Honey, I shrunk the celeb
Getting a well-known face to endorse a weight-loss business can be a win-win - the star is motivated to stay in shape and the product gets great exposure. But what if the celeb piles on the pounds again? Chrissie Russell reports
Slimming sensation Jennifer Hudson is set to turn a bit of weight loss into a lot of financial gain. The 'Sex and the City' actress, now almost six stone lighter thanks to a stint on WeightWatchers, is penning a book on her dieting journey with a happy ending that sees her a size six -- and the only thing bulging is her wallet.
In the multi-million-euro industry of weight loss, nothing carries so much currency as a successful celebrity spokesperson.
Weight Watchers has, of course, snapped up Ms Hudson (29), but while the diet-plan bosses will be smiling smugly at their new signing, they'll also be holding their breath, because nothing can devalue a slimming product quite as fast a high-profile spokeswoman who piles the pounds back on.
Our fascination with stars transforming themselves from flab to fab has now evolved into a guilty obsession with what happens next. Yes, we were impressed when 'EastEnders' actress Natalie Cassidy dropped from size 16 to size eight, but we were even more goggle-eyed when she slid back to a 16 and proceeded to yo-yo between the two sizes for the next four years.
Weight gain schadenfreude really kicks in when it's a weigh-loss poster girl piling on the pounds. Kirstie Alley lost five stone in her three years as the face of international diet business Jenny Craig, but went on to regain the weight and more, and, in the process, parted ways with the company.
In Ireland, we don't tend to go in for celebrity figureheads quite so much. Unislim, Curves and WeightWatchers all use 'real' people, who have lost weight thanks to their programmes, as spokesmen and women for the brand.
"I wish we had the budget for an Irish celebrity to be a 'face'," says WeightWatchers spokeswoman Margaret Burke.
But perhaps having real people front campaigns is a less risky strategy. Not only are they more easy to relate to, they're also more forgettable.
Amanda Brunker has been the face (and body) of weight-management range Slender from Lifes2good for four years. "I definitely haven't done a Kirstie Alley," laughs Amanda. "I went from a size 16 to a 12, took a little break, then went back on the herb teas and pills and went down to a size eight.
"After a while that crept back up to a size 10, but it's not the end of the world. The company were delighted with what I achieved and I feel the products genuinely changed my life."
She adds: "I can honestly say I never felt under any pressure at all when I was losing weight, but I think that was because it wasn't about being super skinny -- it was about getting me to a healthy, sustainable weight that worked for me."
But she accepts that putting her weight loss out there can make her come in for greater scrutiny. She says: "People are quick to comment, and wide-screen TV is pretty unforgiving, but I've reached a point in my life where I think, 'so what?' It's about how I feel in myself, not what other people think."
It's less easy to be laissez-faire when the celebrities out in the spotlight are representative of your business.
Fitness coach Paul Byrne is well aware that the toned torsos of many Irish A-Listers are walking advertisements for what he can do, but he says he'd never let the allure of a big name on his books sway him if he wasn't sure they'd be a good fit with his brand of personal training.
He says: "I have a very strict policy of eating clean and training, and if someone is not following that then I will suggest they leave -- and that's something I've done with some very high-profile people."
He explains: "Some people come in looking for a magic fix, and after one or two sessions they're saying, 'Can we do something else? This is too hard'. The answer's no -- hard work is needed to look good.
"Clients like Keith Duffy, Kathryn Thomas or Grainne Seoige all train exceptionally hard and have their heads in the right place -- that's why they look good. It doesn't matter who you are, if you're not prepared to put in the effort, there's no point in me working with you."
Unfortunately, some celebrities don't realise that suffering is often part and parcel of losing serious amounts of weight. It's all very well announcing a bid to get fit in a blaze of publicity, but it's the behind-the-scenes efforts that really matter. Something that broadcaster Stephen Nolan seemingly failed to realise when he signed up for a TV challenge earlier this year to compete in the Belfast City marathon.
Instead of following the tubby Radio Ulster host's efforts to shift his spare tyre, the cameras ended up in a game of cat and mouse as Nolan dodged training and munched away, with the result that instead of 'Going The Distance' (as the programme was optimistically named), he ended up doing just one leg of the marathon circuit.
Eamonn Holmes' efforts were even more lacklustre. After vowing to shed 30lbs while fronting ITV's 'The Feelgood Factor', the portly Ulsterman ended up no lighter when he tripped, tore cartilage in his leg and ruled himself out of the contest.
But for some lucky stars it's the glare of public scrutiny that can make the difference between achieving their dream weight and unfulfilled wishful shrinking.
Earlier this year, actress Mary McEvoy and 1st Options Model Agency boss Jules Fallon, along with Elaine Crowley, took part in TV3 'Midday's' 'No Pain, No Gain with Elaine' weight-loss challenge.
"I leapt at the chance because I knew doing it in public would make me stick to it," says McEvoy, who lost 13 inches and nine percent of her body fat. "On my own, I'd lost and gained the same stone-and-a-half over and over again, but the fact that I had to account for myself on the show kept me focused."
Fallon agrees. "Doing it in the public eye definitely added pressure, but that was good for me. I didn't want to let anyone down on the project, like my trainer or the show's producers, by not doing well. I wanted to do them proud."
Over the course of six weeks, they went through nutrition lessons, personal fitness instruction and individual health checks, with Fallon emerging the eventual winner by dropping from a size 18 to 14.
But despite the fact that she's managed to maintain her new slimline look, Fallon says she sympathises with the likes of Kerry Katona and Kirstie Alley, who seem to be endlessly wrestling with their food demons.
She says: "Unless you've been fat yourself, it's very hard to understand that relationship with food. It is like an addiction, and sometimes even the massive pressure of feeling you have to look good for TV isn't enough to overcome that addiction.
"I don't know if I was ever that bad, but I loved food and at my heaviest I was a size 22. Doing the programme, it was like a switch going off in my head. I changed my attitude to food and exercise and I don't think I'll ever go back."
Her weight loss brought about an extra bonus. The mum-of-two is now four months pregnant, thanks to 'No Pain, No Gain'.
She laughs: "Losing all that weight on the show made me more fertile. While I was heavier it was harder to conceive. We'd sort of stopped trying and now, on my 40th birthday, I have a baby on the way. So if people see I'm putting weight back on, that's why."
McEvoy too has kept her new shapee. But while making her weight-loss journey a public spectacle helped keep her on the straight and narrow, she thinks it's sad that we've all become so obsessed with what the scales say.
She says: "I don't think anyone notices my weight in the way they would with someone like Oprah -- I'm a fame pipsqueak compared to her -- and, overall, if anyone's said anything to me it's been positive feedback.
"But I lived through the second wave of feminism where so many great gains were made for women and I think that's all rolled backwards.
"Gossip magazines are all about weight, cellulite and who's pregnant -- it's all about women and their bodies, never anything to do with their minds, which is such a pity."
She adds: "I'm delighted to have lost weight, but your weight shouldn't be about targets or what anyone else thinks of you, it's your health that's important."