Kathryn Thomas: 'Strong is sexy... I love lifting weights'
Kathryn Thomas tells Joanna Kiernan about being overweight in school, her very own 'operation transformation' and how her personal fitness journey has inspired her first-ever business venture.
To most people watching her on Sunday night TV, Kathryn Thomas has the perfect body. But the 36-year-old works hard to keep it that way and, as a teenager, this was not always the case.
These days we are accustomed to seeing the bubbly TV presenter get stuck in with the best of them on RTE's Operation Transformation or wowing in figure-hugging outfits on The Voice, but there was a time in Kathryn's life where she was overweight.
"I went into secondary school a little overweight," Kathryn tells me. "I was definitely bigger than the average girl in the class and I was slow in first and second year to take up sport because I was probably a little self-conscious.
"Then I changed schools. I did first and second year in a school in Carlow and then I went to a secondary school in Dublin where sport was compulsory. So all of a sudden I was spending four or five days a week playing basketball, playing football, playing hockey and I started running as well."
Kathryn quickly discovered a love of running, which remains to this day.
"I loved the way running made me feel and I lost quite a bit of weight," she explains. "I was never really weight-conscious, but I suppose I just liked the way being fit made me feel.
"Then I went to college and spent a year-and-a-half doing absolutely nothing except sitting in a bar and gave up. I didn't really have the money for gym membership at that point and so the only exercise I got really was dancing in student nightclubs on a Friday or a Saturday night!" Kathryn laughs.
It was during her time working on her first TV gig - a sports show for RTE called Rapid, which she co-presented with Dublin GAA legend Jason Sherlock, that Kathryn got back on the fitness wagon.
"We were always on the move and there was a lot of extreme sports and adventure in the show," Kathryn says. "Jason did all the serious sports interviews and they would always have me rally-driving or bungee-jumping and that sort of stuff, so it was then that I sort of got that adrenaline rush back.
"I got back into exercise then and started doing half-marathons and then just pushing myself and giving myself challenges. Anything that was physically active and got the pulse going, I loved. I suddenly became addicted to it."
Fitness has always been more about the way it makes Kathryn feel, rather than a quest to achieve 'the perfect body' but she admits to having moments in which she felt insecure about her looks.
"I have been self-conscious, absolutely," she tells me, "but it's never really been something that has got in on me and brought me down. It's just something that I have always dealt with by saying 'Okay, right, I need to do something about this' and I am still like that.
"I would still take two months off during the summer and not do anything and go travelling and drink wine, and eat chips and then go 'My god! I've put on like seven or eight pounds!' and go and do something about it, get back to the routine and eating clean," Kathryn adds.
"So I am not a slave to perfection and that's why I love working in Ireland as well; you don't have to be a size zero, big-boobed, blonde to work as a presenter here. People accept the fact that you are real; so I have never tried to lose weight for telly. I have always tried to just lose it for myself if I am not comfortable in myself."
Health and fitness is now a huge part of Kathryn's life. She trains two days a week with Siobhan Byrne in BodyByrne Fitness, walks her dogs twice a day and runs through the city two evenings each week with her boyfriend Padraig McLoughlin.
"For me being strong is sexy - I love lifting weights. I love squatting and bench-pressing and all of that. Padraig and myself - quite sadly - love running together too," Kathryn laughs, "but he is much faster than me so we don't look like that sad couple because he's in front and we're both wearing headphones so you actually wouldn't know we were together. I always say he did all the chasing in the first couple of months after we met, so it's kind of okay for me to look like I'm chasing him now!"
However, Kathryn also values her independence, loves travelling alone and makes sure to schedule a trip away for herself each year in between her TV commitments. And these solo adventures have - over the years - developed a definite fitness theme.
"I did a yoga retreat in India and one in Ireland. I did a hiking trail in the States, I have done cycling holidays and swimming holidays and all of these trips where your week away is not about lying by a pool drinking a Pina Colada, reading Jilly Cooper, it was about actually getting up and being active and feeling great after the week away," she says.
Last summer Kathryn attended a week-long fitness bootcamp in Spain.
"I loved it. I didn't really know what I was going to. I didn't know whether I was going to 'fat camp' or I was going to 'fit camp,'" she says. "I was just going to lose a couple of pounds. I had put on four or five pounds having met my boyfriend and I kind of had a bit of a slob summer. So in August then I went on this."
Kathryn lost 10 pounds in the space of seven days and 11-and-a-half inches from around her body.
"I loved the mix of women and men in our group. There were only two men, but the mix of women was really interesting, there were women who were very overweight, there were women who needed to just lose a few pounds like myself and there were these two super fit, high-powered women - one ran a bank in New York and then another was a surgeon in Geneva - and this is what they did to relax. It was really interesting to see the different dynamics," Kathryn says.
"There were women going 'I haven't run in years and I have three kids and I just want to lose this two stone; I need a kickstart' and at the beginning a lot of those women were taking things at their own pace and were a little unsure as to whether they could keep up with the rest of the gang, but actually, at the end of the week they were the ones who were boxing like Katie Taylor and running up and down hills.
"There was this total mind-shift within the seven days and that was when I realised there is really something in all of this.
"It's not about just physically pushing yourself and losing the weight, it is actually about self-belief and being in an environment with like-minded people and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone," Kathryn says.
The experience, coupled with years of other fitness-related breaks, inspired Kathryn to embark on her first ever business venture - Pure Results Bootcamp - a three-week high-intensity fitness programme, which includes a seven-day fitness break on Inish Beg Island in West Cork.
Pure Results offers people of all fitness levels a chance to kickstart their way to a new, fitter life by getting 'off the grid and back on track' with the help of a team of experts including nutritional therapist Jennifer O'Callaghan and personal trainer Dave Kenny, among others.
"Life is so busy for people that we forget to take time out for ourselves," Kathryn says. "So even though this is an intense week, you absolutely go back feeling invigorated and refreshed. You are sore, you are tired; you have pushed yourself to your limit. I think during a week like this, you either discover something about yourself that you didn't know before or maybe even rediscover something about yourself that you may have lost."
Kathryn's dream of creating Pure Fitness has been in the works for a number of years.
"I have been doing these weeks away for years, I love the way I feel at the end of them and sometimes I go and it is relaxing and sometimes it's hiking 20 or 30 kilometres-a-day up in the Rockies and there is a sense of peace and a sense of achievement that you get from it," Kathryn smiles.
"It's a reminder about how good being outdoors is for your body and that you don't necessarily need to be in gyms all the time. It's about reconnecting with yourself."
The Pure Results bootcamp packages start from €1,199 (but are currently available at a special introductory price of €999) which includes a consultation with nutritionist Jennifer to establish your goals, a shared room on the Island and a two-week post-camp fitness, diet programme and two weekly weigh-ins with a member of the Pure Results team.
For more details see pureresultsboot camp.com.
Kathryn's fitness tips
Make fitness a habit: "I have two dogs, so I am out walking with them twice a day, every day."
Get some good music: "I run two nights a week through the city with my headphones on chasing after Padraig, it keeps you going!"
Don't be afraid to lift weights: "I'm in the gym with Siobhan Byrne twice a week for weights sessions.
I do one day concentrating on the upper body exercises - chest, shoulders, triceps, back, and then another day of lower body."
Kathryn's daily food diary
• Breakfast: A handful of blueberries, a handful of walnuts, a teaspoon of chia seeds, a spoon of natural yogurt and a tiny amount of maple syrup.
• Lunch: Chicken and salad.
• Dinner: Salmon and vegetables.
• Evening treat: Two small squares of dark chocolate.
• "Before last year I would have had two slices of brown bread for breakfast with a cup of tea, but I have now tried to take a lot of wheat out of my diet and that's simply because I liked how I felt after I went on that camp in Spain, which was wheat-free and dairy-free - so I have introduced almond milk into my diet now," Kathryn explains.
"I know I should have snacks during the day too and when I am not busy I would have an apple or something like that, but I don't do it as often as I know I should!"
Health & Living