It’s a fact that more men than women in the UK are overweight. And yet men are rarely seen in slimming clubs.
But when they do join a group male slimmers can be fantastically successful, as 59-year-old James Carter from Kirkburton has proved.
In just a year the father-of-five, who suffers from a number of serious health problems, has shed more than 6 1/2 stones (41kgs) and reduced his waist from 46 inches to 37. His arthritic pains have eased, he no longer needs to use a stair lift, and he has been able to reduce medication for his heart condition and high blood pressure. And he has a new career.
James, a member of the Slimming World group in Skelmanthorpe, is convinced that men can find it easier to lose weight than women but are reluctant to join what they perceive as ‘women’s clubs’.
His Slimming World consultant Gina Wharton agrees: “Men seem to put their heart into it. Once they find out what they need to do and learn how the plan works they just get on with it. The problem is getting them into class. Men feel that it’s a ‘woman’s world’ and don’t want to cross the threshold. But when they do they get a warm welcome.” However, she says there’s a small but encouraging increase in the number of men who come along with a family member.
James himself joined to support his daughter Kerry Hirst, 37, who was desperate to lose weight, and granddaughter Lauren, 21, has also become a group member. More often than not James is the only male member of the class. But it doesn’t bother him at all.
He says: “I was married when I was 17 and have five daughters, so I’ve always been surrounded by women. It didn’t worry me to go to a group. Men should just get up and go along and give it a try. Ours is a very nice group – I’ve got most of them as Facebook friends now – and everyone is very supportive.”
James can trace the start of his weight problem back to 2004 when he had a flu-like illness and developed what was later diagnosed as ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. He was just 45 years old but found himself spending entire days in bed. His health deteriorated and he was also told he also had coronary heart disease and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, a condition that affects the lungs and causes shortness of breath. “Everything just went downhill,” said James, who was a youth worker for Leeds City Council at the time. “It took me a long time to get back to work and then because of my health issues I was retired on medical grounds.”
Going from being an active working person to spending long periods of time inactive led to overeating and weight gain. “Before I was ill I’d say I was perhaps half a stone overweight,” explained James, “But after I was ill I would eat out of boredom. I couldn’t exercise or anything; I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs.”
Even he was shocked when he stood on the scales at his first visit to Slimming World and discovered that his weight has soared to 20 1/2 stones (130 kgs).
But he cranked up the willpower, re-trained his eating habits and in the first week lost 9lbs. “I’d lost the weight of a baby,” he says, “and that inspired me.
I’ve got 13 grandchildren, so I set my sights on ‘losing’ another child. My best mate used to say being overweight was like carrying a child around with you all the time. I thought I could ‘lose’ Zack (his four-year-old grandson).”
James’ wife Glynis (they’ve been married for 42 years) says she’s extremely proud of her husband and supports him by sharing Slimming World-inspired meals. “I’ve learned a lot about food,” says James. “I was having the wrong things. I used to drink gallons of milk and take a packet of sweets to bed in the evening to eat while watching TV. We had takeaways and cakes; I used to do a lot of baking.
“Now we have a lot more fruit and vegetables; if we have a takeaway, and it’s months since we did, we share one between us; I’ve cut back on bread and for lunch I’ll just have a small roll and a yoghurt or banana – I used to have a big sandwich and a Mars bar and bag of crisps; if we go out for a meal I’ll have a few boiled potatoes instead of chips. We can knock up a healthy meal really quickly.
“It’s about re-educating yourself. People don’t realise how much they’re eating.”
James admits that shedding so much weight has required a lot of willpower and he’s determined to continue: “I’d like to lose another stone and then I’ll continue going to class. I like the social aspects of it now,” he added.
And, of course, he’s still supporting his daughter and granddaughter, who have yet to reach their target weights. By the time they have, he estimates that the family group will have lost in total what he weighed when he began his slimming journey.
Since starting his weight loss quest James has also found his way back into employment and re-trained as a bus driver. He explains: “There wasn’t a lot I could do because I couldn’t lift and carry things. I wanted to learn how to drive a bus. Arriva in Wakefield took me on even though I was disabled. I had to take a specialised test because of my health. I’ve now moved to First in Huddersfield.”
And so, in the space of just 12 months James has his life back on track, in more ways than one.
* NHS figures show that 65% of UK men are obese or overweight and 58% of women. More than one quarter of all adults are now classed as obese - up from 15% back in 1993. A Body Mass Index of between 25 and 30 is considered overweight and a BMI of 30 or more is obese.