I don’t believe anyone carrying excess weight can be happy

The appeal of the weight loss diet is enduring, with endless variations running the gamut from keto to paleo, The Zone to Atkins, vegan to juice cleanses, intermittent fasting and the 5:2. Its history is a bit more checkered, encouraging the use of amphetamines, tapeworms, and smoking as some of the more unconventional ways of losing weight. For medical doctor and weight loss expert, Dr Eva Orsmond, it’s a lot less about the gimmick, and more about creating a healthier lifestyle; one that incorporates mindfulness, exercise and nutritious foods.

That’s not to say Eva doesn’t believe in calorie counting. In fact, the Finnish-born doctor operates several wellness clinics centered on calorie controlled dieting with locations in Dublin, Galway, and now, Portugal, at her latest wellness destination hotel, Solar Alvura.

Starting August 8 on RTÉ One, the second series of the TV show, Dr Eva’s Great Escape, begins with her buying an abandoned hotel in the Eastern Algarve, then curating the interior design and eventually welcoming its first ever visitors.

With so much rhetoric condemning calorie counting as harmful, both triggering and exacerbating disordered eating, does Dr Eva feel that this is a reductive approach towards dieting?

Absolutely not, she tells me; in fact, the only way to lose weight is if you’re in an “energy deficit.” “You still have to look after the fats, the carbohydrates, and the proteins but calories are the base from where we are starting.”

Many people claim that dieting simply doesn’t work for them, and feel that calorie counting is redundant. A study by Dr Fatima Cody Stanford at Harvard Medical School in 2020 deemed calorie counting as an insufficient method of losing weight, citing the variations in the body’s ability to burn fat.

Without calculating the calorific content of each meal, it is simply not achievable to set and meet weight loss goals, says Dr Eva.

“Our system is working and obviously we are improving it when something proves challenging.”

At Solar Alvura, there are three different diet plans, the ketogenic fast weight loss program, the slow weight loss program, tone and shape, and the rejuvenate (minimum 5 days). All the programs bar one (rejuvenate) are a minimum of seven days to achieve results.

While some medical professionals have slammed this as a cut-and-paste approach to weight loss, Dr Eva points to the medical evidence. What about the backlash, I ask, and the labeling of this method of weight loss as a form of ‘fat-shaming’?

“People who say that, they have not seen the medical effects that excess weight does to people. I am not wanting to judge or say anything about people’s shapes and it’s wonderful to be confident in your body and love yourself.

You can’t deny the medical evidence of what obesity does to the body.”

Dr Eva has worked with patients to reverse Type 2 diabetes and she says that bodies can recover quite quickly when they are “given the chance”.

That’s what her programs at the hotel offer; a chance for your body to detoxify and recuperate. While you can’t avoid wear and tear on the limbs, your weight is something that you can control, says Dr Eva, and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly improve a person’s quality of life.

“If you are obese, you cannot be eating healthily. If your waistline measurement is more than half of your height, then you have excess visual fat. The more excess visual fat you have, the more inflammatory hormones you have.”

This inflammation causes the body to enter into an acute sense of irritation, she says.

“Your body is continuously under pressure. Anyone who has diabetes, fibromyalgia or arthritis, they usually get relief when they start losing weight.”

Not only does this state of inflammation caused by weight gain trigger physical conditions like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, it can really impact a person’s mood and mental health, says Dr Eva.

“I don’t believe anybody who is carrying excess weight that says to me ‘I’m happy in myself’ — I don’t believe it’s possible.”

Is this not a problematic way of thinking? She doesn’t believe so.

“I think they’re saying that because they have resigned to believe that they can’t lose the weight and they have to, because they’ve tried so many ways. They have been misled with different tablets, information, and shortcuts. There is no shortcut and there’s no easy way to weight reduction.”

You need to put the effort into cooking nutrient dense meals, counting the calories and understanding what you are eating and why in the right quantities, she says. “It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time.”

It would take a gutsy person to buy a hotel in Portugal without a word of the language in her arsenal. But that is Dr Eva all over.

“My Portuguese is an insult to the Portuguese language. Basically, they’re very polite and they understand me – because I have such strong Italian, I thought I would just come here and just rock it, but it’s been tougher than I thought.”

That being said, Eva has been negotiating with suppliers in Portuguese so it can’t be that bad. She assures me her pronunciation “disrespects” the language, and she needs more time to work on it.

It’s this acerbic honesty that has led her to be such a divisive character on Irish TV over the last decade or so in the limelight.

Eva is known for her no-nonsense approach, and has ruffled quite a few feathers while she was the resident doctor on Operation Transformation.

The new series of Dr Eva’s Great Escape is not short of drama either, and Dr Eva falls out with a number of her employees, as well as her husband, Wyatt.

Dr Eva Orsmond and husband Wyatt clash on screen from the very beginning of Dr Eva's Great Escape.
Dr Eva Orsmond and husband Wyatt clash on screen from the very beginning of Dr Eva’s Great Escape.

‘Curtaingate’ involves her opting for a different maker altogether as she was “very disappointed” with the Portuguese curtain maker, Ana.

I’m slightly nervous to ask but I wonder how she copes with conflict, especially in relation to Solar Alvura, “my baby” as she affectionately refers to it, and especially when others don’t share her drive or vision.

“This is actually really serious learning for me. First of all, not having the language and needing to be in the process of having a personality transplant. I haven’t succeeded. I feel my heart rate going up three times a day and I’m feeling like ‘aaaaaaaah’, I’m screaming.”

It’s a drive for perfection that causes this frustration for Dr Eva. She doesn’t necessarily see this as a bad thing but she is aware of her direct nature and tendency to voice her opinions without any sugar coating that can irk or upset people.

“I suppose in a way it’s good because that means that it comes naturally for me to get five star standards.”

Eva chooses to work with people who share her passion and challenge her, and she believes she has the makings of a very strong team especially with chefs Samuel and Edgar who have experience in running five star kitchens, and are “really embracing the calorie counting” .

“Obviously it will take time and I suppose I have to be patient. I like everything done yesterday. I have to learn. I need to be patient with myself and with other people.”

Between Covid and the lengthy process of the renovations, the project has been almost five years in the making, one that required pivots and compromises. While compromise is a virtue necessary for an enduring marriage, it is not one that Dr. Eva and her husband are willing to succumb to any longer.

The couple clash over almost everything from episode one, from the decor to the implementation of the project’s tasks, and how to manage the staff. Wyatt accuses Eva of being deliberately obtuse, picking the most elaborate tiling system for the bathroom but she maintains that doing it right means only doing it once.

To say that’s a metaphor for their marriage might be stretching it but it makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Dr Eva is seen in emotional turmoil and appears conflicted as to whether the split is the right decision – they had previously decided to separate and this was their last chance.

“Everyone gets divorced,” she tells me; “We’re no different from any other couple.” Both are committed to working together amicably as partners on the project.

“There are days more challenging than others but I think we have come a long way. My son said to me the other day ‘Mum, I’m so proud of you and Dad.'”

The decision had been brewing for years, says Dr. Eva. In the first episode, she breaks down on camera, saying she feels like the “saddest woman in the world.”

But in typical Dr Eva style, she cuts down to brass tacks, and powers on.

“In one way I would say, it’s no different than it was before. It’s just now we have made the decision that we need to just be brave and just move on, you know?”

Dr. Eva’s Great Escape will air on RTÉ One on Monday August 8 and 15 at 9.35pm

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