Monday 21 May 2018

'I was the best-informed fat guy around town' - Killian Byrne on how his weight problem began after an accident

Following an accident, Killian Byrne stopped playing rugby and slowly but surely began to put on weight. He tells our reporter that the key to losing that weight was the right motivation - pure and simple

Killian Byrne. Photo: David Conachy
Killian Byrne. Photo: David Conachy

Joy Orpen

Killian Byrne (45) used to describe himself as the most well-informed fat guy around town. But that was many moons ago. Since then, he has completely reinvented himself, and is now super-fit, lean, strong and brimming with good health.

Killian went to Catholic University School, near St Stephen's Green in Dublin. That was followed by a stint at Maynooth University, which eventually led him to the world of event management and marketing. Today, he has his own company, which specialises in exhibitions and trade shows.

Being his own boss allows Killian to moonlight as a stay-at-home dad, while his wife, Maureen, works at a major bank. He takes their children to school, drives them to sports fixtures and makes their snacks. But you can be sure their lunchboxes do not contain soggy pizza slices or lurid orange, puffed-up 'cheese' fangs. On the contrary, they are much more likely to contain something wholesome, and that's because Killian really cares about good nutrition.

But that wasn't always the case. In his 20s, he used to play for Old Belvedere Rugby Club. However, injuring his back in a car accident put paid to that. Nonetheless, he went on knocking back the pints and eating takeaways, even though he was getting no exercise. "The weight crept on," he admits.

In 1998, Killian met Maureen McCarthy, and, in 2001, they married. A couple of years later, their son, Keith, was born, and three years later, their daughter, Katie. Over time, Killian became increasingly aware of the important role he played in their lives. The fact that he had lost his own father when he was just a teenager only highlighted the situation.

"Dad had his third heart attack when he was 51," explains Killian. "He was taken to hospital, then he had a stroke and died. When you're just 14 years old, that has an absolutely huge impact on your life."

Fast forward to 2011. Kilian was on a flight to London when the unimaginable (for most of us) happened - he couldn't fasten his seatbelt. "It was amazing how all that fat had settled around my waist," he says.

"When I thought back to my father's death, I realised how much living he had missed out on," says Killian sadly. "Then the incident on the plane made me take stock of my own situation. I had young children, and I was only a few years away from the age at which my father had died. Fortunately, I hadn't yet reached the point of no return, but I also knew time was running out - fast."

Killian decided to contact Operation Transformation. "I'd tried to lose weight in the past. I'd make New Year's resolutions, but would get nowhere with them. I'd join a gym and wouldn't bother to go. So I knew I couldn't do this on my own," he says.

Having contacted RTE, Killian filled in a detailed application form. The producers then whittled down the applications to just 20 people, who were then brought together for an assessment.

As part of that process, Killian was asked by Dr Eddie Murphy why he wanted to reinvent himself. Killian says he answered, "I am doing this for my family. I don't want my children to go through what I went through."

By now he knew that even if he didn't get selected for the programme, he was going to lose the weight anyway. "I used to describe myself as the best-informed fat guy around town. I knew what to do, but I'd never been sufficiently motivated to do it. Now, I understood exactly what was driving me. I needed to do this for myself and for my kids. Finally, I understood; I had to make a change."

Following his initial assessment, Killian was found to have two dietary weak spots. These were portion sizes and "mindless" eating. "My portions were almost double what I needed," he explains. Mindless eating involved settling down in front of the telly and consuming a whole packet of biscuits without even noticing. And because Killian hadn't truly savoured that experience, he'd have some chocolate bars as well.

"Now I pay attention to what I am eating, and if I want a snack later, I take one or two biscuits instead of the whole packet," he says. "And we don't keep loads of rubbishy foods in the cupboards any more."

Following Operation Transformation in 2012, Killian did a cookery course, and he is now a dab hand at making delicious meals from scratch. "If you make a bolognaise sauce at home, you can choose to have it more spicy, to add more veg or whatever, but that's not the case with ready-made sauces," he says. "Anyway, there are all kinds of additives and hidden ingredients in pre-prepared foods." Baking bread is also part of their routine. "We make it not because it's cheaper and delicious, but because we have control over the ingredients."

As far as the exercise component in Operation Transformation was concerned, he and the other four leaders were put in the capable hands of the Irish Army in the Curragh. The first challenge was to run a mile. The hardest was carrying a heavy sandbag through a semi-frozen stream. In between these sessions, Killian was given an exercise programme, and this he followed religiously in Marlay Park, which is close to his home in Rathfarnham.

"I began by jogging for one minute, then walking for five minutes," he explains. "At that point, there were people walking faster than I was running. However, by the end of the seven-week programme, I could run five kilometres in 28 minutes."

Overall, Killian lost three-and-a-half stone and he was delighted. But he also knew his personal challenges didn't end there.

"I had to continue on with the lessons I had learned," he says. "For example, that 'health' is a lifestyle choice, and that once the cameras left, I was on my own."

Fortunately, Killian was able to bring mindfulness into all his decision-making processes, including diet and physical activity. Since Operation Transformation, he has competed in five marathons and two Ironman triathlons, and every day consists of at least one hour of physical activity such as swimming, cycling or weight training.

Maureen has also joined him on the marathon and triathlon circuits, while the children have learned to emulate their now super-fit parents in leading healthy lives.

"It's perfectly normal for them to see us going off to work with a briefcase in one hand and a gym bag in the other," concludes Killian.

Health and fitness advocate Killian Byrne, who is currently working with Margaret's Happily Free Range, has created a number of healthy, free-range-egg recipes, which are available in stores now. See margarets.ie

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