Matthew Riggs, a 33-year-old IT worker from Essex, knows all too well the pain that losing a father can cause.
After his father passed away from cancer when he was just 11-years-old, he began putting on weight. His coping mechanism was comfort eating as a coping mechanism, which spiralled out of control. "By the time I was 16-years-old, I weighed 140kg,” he says.
In his view, a deskbound IT job was instrumental in his weight-gain, as the sedentary lifestyle meant that he was looking at a screen all day with little exercise.
But, he shares, the real problem was spending years in denial, telling himself he was just built that way.
The dangers of his obesity would eventually emerge as life-threatening. “I was having heart palpitations,” he says.
“I had to wear a heart monitor at home because the doctors thought I had an irregular heartbeat.”
It also took its toll on him psychologically. “When I was overweight, I was also really depressed,” he admits. “I couldn’t do all the normal things a dad would do with his kids, which meant I avoided doing activities with them at all.
“It really affected my mental health. As a guy, no matter how old you are, you never really talk about those things and its hard.”
The turning point for Riggs came after his seven-year-old son, Harrison, returned home from school having learnt about the body. “He looked me dead in the eye and asked me if I was going to die,” he says.
“This hit me hard as I was thinking about my dad having two heart attacks at 36 and 42-years-old.”
It was then that Riggs took up his friend’s offer to bring him along to the gym. “He took me to a spit-and-sawdust style gym, it was like something out of Rocky,” he says of the visit. Previously, Riggs was terrified at thought of walking into a “muscle-man gym” and looking like “the fat guy”. But it turns out, “they were the friendliest people ever”.
Riggs hasn’t looked back since and has worked out for an hour every single day. His is a bodybuilder-style routine, targeting a different muscle group each day. He manages to get a sweat on though by resting for just a minute between sets and finishes his sessions with 10 minutes of cardio on a cross-trainer.
When lockdown hit, having lost 50kg after a year of daily workouts, Riggs was determined not to bring a halt to the progress he had made. He bought himself some dumbbells and barbells, but it was through using a set of bands that he found he was able to recreate a lot of the exercises he’d been doing in the gym.
Riggs had another surprising trick when it came to cardio. “I used to roller skate,” he says. “During lockdown, I dug them out and started again. I hadn’t skated for 15 years but started by doing a couple of miles. By the end of lockdown, I was doing 12 miles each time I went out.”
Over lockdown, Riggs managed to lose a further 20kg, dropping his body weight down to 87kg. To reach his body transformation goal, he also had to drastically change his diet. When he first stood on the scales, weighing 157kg, he calculated he was consuming 6-7000 calories daily, despite the recommended daily intake for a man being approximately 2500 calories.
At this point, he was eating three to four takeaways a day and could drink a whole bottle of rum in the evening. “I think the drinking was part of dealing with how low I felt about myself,” he admits.
On top of his workout routine, Riggs cut out the alcohol and junk food, and stuck to a calorie-deficit diet consisting of high protein and low carbs. A typical day might include oats with bananas for breakfast, followed by chicken breast, brown rice and carrots for lunch. Dinner might be turkey breast, sweet potato and broccoli.
To stave off any cravings, he allowed himself one cheat meal a week on Saturdays. It gave himself and his children something to look forward to and, he says: “they taste much better when you’re not eating three or four a day.”
Since dropping the weight, his life has completely turned around. He feels more confident and loves going out with his family. “It has also had a really positive impact on my marriage; I have more energy,” he says. “I can play football with my son and go on bike rides with my daughter.”
Riggs’ advice to anyone else wanting to lose weight is: “Get in the gym and do not worry about what everyone else thinks - no one is looking at you. One of the biggest things I have realised since going to the gym is that everyone has a story and has their own objectives. Just focus on yourself and start living a healthier lifestyle. It is never too late to start!”
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