Operation Transformation presenter Kathryn Thomas talks to Deirdre Reynolds about sleepless nights, spreadsheets and her new fitness bootcamps.
KATHRYN THOMAS can’t wait to unwind with a Thai takeaway and a bottle of red wine this Sunday night.
During the week, the Voice of Ireland host keeps her killer figure in check by tucking into things like porridge, sweet potato and protein balls.
By Friday evening, however, all bets are off.
“I’m going out with somebody who owns a restaurant so I was chief fish and chip taster for a while until he got that right,” laughs Kathryn, who’s dating restaurateur Padraig McLoughlin.
“I have friends who eat just to survive, whereas I love to eat. Thankfully, I love to train as well.”
Now fans of the TV star can discover all her diet and fitness secrets at her bootcamps, which she started a year ago this month.
When we meet in the capital, she is tanned and toned in a navy mesh dress, practically a walking ad for Pure Results, the company she founded with her sister Linda.
“It’s been an interesting year to say the least,” she says.
“There have been sleepless nights and there have been spreadsheets, and I feel that I’ve aged 10 years in the last year, but I’m very proud of it.”
Currently running at Parknasilla Resort and Spa in Kerry, the all-inclusive fitness retreat sees clients eat and exercise their way to better bodies with the help of a team of experts for four days or seven days (prices start from €449).
Presenter-turned-entrepreneur Kathryn — who’s present for all the courses — explains: “I describe it as a week of summer camp for adults. You’re out doing an assault course, you’re crawling under cargo nets, you’re having the craic.
“The word bootcamp may scare people sometimes — [they think] that it’s all sergeant major stuff. That’s the last thing I wanted — I wanted a really supportive environment... Generally, people who come on it are game ball.”
As the face of RTÉ’s Operation Transformation, taking over the helm following the sudden death of Gerry Ryan, the Carlow native has been at the frontline of the nation’s ongoing battle with the bulge for the past five years.
But she first got the idea for the fitness staycation while travelling the world on No Frontiers way back.
“Over the years, I’d done yoga retreats and surfing camps,” she recalls.
“Then I went over to a bootcamp in Spain and loved it. At first, I didn’t know whether I was going to a fat camp or a fit camp. But there were people who were there to lose two pounds and people who were there to lose two stone.
“I saw the power of bringing a group of people who are from all different walks of life and fitness levels together.
"What I created with my team, which I felt I didn’t get on any of these camps, was a two-week aftercare programme.
"It’s very easy to lose 10lbs in a week when you’re on a meal plan and somebody is getting you out of bed at 6am.
"What I wanted to ensure was that people have the tools to continue it when they go home.”
With the exception of one 73 year-old client, Kathryn said it’s “85% women in their 30s and 40s”, among them new mums and brides-to-be, who brave the bootcamp which runs rain or shine: “We’d have women that would be very nervous coming down because they don’t know if they’re the fattest or the unfittest.
“They take one foot out of the car and I’m there to greet them and they’re going, ‘Kathryn, now just so you know I can’t run and I don’t do any classes’.
“I call them the ‘I Can’t’ women,” she jokes.
“By the end of the week, they’re the ‘I Can’ women, and it’s really just about the light switch going off in the brain and recognising that your body is actually capable of doing a hell of a lot more than you give it credit for.
"It’s very powerful to see the change that happens in people.”
At 37, fitness fanatic Kathryn, who runs, lifts weights and does pilates to stay in enviable shape, tells how she’s finally comfortable in her own skin — but it wasn’t always that way.
Although it’s hard to believe now, she insists was once a “blob” who guzzled pints and scoffed crisps for dinner.
“I was kind of the pints girl for a long time and stacked on a fair bit of weight in college,” she admits.
“I did a lot of running right up until my Leaving Cert and then disappeared off to college and just sat in the bar and drank pints of Snakebite [a mix of beer and cider]. Then I just needed to get myself together, get back training again.
“I’m definitely much more comfortable in myself now,” she adds.
“Would I strut around now in a bikini [like on No Frontiers]? Probably not... I still have the wobbly days and I still have the days you get into the jeans, go, ‘Eh, did they just come out of the tumble dryer?’ But certainly I love feeling fit.”
It’s a message she’s hoping to get across to school girls across the country who may be going through the same “sort of weird, hormonal, angsty, paranoid teenagey stuff”.
“When I go to schools around the country, two things I tell girls to have is self-belief and confidence because I think with those two things you can do anything and I think a lot of the time we don’t have it.
“No woman is ever fully confident about what they look like, I mean, I certainly am not. I work in an industry where you’re constantly judged and criticised, so you have to channel that self-belief.
"When people say you’re shit, you need to sit down and have a good talk with yourself and go, ‘I’m here for a reason’.”
Despite ongoing public health campaigns, Ireland is predicted to become the fattest country in Europe by 2030, according to the World Health Organisation, which projects that the number of obese and overweight men will rise to almost nine in ten while more than eight in 10 women will fall into the same category.
The Operation Transformation host concedes that the show’s message to eat less and move more may not be sexy, but it’s never been more important.
“You just look at when supermarkets came into Ireland and that just transformed the entire country,” says Kathryn.
“All of a sudden you were able to buy custard in jars that would last for years and stuff in packets that became potato.
“Now we’ve gone the other way — everybody is making protein balls and drinking green stuff. At least, there are shows like Operation Transformation and we’re talking about it.
“Boring and all as it sounds, it all comes down to moderation.”
Despite Operation Transformation’s campaign to put calories on menus being “a bone of contention” at home, the presenter and her partner of three years, who runs two of Dublin’s hottest eateries, Catch 22 and Union8, at least agree on how to burn them off, and enjoy running and cycling together.
“Before I met Padraig, he lost four and a half stone, so he was big,” she says.
“I saw a photo of him and I didn’t recognise him. He got to 40 and just went, ‘I have to do something about this’ and he went and bought a pair of runners.
“Now he’s totally into his fitness. When I’m running or cycling with him, he’d be fitter than I am — I need to keep up with him.”
As she laces up to host her next Pure Results bootcamp next weekend, Kathryn says her top tip for beating the bulge is to enlist a wingwoman or, as in her case, a wingman.
“I do really think it comes down to if you’ve got somebody and you’re meeting them [at] half six after work, you can’t let them down,” she continues.
“Or if you’re having a fat day, they ring and they go, ‘Come on — move your arse!’
“If you don’t have the cash for a personal trainer, you don’t need it. We live in the most amazing country — don’t be afraid to go outside and get wet.
"It’s all about getting people out there. We have bodies that do so much for us, we need to look after them.”
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