"How I lost more than 8 stone in weight"

Marchello Gulotta

With the help of the BHF Hearty Lives programme, Marchello Gulotta has lost 8st 6lb. Sarah Kidner finds out what inspired him to keep the pounds off – for good.

Now well on the way to reaching his target weight, life hasn’t always been easy for Marchello Gulotta, 25, from Cwmbran, Wales. His relationship with food changed at the age of seven, when doctors diagnosed his mother with cancer. “It shook my family to the core,” he says, “and left us broken.”

It was about the same time that Marchello’s father was setting up a new business – a fast-food restaurant. With his mother in and out of hospital, Marchello was “passed backwards and forwards between my father and my grandfather and my eating habits went unnoticed”.

He spent most of his summer holidays in Bristol, where his father’s fish and chip shop was. “I was eating fast food a lot and my size was on the increase,” he says.

I wanted to play rugby but, because I was so big, I spent the whole time chasing the ball

By the time he started secondary school, Marchello’s weight in stones was “in the late teens” and he had a waist size of more than a metre, which officially put him in the ‘severe risk’ health category and at a greater risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Marchello enjoyed playing sports at school, but his size made it difficult to join in. “I wanted to play rugby but, because I was so big, I spent the whole time chasing the ball. It took all of the fun away,” he says.

Fighting spirit

When Marchello was 13, his grandfather died. “My grandfather was my idol, but he’d gone, and then, a year or so later, my friend’s father also passed away,” says Marchello. “I don’t know what it was, but I decided I wanted to lose weight.”

Marchello before his weight lossMarchello’s grandfather had been a keen boxer, which later inspired Marchello to take up the sport when he was aged 15. He quickly lost 5st.

Injury setback

Just when things were looking up, Marchello injured his hand, and was unable to box. He then slipped into depression. “I started eating again like I did before, thinking that when I got back in the gym, I’d be able to burn it all off.”

He did return to the gym, but his injury proved too painful. He knew that his boxing days were over. “I retreated into my shell and didn’t socialise for about a year, or a year and a half,” he says.

I seriously thought I wasn’t going to live out the next year

Marchello’s weight rose to 22st and then he lost his job working in a factory, so he decided to move to Bristol to take over his father’s fast-food business. There, he picked up his old eating habits and his weight rocketed to 25st 7lb.

As a result, Marchello began to experience some unpleasant problems. His lower right leg ballooned to the size of his thigh and he was getting shooting pains up the back of his neck. “I seriously thought I wasn’t going to live out the next year,” Marchello says.

Support network

Desperate to lose weight, Marchello visited his doctor in the early part of 2011, initially hoping to have weight-loss surgery. It was then that the doctor referred him to the BHF Hearty Lives programme in Torfaen. “When I went for my assessment, I was a bit nervous and somewhat sceptical, as I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it,” he confesses.

Marchello in the gymThe 12-week programme, which he started just after his 24th birthday, gave Marchello access to a dietitian, a psychologist, a nurse, a training expert and a doctor. They would help him to change his diet and lose weight. He also joined a support group.

Marchello says it is this support network that has helped him to lose the weight and, crucially, keep it off. “I had support from a group of people who began as strangers but soon became friends. They were in a different place in their life from me, with their own personal goals, but they were there for the same primary reason as me: because they needed help to lose weight.”

The theoretical side of the programme helped, too, he says. “The information about diet and lifestyle is broken down into manageable chunks, so it’s easy to understand. The eatwell plate gave me a new take on my diet and how, if used in the right way, it could help me to achieve healthy weight loss.”

I had support from a group of people who began as strangers but soon became friends

Having previously followed a rigorous training programme, Marchello changed his approach to exercise. At first, he was reluctant to follow the gentler regime encouraged by the team but now admits, “I believe that this slower pace played a huge factor in why my weight loss has been as great as it is.”

Judgement day

On the last day of the programme or, as Marchello calls it, judgement day, his weight was 23st 5lb; a loss of 2st 3lb. “I remember feeling hesitant about stepping on to that cold steel plate, not because of fear of not losing weight, but because I would have to take more responsibility for myself from now,” he says.

However, through Hearty Lives in Torfaen, Marchello joined an exercise programme. His trainer encouraged him to maintain muscle and lose fat rather than focus on his weight. Marchello now weighs 17st 2lb – a total loss of 8st 6lb – and is determined to reach his target weight of 15st.

Asked what the BHF’s Hearty Lives programme means to him, he replies: “Without it, I’d be six feet under.”

Marchello now volunteers with the programme, hoping to inspire others.

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