BBC Wales presenter Jamie Owen's fat at 40-plus challenge
- 11 October 2013
- From the section Wales
News presenter Jamie Owen has been a familiar face to BBC Wales viewers for more than 20 years. Here he explains his quest to lead a healthier lifestyle and drop a few pounds.
I've lost count of the number of times that I've read out news stories on television about Britain's growing obesity time bomb, our diabetes crisis, Wales' habit of eating too much, drinking too much and not taking enough exercise.
Each time, shifting rather heavily in the news anchor's chair - I knew that this story was as much about me as anyone else - Jamie Owen: 45 years old, fifteen and a half stone, overweight and needing to do something about it.
Throughout much of my childhood, like most kids I was a faddy eater and wouldn't touch vegetables and it was my thin-ness that might have concerned my parents. My brothers and I led an outdoors life - we played football in the street, climbed trees and walked to school.
Photographs from my student days tell a story of a lean teenager staring back at the camera. I joined the BBC in London at the age of 21 and spent my first years of my working life cycling to and from work.
But I was a fast food addict.
I loved junk - fish and chips, kebabs, Chinese takeaways and curries were not weekend treats, they were my staple diet, washed down with a few beers.
None of it seemed to matter of course, because I was burning off the fat.
I was walking everywhere or biking to and from work and I didn't have the money to have a car, so exercise was part of my everyday life - not a lifestyle decision.
When I moved back to Wales, the bike came too but my new job paid me just enough money to qualify for a bank loan, which allowed me to buy something I'd lusted after for years - a second hand car.
I took every opportunity to jump behind the wheel and play with my new toy. The bike gathered dust.
My wheels changed, but not my food or drink.
My perfect day would start with a cooked breakfast followed by a good lunch with a dinner of fish and chips, Chinese or Indian.
After a childhood of wholesome home cooked fresh food I wanted the exotic delights from foreign countries best enjoyed out of a take away carton. Oh and fish and chips. I knew it was bad for me but I still ate it.
And then there was the drink.
My particular poison was cola - the full fat stuff. I would get through perhaps three cans some days, on shift work.
I found it particularly useful to keep me awake. I loved fruit smoothies too - who could possibly suggest that a glass or two of that fruit goodness could be harmful? I should have just opened my mouth and eaten a bag of sugar.
The truth is of course that Britain is downing sugar-filled drinks from the earliest of ages.
You are what you eat - but what you drink also has a profound effect on your weight and your health too.
All of which brings me onto booze. I have been always fond of a beer or two and sometimes three. What I never did was drink alcohol in the house. If I wanted to have few beers it would be a night out down the pub perhaps twice a week.
What changed for me, and I suspect for many people over the last 20 years or so, was the rise of drinking at home.
I'd have a glass of wine with dinner perhaps two and on the weekends maybe three.
Hardly the stuff of Oliver Reed, but across the week it's a fair bit of alcohol. While confusion reigns over unit sizes we're allowed to have, what is beyond debate is that more of us are drinking at home than ever before and drinking too much.
At the age of 45, I looked in the mirror one morning and thought, who's that fat bloke staring at me? I had reached a time in my life when I had to face either continuing as I had been and accepting the health consequences, or do something about it.
Most of us don't venture into a doctor's surgery unless we're ill, me included. I had never felt better. I'm never ill. I have never taken a day off work for sickness. I don't smoke. Ok I was a little on the porky side, but surely I had nothing to fear from a once-over in a surgery?
Dr Marina Arulanandum, my GP is old school, she makes time to talk, but no bedside manner could diplomatically hide the readings; my blood pressure was high and I was packed off next for an MRI scan with Dr Simon Blease.
He has an MRI scanner specially made for the larger patient. For half an hour I lay still while magnets made a sonar-like image of the inside of my body.
If my GP's pep talk had been uncomfortable then this was a hundred times worse. Dr Simon had the black and white images of my innards on his computer
My biology lessons got me through where to look for lungs, heart and liver, but beyond that I was struggling with the unfamiliarity of what I was seeing. It wasn't too difficult as it turned out - you guessed it - a white layer of fat. This wasn't my fat belly but hidden fat within my body.
Dr Simon was once a little on the large side but saw the light a few years ago and made changes to his lifestyle.
His bête noir as a doctor is our addiction to sugar. He thinks we've got health campaigns all wrong. Rather than making fat in food, the bogey man - Britain should instead be worried about our sugar consumption.
He says, the white stuff is killing us and we're all hooked.
My MRI scan tells of a pretty average 40-something Welshman who is overweight. But the abiding image is that my lungs are slightly restricted in their movement because of the fat in my body.
It's obvious isn't it - if you have fat in your body - it's displacing other things that should be in its place.
A picture paints a thousand words. If I had any doubt about sticking to the plan it is quickly displaced.
Losing weight is combated by three factors - increasing exercise, improving diet and reducing alcohol.
I didn't have a Damascene conversion and suddenly decide to embrace any of these - but instead it was a grudging acceptance that either I had to change or get fatter.
I resolved not to make my new health regime a short-term endurance that I would be sure to give up on within weeks, so I resisted the temptation to give up alcohol completely.
But what has changed is the quantity and frequency. Where I would have once have had two bottles of beer in an evening I now have one, where I would have once have had two glasses of wine I have just one. And I try to have five nights of no alcohol at all as opposed to my previous regime of just two.
Added to that all soft drinks have been binned - and it's pints of water three times a day.
My previous food regime of a steady intake of crisps, pork pies, takeaways and pasta dishes has been given the bullet.
In its place, breakfasts of granola, and a new departure at lunchtime - eating lunch. I would often skip lunch thinking that not consuming food would help the cause - but abstinence is bunkum of course, at least for me, and I would be starving by mid-afternoon and start troughing on snacks to sate my appetite.
My new lunch includes freshly cooked dishes like asparagus with poached eggs washed down with a pint of water.
Dinner is now freshly cooked fish or chicken with vegetables. And there's no wine, unless it's the weekend. Smart planning is essential to avoid finding the cupboard bare and then reaching for the takeaway menu.
Food and drink is only part of this story of course. I have signed up a personal trainer for two hours a week. I hate gyms. Catrin, my personal trainer, makes me box until exhausted.
She forces me to do press ups until I begin to think I'll need a defibrillator and her weights exercises make me feel as physically inadequate as I did in school.
But the point is she is the reason why I turn up at all. Without that appointment in the diary I would find an excuse not to bother.
We all deceive ourselves about our health.
We like to think it's someone else's responsibility - so we blame schools, parents, supermarkets but ultimately, our health is our responsibility.
At time of writing I have lost a stone and I now weigh 14 stone - down from 15.6. I cycle to work three times a week (if it's not raining) and I use it for all of those errands where once I would have jumped in the car.
I've tried to stick with the plan - I'm still going to the gym twice a week, still off the junk food and the booze (bar the odd snifter at weekends).
My clothes are hanging off me and I get phone calls from my favourite pubs and restaurants wondering if I'm well. The truth is I've never felt better.
Jamie Owen - Fat and Fortysomething is broadcast on BBC One Wales, Friday 11 October at 20:30 BST.