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Wednesday 20 September 2017

The joys and tears of a TV health progamme

As producer on one of RTE's most popular shows, Anna Nolan has seen the triumphs and tears of five members of the public as they struggle to follow their health programmes. here, she opens the door on what it takes to capture their resolve on camera

I was chatting to Geri Maye recently out in RTE and she was telling me how much she enjoyed Operation Transformation. Of course, Geri is as fit as a fiddle, but how she described the show was very interesting -- she said it was similar to watching Top Gear, you mightn't be into the cars but you enjoyed the show for its drama and its entertainment.

Operation Transformation might seem to be about weight loss but, in fact, it is about much, much more. It is about our relationship with food and our bodies; our fears and our dreams.

As a producer on this show, I have the privilege of working with five people who have allowed us into their lives to explore all these areas. Adrian, Grace, Kayleigh, Killian and Natalie were chosen on December 11, 2011 to lead the nation in the fight against obesity.

The previous two weeks, my colleague and I had visited more than 40 people who were on the shortlist, meeting them at home, chatting to their families, explaining to them that if chosen, they would be handing over their lives to us and the nation for eight weeks. Some pulled out after realising the extent of the commitment. Some wanted to do it, but their partners didn't, and so they had to step away from the show.

But most were at a stage in their lives where their weight was stopping them from being the person they wanted to be.

The five were chosen for different reasons.

They had to represent different areas of Ireland, different age groups, different socio- economic backgrounds. Some had to be single, some married, some with children and some with none. But Adrian, Grace, Kayleigh, Killian and Natalie essentially brought with them big personalities and we, the production team, felt they could deal with all that the experts, the show and their followers threw at them.

I think this year, everyone can identify with at least one of the leaders: the woman who only needs to shift a couple of stone (Grace); the man who works hard and is a big part of the community, but has gotten into the habit of takeaways and treats (Adrian); the busy mum (Natalie); the teenager who got a bit lost along the way (Kayleigh); and the sports guy who piled on the pounds after giving up rugby and who works from home (Killian).

Filmed

The five are filmed every day of the week. Every single day. There is a camera with them at breakfast, at work, at dinner.

One of the cameramen asked me at the weigh-in this week did I think it was similar to my days in Big Brother? Actually, I think it is different -- and much, much harder.

I was locked away in a cocoon, with strangers. These five have to take the cameras into their homes and their communities.

I never saw a single second of the Big Brother show. These five get to watch themselves every week, and see their failings and their faults knowing that 600,000 other people are also looking; commenting on how they don't want to exercise, how their kitchen might be a mess or simply 'the state of their hair'.

The leaders talk about how they almost become public property.

Killian was in Tesco last week and he bumped into Radio 1's John Murray. They both subtly peered into each other's trolleys to see what they were buying. (Note -- John Murray had five pizzas while Killian had vegetables and meat.) But this happens to all the leaders when they go shopping. People look inside their trolleys to see if they are sticking to Dr Eva's food plan and God help them if there is a cheeky chocolate bar sticking out.

The point of the constant filming is not to catch the leaders out, but to capture those moments of success and weakness, so that their followers on the OT website can understand why it is that the weight has come off, or why it has stayed on.

Halfway through the show, as we are now, you will begin to see that by far the most difficult element over the eight weeks, is the psychological aspect.

I was chatting to my mam the other day, who is following the show and is doing brilliantly. We were talking about the small voice in our heads that tells us on a dark, rainy night to stay in and put on a fire, instead of going for a run. Or the voice that makes us do a hundred other things instead of putting on our trainers and battling the wind.

So, just as Dr Eva and her food are vital to the mix, and Karl with his exercises are necessary, Dr Eddie the psychologist digs deeper to work out why one reaches for the takeaway menu, or stops halfway through that run.

Complex

Weight gain is a complex issue. And to understand why the five, and the nation, put on weight, Dr Eddie Murphy is sent out to each house, to look into their past, and uncover their fears, their motivations and their goals in life.

Every week, either someone asks can he come to their house, or we decide that someone isn't seeing what the rest of us are seeing and a session is organised.

Of course, the viewer only sees a small part of that chat, Dr Eddie is normally with that person for two hours.

And it is often uncomfortable.

For Killian, he had to confront the man he has become and his huge fears of what everybody thought of him. For Natalie, her eating habits were a vicious circle that had made her detest her body.

All five leaders have to be honest -- and that is the key to this show. Sometimes their honesty is disarming, even uncomfortable for the viewer; seeing a grown man cry is unnerving to many . . . especially when we all know that his two children will be watching. But as you will see tonight, Killian untangled some thoughts that were in his head, and is now able to move on.

Painful

Although Operation Transformation brings up painful subjects, essentially it is a show about hope. And that is why in 2012, the nation is watching more than ever.

Through the five leaders we can see how to overcome our personal problems and fight to reach our goals.

Top Gear is about cars, Operation Transformation is about people. Both programmes show the mechanics, the failures and the triumphs, but Operation Transformation has heart.

In a way, these five brilliant people have become something for Ireland to cheer on, to will them on to success.

And in such difficult times as the present, hope is what we all need.

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