Deirdre, a young mother of two from Carrignavar, Co Cork, weighed 18st 9lbs when she was one of the six finalists for the hit RTÉ show last year.
“I want to learn how to stop emotional eating,” Deirdre declared during a poignant circle of truth session with RTÉ’s John Murray.
At the time, Operation Transformation’s doctor, Ciara Kelly, said Deirdre was chosen as a leader because, with a body mass index of 49, she represented a group of people who were super morbidly obese.
Deirdre, who said her biggest weakness was takeaways, now spends a lot of her time these days in her running shoes.
She has “running friends” and is currently training three days a week for a half-marathon.
“I actually ordered a bike off Santa for Christmas, something that I thought I never could have.”
The 19 finalists from all over Ireland met for the first time in Sportslink Sports and Social Club in Santry, Dublin, yesterday to be assessed for possible inclusion in the eighth series.
Deirdre told them that she struggled to get up the steps to the club this time last year and was out of breath by the time she reached the top.
In just 12 months she was able to save her life and look forward to seeing her children grow up.
“I can get down on the floor and play with my kids. This time last year I couldn’t.”
Deirdre, who works part-time in the Mercy Hospital in Cork as a night-time care assistant, said she kept a food and workout diary to help her stick to her healthy lifestyle. She even brings her body and food weighing scales on holidays.
Deirdre urged the latest batch of finalists picked from hundreds of people unhappy with their weight that becoming an Operation Transformation leader was no easy task.
“Believe me I am living proof that it can be done. No surgery just hard work,” she said to loud cheers from the finalists.
Over the next week Operation Transformation presenter Kathryn Thomas will travel to the homes of the five selected leaders for the eighth series sponsored by safefood.
Dr Kelly was one of four Operation Transformation experts encouraging the finalists who were chosen from more than 500 applicants.
She said that the body mass index of some the finalists was particularly high this year — a growing problem in the general population.
There were also a number of women with fertility issues because of their weight.
Fitness guru Karl Henry, psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy, and dietitian Aoife Hearne were also offering help and advice.
Around 545,000 viewers watched the 16 episodes of the last series.
Some of the 19 hopefuls:
Leanne, 29, from Clane, Co Kildare, weighs 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. Leanne thinks weight is preventing her from getting pregnant. Overwhelmed by the prospect of losing weight, the more she thinks about it, the more she eats.
Alan, 21, from Ballintubber, Co Westmeath, weighs 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 aged 16. He smokes, eats up to seven takeaways a week, and drinks at least a six-pack of Coke daily.
Elissa, 26, from Ratoath, Co Meath, weighs 15st 11lbs.
“I have been overweight all my life and just want to feel fit and happy.” Elissa feels she is existing, not living. She never had a boyfriend, and never achieved her ambition to become a midwife. She lives on her parents’ stud farm and even gave up horseriding, fearing she would injure the horse.
Darren, 42, from Raheny, Dublin, weighs 26st 7lbs.
“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, aged 52. The thought of not being around for his sons terrifies him.
His first battle of the day is getting out of bed.