Tuesday 20 March 2018

Dr Eva: I just can't keep chocolate in the house – I've such a sweet-tooth

The TV fat-fighter talks about her family life, beloved dogs and dealing with her 'Dr Evil' image

Calorie counting: Dr Eva Orsmond and Deirdre Reynolds at the lunch in the Westin hotel.
Calorie counting: Dr Eva Orsmond and Deirdre Reynolds at the lunch in the Westin hotel.
Tough love: Dr Eva Orsmond with 'Operation Transformation' contestant Charlotte O'Connell, whom she reduced to tears.
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

When you're eating out with Ireland's most famous TV fat-fighter, you tend to be on your best behaviour – resisting the bread basket, ordering water instead of wine and skipping dessert.

After all, it's not so long since Operation Transformation's Dr Eva Orsmond infamously eviscerated one of the show's leaders for missing her weight loss target by half a pound.

Relaxing over lunch in the sunlit atrium of The Westin Hotel on holidays, however, Dr Eva insists she's no "Dr Evil".

"Nobody has thrown anything at me so far," laughs Eva, who's originally from Finland. "But I have heard the 'Dr Evil' thing before.

"Once my son texted me during the show saying: 'Why don't you say anything nice to (the leaders)?'

"I do – but nobody remembers that, they only remember the other stuff. It's typical!"

Certainly the petite, soft-spoken blonde sitting opposite me over lunch bears little resemblance to the woman who reduced Cavan competitor Charlotte O'Connell to tears on RTÉ earlier this year – prompting a flood of complaints from viewers and Dr Eva's subsequent apology.

"People felt that I had been too strong with her, and maybe I was," admits the mum of two, who moved here from South Africa with her family 13 years ago. "But I really didn't expect that type of reaction.

"At a personal level, it made me quite upset that people thought I was just being mean.

"Some of my clients even told me they were going around defending me because I am not like that.

"With Irish people, usually everything is 'grand'. In another culture, it may have been viewed differently."

She adds: "I didn't apologise for what I said, I apologised for the way I said it.

"I still believe it needed to be said. We sorted it out and (Charlotte and I) are friendly now.

"At the end of the day, it is reality television and we need to get results. If everything was nicey nicey, it would be very boring."

Spanning six countries across three continents, Dr Eva's own journey from stay-at-home mum to one of Ireland's most familiar faces has been far from boring.

"Initially, I wanted to become a plastic surgeon," she says. "I did one year of surgical training and then realised I just couldn't do the hours because you basically live in the hospital.

"I started my public health studies in Sweden, studied to become a doctor in Italy and worked in Bangladesh.

"Then I moved to South Africa, where I met my husband Wyatt – and the rest is history!"

With two young children in tow, finally the couple moved to Ireland for work in 2000 – Eva as a doctor at St Columcille's Hospital in Loughlinstown and geotechnical engineer Wyatt on the country's growing web of motorways.

"I came three weeks before my husband and children because the hospital wanted me to start immediately," recalls Eva. "I had never been to Ireland, which is funny, because I have travelled a lot. I was sitting on the plane thinking: 'I don't believe this – I'm going to live in a country I've never even visited.'

"People had said to me, 'Oh, it's such a beautiful country'. But when my husband's friend picked me up from the airport and we were driving down an unfinished highway on a grey day in January, it was like 'Hello? Beautiful? Where?'

"It took a while to see it, but it is beautiful. Now I feel like this is my home and, in one way, my sons are Irish.

"At the moment, Evan is studying Irish history for the Junior Cert, so it's good for me. I'm learning too. It's important to know the history of the country."

Just a year after relocating from Cape Town to Wicklow, Dr Eva set out to make her new home a healthier place with the first of her Orsmond Clinics, specialising in medically supervised weight loss.

Leading by example, today she orders a salad loaded with rocket leaves, diced honey-glazed ham, red onion and cucumber for lunch.

"At the end of my master's degree, I needed a research paper," she tells. "Basically, I looked around and saw these doctors and nurses that were overweight.

"So I did a study of the staff at the hospital, weighing 260 people, and that's where my whole interest (in weight loss) started.

"Then I was asked to do some private work in the afternoons. Eventually, it became too big to do it as a sideline, and I decided to go out on my own. I'm so glad I had the guts to do that."

Over a decade on, the seventh Orsmond Clinic is due to open its doors in Cork later this year.

And while she admits she's always been slim, Eva says she knows what it's like to be on the wrong side of the scales as well.

"After my first child, I put on a lot of weight – about three stone," she reveals. "I'm so petite, any extra pounds show up immediately. After Christmas, there were people commenting on the Operation Transformation Facebook page, 'Oh, Dr Eva's put on a bit of weight'. I couldn't believe they could see it already!

"Like anyone, sometimes I don't want to think about calories. I have a terrible sweet tooth. I love chocolate, especially Leonidas Belgian chocolate.

"I tend not to keep it in the house, because if I did it would be eaten. When I'm doing my shopping in Blackrock, though, I get four or five and put them in my handbag!"

She adds: "The reason I'm interested in weight management is that I don't think it comes naturally to anybody. But it definitely doesn't come naturally to me.

"Every day that goes by, it's getting tougher (because) our metabolic rate gets lower. You have to work on it all the time."

For her part, Eva pounds the pavement whenever she has time: "I like running because if you run in one direction, you have to come back.

"Sometimes the boys come with me, which I encourage – there's a little bit of monetary incentive!"

In her first book, The Last Diet, released last year, Dr Eva revealed how to "cook yourself thin" with low-fat soups, salads and even sangria.

Next up, she's hoping to pen a book on the perils of puppy fat.

"As a mother, I wanted to get everything right," says Eva, herself an only child. "When I had my children, I breastfed, but I was actually breastfeeding a little bit too often. Christopher would only burp and I would breastfeed him – the poor thing was huge!

"By the time he was five months old, he was overweight, so I know the challenges of being a mother. Then this very experienced paediatrician told me: 'If you keep going like that, your child is going to be a wheezy asthmatic.'

"Statistics show that 70pc of obese children will stay obese adults, so we need to start looking at the problem now. If you saw Christopher now you would never think he was ever overweight."

However, Dr Eva confesses her kids aren't as easy to whip into shape as her clients.

"I try to be a strict mother but I don't always succeed! We have rules and boundaries, but they still go to discos and other things.

"Growing up, my mother always said: 'Just wait until you have children, you will get it all back!' And she was so right.

'I often say if people knew what I had to hear at home, they would say: 'Good, I'm glad somebody's telling her!'"

She adds: "Before Operation Transformation, I wasn't trying to become a TV personality. It just happened.

"I get a lot of positive reaction as well. People come up to me in the street and say, 'Dr Eva, you're doing a great job'."

Animal-lover Eva is also the proud owner of rescue dogs Lincoln and Cleo.

And as we clear our plates, you couldn't ask for a better metaphor for the two sides of the television personality.

"I have two dogs – a 3.5-kilo Dachshund called Cleo and a 30-kilo Rottweiler called Lincoln," she says. "The little one bullies the big one – it's unbelievable.

"If you give them a bone, it's the best stress relief to look at those two dogs. I would have 10 dogs if my husband let me. Wyatt and I are quite different, he's very relaxed – he has to be!"

Two hours and several calories later, Dr Eva's tough-love image is the only thing wasting away at The Westin.

I mean, what's so terrifying about a chocoholic who loves clothes shopping and cries over Downton Abbey?

By the time our tea and coffee arrives, I'm even brave enough to have a biscuit.

See www.orsmondclinics.com

A life in brief

Age: "I'm going to keep that a secret!"

From: Helsinki, Finland.

Lives: Kilquade, Co Wicklow.

Family: Husband Wyatt and two sons, Christopher (17) and Evan (15).

Best known: as No-nonsense weight-loss expert on Operation Transformation.

Likes: Cooking, Leonidas chocolate and fashion.

Dislikes: Heights, tripe and dirt.

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