'Binge eating has scarred my liver'
When actor Ricky Grover, 51, was asked to take part in a TV programme testing for three serious health conditions he had no qualms in signing up.
"I was due an MOT anyway as it had been a few years since my last check-up," he said.
"I was expecting to pass them with flying colours like I had done in the past."
But the former EastEnders star was in for a nasty surprise.
The show Long Live Britain was investigating heart disease, liver disease and Type 2 diabetes, the hidden killers which are responsible for 200,000 deaths in the UK each year.
And tests revealed Mr Grover was showing signs of two of them. A skin-prick test revealed he had Type 2 diabetes while an MRI scan showed scarring, known as fibrosis, on his liver.
"It was a real shock,' the actor and comedian said.
"I thought it was only big drinkers that had problems with their liver, but it turns out obesity is a major cause."
Weighing over 21st when he signed up to the programme, Ricky admits he was a "big bloke." But he thought the fact he didn't drink much alcohol and had a relatively healthy diet would protect him.
"I have always eaten healthy food but my problem is I'm a binger," Mr Grover explained.
"I get cravings for sugar, it is an addiction actually. If I was watching TV with a bag of chocolates I couldn't stop after taking the first bite.
"Also doing this show revealed that my portions were too big. I thought it was fine to eat half a chicken for a meal, but I was told I should just be having one thigh."
Diabetes: Type 1 vs Type 2
- Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels, because of problems with the hormone insulin
- In Type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to produce any insulin
- In Type 2 diabetes, not enough insulin is produced or body's cells don't react correctly to it
Source: BBC Science
The actor's Body Mass Index reading, which measures a person's weight in relation to their height, revealed he was 'morbidly obese.'
"The weight had crept on, it was hard to keep track of it as it went up and down quite a bit," Mr Grover said.
Being obese puts extra strain on the liver and can cause an accumulation of fat in the organ. Over time this can increase the risk of developing scarring known as liver fibrosis, which in turn can lead to a loss of function known as cirrhosis. Obesity also increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
The actor also admitted he had experienced some typical diabetes symptoms but chose to ignore them.'I put my symptoms down to age and stress'
"I had noticed a bit of numbness in my feet, felt thirsty quite a lot and went to the loo in the night, but I put it down to age and stress," he said.
Taking part in Long Live Britain finally forced Mr Grover to take a long hard look at his health.
He was taken to a recycling centre to demonstrate how eating too much fat prevents the liver from functioning properly and met Lorraine, who had end stage liver failure and was waiting for a transplant.
"Out of everything that visit really hit home," Mr Grover said.
"I realised it was make or break time. Luckily for me I should be able to control my diabetes with diet and exercise for now. My liver also isn't too damaged so it can repair itself if I do the right things.
"I've been given a second chance."
Since making the show Ricky has started doing daily half-hour boxing sessions with a personal trainer.
"Being an actor can be quite stressful, so it's been good for that as well," he said.
"I also walk my dog Bubba-Joe, but he's eight-years-old now so he takes his time."
He has also tackled his diet.
"I've got juicers, blenders, food dehydrators, all sorts!" he said.
WHAT IS LIVER FIBROSIS?
- Liver fibrosis is scar tissue that builds up in the organ in response to injury
- Common risk factors include obesity, alcohol misuse and viral hepatitis
- If left untreated fibrosis can stop the liver working properly - a stage known as cirrhosis and even lead to liver failure
- Liver inflammation and fibrosis affects 10% in the UK
"My house looks like a white goods store. This morning I drank a large juice and I've got some almond nuts and fruit with me. It's about planning each day to beat the cravings. I'm feeling really positive."
With his wife and daughter's support, Ricky has lost more than a stone and says he has got five more to go.
"The one thing I would say after doing this programme is it's really important that people have regular check-ups," Mr Grover said.
"That way you can nip problems in the bud."