WEEK 1: 6 week weight loss plan: Meet the men on a mission to make you fit

Ciara McDonnell and Edward Finn at Fitnessworx, Tramore Road, Cork.

Ciara McDonnell puts the One Arena plan to the test for six weeks - just in time for summer.

The men behind Perry Street have a new plan for Cork. They’ve teamed up with personal trainer Eddie Finn to create One Arena, where you can order your healthy lunch or smoothie while you work out. 

Reality hit me hard recently. 

I was at a swimming pool with my partner and sons, and as I pranced around the changing room, revelling in the fact that I didn’t have tiny hands clawing at me while getting ready, I caught sight of myself in one of those all-you-can-see gym mirrors. 

Lumps, bumps, and saggy bum — I saw it all.

I saw the years of self- neglect that being a mother of two has meant. 

I saw all the late nights and early mornings, fuelled only by chocolate digestives and strong coffee. 

I saw the hours sitting on the couch with sick babies with nobody to chat to except the True Movie channel and a family-sized bag of Hunky Dorys. 

The body that I saw in the mirror was a blueprint of the last six years. 

I could see my decision to competitively eat my way through my first pregnancy sitting around the tops of my thighs, and the stress of moving the whole family from Dublin to Cork in search of a better life poking proudly out of my stomach. 

My arms looked strong, but bigger than I remembered, from carrying two babies from car to swing to supermarket trolley. 

I realised I hadn’t seen my body like this in years. And that it was time to change.

This is where Edward Finn, Brian Drinan, and Paul Coffey come in. 

Paul Coffey and Brian Drinan, owners of Perry Street Market Cafe.
Paul Coffey and Brian Drinan, owners of Perry Street Market Cafe.

Brian and Paul are well-known proprietors of Perry Street Market Café, and have teamed up with top trainer Eddie to create a new fitness concept called One Arena, opening later this year. 

The idea behind One Arena is to harness the expertise of Brian and Paul in food and hospitality and Eddie in fitness and nutrition, to create a fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle service the like of which does not exist in Ireland currently.

The trio met when Brian and Paul decided to make a change to their health and lifestyle. 

“Perry Street had taken over and there was no time left for ourselves,” says Paul. 

“This is where Eddie stepped in. He is not only changing us physically but mentally too, and we now feel much more equipped to deal with our busy lives.”

Eddie acknowledges that the fitness industry has exploded here but is concerned by the quick fix attitude so prevalent among his peers.

“Every person is different,” he says. 

“I want to help people get into the best shape of their life, and to do that, I have to learn about their lives, and their habits, so that I can come up with a plan that suits them. 

"There are too many people promising results that are impossible to maintain. I want my clients to love training, and to come away from my sessions feeling stronger and more confident.”

Personal trainer Edward Finn at Fitnessworx, Tramore Road, Cork.
Personal trainer Edward Finn at Fitnessworx, Tramore Road, Cork.

The guys have agreed to be my own personal dream team, if I test out their personalised regime for six weeks. 

Under the strict tutelage of Eddie — I will be training with him three times a week — I will get lean and mean. 

He is going to devise a meal plan unique to my needs, which will be book-ended by delicious recipes created by Brian and Paul. 

As a foodie, this is essential for me. I don’t mind forgoing cakes for the foreseeable future, but I draw the line at food that lacks flavour.

I ring my friend Ian in JD Sports, who agrees to kit me out in its fancy line Pink Soda. 

At least if I look good, I might be able to fake it. 

Directed towards Champion Sports on Patrick St, I am deeply uncomfortable in the high-octane environment of a sports shop. 

Everybody in the store is super fit and skinny. It occurs to me that I may not fit into this sportswear.

Just before I bolt, a kind staff member takes me to the ladies area of the shop and starts to show me what’s what. 

Armed with a plethora of Pink Soda gear, I head towards the changing room, determined to shoehorn myself into something. 

I take a photo of myself in the changing room and send it to one of my extremely fit friends to ask her opinion. I have the top on wrong. 

I am SO UNFIT that I don’t even know how sportswear works.

I almost vomit with nerves before my first training session with Eddie. 

Trainer Edward Finn and Ciara McDonnell.
Trainer Edward Finn and Ciara McDonnell.

At our last meeting he was vastly unimpressed by my giddy attitude, and told me that he would push me hard during training. 

I laugh like a drain to hide my fear, but be clear — I am FREAKING OUT. 

To prepare, I attempt to follow a Jillian Michael’s workout called something like I Am Going To Kill You, But You Will Be Skinny. 

I last seven minutes. This does not bode well.

It all starts off quite innocently. I am weighed, measured, and my fat is pinched with a plastic tweezers. 

We talk about my goals — weight loss and strengthening my back — and how realistic they are. 

Eddie is extremely kind, and rather than tutting at me on the weighing scales, is all about encouragement.

The assessment is an extreme eye opener for me. My body is literally a roadmap of my life for the last ten years.

My right side is one inch bigger than my left, because I carry my children on my right hip. 

My hips are tight sore, because all of my working life has been spent hunched at a computer, writing as fast as my fingers will type. 

My shoulders are rounded towards an invisible screen, and my stomach muscles are slack. 

I am fascinated by the idea that everyday life has carved out such a noted presence in my body, and it completely changes my focus.

I walked into this assessment wanting to lose as much weight as I could, but now I want to correct my posture and stand up tall (and still lose loads of weight).

The gym we are working out at is full of serious fit people. They are jogging like robots on the treadmill, and lifting insanely big weights. 

I attempt to say hi to an extremely fit-looking lady lifting giant kettlebells with an impressive speed, but this is no time for chatting. 

Eddie directs me straight into squats and lunges and all kinds of pulling on heavy weighted things. I am out of breath within five minutes. 

By the end of the hour, I am pleading for death. 

The first session showed me exactly where I was. 

Somewhere in between the endless squats (I have serious admiration for the Kardashians and their bums now) and the dumbbell rolls, I whispered, “I feel a little bit faint.” 

Eddie, fair play, ran off in search of water, while I limped to a bench and sat, willing myself not to fall over.

As stars flew in front of my eyes, I knew this was not going to be the easiest assignment I’ve taken on.

I will train with Eddie three times a week for an hour at a time, and he has devised an at-home workout for me to do on the days I am not at the gym. 

He wants me to keep one day free of exercise to give my muscles time to recover, and when I can’t lift myself off the couch the day after training, I almost weep in gratitude. 

He explains to me that I need to eat straight after a workout, and that it should include protein and carbohydrates so my body can start to recover.

I am astounded that I don’t have to weigh out every piece of food that I consume — this was what I had prepared for — but Eddie points out, that as a working mum of two, it is highly unlikely that I have time to start weighing all my food. 

It’s all about sustainability, he says. He wants me to be able to continue this life change for the rest of my life, rather than the next six weeks. 

He explains that, to him, it’s not just about losing loads of weight — it’s about getting people into the best shape of their lives, at a pace they can maintain.

My diet for the coming weeks is to be healthy and varied. I need to up my protein count and reduce carbohydrates while including lots of healthy fats like avocado and olives. 

I have been eating healthily for about three weeks when we have our first session, and even though I feel much better, my sugar cravings have not gone away.

I almost crashed the car as I fantasised about a Mint Crisp the other day, and while melting down all the Easter egg chocolate to make Rice Krispie buns for my children, I had to restrain myself from sticking my entire face in the bowl.

Luckily, I have Brian and Paul on my side. 

I text them to tell them I am in such pain that I burst into tears when my five-year-old asked me to get off my seat and get him a glass of water, screaming “Don’t you KNOW what pain Mammy is in?”

Ever my positive mentors, they text back “The pain is great!! That means it’s working!!”

They are proving extremely helpful in the food department too. 

While I am thoroughly enjoying coming up with new recipes (Mexican food is featuring widely on my menu), Paul and Brian have an endless supply of amazingly delicious ways to make chicken breasts delicious — and let me tell you, there are a lot of chicken breasts in my future. 

Their charred lemon chicken (see recipe opposite) digs me out of a last-minute visitor hole, and, when served with lots of leafy greens, was as complete and delicious a meal as can be.

Emotionally, I am ready for whatever this may bring. 

I gave up cigarettes in January, and spent a full two weeks crying in the face of anybody who looked at me. 

I felt as though I had lost a friend, and I fear that now that sugar and I are breaking up, I am heading towards a similar emotional crisis. 

Food is one of the great loves of my life. For every amazing memory I have, there is a meal to go with it.

Equally, tragedies, lost loves, and regrets are all heavily represented in the recipe book of my life. 

Becoming a non-smoker was the first step towards clawing back the pieces of myself that are vibrant and radiate positivity. 

Losing the weight that has kept me prisoner for so long is going to give me a new lease on life, and the confidence to reach for the dreams that have seemed just out of reach for too long.

Follow Ciara’s fitness diary for the next five weeks in Weekend. 

Got questions? Tweet Ciara at @CiaraMcDonnell3


Lifestyle leggings (€25); 2-In-1 Vest (€32) by Pink Soda exclusively at JD Sport; Nike Flex Fury 2 Trainers (€75) @ JD Sports. www.jdsports.ie 

At Home Workout


Squats are a multi-joint exercise for those focusing on strengthening their hips, thighs and bum as well as engaging a strong core throughout.

How To Do It

With your back straight, and a neutral spine, lift your chest and shoulders up. 

Keep your knees in line with your feet and your core engaged, drive your hips back as though you are sitting on a chair. 

Focus on keeping your knees in line with your feet and shift all your weight onto your heels. 

Repeat 30 times.

Want more? Hold dumbbells or kettle bells out in front or by your side as you squat.

Charred Lemon Chicken

This one-pan dish is ideal for mid-week entertaining. The lemons sweeten as they cook, and are delicious eaten whole, skin and all.

WEEK 1: 6 week weight loss plan: Meet the men on a mission to make you fit

Serves 4

2 small lemons, cut into thin rounds

1 ½ tsp sugar

4 garlic cloves, halved

4 large skinless chicken breasts

Salt & pepper

2 ¼ tbsp coconut oil

½ onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, crushed

¼ tsp dried oregano

1 sprig fresh thyme

250ml dry white wine

250ml unsalted chicken stock

1 tsp plain flour

1 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

To serve:

Green leaves

1. Combine the lemon slices, sugar and garlic halves in a bowl.

2. Season the chicken breasts well with salt and pepper. 

Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and cook the chicken breasts for four minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate.

3. Add one more tablespoon of coconut oil to the pan. Stir in the lemon mixture, and cook the lemons for 30 seconds on each side, until they are browned and caramelised. Return the lemon and garlic to the bowl.

4. Wipe the pan with kitchen paper. Heat the remaining coconut oil over a medium heat and add the onion, crushed garlic, dried oregano and thyme sprig and cook for a minute. 

Pour in the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any extra cooking juices. Bring to a boil and cook for three minutes or until the liquid almost evaporates.

5. Add the stock to pan and whisk in flour. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for three minutes, or until liquid has reduced by one third.

6. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the thyme sprig and stir in the capers. Return the chicken and its juices to the pan and turn to coat in the sauce.

7. Serve the chicken on top of the lemon mixture, sprinkle with parsley and serve with some green leaves on the side.

Brian & Paul’s top tip: To intensify the flavour of herbs and spices cook them in a little oil such as coconut oil before adding liquid to your pan. If the recipe calls for sautéing onions for instance add the herbs and spice just before they are cooked!

Smell and taste the difference!


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