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Contestants may have shed seven stone, but the ratings are bulging

The five participants in RTE's Operation Transformation have scored a massive victory in the battle of the bulge after shedding more than seven stone between them since the show kicked off.

And as proof that more Irish people are becoming increasingly anxious about their weight, the Herald can reveal how the programme's interactive site has had more than 2.4 million hits so far.

Now running for its third series, the RTE One show, fronted by Gerry Ryan, has also clocked in an average of nearly half a million viewers with its Wednesday night show which shows five members of the public trying to slim down.

"They are all doing great and have all managed to adhere to the programme," said RTE's Darren Kennedy.

Determined Dublin nurse Ciara Dunne (28) managed to shed four pounds this week alone, bringing her down to 14 stone 7.5lbs while her colleague Penny Dwyer (33) has lost 5.5lbs to bring her down to 19st 13lbs.

And Penny, who tragically lost her daughter to meningitis, is credited by Darren as having the biggest transformation throughout the hit programme.

"This is a lady who has literally been through the wars, both on an off screen. But she is really blossoming in my eyes and I think that's why she has such a strong following".

Tonight's programme sees the five leaders going head-to-head with some of the participating politicians, including Senator Phil Prendergast and Aengus O'Snodaigh.

The participants are helped through their journey by fitness expert Karl Henry, weight loss expert Dr Eva Orsmond, HSE clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy and motivational coach Enda McNulty.

And programme reporter Darren has revealed how he's teaming up with Karl and Dr Eva to take part in the forthcoming Connemara Half Marathon next month.

"This show really does infiltrate every aspect of your life. I feel guilty every time I even look at a muffin!" he added.