Wednesday 17 January 2018

'I'd stop for petrol and come out with a breakfast roll' - music teacher (25) who shed weight before family wedding

Liam O'Brien at Ozone gym in Ennis Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward
Liam O'Brien at Ozone gym in Ennis Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward
Amanda White gave up smoking in 2016 and hasn't looked back
A delighted Orlaith Fennell finishing the marathon

Every January we make New Year's resolutions. Some are half-hearted while others are well planned and executed on the first day of the New Year - but a large proportion will fall by the wayside before the month is out.

Sticking to your goals can be extremely difficult, particularly when you have vowed to lose weight, get fit or give up an unhealthy vice.

But despite the need for steely willpower many people manage to get over the first hurdle and not only make it to February with their resolution still intact, but hang on until the end of the year.

At the beginning of 2016, Liam O'Brien made a pact with himself to lose weight before his brother's wedding in February. The music teacher from Clare joined a gym and a weight-loss group and by the time the nuptials took place, he had lost over a stone. He decided to keep going - so, at this point, he has shed an astonishing seven stone.

"I had a problem with my weight for a long time as I love food and a couple of pints and also stuff like kebabs. I was the sort that couldn't stop for petrol without coming out with a breakfast roll or something," he admits.

"So with my brother's wedding coming up, I decided I wanted to lose a considerable amount of weight. I wanted to be able to pick out a suit that I liked and feel comfortable in it on the day. I was motivated from the start because after making the decision, I immediately booked into my local gym and signed up for slimming classes as well.

"The guys in Ozone gym kept me motivated and once the weight started coming off and I made it to the wedding, I just kept going as I was doing so well. Everyone was rooting for me and I felt like I would let people down if I just went back to my old ways once I had finished with the suit."

Changing his habits and learning how to plan in advance has helped the 25-year-old to succeed in his quest to get in shape.

"I still love to eat, but I have learned to make healthier choices," he says. "Now, when I go into a shop, instead of coming out with few sausage rolls, I will have a chicken salad or something like that. I still go to the gym several times a week and while I still like a pint, if I'm hungover, I will avoid the usual fry-up and go for a walk or a swim instead - no matter how bad I'm feeling.

"I know I've done really well but I've had a lot of support. I still want to lose another stone, but now I am not so much on a weight-loss programme, but am living with a new lifestyle. I feel so much better in myself and taking that first step at the beginning of the year was the best thing I have ever done."

Amanda White made a New Year's resolution in January 2016 to give up smoking - and despite being addicted for two decades, hasn't touched a cigarette since.

"I started smoking when I was 16 because I thought it was cool and everyone else was doing it," says the 37-year-old. "I smoked around 10 per day but that would double when I was socialising.

"When I turned 35, I decided I didn't want to be a smoker at 40, because like losing weight, things get harder when you get older. So on January 3, 2016, I decided I was ready so rang the HSE Quit Support Team and put my plan in action."

With telephone support from the Quit team, the Tipperary woman remained focused and after each week realised that she was becoming less and less reliant on tobacco. Now Amanda, who works as an adult education trainer, has passed the two-year mark and says her life has been transformed.

"I've managed to stay off the cigarettes for two years because I was ready to give up," she says. "I was fed up with this topic [quitting] being on my to-do list every year. And since giving up I've seen so many advantages to being a non-smoker - with my body and with my life. Each day I wake up happier because I've achieved something I thought I could never do. I have gained a new zest for life. Support was a big factor but I was completely ready to change.

"I would advise anyone who wants to give up, to sit down and decide why - write the reasons down if necessary. The main thing is to be ready yourself as no-one else can get you to this 'ready' place.

"Next, decide a date and prepare yourself by informing those close to you so that you will have their support when the cessation date comes. Then just take that leap of faith and go one day at a time.

"If you lapse, don't worry, just start again - it's worth it and you're worth it."

Canice Kennedy, sports psychologist and motivational expert with AFRESH agrees and has a few tips to help people reach their goals for the year ahead:

• Write down your goal and place it somewhere you will see every day;

• Identify the reasons why you are setting this goal and make sure that the goals are your own;

• Make the goal quantifiable, measurable and with a time deadline - "I walk 30 minutes three times per week until March" or "I will stay smoke free until the end of January";

• Have a large goal for motivation - "I will lose 25 pounds by the end of March" but use small goals for regular monitoring - "I will lose two pounds per week";

• Go public: tell a friend, coach or colleague and ask them to encourage and motivate you every week;

• Monitor your progress and record it and tell the people around you about your progress;

• Partner up - get a friend to join you in your goal

• Accept that there will be barriers to success along the way and identify solutions to these barriers in advance;

• Plan your self-talk in advance: "I am strong and determined" or "When I set a goal I always follow through" or even "I love a tough challenge";

• As you progress, look at yourself in the mirror every day and say, "well done, you are brilliant"

• Reward yourself and treat yourself along the way: "If I lose the weight, I will buy myself expensive jeans in the small size" or "I will have two glasses of wine/chips/a scone and butter every week once I am on target"

• Accept that your goal path will not always be perfect - there will be setbacks. But remember that setbacks are only setbacks if you let them set you back. Accept a setback as only temporary and be determined to start back as soon as possible

• If you think you can't, you can't, but if you think you can, you can.

• Check out canicekennedy.com; afresh.ie; gotri.ie; quit.ie

'You can achieve anything if you put in the work'

Orlaith Fennell gave up smoking in 2016 after 30 years and having managed to kick the habit, decided that she wanted to get fit. So, in January 2017, she joined Go Tri, triathlon club in Shannon.

Her original plan was to build up slowly as, by her own admission, she wasn't in the same league as some of the other members, but with determination and training, she soon decided to aim for the Dublin City Marathon in October. The process was long and hard, but the mother of two felt she need to keep setting herself challenges in order to achieve her ultimate goal.

"I initially trained for a couple of local 10km runs and then set a goal to do a duathlon, which I achieved in March, albeit coming in last," she admits. "Then I did the Limerick Run in May but as I had always secretly wanted to do the marathon, I decided to sign up for it.

"It would have been an impossible dream a year earlier and a lot of people thought I was mad and suggested that I do a half this year then next year work up towards the full marathon, but I knew I needed a real challenge to keep me on the straight road."

Orlaith (45), who is married to Tom, started training in earnest in June by doing two short runs of five to eight miles and one long run of 10 to 20 miles each week, upping the distance as she got closer to the event. She found the going tough, but took support from her running mates and her sister Aoife. Then, before she knew it, D Day had arrived and with it the goal she had been training for all year.

"On the day of the marathon I was very nervous and emotional but once I got to Fitzwilliam Square, I forgot about it as the atmosphere was electric," she recalls. "The support was incredible throughout and I crossed the line at 4hr 58mins. It was a fantastic experience which I would highly recommend.

"I can't believe I did it and am very proud as it was more than I ever hoped for. It taught me about discipline and training and that you can achieve anything if you put in the work."

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