Ian McNeill, now retired in his seventies, says his weight gain at the back end of his working life came about partially as a result of declining work conditions.
He argues that, as his schedule became increasingly unmanageable, he fell into a cycle of “doing little more than eating and sleeping” – an anti-social work routine punctuated by brief junk food breaks.
“It was just work and sleep, with half-past four starts over in Byker and me not getting home until around seven o’clock at night,” he said.
“After that, I started working in Gateshead – and things got even worse there. This was just to pay the bills, really. And I ballooned during that time.
“I was on the buses for 37 years. When I retired, I was nearly 26 stone.”
Mr McNeill said his mobility was impacted by his weight gain to such an extent that at one point he was forced to start using a walking stick in order to get around.
Following on from a diagnosis with Type 2 Diabetes on Christmas Eve in 2011, he resolved to make a radical lifestyle change. The father of two has gone on to lose nine stone and nine pounds in total, while his partner, Linda, has shed around four stone.
Both put their achievements at least in part down to local exercise and weight loss support groups.
Karen Marsh, who has coached and monitored the couple at the South Tyneside Slimming World branch, praised the strides they have made to improve their health.
“I’m so proud to be their current consultant,” she said.
“Linda has maintained her target for over four years and Ian has achieved so much and gained in confidence since losing weight by making changes to his eating habits and increasing his activity.
“Both come to group every week even when we are in lockdown and running groups virtually and are so supportive to other members in group.”
Mr McNeill, who before his bus-driver days had trained as a gardener, says the weight loss has not only helped him rediscover his old interests – it has also brought home some of the activities he may have missed out on before he started to turn things around.
“Getting out early in the day and pottering around, after an early breakfast. It’s great that I can do that again now.
“Even just small things like going into Asda, trying a jacket on that I like and it fitting have all been little things to push me on. Weight loss groups seem to mostly be made up of women – I don’t think it’s as easy for blokes to accept they need a helping hand with these things sometimes.
“If anything, that encouragement and support had been there earlier. Not long ago, my oldest son got the shock of his life when he came in one day and saw the change in me. He said, ‘It’s a pity you hadn’t done this years ago’.
“I knew exactly what he meant when he said that. It really hit home.”
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