At more than 31st and with a waist measuring 74 inches (more than 6ft), Thomas McIntyre was used to embarrassing situations caused by his weight, so when he got wedged in a football turnstile while dozens of supporters watched on he simply laughed it off.
But on the inside, Larne man Thomas wasn’t laughing. His weight was a constant worry and the 43-year-old was convinced he would die young.
He said: “I was the typical jolly fat bloke, always making fun of myself before anyone else had the chance to do it. Deep down though I’d reached the point where I thought about my mortality all the time and the more I worried the more I ate, to comfort myself I suppose. It was a vicious cycle.”
Now Thomas, who works as a fresh food manager at Dunnes Stores, has broken that cycle after losing 17st 8lb and winning the title of Slimming World Man of the Year 2013. To mark his achievement, Thomas was invited to The Ritz in London on Tuesday morning to receive his award.
Thomas had been overweight for more than two decades, since giving up playing football in his early 20s without quitting the junk food his active lifestyle had allowed him to enjoy. He grew in size steadily and in the run up to his wedding five years ago he became so worried about his increasing weight that he secretly purchased a bigger, back-up suit – it was an 8XL.
He said: “My weight felt like a huge burden when I married my beautiful wife Claire. She’s always loved me for me but getting a suit was difficult and I felt awful in it. Getting stuck in a turnstile when I went to Partick Thistle’s ground wasn’t much fun either, after that I had to go in through the disabled gate every time I went to a football game.”
On top of his embarrassment, Thomas’s weight also left him on medication for a range of health concerns including high blood pressure, breathing problems and fluid retention. He tried losing weight before and managed to shed 11st but his diet left him hungry and he was unable to keep it up. Thomas regained the weight plus another 3st, making him the biggest he’d ever been.
Then in February 2012 a friend, Mauveen Kelly, confided in Thomas how worried she was about his weight and asked him to come to their local Slimming World group with her. He begrudgingly agreed: “I was extremely apprehensive, I was worried it would just be another failed diet attempt, but that changed when I met my consultant Jayson. He’d lost 9st himself – although he looked like he’d never had a weight problem in his life – and after hearing his story and how passionate he was about helping other people to lose weight it made me feel like I could do it too. And when I came back after the first week and found out I’d lost 10½lb, I was completely won over.”
He began following Slimming World’s food optimising eating plan and started planning healthy, home-cooked meals as he picked up tips and recipes at his group each week. Members satisfy their appetite on lots of everyday foods like fruit and veg, pasta, rice, potatoes, lean meat, poultry, fish, pulses, eggs and fat-free dairy. Thomas never felt hungry and still enjoyed lots of his favourite meals. Now he loves wife Claire’s Slimming World-friendly chicken curry and home-cooked mixed grill. She’s even lost 1st just by enjoying the same healthy meals.
As the weight started to come off, Thomas felt confident enough to begin exercising. He challenged himself to do a little more each day, spurred on by Jayson and his fellow Slimming World members, and now runs three times a week as well as taking the dog on long walks.
Today Thomas has lost 17st 8lb, going from 31st to 13st 6lb and a size 8XL to a medium. His waist has also dropped by 40in to 34in. But the biggest change is in how he feels about himself. Thomas’s confidence is soaring, he’s learning to drive for the first time and is even hoping to start a family.
He said: “Before I joined Slimming World I had no energy, my days off would consist of me just lying on the sofa. Now everything’s easier and I’m so much happier. If we are lucky enough to have children, I’ll be the active dad I always wanted to be and that’s really important to me.
“I feel like life passed me by for years so I’m determined to live it to the full now. When I first joined Slimming World my friend Mauveen gave me a plaque that said ‘Always look on the bright side…’, it’s definitely easier to do that now so I’m not pretending to be the jolly fat bloke anymore, I’m genuinely happy.”
The Celtic fan adds: “I can fit through the turnstiles when I go to the football now so there’s no embarrassment there, in fact, that’s the only downside to my weight loss because I have to queue with everyone else!”