When I was obese, I was invisible

I would eat 10 packets of crisps every day, yes 10 packets, says Andy Kenny


My health experience: I knew I had a problem when a lady stopped her car to offer me a lift one day as I struggled to walk in 30 degrees heat. I was 23 at the time and I was staying in a town called Batemans Bay in Australia. I had just got off a bus, and was walking to my hostel when this lady saw me and obviously felt I was struggling – and I was very glad to take up her offer of a lift. That was a real eye-opener for me.

I became really overweight in my late teens. I used to drink a litre and a half of fizzy drinks every day and probably an energy drink as well. I would eat 10 packets of crisps every day, yes 10 packets.

I used to get a euro for my lunch, and I remember bags of crisps being sold for 10 cents.

I also had a bar of chocolate every day. It scares me to think of it now but I had no idea at the time what I was doing to myself. Cost is a huge part of this. If an apple and a bar of chocolate cost the same thing, you know which one a child will buy.

Sugar levels
People may not realise that a 500ml bottle of orange has 65g of sugar. There are 3g in the sugar sachets you get with your cup of coffee so that’s the equivalent of 22 sachets.

Nobody is going to put 22 sachets of sugar into a cup of coffee. And I was having the equivalent of 66 sachets of sugar in my litre and half of fizz, not counting the energy drink I put away every day.

In school we were taught about the food pyramid but that is about 30 years out of date. The focus is on fat, but it is the huge quantities of sugar which we consume that are the issue.

Of course, too much fat is bad but the real issue is the sugar we consume.

Unfortunately I was an early trend setter. I had breakfast, usually Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, every morning and then a mother’s dinner in the evening, probably meat and two veg. But then I would have a takeaway with friends later.

My parents only saw me having cereal in the morning and then dinner, so they had no idea what I was eating. It’s not that I was hiding anything.

I did play a bit of sport at school but if you are no good at soccer or GAA, you tend to be left on the sidelines.

When things creep up on you you don’t really notice. People who are overweight tend to wear the same few clothes all the time – for me it was a soccer or rugby jersey. Overweight people tend to stick to the same few items – it becomes your uniform.

Physically sick
I remember being in the Army reserves when I was 21 and we were forced to run up flights of stairs. I got physically sick.

I went to Australia in 2003. I started to train and while I cut out the fizzy drinks and sweets I was still having white bread and white rice and white pasta – they are pure rubbish. So I had a personal trainer and was training six days a week but I was not losing weight.

When I changed my diet, things changed. I had to cut out white bread, pasta, rice and noodles. My motto is if it’s white, it’s shite . . . You have to replace the white with wholegrain and keep your blood sugars stable. If you get a big sugar hit, you store fat but if you get a trickle of sugar, you can burn it off as you get it.

Morbidly obese
If I had not tackled this I would be morbidly obese and probably bed-ridden by now. I would also be a high risk for diabetes and, as I am in my 30s now, I would be at risk of heart disease.

When you are overweight you get used to being tired all the time, and to mood swings and to your legs constantly chafing when you walk. You don’t know that this is not normal. So my life changed completely.

The good thing about being very overweight is that you get results very quickly, and because you can see a dramatic improvement that is an incentive to keep going. I was 17½ stone. I got down to below 12 stone in a year.

I think I am about 13 stone now, but hopefully there is a lot of good muscle there.

The change in my quality of life was dramatic. I started to sleep better. My digestion was better, I did not get heartburn. I did not get headaches. When you are overweight you have no energy, you have bad breath and wind. I gradually started to help friends and family, and eventually I took the plunge and trained as a personal trainer.

I now run my own personal training studio, Andy Kenny Fitness. Some 60 per cent of my clients want to lose weight and 40 per cent are training as cyclists.

My advice to people trying to get into shape is to be good six days a week and on the seventh have a night out and eat what you like.

When you are maintaining your shape, you have to do it five days a week.

I think one of the most common mistakes people make is to eat nothing for breakfast or to have the wrong breakfast. If you start with porridge or wholegrain bread, you maintain your blood sugar levels.

Most kids’ cereals have 40-60 per cent sugar. I am looking at a yogurt which is labelled as low-fat, organic and natural but there is 21g of sugar in it. That’s seven sachets in that tub. Labels can be misleading.

I have been back in Ireland since 2005. Life is different now. Ironically, when I was obese, I was invisible. People look past you – they don’t acknowledge you.
More confidence
When I came home I was slim and in shape and I noticed a difference in the way people treated me. They listened to what I had to say. Some of that has to do with confidence.

I went back in 2009 and cycled across Australia. The day after that woman stopped her car thinking I was going to collapse I met a guy in the hostel who had cycled across Australia. I was so unfit then I could not understand how that was possible.

But I did it in 2009 – I cycled 4,400km from Perth to Sydney. It took me six weeks. It was gruelling but it was probably tougher mentally than physically.

It taught me a lot about what your body can take. I did it for the Burren Chernobyl Project. I could hardly walk in the hot sun in 2003 and six years later I cycled across Australia. Anyone can lose a few pounds.

But I think the Government could do a lot to help. Tighter rules about labelling and a tax on junk food would be a good start.

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