- Conor Hegarty, a 24-year-old management consultant from Cork, Ireland weighed 301 pounds at his heaviest.
- He shares with Men’s Health the wake-up call that prompted him to start his weight loss journey.
- Here’s how making small changes helped him lose 140 pounds in just 10 months.
I’d always been heavy as a kid, and got heavier every year as I grew up. I wouldn’t even look at the scales, as I would start to anticipate that I’d put on more weight. It crept up on me slowly; I just didn’t have the knowledge of food or the motivation to do anything about it. If I did do something, I would crash diet for a couple of weeks, which would then end with a binge-eating day and after a while I would be even heavier than when I started my diet.
The real weight gain started when I went to university and started drinking alcohol. Nights out were always followed by a kebab or McDonald’s, and the combined calories of the drinks and junk food often led to me being inactive the next day. When I entered the workplace, that level of inactivity increases. I stopped playing sports, and often found myself working long hours. With my poor diet (full Irish breakfasts, large meals, and regular high-calorie snacking), I put on something like 55 pounds in less than a year and a half.
There was one day last year, where my shirt was so tight that two buttons popped off while I was sitting at my desk. A friend helped me stitch the shirt together, and I wasn’t even fazed by it. I went out for a drink that night, forgot about the incident, and just bought a bigger set of shirts the next day.
The real lightbulb moment was when I went to America in November 2019. I have never felt more ashamed of myself than when I was in Miami; the men and women all look great and are able to enjoy themselves at the beach without having to feel self-conscious about their bodies. My friends all wanted to go to a pool party, but I couldn’t go as I didn’t want to take my shirt off in public.
Then we had a connecting flight, and had to run about half a mile through the airport; I couldn’t catch my breath, and had sore shins. Walking onto the plane, I could see people staring at me: I was sweating profusely, struggling to catch my breath, and when I found my seat I sucked in my stomach to fasten my seatbelt (I was too ashamed to ask for an extender) and sat there uncomfortably for the whole flight. The tray in front of me didn’t even fold down because my stomach was in the way.
At 23 years old, I weighed 301 pounds, and was technically morbidly obese. I knew I had to make a change. I calculated my BMR to understand how much I should be eating and began tracking my calories, starting with a 200 calorie deficit. This allowed me to get used to the restricted diet and reduce my binge-eating. If weight loss slowed down, I took an honest look at the effort I was putting in—if was getting lazy, I increased exercise a small bit, or if I felt I was putting in my max effort in the training, I reduced my calories again to create a deficit and beat weight loss plateaus.
I prepped meals twice a week, and wouldn’t deviate from my meal plan for the whole week. Cheat days don’t work for me, so I stopped them.
My friend and I both signed up for a 12-week transformation program at our local gym. Exercise made me feel great, and I didn’t want to eat junk food after a hard workout, so this helped me control my cravings. At the start, I was mainly doing resistance workouts on the weights machines, and slowly built up some bodyweight exercises like jumping jacks and burpees. I also made a couple of mini-contracts with myself to keep me accountable for the 12 weeks, like stop drinking lattes, take a break from alcohol, and not eating takeaways. The only way to lose weight is to be true to yourself. If you are over-eating or under-training, you have to be honest with yourself, or else you will not see results.
Then COVID-19 hit, and the gyms closed in Ireland about six weeks into my program. Luckily, I had lost just enough weight that allowed me to do a couple of runs per week. I had to start with one day a week, and slowly built this up to four or five days per week as I got lighter. There were lots of mild injuries like sore ankles, knees and shins at the start, but these began to go away as I got lighter.
I slowly began to enjoy running, and have not looked back since: I put on my shoes, put on a podcast and hit the road. We’re still in lockdown now, so this is the only time I get away from the laptop and phone screen, which means it’s also great for my mental health.
In total, I lost 140 pounds in 10 months. I’m still shocked at how fast I lost it. I feel absolutely amazing: I have so much more energy, I get up early every day and go for a walk before work. I’m back playing football and hurling, which helps keep me motivated. I’m even sleeping better, as I don’t snore anymore.
I am not the same person I used to be! I used to stand with a hunched back and my head always facing the ground. I rarely made eye contact with anyone. I was completely and utterly lacking confidence. Even going to the gym was a worry. I was afraid people would judge how fat I was, but everyone was so supportive and often waited for me to finish my sets and would stop to talk to me to tell me how good I was looking and how much I had improved. That was a real confidence booster. Now, I stand upright, have a smile on my face and have boundless energy! I love exercise, food and have really started living my life again!
I have signed up to complete my first marathon in June next year. Maybe this will be the first of many, who knows. The next goal I have for myself is to work on my physique and tone up a little bit more—I want to try and get rid of some of the last remaining pieces that I am self-conscious of.
My advice for anyone who wants to lose weight is to start small, with little changes: Cut out sugary drinks, etc. You know yourself and your vices better than anyone else. Meal prep is also really helpful. Pre-plan your meals in a way that suits you. If you love to cook, cook every day if it makes you feel better. If you hate cooking, reduce your time spent cooking. I only cook twice a week. On the days when I am not cooking, I go for a walk for the 30 mins I would have spent cooking; it makes me feel great and burns those stubborn calories!
And if you are afraid to go to the gym to start your journey, remember that rule number 1 of the gym is: Nobody cares what you look like, they are too busy looking at themselves. —As told to Philip Ellis.
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