A man who saw his weight creep up to 22st 7lb (173kg) after spending more than £200 a week on takeaways during the coronavirus lockdowns has seen an incredible 8st 5lb (53kg) weight loss in a year after joining a fat-busting football league.
Ashley Smith, 23, from Bicester, Oxfordshire, says he has always been on the “larger side” but the pandemic saw his weight “spiral out of control” after upping his takeaway consumption, which saw him sometimes ordering two a day.
But having spotted an advert for a MAN v FAT football league, Smith decided to join and has since seen seen his weight drop to 14st 2lb (90kg), with his clothes size shrinking from XXXL to L.
Smith says he became addicted to takeaways during the pandemic, spending up to £40 every day on a 5,000 calorie diet of fried chicken, burgers and fizzy drinks – twice the NHS recommended daily calorie intake for men.
“My binge eating had gone mad," he explains. "I had at least one takeaway a day, sometimes two.
“I was staying up all night watching Netflix and I would wake up at 2pm and get straight on the McDonalds!
“I don’t think I realised just how unhealthy I’d become."
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With his weight creeping up and feeling embarrassed about the way he looked, Smith also says he started to avoid socialising with his friends and family.
“I was too embarrassed to go out in public,” he says.
“I wouldn’t FaceTime any friends and didn’t want anyone to see or hear from me looking the way I did.
“Seeing just how out of control my weight got was quite disheartening," he continues. "I kept to myself, because I didn’t want to explain to anyone that it had got that bad.”
The bed salesman's activity levels took a hit during lockdown too.
“Lots of people were going for walks, but I wasn’t doing that," he says. "I stayed in all day.
“I hated going for walks because I would be sweating like a pig.”
He adds: “I only ever wore black and my clothes were always baggy, because I wanted to hide in them."
The turning point came in April 2021, when Smith came across an advert for a local branch of a football league exclusively for overweight men who want to slim down.
At 6ft 2in and then weighing 22st 7lb (173kg), with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40.4, compared to the NHS healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9, Smith was clinically obese and knew he needed to take drastic change, so he decided to give it a go.
Despite concerns he would be the “youngest and heaviest”, Smith actually found a supportive community of men who were all keen to help him reach his weight loss goals.
The matches, which run every Friday, start with a weigh-in and for each team member who has lost some weight, 0.5 goals are added to the final score, this helps to provide players with a great incentive to stick to their diet plans.
Determined to help his team win, Smith began calorie counting and slashed his daily intake to around 1,500.
He also cut out takeaways during the week – allowing himself a cheat meal or drink at the weekend – and opted for a healthier diet, consisting of his five-a-day fruit and low-calorie ready meals.
Now weighing 14st 2lb (90kg), with a BMI of 25.4, Smith has seen incredible results in his first year and is on track to reach his goal weight of 13st 12lb (88kg).
“Initially I went from goal to goal to goal," he explains. "Right now I want to get my BMI into the healthy range and I don’t have far to go.
“I’m nearly there and I feel great. I feel very proud of my journey so far.”
Now Smith wants to encourage anyone looking to lose weight to do so in a “physically and mentally positive way”, like he has.
“Joining MAN v FAT has added a good decade to my life," he says.
"The atmosphere when you go there is so positive.
“You’re all working towards the same goal, so it's a physically and mentally positive way to lose weight and make friends in the process.”
Losing weight has also had a positive impact on Smith's confidence.
"When friends take pictures of me now I feel comfortable with it, for the the first time in a long while," he says.
“I feel so much more confident about meeting people and, hopefully, now that I have this spring in my step I will meet someone romantically," he adds.
MAN v FAT is launching a fourth club in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, in July. For more information go to Man vfatfootball.org.
Additional reporting PA Real Life.