Sunday 15 September 2019

Dr Ciara Kelly: 'I was three stone heavier than I am now wearing elasticated-waist trousers but I said enough was enough'

Dr Ciara Kelly (45) is a GP, broadcaster and columnist. She is one of the team on 'Operation Transformation'. She lives in Greystones, Co Wicklow, with her husband and their children - Oisin (16), Ella (14), Milo (10) and Blaise (7)

Dr Ciara Kelly Photo: David Conachy
Dr Ciara Kelly Photo: David Conachy

Ciara Dwyer

I usually get up around 7.20am. There are days when it could be earlier, when I have to be somewhere early in the morning. I am an owl, not a lark. I hate the mornings, but I just get up.

I have four kids, and the whole family is here in the morning. It's busy as hell. The kitchen is like a train station. The kettle is on, and the microwave is on with porridge. There are people slapping butter on bread for sandwiches for lunch.

Before I have anything to eat, I drink a pint of tea. Caffeine is my drug of choice. When I go away on holidays, not only do I bring the Barry's teabags, but I also bring my own mug. You go anywhere and you see these thimble-like cups. There is no way I would survive with them. Tea makes me happy. Then I have some brown toast with butter. I probably should have an egg too, but I usually have eggs for lunch, with a salad.

The kids go off to school on the Dart, and we go off to work. I can't mention my husband's name, or he'd divorce me. On occasion, I'll go for a run in the morning, but it's not always possible. Most of the time it'll be at lunchtime, or at the end of the day. Some days I might work for a couple of hours on the laptop, and then I go into town to Newstalk to do the health-check slot on High Noon with George Hook. Then I will travel to Montrose, for Operation Transformation. I think the programme is a big public-health initiative. We have a problem with obesity in Ireland.

It's not easy for people to do Operation Transformation. People come on the show when they feel a bit lost in themselves. I used to be a bit like that, too. By the time I had my fourth child, I was three stone heavier than I am now. I was living a suburban life, working part-time as a GP, and the rest of the time, I was at home with the kids. My life was about 'What's for the dinner?' and trips to Tesco. I was eating the kids' leftovers - sausages - and all the stuff on other people's plates that you think has no calories.

I remember looking at the ever-increasing laundry pile and the biscuit tin, while wearing elasticated-waist trousers. Like so many women with small children, I'd lost my sense of self. I couldn't remember who I was from my younger years.

Then I said, enough is enough. Instead of killing myself trying to get fit, I started in a gentle way. I walked to the shops to get a pint of milk, rather than jumping in the car. I took the stairs instead of the lift. I ate more healthily and, little by little, I got it together. I started to see changes and, gradually, they all added up. I felt a bit better about myself and then all of this coincided with new work opportunities - journalism and broadcasting. Now I have a Sunday-morning radio show on Newstalk, which I absolutely love - Alive and Kicking; I write my Doctor's Orders column for the Sunday Independent; I work as a GP, and I do Operation Transformation.

OT is about health and trying to get yourself to a place where you feel good about yourself and your life. People come on the show when they feel they have lost the dreams they had when they were younger. They think, 'I'm middle-aged, overweight and invisible'. We use carrots and sticks to motivate them. We want them to achieve their full potential. We get people up off the couch in January. That's important, because December tends to be a big, boozy, overeating time of year. We want people to recognise that things have gone awry. I think we're tough, but fair. I have massive admiration for people who come on the show. I might talk to a patient for 15 minutes, but it's television - my bit might be edited down to three lines where I wasn't pulling my punches.

In my columns, I often refer to aspects of my own life. I do this because people often think that other people have it more sorted than them; that they are the only ones who can't master life. I know this from my work as a GP. They look at someone like me and they think, 'You're a doctor, you're on the telly, so you definitely must have it sorted'. But I say, 'No. I'm the one who fell to bits when my father died. I'm the one who doesn't know what to do when my mother doesn't know who I am - she has dementia. I'm the one who looks at her children and worries herself sick about them'.

But during difficult periods, work has always helped to get me back on track. As a GP, I help other people feel better, and in an odd sort of a way, that makes me feel better. I get an insight into my patients' lives, and it's very grounding. They may be facing death or have lost a child. You might feel that your life is falling asunder, but their stories put everything in perspective. I'm incredibly lucky because I have a combination of jobs, and I love them all. It's great that I got new work opportunities. They were important, because I live in my head a lot. I'm a thinker. I was bored and I wanted something more in my life. When I started to write, I was finding my voice. As a woman, I felt it was the first time in my life that I realised I had other options. In the beginning, I was a GP dabbling in the media, but that part of my career has become busier. It's like I've two full-time jobs.

When I come home in the evening, we try to have dinner together. My kids make me laugh a lot. Maybe it sounds like bad parenting, but they are very irreverent. There is a lot of banter, and they slag the arse off me. After the smaller ones are tucked up in bed, I chat with the older two. At night, I often get into bed with the laptop and work. I always write in bed. My husband would sleep through anything. I say to myself that I'll be asleep by 11pm, but it's almost always 1am. Occasionally, I'll have an anxiety dream, some sort of scenario where I have to save the world.

'Operation Transformation' returns to our screens on January 4 for its 10th series, and will air Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8.30pm on RTE One

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