Lifestyle Editor Dáirne Black chats to Biggest Loser winner Paddy Cunningham and talks weightloss, competition and eating healthily on a student budget with the Sligo native...
As Operation Transformation hits our screens once more, with inspiring leaders helping to motivate the country, there is no better time to get fit and healthy.
Television contests like Operation Transformation can dramatically change a person’s life, as we see week in week out, with each leaders weekly weigh in.
To attempt to lose weight is one thing, but to do it in such a public manner, with cameras following your every move is another. For Paddy Cunningham, joint winner of the Biggest Loser in the UK the show not only helped him lose weight, but changed his life forever.
Since the competition ended in 2011, Paddy has gone from strength to strength, imparting the knowledge and skills he attained on the show with others. And yet, why would someone not only embark on a gruelling weight-loss programme, but on television too? I had a chat with the Sligo man to find out all things weight loss and his secret tips and tricks.
“I think entering The Biggest Loser, is an extreme thing to do - and I am very lucky and grateful to have had the opportunity to do it - it helped saved my life literally -lots of gyms and colleges offer weight loss challenges which I think can be a fun and supportive way for people to kick-start their fitness and shed a few pounds - however for most people with ongoing weight issues, I believe a more supportive approach from qualified professionals - nutritionists / dieticians etc. would be more worthwhile.”
As the competition progressed, and Paddy and his team mate Will edged ever closer to the finale, I asked Paddy if he ever thought he might win the grand prize?
“The competition element of the show never really interested me. In saying that however Wil and myself did agree in advance if either of us won we would split the winnings , so when he came 1st and I came runner up - it was awesome. Wil on the other hand is the most competitive person you will find. Rather than winning money or a prize, for me I wanted to focus on trying to win a healthier life - cheesy but true."
The show had two winners, Paddy was the "at home" winner / runner up , in the final episode after all the week there were 5 left - 3 of whom were in for the 25k and then all the rest were in for a prize as the runner up. It just so happened, that it was team effort for Paddy and Wil who both went on to win.
For Paddy, his journey on the Biggest Loser was a tough and emotional one , but it wasn’t just the exercise and food that took its toll on him:
“Tears tears tears - especially in first three weeks. It was such a huge shock to the system. The most difficult bit wasn’t the exercise or the food - it was having zero contact with the outside world - it’s very Big Brother in that you are literally locked away for nearly two months with limited contact with anyone other than crew."
As the conversation progressed, I was interested to see what Paddy’s views on the student lifestyle were. Renowned for chicken fillet rolls and copious amounts of cheap booze, I asked Paddy if he thought students had an issue with food and weight, or did the blame lie with the demon drink?
“I think some students do gain some weight due to the student lifestyle. However, for people who have been overweight all their lives I think that’s a very different story. This is a more deeper rooted issue that needs to support to identify and help resolve.
“I honestly believe there are very few people who are overweight long term simply because they like food or drink,” he said.
“I think there’s more to it. More and more we are now seeing obesity and things such as binge eating actually recognised by professionals as eating disorders in the same light as anorexia or bulimia. It’s the other end of the scale.
“This is why organisations such as Bodywhys here in Ireland are seeing an increase in the level of support they provide to people suffering from obesity,” explained Cunningham.
And yet, what about that old cliché that students are 'too poor' to eat healthily?
“Utter rubbish ! For the price of a standard takeaway, say 8 euro or so, you could easily make 3 or 4 healthy meals for that.
“This is something I try to do myself as I utterly hate wasting money on food if you don’t have to, especially now with the likes of Aldi and Lidl or even the other shops who all do weekly offers on meat and veg. I bet if you give me a tenner I could make you a slap up meal that would do you a few days,” insisted Cunningham.
“People can be quick to come up with standard socially accepted excuses - but slow to actually sit down and plan”.
Probing further on the issue of obesity, I put forward the idea that obesity had been overlooked in Ireland for a number of years, to which Paddy agreed.
"Unfortunately the majority of doctors and even personal trainers will still tell you eat less move more, or hand you a diet or leaflet. None of this helps address mind-set and mental health about a person own self beliefs / values, education is also an element."
As the conversation turned towards mental health and the connection it has with weightloss, exercise and training, Paddy drew on his experiences as a personal trainer to give me an insight into how he operates with his clients.
“When I work with a client - I am equally as concerned about their thoughts about themselves as I am about how many reps they do or how fast they go. Ultimately I see my goal as being to help educate, improve their confidence and then to get a sweat on!! In fact some of the most rewarding sessions have been ones simply talking through things with people, their worries about how other might view them, or their triggers for eating."
As our conversation came to an end, I invited Paddy to offer the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar some words of advice;
“Stop handing out leaflets to people on what to eat, and focus on why they eat what they currently do. The obesity epidemic won't be solved by diets and treadmills but by people better understanding themselves.”