How Dr Eva got back her zest for life... and her marriage
Two years ago, Eva Orsmond was bored and living apart from her husband, Wyatt. 'Call it a midlife crisis,' she tells Sarah Caden, in her frank Finnish way. However, a ruined hotel in Portugal offered her a chance to take a risk again and even reignited her marriage. Here, she talks about feeling young, reversing diabetes and offers her key tips to a healthy New Year
Eva Orsmond has an interesting notion of what's exciting. It wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but right now, Eva - or Dr Eva, to you - is more excited than she has been in many years. She's in the middle of a building project, which is most people's worst nightmare, but to Eva it is a welcome mad risk, a flight of passion that has rekindled her marriage, a chance at a new chapter.
The last time I met Eva, before Christmas 2016, she was a little bit bored. And she wasn't ashamed to say it. She was living apart from Wyatt, her South African husband and father of her two, now grown-up, sons, and she was about to compete in Dancing With The Stars, a grab at a bit of fun and glamour that she seemed to know smacked slightly of a midlife crisis.
An Irish person would balk at admitting they were bored and feeling around for some foolishness, but Eva Orsmond is Finnish, in case you've forgotten. And Finns tell it like it is.
Finns don't just tell it, though, they live it. Where an Irish person might wallow in middle-aged passive-aggressive discontent until it gave way to old-age bitterness, a Finn is prepared to throw away what's making them miserable and try again. Which is what Eva Orsmond has done in the past two years - she found a new project in Portugal, finally wrote about her passion, which is the reversal of type 2 diabetes through weight loss, and even found her marriage again.
A high-achieving perfectionist, she's still a little sore at her early exit from Dancing With The Stars, but she can laugh at that.
If you didn't laugh and move on, after all, you'd get nothing done. And if Eva Orsmond hates anything, it's inactivity - in herself and in others, as we learnt from her days on Operation Transformation.
In early 2017, soon after her turn ended on Dancing With The Stars, Eva went to Portugal to visit her mother, who has a place there. She had the idea of opening a Portuguese residential weight-loss destination for Irish people, and took some time to look at potential properties that might suit.
"There were two old places," Eva says. "One was an old hotel. They had put all the good pictures of it on the internet, but really it was vacant for eight years, vandalised and in bad shape. But you came to it through a forest and then suddenly it appeared, and I could just feel that suddenly I was at home. I was, 'Oh my god, this is what I've been dreaming about all my life'."
It was a dilapidated dream, but it was beyond her budget, so she phoned Wyatt and asked him to come and look at it. An engineer by profession and used to big projects, Wyatt remained Eva's business partner despite the fact that they were living apart.
Wyatt also saw the potential in the old hotel and they decided to give it a go. It took them four months to raise the money and Eva says it was "very stressful", but it's clear that she didn't hate this. In fact, she seems to be enjoying it rather a lot.
Eva feels alive.
"The misunderstandings and all of the difficulties," Eva laughs, "You could write a book about it. Wyatt is very good with dealing with people. If it had been me doing all of that, I'd have become a mass murderer. The Portuguese need a good kick in their backside."
During the early days of the project, Eva decided to ask RTE if they fancied making a documentary about it. They agreed to a one-hour documentary, which has grown into three one-hour programmes.
At this point, their 'health hotel', Solar Alvura, is almost at the point of decorating, and they hope to open about half of the 21 rooms by May. The budget has doubled, Eva says in mock-horror.
She recalls how they sold their house in Ireland and basically moved to the hotel, which was uninhabitable, but couldn't be left empty, for fear that anyone else would move in. They basically camped for some time, without running water or electricity. It was rough and ready, and it somehow revived the relationship between Eva and Wyatt.
"It's nearly like starting from scratch," Eva says, recalling what it was that caused her to drift from Wyatt in the first place. "I suppose there was no looking after kids any more or the house, and I was at the stage in my life that I wanted a big change. I felt my life needed a different path. I wanted to change; call it a midlife crisis.
"Wyatt is my best friend and always has been," she adds, "but life didn't have any more interest and we didn't do things together, and it wasn't fun. And now it's extremely exciting.
"It has been stressful change," Eva admits, "and Wyatt has taken a lot of that stress. But we are living again.
"And it's great when you don't have the kids all the time around. My friend is a paediatrician in Italy, and she says the best thing you give your kids is happily married parents. She always had weekends away and left them. I was too paranoid with the kids, and when you work full-time as well, the family life becomes too much a priority, and you forget each other."
Eva talks cheerily about the last two years as a positive time, though she dips a little when she mentions the fact that she had two separate surgeries on the rotator cuffs of both shoulders, the tendons of which tore at different times. She tore one by lifting marble chopping boards when she was moving house - and no sooner was she starting to move the shoulder again after surgery, than the other shoulder went. It was a physically limiting time for Eva, who struggled with feeling relatively helpless. Now recovered, however, she opts for gratitude for mobility, rather than self-pity or catastrophising.
"Before," she says, "my focus was always that I needed to be fit and look young, and now it's that I need my mobility and functionality. The goalposts change.
"My life is never boring, and I'm always attracting things happening, but this last year - the project, the arms, and now the book - there is no free moment," says Eva, delightedly.
"In the middle of all of it, I started writing my type-2-diabetes-reversal book and the time wasn't right for it, but it is now. This book is my passion; I go blue in my face talking about it."
The foundation stone of her latest book, Dr Eva Orsmond's Reverse Your Diabetes, is that through weight loss, type 2 diabetes can be avoided or reversed to the point that medication is no longer required. This is something she has seen in her clinics, that she has put into practice with clients, and she demonstrates with nine real-life case studies in the book.
It is Eva's passionate goal to appraise Irish people of this, as she believes that Irish doctors do not tell their patients that weight is a key factor in causing and perpetuating type 2 diabetes. Her book offers a plan for people to follow to avoid diagnosis, or to get off medication, and is, she emphasises, to be followed only in partnership with one's doctor.
"But in Ireland, people are not told when diagnosed that if they lose weight, it will help them," Eva says. "I don't want to be mean, but I can't believe that medical doctors could be that ignorant. My mother says that in Sweden [where she lives] everyone knows that if you're at risk of diabetes, you need to lose weight.
"Extra visceral fat [carried around the middle] produces hormones and they are inflammatory by nature," Eva explains. "What people don't realise is that this is the same inflammation that causes diabetes and cancer. People in the population who don't get cancer rarely smoke or have visceral fat. Basically, if you took all the normal-weight people of the population and the non-smokers, how many conditions have they? They have very little chronic conditions. There is cancer, but the percentage is much smaller. With type 2 diabetes, there are a few cases of very skinny people getting it, but minute numbers."
Part of the problem, according to Eva, is that doctors don't want to tell their patients that they are overweight. They are too polite, she speculates, and they aren't firm or clear enough in saying that the weight is a role-playing problem. "My patients say, 'I was told that it would be good to lose weight, but not that if I lose enough, I could come off my medication'."
Eva gets very worked up about doctors who recommend exercise as their top advice for patients who have type 2 diabetes. "A typical diabetic patient has three or four stone of extra weight. And you tell them to start exercising! Number one, they will find it hard with all that excess weight.
"And also, even if they walk for two hours, they will use only 250 calories.
"With weight, people are not maintaining, they are constantly gaining. So if they start exercising, they might only stop gaining, not losing. It will make no difference to that person's [blood] sugar readings, and they will give up the exercise when they see no results. So you have demoralised a person, not helped them."
Eva is tough, but she regards it as being cruel to be kind. Her attitude is that tiptoeing politeness does not save lives, and she is no gentler on herself than anyone else. After Christmas, she admits, she always has "the three kilos" she would like to lose and she sets to it like a campaign. Her tips for a healthy New Year are included here - see panel, right.
"It's tough to lose it," she concedes, "but you need to do these things to bring you back every now and then. Every year, we age and we have the goalposts changed. 'I am a bit older, so I can spoil myself and I can have that bit of cake or whatever' - that is the attitude, and it is wrong. All research indicates that the older we get, the lighter we should be. Socially, we accept the opposite."
People come to Eva in her four weight-loss clinics around Ireland, and when she asks them when they were at their lowest weight, they most often say it was on their wedding day - so long ago, that it's almost irrelevant. They believe that they can never get back there later in life, but Eva pooh-poohs this.
Eva believes that an attitude of resignation to stagnation and decline is part of our bad attitude to health and our inability to tackle an overweight issue that is hurting not only Irish adults, but children, too.
"These habits start as a child," Eva says. "The starting point is so early. Overweight affects your self-confidence, everything."
She works with overweight children in her clinics, but only together with their parents, because that weight is a family issue, she believes. Eva is also convinced that we need to talk to children more about weight and be more honest with them.
"There would be less of a problem if we weighed them at school," says Eva. I say that some people would suggest that this sort of focus on weight would exacerbate the growing problem of eating disorders, but Eva is resolute that childhood weight-monitoring makes sense.
"No one in Finland would think that was weird," she says. In Finland, she explains, all children are weighed "but it's done in a way that it's not about weight, it's about health and developmental milestones.
"It's doctors and nurses and they talk to the child about their whole development: puberty, periods, erections, wet dreams. Stuff I've never heard discussed in Ireland."
This book about type-2-diabetes reversal is what Eva says is her passion, but, fundamentally, her passion is for frankness. She is blunt, but with a purpose. Not mean, but well-meaning.
"We all feel young inside," says Eva, who has spent the last two years facing down her "midlife crisis", her need for change, and the surgeries that threatened to put years on her. She feels younger inside, and part of the purpose of her book is to give that to others, too.
"What I wanted myself was to have that feeling again of taking a risk," she says. "And the health hotel is a huge risk and it hasn't come good yet! But I'm living by the day and enjoying every minute. I'm interested myself to see how it ends up."
'Dr Eva Orsmond's Reverse Your Diabetes' is published by Gill, RRP €19.99 How to Reverse your Type 2 Diabetes: An information evening with Dr Eva, Eason, O'Connell St, D1, January 16, 6.30pm; Eason, Shop St, Galway, January 22, 6.30pm; Eason, Mahon Point, Cork, January 24, 6.30pm. Tickets, €20 - price includes a copy of 'Reverse Your Diabetes', expert advice and a Q&A with Dr Eva, as well as delicious, healthy refreshments
Photography by David Conachy
Styling by Chloe Brennan
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