I’ve struggled with my weight and mental health for as long as I can remember, right back to being a teenager. Over the years I’ve tried various weight loss groups, but never found them to be effective over the long term, I would lose a reasonable amount of weight quite quickly, but it wouldn’t be long before I’d return to my old ways of self-doubt, depression and comfort eating.
I first saw the Fit Bantams scheme advertised on social media, and then picked up a leaflet from a BCAFC home game just before Christmas. I decided to take the plunge and give it a go. I figured that it was free, so if I hated it then it was only one Wednesday evening wasted and no harm done.
However, when I walked through the doors of the Community Hub at Valley Parade that evening, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by some friendly and welcoming faces, someone I already knew from my role at Bradford City WFC, and most importantly, a group of men in a generally similar situation to me.
The worst part was that first set of stats, they were some big and scary numbers. But that was the kick I needed, I couldn’t expect to have a long and healthy life with my young daughters with blood pressure like a cricket score, and carrying a whole extra person’s weight around with me everywhere.
That first hour was excellent, although I can be quite shy in large groups I felt totally at ease. The leaders made it clear that this wasn’t a judgemental environment, the aim was for us to improve our lifestyles, but to get out of it what we wanted. There was no danger of those disapproving comments if I decided to treat myself to a pizza one evening.
The second hour of that first week was a real eye opener for me – circuit training under the main stand at Valley Parade. I could barely stand by the end of it, I limped home with cramp, and the next morning I really had to roll out of bed. Another motivator though, I wanted to push myself, to not be that exhausted every week, and be able to do some simple running and play football again.
I discovered that the small changes that I needed to make were actually really easy with the right motivation and encouragement – within a fortnight I’d completely changed the way I did my grocery shopping – no more bars of Dairy Milk, no ready meals, but a lot more meal prep and reading nutritional information. The exercise bike came out as well, and has been a semi-permanent fixture in the lounge ever since.
I noticed a change in my mindset very quickly, I wanted to be good at this, to be thinner, healthier and happier. And my competitive side came out as well, I wanted to lose more than my Fit Bantams colleagues. It took longer to feel a change physically, mainly because I needed to lose so much weight, but after a couple of weeks I found I was able to walk for longer, cycle further, and run more when we played 5-a-side as a group. Sadly my footballing skills haven't improved.
The main difference in my home life was that when I play sports with my daughters at the park instead of making excuses to not chase the football or run at cricket I was actually playing properly and it felt much better.
Now that the structured course has finished, it’s great to keep in touch with everyone, and that’s definitely helping with the motivation to stick with it. I’ve lost over 41kg, I’m getting out and about more, I’m not comfort eating, and I’ve got that drive to keep losing the weight. I remember in one session when I’d just lost 8kg, Adam gave me eight bags of sugar to hold, it really shocked me to know I was carrying so much of that dead weight around on my own body. No wonder I felt so sluggish and tired.
Apart from having a Leeds supporter for a leader, and some of the exercise sessions being absolutely exhausting - I’m thinking boxercise mainly - I couldn’t think of a single thing I didn’t enjoy in my time with the Fit Bantams. I’ve loved being able to play football again, I’ve loved the camaraderie and team spirit within the group, and I’ve loved having help kick starting losing the weight and making what I genuinely feel are long-term lifestyle changes that will hopefully see me a lot happier and a lot healthier for a long time to come.
Adam, Gareth and Tyler deserve a huge amount of credit for what they’ve achieved, the three of them have always remained positive, encouraging, honest and realistic throughout the course, and even continuing to run informal sessions remotely during the coronavirus lockdown from their kitchens was a brilliant idea that kept me going when things could have got tougher for us all.