Irish Personal Trainer Gregg Marsh on how he shed 55lbs: 'I've been the overweight guy who didn't recognise himself'
Not many personal trainers will admit that they, too, fought the flab. But Gregg Marsh isn't ashamed to tell clients about his own struggles. Our reporter hears how he bounced back
They are not words you expect to hear from a chef-turned-personal trainer: "I didn't know what it was like to be in shape," Gregg Marsh admits.
The night before his first child was born, his wife Siobhan told him he needed to shape up. They were difficult words to hear, but at that moment he vowed to change his ways.
That was the first step that would lead the now 46-year-old to lose 55lbs, open his own weight-loss and personal-training centre in Dublin and help a client to shed 100lbs in just 10 months.
Back in 2010, Gregg was stressed, working long hours and not sleeping properly. Even after his wife, a pilates instructor, confronted him, he didn't really believe he was overweight.
"I was still getting clients. I was working 13, 14 hours in a gym, skipping meals, training the odd time, lifting heavy weights, but not getting the right nutrition - and that makes a huge difference."
Then, one morning, he had an epiphany after seeing a picture of himself. It's a lesson he has taken to heart. "Every member of [his gym] Synergise gets their photograph taken when they join. It's non-negotiable. A lot of people won't do it, because they don't want to admit and accept who they are. So I can't take them on as a client."
Gregg has a picture of himself, pre-weight loss, on display. "So even now, I can go to a client and demonstrate to them that I've been there, I've been the person who was overweight and didn't recognise themselves in the mirror, and it took someone to say it to me."
It took Gregg nine months to shift the excess weight and, in 2012, his body was truly transformed when he won a fitness competition. He can empathise with his clients now, appreciating just how hard it is to accept that your life requires a radical overhaul, and how crucial it is to have support.
Gregg, who worked in Dublin's Westwood gym as well as several gyms in London before striking out on his own, has developed a deceptively simple regime.
Forget aimless hours wasted on a treadmill, his focus is firmly on 'clean' eating and a bespoke programme of high-intensity, short, group-orientated work-out sessions, with a healthy dose of competition and camaraderie via social media thrown into the mix. His philosophy is right at the heart of the trend for green-juice-fuelled 'wellness'.
Followers of the Instagram-driven wellness craze document their clean-eating habits and exercise regimes online. And their healthy lifestyle is becoming mainstream.
It's why we eat avocado on toast accompanied by an almond-milk smoothie, why Beyonce wears a sweatshirt in praise of kale and why NutriBullet blenders are the ultimate kitchen accessory. And it's also why so many of Gregg's clients now post their food diaries on Facebook.
And they do eat. Gregg believes in the 'strong is the new skinny' mantra being espoused by the world's most in-demand fitness gurus.
After all, anybody can be thin, but, for a woman, having sufficiently toned limbs to show off in the on-trend power leggings is truly aspirational. And Gregg has seen these power leggings in action in his gym. At least part of his clients' motivation comes from competition - with one another.
At the entrance to Synergise is a 'wall of fame' with pictures and quotes from 38 members.
They are the 'best' of last year's clients, the ones who trained since the gym opened in February and who have lost the most weight. They include a man who was told by his doctor he wouldn't see his next birthday but has since lost 100lbs and can now run around after the children on the rugby team he coaches.
Gregg plans to put up a second wall for this year's top losers.
"Group-training is the secret [of success]," says Gregg. "It's more competitive, you're with your peers, and the support mechanism is massive because you're training with people who want the same thing. All our sessions are 30 minutes or less, and it works. People can lose body fat really, really quickly in 30-minute sessions. For years, I'd been training people for an hour and not really getting results. It's because of the intensity, it's an intense half hour."
For Gregg, nutrition is just as important as working out.
"When people first come to the club, the majority are overweight and they need to lose weight really quickly. So we give them a structured plan for 28 days and most lose anything from five to 20lbs in the month, and then we tweak their nutrition depending on their workouts."
There's even room for cheat meals. Unlike many fad diets, carbs are not banned and neither is wine. One woman drank chardonnay every Saturday night and still managed to lose 45lbs over a year, but she made sure to record her drinks in her food diary, which she then posted online.
Social media is a key part of Gregg's programme. The gym has several private Facebook pages for coaching and nutrition and the vast majority of the 150-strong members are active on the site. Over 100 people post food diaries daily, using the MyFitnessPal app to illustrate their intake of protein, fats and carbs not to mention pizza and beer blow-outs.
Every two to three days, the gym's coaches give them feedback. The members also undergo weekly weigh-ins, their body-fat statistics are measured monthly and they get a freshly made green shake at the end of every coaching session.
Many of Gregg's clients have lost huge amounts of body fat following his plans, but it's not enough for him: "They need to know it's not just for 28 days, it's for life."
That's why he keeps such a close eye on his members, but the relationship between trainer and members goes both ways. Gregg no longer needs to look at that pre-weight-loss picture to stay motivated.
"I can't be telling 150 members to lose weight, if I need to do it too. They keep me accountable."
See synergise.ie for more info
Typical menu in Gregg’s 14-day fat-loss plan
— one cup of plain Greek yoghurt
— one cup of mixed berries
— 2 tbsps of shredded coconut
— 1 tbsp of chopped, raw almonds
— chicken Waldorf salad
— one cup of blueberries
— curried fish and vegetables with cauliflower mash
— 2 tbsps pumpkin seeds
— 3 apricots
— 1 cup steamed broccoli