“CROSSING a marathon line, when I could hardly reach down to tie my shoe laces because my stomach was in the way, was the stuff my wildest dreams were made of — and now it’s happening.”
That’s the honest admission of Cork city chef Trisha Lewis who has just been announced as brand ambassador for this September’s The Echo Mini Marathon.
Trisha has struck a chord with thousands of women everywhere since she started sharing her epic weight loss journey on Instagram.
She says things like ‘Hell Ya!’ a lot; swears a little; is funny, honest and very likeable.
The 31-year-old’s online musings even caught the interest of The Late Late Show and she appeared as a guest in May — something she said was a “huge turning point” in her life.
‘Trisha’s Transformation’ (that’s her Instagram name) began when she joined a gym in February, 2018. That sounds like an obvious and straight-forward decision if you want to lose weight — but it had taken her years and a lot of misery to get to there, with a starting weight of 26 stone and one pound.
Her ambition was to lose 13 stone and one pound — half her body weight — and she’s halfway there.
“I’m down seven and a half stone so have around six to go,” said the executive head chef at Jacobs on the Mall.
Throughout her teens, twenties and now thirties, she says that her weight was always something she thought she could “fix — next week”.
“But then, four years ago, I just realised I had gone too far and I gave up,” she said.
By then, simple things like having a shower were a struggle and she remembers getting stuck behind her steering wheel and having to be pulled out by her sister.
“I was riddled with anxiety; I’d get lots of stares in public; people turning back to look at me or nudging their friends. I struggled to walk, when I’d get on a bus I could see people thinking ‘Don’t sit next to me’ and I’d be praying there’d be a double seat free somewhere.
“I stopped going out for around a year and a half; I’d be afraid there wouldn’t be a stable enough chair in the pub; or if I’d be able to get to the bathroom without nudging into people.”
One of nine girls (six older and two younger), Trisha, lives in her native Kilbehenny in Limerick, which is only a 40 minute commute to work. She says they family are an incredibly tight bunch and describes her mum Mary as her “rock star”.
Aged eight or nine, she recalls hearing the word ‘fat’ being used: “But it was puppy fat and I wasn’t frightened by it. By the time I left secondary school I was 16 stone but I was never bullied because of it and I always felt that it was something I’d deal with ‘next week’. I wasn’t embracing being fat and I’m still not.”
She admitted to being a secret eater: “We never had any rubbish in the house. My thing was that I’d have a home cooked dinner, and then go running to my Nana and have another one. It was a case of good food — but too much of it.”
It was when she went to CIT to study Professional Cookery that her weight problem really escalated, and continued to do so when she started working full time.
“I wouldn’t eat breakfast; then maybe would have had a wrap or wedges or soup and a sandwich for lunch. I wouldn’t have anything for around seven or eight hours and then I’d have eaten whatever I could have put my hand on, which could have been a bowl of mash at 10.30pm.
“I know that I eat when I’m lonely or sad, even though it’s not a comfort to me at all. Even when I’m eating I realise that it’s a discomfort. It’s hard to explain — I’m not addicted to food but I kept eating to justify how I was feeling, to match how I was feeling inside. When you’re morbidly obese you’re not happy. You’re tired, lethargic, showers are mind-blowingly awful as your stomach is in the way, chairs are uncomfortable, your mind-frame is negative. I might have been laughing outside, but inside I was crumbling.”
Her dress size was a 28 to 30 and she said she wore the same big and black things for years: “A pants, cardigan and string top; and I just added a scarf in the winter.”
Trisha tried every diet, fad and otherwise over the years, with some success.
At one point, around four years ago she went from 22 stone down to 18 stone but it was when she fell off the bandwagon that she just gave up entirely, despite the concerns of her family.
“I always knew exactly how big I was — I was living it after all. But despite the pleas of my sisters, I just could not get the strength to do something about it; at that stage I had lost my willpower and I suppose I was incredibly depressed.”
The turning point came when Trisha accompanied her sister Annie on a baby scan appointment where she honestly told her how concerned they were about her.
“We had tears in the waiting room and in that moment it hit me that life was moving on and I was stuck,” she remembers. It wasn’t an immediate thing, but her ‘trigger moment’ came on February 5, 2018 and she joined Dennehy’s in Douglas for personal training sessions which, through healthy eating, has seen her lose 104 lbs.
“My mentality used to be that people needed to move on without me; but then I decided to take ownership of my weight; stopped blaming my metabolism and everything else; I was the one who ate the food, I didn’t exercise. Excuses had made me fat.”
Trisha said it wasn’t a case of her having cancer and not being able to help herself: “I could beat being fat. It was about changing that inner voice.
“I now just take every single day as it comes. Slow and steady wins the race. I adore how I feel and don’t want to slip back to my old life. I now eat more regularly, it’s all controlled but sustainable. Everything is so much easier for me now — normal life is lovely!”
In the future, she will probably need some surgery for excess skin but it doesn’t phase Trisha, who at one point contemplated a gastric band operation.
“I will need some surgery and my boobs lifted but I’m going to wait until I’m in an incredibly good place mentally and physically to do that. I don’t care – it’s not 26 stone!”
She had booked a gastric band op in early 2016 in Belgium but didn’t go through with it as the thought of ‘cutting her stomach open’ was too terrifying.
“What I’d say now to someone is that if you can walk to make the phone call to book the operation; you can walk to the gym.”
Her mantra is to ‘beat the bulge’ and she now realises she has to be selfish to reach her goals.
She admits to slips and says when she does it’s just a case of ‘resetting’ her mind.
“Sometimes, though, having a bowl of chips is not bad. People surround food with guilt — we have to get all those feelings away from food.”
She currently has three meals and two snacks a day and says for her, weight loss comes down to the simple fact of creating a calorie deficit.
“Being brand ambassador for The Echo Women’s Mini Marathon is a huge thing, it’s surreal for me. It’s also going to be emotional and shows that fitness is not for the elite but for everyone whose end goal is health. I’m very competitive so I will be pushing myself to the limit on the day.”
And she added: “No matter how far gone you are, you can bring it back. Once you’re above the ground, alive and breathing you can take this on.”
HOW YOU CAN SIGN UP TO THE ECHO WOMEN’S MINI MARATHON
The Echo Mini Marathon takes place on Sunday, September 22, 2019 at 1pm from Centre Park Road, Cork
The 6k route is Munster’s premier women’s road race.
Again this year, runners will be chip-timed.
Adult Entry Fee: €16, Junior Entry Fee: €10
There is a specially designed event medal for every finisher.
After the event there is a finish-line party at Kennedy Park.
Register now to take part at https://register.primoevents.com/ps/event/TheEchoWomensMiniMarathon