Saturday 18 August 2018

Dr Eva Orsmond on filming Ireland's poverty: 'Some houses weren't safe, and there were people screaming and shouting'

Dr. Eva Orsmond is a medical doctor with a special interest in obesity. She is also a broadcaster and author. Born in Finland, she lives between Dublin and Portugal. She has two sons - Christopher (21) and Evan (20)


On a working day, I get up at 5.30am. I force myself to get up early, because I don't want to be stuck in traffic for an hour. I have a cappuccino with soya milk. It has fewer calories than milk, and it's sweet. I have a serious sweet tooth, which I have to fight all the time.

I don't believe in the idea of eating like a king for breakfast. One of my dogs doesn't eat until after 12. I always believe that animals know better than humans, because they go with their instinct. In the mornings, I might just have coffee. Then, when I leave the house, I usually have something in the bag with me - either roasted vegetables or a vegetable soup. When I'm in the clinic, I need to have something for the small breaks.

There is no typical day in my life. Things change all the time. My life either seems to be hectic or really hectic. There are a lot of things going on right now. Our family home has just gone on the market, and I am renovating a new townhouse. As a doctor, I always think that I have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. There are moments when I really feel that I don't have the balance in my own life. There seems to be more work and not enough relaxation and fun. But I'm working on this.

For years, I've been dreaming about a huge lifestyle change. Now it is happening. I'm starting a new business in Portugal - an extension of Orsmond Clinics. We specialise in treating obesity and reversing type 2 diabetes. I am going to be spending two-thirds of my time in Portugal, and one-third of my time in Ireland.

I don't speak Portuguese yet, but I'm going to study it. I'm not worried about the language barrier. I grew up speaking Finnish. I have English, and I already speak fluent Italian and French. They say that if you already have other languages, you only have 30pc of the difficulty when you learn a new one. My mother lives in Portugal, so that is another connection.

In the mornings, I either have to go to one of my clinics in Loughlinstown, or I might be filming. I've just finished doing a documentary for RTE that is all about health and inequality. It's this whole idea of poverty and how some people living in certain areas in Ireland have a shorter life expectancy.

In the past, I had worked in Third World countries, but I had never thought about poverty in Ireland. I found it quite an emotional journey. After a day filming, I came home mortified by my judgment and values. I was too harsh and too quick to judge, because I didn't realise what was going on. I saw that there was so much stress in people's lives and just getting a bag of chips was easier than not giving the children anything at all.

Some houses weren't safe, and there were people screaming and shouting. With all that chaos, people didn't have the mental energy to think about making vegetable soup. There were so many other priorities. But it also comes down to education. People who have disposable income usually have more knowledge about food. The bottom line is that we don't eat enough vegetables.

The people I met seemed to have this fatalism - the belief that you are born in a certain situation and that is the way it is going to be for the rest of your life. I always believed that if I worked hard, I could be successful. It's a matter of social class and beliefs. I was coming at it from my middle-class perspective.

But I don't want people to think that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My parents divorced when I was four, and at that time, my mother was a beauty therapist. She carried on working, and then she studied business management at night. It was a struggle, and she was a single mother, but she progressed.

Finally, she became a buyer in a store. But the basic education in Finland was already better than Ireland in less privileged areas. They say that education is free here, but it's not. You have to pay for so many things, like school books, unlike Finland, where they are free. If people are educated, they can change. And it's not just about diet, it's everything.

On a day when I'm not going to the clinic, I try to go for a 5km run. But to be honest, for the last few months, this has been hit and miss. It might be only twice a week, or nothing for a fortnight. Also, I end up doing other things instead, like household shopping or tidying.

My boys have grown up, so I don't see them that much any more. Evan is studying engineering, and Chris is just back from Finland, where he did army training for six months.

I always wanted to have children, but I've never been a natural mother. If I'm honest, I've never even been a child lover. When they were young, I wouldn't trust anyone else to look after them. I wanted to do everything correctly, but I was too paranoid. I think I should have been more of a mother, and more understanding in certain ways. I brought them up more as a friend, but in the end it turned out fine. They are lovely, gentle guys, and we have a fantastic relationship. Now that they are older, I enjoy them more.

I try to go to bed early, but I have to force myself to do this. It doesn't always happen, because I like to make the most of life. But if you don't get enough sleep, your health suffers. At night, I read a lot of self-help books about the habits of highly effective people. But I usually fall asleep on top of the book.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Dr Eva's documentary, 'Ireland's Health Divide' is on RTE One, Monday, September 4, at 9.35pm

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