Jonno caught up with Bryony Francis, another successful Hero from the Hero Program. This is how it went!
Tell us about your approach to your health before engaging with RMR Hero Program.
My approach to health before joining the RMR Hero Program was a bit complacent. I’ve always considered myself to be a healthy individual. I don’t often catch common coughs and colds and when I do I recover quickly. As a youngster I’d been fairly active, long-distance running, sports at school, riding my bike everywhere. I always thought that I have a resilient immune system and because I didn’t get sick often, I thought I was healthy. As I slowly but steadily put on weight, I began to experience various aches and pains and I put them down to growing older. We don’t talk about this sort of stuff enough, and I guess I assumed everyone else was feeling similar effects. And then later, when my social circle was made up of people who were very active, outdoor pursuit type folks, climbers, walkers and canoeists, who clearly weren’t suffering these ailments, I just assumed that they were fit and I was fat and that was that.
How did you see food?
My relationship with food before RMR was that I wanted to be able to eat anything I wanted to. I was slender until I left home in the late 80s. My family ate mum’s good, home cooked food and very few processed items. A few cakes and sweet treats but desserts were often berries and cream or yoghurt. After leaving home, I slowly but steadily put on weight despite remaining reasonably active. I didn’t really have a “moderation” switch. I would eat quickly, when eating in company I would always finish my meal before anyone else. I would eat until I felt full and sometimes until I felt stuffed. Snacks would be biscuits, chocolate, cake, or large doorstep slices of white bread and butter, sometimes with marmalade or syrup. When I travelled alone, which I often did for business, I would have a three-course meal as a reward for being away from home. I would drink a couple of glasses of wine most nights. I knew I wasn’t eating the right things and I went through periods of being focussed on healthy eating habits, losing a little, but I found weight loss hard to sustain.
How did your health make you feel?
My health made me feel embarrassed and frustrated. In my spare time, I’m involved in a lot of outdoor activities and many of the people I do these things with are fit, slender and healthy and it seemed they could eat what they liked and not get fat. I wanted to be fit and active, but I was out of breath going upstairs. I felt tired all the time – I could never seem to get enough sleep to feel full of energy. I felt miserable a lot of the time – I knew this wasn’t the life I wanted. I thought I knew what I should be eating and doing, and I beat myself up for not being able to do it. I felt restricted, that I was missing out on the way of life I wanted.
How bad was your health, your energy levels?
My health was suffering. I was overweight to the point of being obese. At my heaviest I weighed 87kg (13st 11lb). When I finally committed to the Hero programme in November last year, I weighed 86kg, my waist measured 101cm. I suffered with sore joints, painful tendons, lack of energy, shortness of breath. Even at my heaviest, I was still walking up mountains, just glacially slowly. My energy levels were really low, I never felt like I had had enough sleep because I snored most of the night and so my sleep wasn’t restful. I also struggled to think clearly much of the time.
How did this impact your confidence and other parts of your life like your relationships, your career, love life etc?
This had a huge impact on my confidence in other parts of my life.
I was so embarrassed about my snoring but I thought it was a genetic thing. I wore a retainer at night to bring my lower jaw forward, which helped but didn’t stop it completely and although I could sleep wearing it, it was uncomfortable. My husband often resorted to sleeping in the spare room, and I felt so guilty and frustrated at disrupting his sleep too.
My inability to think was so frustrating for me and others. I would get so far down a thought path and give up because it was too difficult. I would dread group participation activities at work because I couldn’t organise my thoughts quickly enough to contribute meaningfully. Concentrating for more than a couple of minutes was really hard and thinking back was often like dragging my thoughts out of my brain through a layer of porridge.
Although my stamina was good and I could walk all day, I was so unbelievably slow and I was always the last of any group. I would puff and pant uphill and sweat buckets. I could only plod, and when others waited for me they would often start walking again almost as soon as I caught up and I would be soul-destroyed and desperate – and could only plod on at my own slow pace with incredibly laboured breathing. I found going uphill so hard that I developed a rule: I don’t talk when I’m walking uphill. But this just made my walking companions leave me further behind.
What made you decide to make the change?
Several things made me decide to make the change. I empathise with Kate – I was the fat wife of the incredibly slim and fit adventurous outdoor activities instructor. I’d taken up canoeing again in the last couple of years and I really struggled to get in and out of my boat. I was just too heavy and inflexible. I remember one occasion, a group of us had been on a river trip and I was trying to get out of the canoe but I couldn’t lift myself out. My husband was steadying the canoe and a bunch of cyclists went past just as I whaled myself onto the bank. I laughed about it, exaggerated flailing around, shouted “hi, hello, nothing to see here” but inside I was horribly embarrassed. Also, “Fat and fifties” wasn’t a place I wanted to be. I knew that Banting worked, but I’d not committed to a programme. I decided to have one final, firm, committed effort at losing the weight.
How did you discover the RMR Hero Program?
My route to the RMR Hero program was quite long. After I lost the weight the first time and put it back on, I started looking for more sustainable diets and at a local food festival in 2011 I came across a diet created by UK nutritionist and obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe, where you don’t combine fats and carbs in the same meal. I tried it for a while, but I found it quite a complicated diet. I kept researching and in Zoe’s book I found Gary Taubes, then Drs Phinney and Volek, then Diet Doctor, then Banting. Finally I started losing weight. Then, in about 2015 I joined a face to face weight management group, not RMR but led by a South African in the UK, and she lent me her copy of RMR 1.0. The recipes were delicious, Prof Noakes’ essay was illuminating and I was hooked. I lost about 10kg, began riding my bike again and I felt great. But the group disbanded when the coach moved away, and I lost my support network. Although I had committed to changing my way of eating and I’d learned a lot about the science, I had masked my bad habits and I certainly hadn’t acquired any new ones, and without my support network I fell off the Bantwagon. Years passed, I banted on and off, ate carnivore for about 6 months but was very easily led astray by cakes, biscuits, desserts. Fresh white bread with loads of butter was my nemesis. Then when Covid hit, for some reason I haven’t fully worked out, I gave up all pretence at dieting and I ate whatever I wanted and quite quickly I was back at my previous heaviest weight. I was so unhappy but I knew the science behind the diet made complete sense. Everything else I’d found in researching couldn’t disprove the science, it only brought up the same old arguments that the LCHF community had already refuted. So in November last year I decided to commit, join a programme, and give it one last try.
What were you expecting?
Honestly? I was expecting to fail. I considered myself quite an accomplished failure. In fact failure was the one thing I thought I was probably really good at. I was expecting complicated and restrictive routines, complicated and time-consuming meal prep and cooking. I was expecting the time-zone differences to cause insurmountable problems. In the groups I was expecting stilted conversations with contributions forced into a rigid format. I wasn’t expecting it to be real.
What did you actually get?
What I got was something else. There are huge quantities of learning materials, video lectures, notes and workshops and I consumed and took part in many and revised the science well before my Hero Program began. And when it began, quite quickly I realised it was very real. People were sharing deeply of themselves, not in great or long detail but in great vulnerability. The reflections were really brave. The structure provided a framework without restricting our contributions. And my group were so warm, caring and understanding. We shared experiences not advice, and this made for very honest and very supportive conversations. We shared commitment to the programme, to each other, and to our own health and happiness. We celebrated our successes together with genuine pleasure. And the learning opportunities exceeded my expectations: the psychology of eating, habit forming practice, consideration of self and relationship with food. That’s powerful stuff.
What are some of the significant changes in your life that you believe came from the RMR Hero Program?
I didn’t expect the changes to influence so many areas of my life. I’m better organised in general because I’m planning more effectively. This gives me more time with friends and family and the time we spend together is better quality too because I’m not worrying about all the other things on my to-do list, I’ve already planned for those. I understand habits, how to make and sustain good ones and how to break bad ones. And I understand how long it takes for a habit to become an unconscious habit, so I don’t beat myself up when I deviate. I’m kinder to myself in general, I have more positive conversations with myself about who I am, what I do, why I do it. I have a better image of my body, due to the weight loss I’ve achieved, and I have a better image of my identity due to the effects of the psychology element of the programme.
How did your experience on the Hero Program differ from other health or diet experiences you have had before?
There were significant differences between my experience on the Hero Program and my previous diet and health experiences. The Hero Program provided a small, safe group to share my observations on my own achievements and challenges. That’s not unusual, but what makes the Hero Program stand out is that no one advises a Hero on how to overcome their challenge. The rest of the group shares their own personal experiences, what works for them, and so the Hero receives a selection of ideas they can consider, or it might spark an idea of their own. No one judges a Hero. There is no “I’ve or You’ve been good or bad”. There is shared accountability rather than simply sharing results. Your measurement is simply a pinpoint on your journey. The focus is not on the scales. There is a strong focus on the making and breaking of habits, which I’ve come to realise is crucial in achieving a healthy lifestyle.
Give us some physical stats. How much weight have you lost? What other physical or mental benefits are you experiencing?
I’ve lost 15kg (2st 5lb) on the Hero Program. My waist measurement has reduced by 13cm. I have better clarity of thought, more energy, need less sleep, stronger motivation, and a desire to exercise. And a really big benefit is that I no longer snore, I’ve ditched the retainer and my husband doesn’t have resort to sleeping in another room.
What kind of people do you think would benefit from the RMR Hero Program the way you have?
It’s hard to think of the sort of person who wouldn’t benefit from the RMR Hero Program. If you’re the kind of person who wants to achieve health or weight change but can’t quite see the way, or you see the way but you can’t quite keep yourself on track, if you are brave enough to be vulnerable or you’re worried about people judging you, if you are open to having your beliefs challenged, and if you want to achieve lasting, sustainable health and life skills, the Hero Program is for you.
How has this impacted your confidence?
The impact on my confidence has been huge. When I was overweight, I felt that it didn’t matter what I wore, I always looked a mess. Now, clothes fit me, and when I look at myself in the mirror my body looks much more like the way I think about my body image. I’ve hoarded clothes in case I could ever get back into them, and now I can wear clothes I haven’t worn for 20 years. I’m much more agile, and I can get in and out of my canoe with ease, and I look forward to social opportunities to hike and cycle.
And what has the impact been on your relationships?
For my friendships, although my fitness is still improving, I feel I can get involved in outdoor activities without slowing up my friends or feeling embarrassed. So I can enjoy these experiences without worrying so much and without struggling so much. I feel lighter of heart and spirit as a result.
How was your Hero Leader?
My Hero Leader was Dani. She was awesome. She took full part in our group as a Hero as well as a leader. She showed us where the path was, and we chose to walk along it together. She provided tools and resources where they would be helpful, and she has a brilliant stock of delicious, quick and easy recipes that have become staples in my journey. Dani, thank you so much for leading us so well and for joining us in our journey. You rock.
Anything else you’d like to say?
One of the important things I learned was that the best time to address weight or health issues through diet is “now”. There is always something else going on. Work is always busy, personally I work long hours and I’m often away from home overnight. There are always social occasions, times of emotional strain, cultural occasions that will send us off the track. My Hero Program ran over Christmas and the New Year, and I still lost 15kg. The Hero Program gave me tools to cope with these challenges, and to make conscious choices. I can take these tools with me for a healthier, happier life now.
Thank you Jonno, Wendy, Vanessa, Victoria, Bridget and the rest of the RMR team for your commitment to changing the course of obesity and for putting together such a brilliant program to achieve it. I’d still like to lose another 3 or 4 kg, and I know RMR is the way to do it.
THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU CLICK ON THE HERO PROGRAM LINK