JUST over three years ago, Emma Downey had a brush with death that ended up transforming her life.
After suffering a near-fatal allergic reaction to aspirin, the 35-year-old from Ballinlough decided it was time for change. She was 18 stone at the time, and now, after a remarkable regime of diet and exercise, she weighs half of that.
Emma lost the first six stone quickly and maintained a lower weight for a while before losing the last three stone slowly.
“At the end of June this year, I lost the remainder of the nine stone and was literally half the woman I was in March, 2016,” said Emma.
Her brush with death occurred that month, after taking aspirin. Her throat swelled up and she couldn’t breathe.
Emma’s twin sister, Carol, was with her at the time and called an ambulance. The paramedics administered two shots of adrenalin.
“If the ambulance hadn’t arrived when it did, I wouldn’t have made it,” said Emma.
“After that, I decided that life was too short to be overweight and unhealthy. I had to change my life.”
Emma made significant changes to her lifestyle after her health scare. She started training at a Crossfit gym in Ballincollig.
Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program which mixes aerobic exercise, body weight exercise and weightlifting. She trained there for 18 months.
Then, Emma joined Dennehy’s gym in Douglas.
“I get up every morning at 5.30am and go to the gym before work,” she explains of her fitness routine.
“My work-outs consist of resistance-type training. I work out for 45 minutes each morning.
“If I work-out on a Saturday, I train for an hour. On Sundays, I spend time outdoors, walking or hiking.”
Emma’s way of living has completely changed since she decided to lose weight. A healthy diet and exercise have become her priorities.
“I prep a lot of my meals on Sundays for the week ahead,” she says. “Diet is the most important component to help you lose weight. It’s more important than training.
“I track the amount of protein, fats and carbohydrate that I eat each day. I weigh my food.
“I’m a bit more lenient if I go away for the weekend or if I go on holidays but I try to loosely track my calories most days.
“I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, foods that are high in protein, lean meats like chicken and turkey.
“For snacks, I usually have berries and yogurt with chia seeds or rice crackers with peanut butter.”
Emma cut out takeaways and adds: “I rarely have a takeaway these days. If I fancy a pizza, I make one myself.
“I try to eat as healthily as I can. I believe in being flexible with my diet. If I fancy something nice, I’ll have something small, like a bag of popcorn and some dark chocolate.”
Emma explained that one of the secrets to her success was not being too hard on herself and changing her mindset around food.
“Before, if I had decided to eat healthily and I slipped and ate a chocolate bar, for example, I would have written off the whole day as a failure and eaten whatever I felt like.
“Now, if I have a chocolate bar, or something that isn’t part of my food plan, I simply draw a line under it and move on.”
Beginning and implementing major changes in Emma’s lifestyle was a challenge.
“Starting can be the hardest part,” she admits. “Going into a gym when you are overweight is very daunting.
“But, once you start and you begin to see changes in yourself, you’ll stay motivated and you will want to continue.”
Emma surrounded herself with supportive people to help keep her motivated.
“My family and friends are my number one supporters,” she says. “They keep me going with their encouragement.”
But she adds with a smile: “They are not so happy with me when I am on their case about their hydration levels and their wellbeing!”
Emma’s passion for health has transitioned into the school she works in, as a special needs assistant.
“A lot of the women at work ask me for tips on how they can improve their diet.
“I always tell the women at work, just start somewhere. Make a small change. Move more. Drink more water. Don’t over-complicate things.
“Even though I hate the word diet, the best ‘diet’ is the one you can stick to. There is no point following a strict diet where you are good from Monday to Friday and then on Saturday and Sunday, you eat all around you.”
During her incredible weight loss journey, Emma took a keen interest in nutrition. She has completed a course in nutrition and is in the middle of studying a second course.
“If I pass my exams next March, I’ll be a certified nutritionist,” she says.
Emma encourages anyone who wants to change their lifestyle but are unsure how to go about it to “just start”.
“Make small changes to your life. Make it sustainable. You don’t have to follow a highly restrictive diet. Implement small changes at the start, like dropping the bag of crisps you would ordinarily have eaten in the evening in front of the tv. Eat smaller portions at mealtimes. Move more.”
This woman’s life has completely changed since she lost weight.
“I feel happier,” says Emma, “I feel healthier. I’m a lot more active. I don’t see exercise and healthy eating as a chore. I really enjoy it.
“I can buy clothes in any shop that I want. Simple things like that make me feel happier in myself and motivate me to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”