Friday 24 May 2019

As TV comic Lenny Henry shows off his slender new figure, we find out how he did it

As TV comic Lenny Henry shows off his slender new figure, Madeleine Howell finds out how he did it

Lenny Henry having shed three stone
Lenny Henry having shed three stone
The comedian before his dramatic weight loss

Lenworth George Henry is one of the world's most recognisable comedians; a man held in such high esteem that, last week, his 60th birthday was celebrated on the BBC with a show hosted by Trevor McDonald.

Of course, Lenny took centre stage, providing the laughs via his spoof of Bishop Michael Curry's "long-assed sermon" at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding, and a hilarious Stormzy impersonation. However, it wasn't just his wit that drew attention during The Lenny Henry Birthday Show. He also cut a noticeably slim figure.

Lenny's svelte physique contrasts with the larger-than-life build he sported in the earlier years of his comedy career. So, how did he shed the pounds?

After being diagnosed with diabetes - the same disease which caused his mother Winnifred to lose both her legs before she died in 1998 - Henry took action by reducing sugar, alcohol and biscuits, and by taking up Ashtanga yoga alongside plenty of cardiovascular exercise.

"I've lost between two-and-a-half and three stone, I was big," he's said previously. "You've got to eat no sugar and drink hardly any alcohol... all the stuff you like. You can't Hobnob your way through the day."

As well as avoiding sugar and adding cardiovascular exercise into the mix, Henry simultaneously upped the quantity of green vegetables in his diet. He said: "Well, it's eating broccoli and not much else. I've also been running a lot. It has worked."

The comedian has admitted that he was persuaded to take action because he did not want to be "a heffalump running around the stage". He's attributed further weight loss to the strict workout regime he was put under while on the cast of The Comedy of Errors at London's National Theatre. During the run, he was instructed to undertake yoga, dance, Pilates and military exercise for four hours a day.

Although many have congratulated him for making changes to his lifestyle, some fans on social media expressed concerns that the star had taken his regime too far.

Henry admitted he planned to take a break from his diet to celebrate his milestone 60th birthday. Appearing on The One Show, he said he was looking forward to enjoying "a bit of a do" and planned to treat himself to plenty of "pies and Prosecco".

Dalton Wong, trainer to Jennifer Lawrence and Kit Harrington and co-author of The Feelgood Plan: Happier, Healthier and Slimmer in 15 Minutes a Day, applauds the change.

"He's done so well. Before, he was perhaps sedentary, liked to drink and eat too much of the wrong things, and didn't take so much care of himself. Reducing sugar and alcohol is a positive step," he affirms.

"Increased physical activity will have been really important in changing how he feels, as well as how much he weighs. He's taken on a wide range of activities to give him a new lease of life: yoga for relaxation, Pilates for the core, and military exercise, which is more like HIIT training."

But according to personal trainer Melissa Weldon, the approach isn't necessarily as healthy as you might think.

Weldon notes Henry's intention to gorge on Prosecco and pies, and warns against a cycle of bingeing. "Of course exercising for four hours a day and eating nothing but healthy food will work, but it is extreme," she comments.

"People should be making long-term life changes to their nutrition and training regimen to avoid spending their whole life on a perpetual yo-yo diet."

But while tucking into pies and Prosecco can be seen as "bingeing" or as a "cheat meal", Wong emphasises that they don't have to be, and points out that there's no reason why a treat every now and then can't be part of an overall healthy diet.

With these thoughts in mind, we asked the experts how best to get healthy in midlife like Lenny...


Move that midlife middle: Five simple tips

1. Make small, sustainable changes

Max Bridger, personal trainer, author of Leaner, Fitter, Stronger: Get the Body You Want, suggests starting small. "It's much better to make gradual changes, rather than makeover your diet completely while embarking on a punishing regime all in the space of a week, especially if you're in your 50s and have lots of responsibilities.

"Fit things into your existing lifestyle, rather than try to fit your life around an unattainable lifestyle."

2. Get flexy

Lenny has also improved his flexibility, mobility and co-ordination, particularly through Ashtanga yoga.

"These are all too often overlooked," says Bridger. As you age, hand-eye co-ordination decreases - so activities that allow you to practise, and which also incorporate balance, are crucial to prevent falls and injury in later life.

3. Cook from scratch

According to Max Lowery, who wrote The 2 Meal Day, the key to losing weight in your 50s is taking the time to prepare and eat 'real food'. This means cutting out processed meals. "If you're cooking with fresh ingredients, you'll find yourself in decent shape. Cutting out refined sugar is a good thing, because it contains zero nutritional value."

Lowery is not against the odd treat. "There's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy the things you like. For me, I love ice cream, but I might save it to enjoy only occasionally. Think quality over quantity."

4. Don't overdo it

Trainer Dalton Wong warns that Henry needs to be careful, because the older you get, the more time your body needs to recover - and if you get injured, you can't maintain an active lifestyle. "You could exercise for four hours a day as a 26-year-old, but not in your 50s, while still on a strict diet. It facilitates weight loss, but long term you need to be careful to recover and not to injure yourself.

5. Cut back on the booze

While Lowery agrees that Henry's decision to cut back on booze will have helped him to lose weight, he points out that it's still possible to fit alcohol into a healthy lifestyle. Focus on developing healthy habits into your 50s and beyond in order to cut back a bit.


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