialise again”. Glenda, a pre-school owner and mother of one paid a hypnotist €500 once in an attempt to shed weight. She and husband, Paul, want to expand their family, but she has been told that her weight might be affecting her fertility.
Ger Condon, 30, Ferrybank, Co Waterford.16st.
“I just want to get my confidence back”. Ger is a volunteer with Waterford Marine Rescue and is concerned his weight might get in the way of saving someone’s life. The handyman knows he is eating too much – it takes him longer to squeeze into his dry suit when called on by the rescue service.
“I like my figure but want less of it.”The single mum of one who turned to food for comfort says losing weight is one of her life goals. Since splitting amicably from her partner a year after the birth of their daughter Ruby, 2, Karen got her teeth straightened, had adult acne treated and completed a post grad’.
Oein De Bhairdruin, 29, Clondalkin, Dublin. 19st 7lbs.
“I want to have one hell of a hot body.” Coming out as a gay Traveller was difficult for Oein. He set up LGBT Pavee to support other gay Travellers. He began gaining weight in his teens and worries about his health. He is conscious the life expectancy of a Traveller is less than that of a settled person.
“I want to show African people living in Dublin that big is not beautiful and healthy.” Rita, grew up in South Africa, and came to Ireland when husband, Timothy, was offered work. A care worker in St Vincent’s Hospital, she feels hypocritical when she has to weigh in patients.
“I need to lose weight and change my lifestyle before starting fertility treatment.” Married to Will for four years, Louise is desperate to have a child and has been advised to lose weight. She is also a smoker. She quit for five weeks last year but is back up to 20 a day.
“I don’t want to spend another 20 years dieting.” The mother of three works as a hairdresser and uses humour to cover up how she is feeling. She feels that putting too much on her plate and picking off her childrens’ plates is mainly to blame for her weight gain.
“I would like to slim down to a sustainable and healthy weight.” The full-time mother of two sets of twins under the age of four had worked as a design consultant and took pride in her appearance. She does not recognise herself anymore and feels as if she is wearing a fat suit. constantly looks wrecked.
“I want to become fit and healthy and have a long life with my family and children.” The father of two teenage sons fears he will die of a heart attack, like his mother did at the age of 52. The thought of not being around for his sons terrifies him. His weight is now affecting every aspect of his life.
“I want to be physically, emotionally and socially back to myself.” The mother of fiveworks as a clairvoyant and medium under her maiden name Bernie Stokes and has over 21,000 fans on Facebook. Instead of eating her husband’s meals she reaches for junk food.
Alan Mullen, 21, Ballintubber, Moate, Co Westmeath. 26st.
“I want to be half the man I am now.” Despite being a keen footballer and training with the local team, Alan was never chosen to play because of his weight and quit in frustration when he was 16 years old. He eats up to seven takeaways a week and drinks at least one six-pack of coke a day. A heavy smoker.
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