Sitting in his office on Bishopgate Street surrounded by files and papers, in a suit four inches too big for him, even though it was only purchased seven weeks ago, is Willie Penrose, almost half the man he used to be.
He has lost 7 stone 1lb since October 1 last year, and only has a stone and 6lbs more to go before he reaches his own weight loss goal.
The Labour deputy hasn’t eaten a slice of bread since that date, yet admits to falling off the food wagon every once in a while, but as he puts it, the important thing is getting back on!
“My health wasn’t great for the last four years. There’s a number of reasons for that – prostate cancer, hip replacement, among other things,” explains Willie, who used to play football, hurling, and a bit of tennis.
“Weight was an ongoing problem since I gave up active sports 20 odd years ago.
“Life as a TD is all consuming, you don’t demarcate any time for leisure. People may be cynical but maybe I was foolish. Family life suffers big, as well as your own leisure and recreational pursuits; your health is relegated to second or third place. Those are the casualties of being a TD,” he says.
A warning from his doctor last September brought his weight issues to a head and he took up a diet programme called Motivation.
“My doctor was deeply concerned about my weight and my family history of diabetes and I was edging close to the abyss. And unlike so many other people who don’t get any warning with their health, I was in the last chance saloon really, so my wife saw the Motivation thing advertised in your paper and contacted Denis Sloyan, who runs it.
“They evaluate all the facts – body mass, height, weight, a full medical assessment. It’s fairly medically and scientifically based. A Dr Maurice Larocque, a Canadian, developed this diet.
“It stimulates the mind, you have to change the mental attitude, and my objective was to lost 8 stone 7lbs. I probably adhered to it about 90%, if I had done 100% I probably would have achieved my ultimate target now, but it does allow within the diet to fall off the wagon the odd time but the important thing is get back on the wagon, and work at it.”
Due to Willie’s family history, his biggest fear was diabetes, in terms of its ancillary problems, walking, eyesight, and internal organ damage.
Eating too often and snacking
“I had a very sweet tooth, consuming large quantities of food irregularly, eating sweet stuff like bars, fizzy drinks, partial to sugar in tea and the divil knows what! All the things that you’d read about I was there and I was certainly a bad example for healthy living.
“On the diet you eat three meals a day, it’s a high protein low carbohydrate diet, and I eat three protein bars a day, which helps to quell your cravings or hunger. Basically it’s something called hypo-glycemia or cravings, which comes from eating more and more carbohydrates, and it’s a vicious circle.”
“Okay the first few weeks were tough enough but when you’re looking into a dangerous place from your health... so I gave up sugar, milk in tea, I haven’t eaten any bread since October 1 – of any colour – and I used to love bread.
“My wife and family were always great bakers. Everywhere I went there were cakes and sweet things. Like apple tarts: I just didn’t eat a slice of apple tart I’d eat the whole thing. Biscuits – I just wouldn’t eat three biscuits, if you opened a pack there with me I’d eat the whole pack.”
Every day now, he has a grilled rasher with a grilled tomato, a piece of fish for lunch, and meat and “rabbit food” or salad for dinner, and as much vegetables from “above the ground” as he wants. As well as three protein bars and two litres of water.
“You have a diary in which you vigilantly record everything you eat, as well as putting down your goal daily, which is examined in the Motivation Clinic each week. Being a medical plan, you also have vitamins to make sure you’re getting the necessary supplies of iron and all that.”
Willie says: “The most important thing is not to lose heart: some weeks you might only lose a half a pound or nothing at all, but I never put up any weight, I was lucky. I was going in the right direction so that’s why you have to change your attitude. And always leave something on the plate, whereas I would clear the plate – eat the plate!” he laughs.
Family support and exercise
Willie’s wife and three daughters were very supportive, making sure not to tempt him with sweet foods and desserts.
“It was difficult and I got the waitresses in the Dáil in on the act as well, so they’re careful, they tell me ‘this is what you should eat today’. Because when you’re rushing from place to place you always rush your meals, so you should take time with them, I was always eating on the run and that was another failing.”
Readjusting his attitude to food, Willie realised that the quality is much more important that the quantity.
“Your body readjusts after two or three weeks. I wasn’t able to walk half a mile, now I do three and a half miles four times a week.
“There’s a lovely walk round the banks of the Royal Canal out in Ballynacargy, you meet huge numbers of people using it, people nod and do their own thing, I’m very pleased with that – to be able to appreciate that natural amenity which I could have never done before.”
“The lifestyle, if it’s conducive to exercise – like manual workers are always in great shape, they’re working hard, they’re burning off the excess, they’re extremely great workers and you have to admire them.
“They’re always looking very strong and healthy. I was just a bit lethargic and allowed myself to go, but I only have myself to blame. You shouldn’t be apathetic or lethargic. You should set out a period of time that you can devote to exercise. That’s the lesson I would draw from it. I suppose the old story, it’s better late than never, and if I can lose a bit of weight anybody can do it.
“It is a very personal thing, (talking about weight loss), I’m not doing this for publicity, but if I can help one person, that would be great. No matter what age you are, it’s very important that we recognise that health is wealth. It’s an old truism, but no matter who you are, if you’re healthy, you’re very wealthy.”
Motivation Clinic, Mullingar is based in Unit 5C, 2nd Floor, Fair Green House. Email: Mullingar@motivation.ie or call 044 93 10 400.
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