Faced with months at home, many NI people decided to kick-start a new healthier lifestyle. Mentalist David Meade, a husband and wife and a businesswoman talk to Stephanie Bell and Leona O'Neill
Broadcaster and world renowned keynote speaker David Meade (36) is best-known for his mesmerising illusions and mindreading skills. And during lockdown he's carried out a now you see it, now you don't trick of his own, losing three stone thanks to a break from stodgy airplane food and room service.
"Lockdown has had the biggest impact on my work," he says. "If I look at the week before lockdown came into force, on the Monday I was in Dallas, Tuesday in Philadelphia, Wednesday in Mexico City, Thursday in Miami and Friday I was back home for the tour. So I'm typically looking at between five and nine flights per week.
"In January I took 26 flights. And when you're doing that you're always on the run and you're always grabbing (food), you're eating on the plane and probably having a few more drinks than you would normally if you were in a different job or in different circumstances.
"You're always eating late, because I can't eat before a show or a talk as I always worry that I might get food poisoning or a bad tummy. So I don't eat breakfast or lunch before an afternoon show.
"But that means that afterwards you're starving and you overeat, consuming far more than you actually need. And if I rock in on a redeye flight I usually get in to the hotel at about midnight or 2am and at that time nothing good is available on room service. They have got pizza or a steak sandwich.
"So you're just filling yourself up with a mixture of booze and carbs.
"And before the event you need a really sugary fix to make sure you are engaged and awake and ready to go.
"All of that just builds a cycle of a habit and the minute that lockdown came in I was able to totally stop that.
"Frankly, I would much rather be fat and working than be skinny and not have much work on. But all of our work is moving to virtual now. We are delivering it all remotely. So we haven't lost any actual work, it's just that it's all delivered from the spare bedroom, made to look like a TV studio."
David says he has embraced exercise in lockdown in a way he never had before.
"The other thing that I think has worked for me, and that I think is fantastic, is my Peloton bike. I absolutely love it. You get these live classes on it. So while you're on the bike there's a huge big screen in front of you. You can choose to watch the TV or tune into the live classes. And it's some hallion from Manhattan shouting down the screen 'David in Ulster is slowing down'. And because it's a live class they can give you feedback, so you can't really skive. It's every bit as terrifying as being at a spin class in Belfast. I think that has been great. I've done that almost every day," he says.
"I think that a combination of no snacking, no airport food, no airport lounges and no room service has really made the difference. I certainly haven't starved myself. I was just used to eating a certain amount of calories every day. I'm not eating anywhere near that now. And all the weight has come off. I was nearly 15 stone before lockdown and now I'm 11 stone 11lbs. I wish I felt a lot more healthy but I don't particularly. In fact, I don't know if it's because I have more energy, but I am really struggling to sleep. I don't know if that is linked to weight loss or diet change or just the general community anxiety that we all have at the moment.
"The truth is I am bored out of my mind. I would genuinely love to go back to doing my job the way that I always did it. I miss my job desperately and I miss the travel. People say to me that it must be so good that I'm not in airports all the time, but I love that element of the job. I love the taxis, airports, hotels and that aspect of the job, every single bit of it. We'll get back there eventually."
He says he hopes to be able to keep up his new healthy lifestyle post-lockdown.
"For years I have said to people, it's very hard with my job to work out because you're in a different hotel all the time, and you don't get the time," he says. "Truth be told, that is a load of rubbish. All of these hotels have fantastic gyms, often far better than gyms you would have locally. They are outstanding. So I definitely have the opportunity to do it, it's just the inclination.
"None of my clothes fit me anymore so I have a load of suits that will all need to get changed. I don't think I'll throw away the heavy clothes because I might go back."
Belfast hotel worker and father-of-four Harry Conlon has been furloughed during the pandemic. Harry (41), along with his wife Antoinette, a nursing assistant, both joined a virtual Slimming World class and as well as losing weight they have been walking most days to get fit.
Antoinette has been working throughout lockdown so it has fallen to Harry to homeschool their four children, Annarose (14), Sophie (13), Faith (7) and Harrison (3).
Changing the quality of his own life while caring for his children has been life transforming for Harry during lockdown.
From struggling to climb the stairs just six weeks ago, he now thinks nothing of going for a 10-mile walk and has shed a stone-and-a-half.
Harry says he already feels amazing and without lockdown doesn't think he would have had the time to follow a healthier eating and exercise routine.
"I have battled my weight since I was a child and tried loads of diets but didn't stick with them," he admits.
"I work shifts so it is easy for me to just grab a takeaway or something handy when I get breaks.
"At the start of lockdown I found that all I was doing was eating and drinking.
"Antoinette decided to sign up for a virtual Slimming World class and persuaded me to join her and I'm really glad now that she did."
The Slimming World Group run by Zara Frame meets online. Clients weigh themselves at home and then meet together for a weekly chat on Zoom.
Harry weighed in on Friday past 1 stone 9lbs lighter than he was just six weeks ago. He was 20 stone when he started and has set himself a target of reaching 16 stone. His weight was affecting his ability to spend quality time with his kids not to mention struggling to walk any distance.
He is now following the Slimming World diet and has introduced exercise into his routine in the form of daily walks.
"I wouldn't have walked to the shop round the corner before and the other night I walked over 10 miles," he says.
"I can't believe the difference to the quality of my life by losing the weight and getting fitter.
"Walking up and down the stairs used to leave me breathless and I now have more energy for the kids, whereas before I would have been feeling too tired all the time. I am walking about three times a week and I'm really enjoying it. I have actually worn a hole in the soles of my trainers!
"Before when I tried to diet I never did the exercise so this time it has made a real difference.
"Lockdown has given me the time to eat properly and we are following the Slimming World lifestyle and it has also given me the time to get out exercising.
"I think if lockdown hadn't happened I would probably have put even more weight on."
For his wife Antoinette (34), who works in the stroke unit in the Royal Victoria Hospital, it was the strain of having to wear full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at work which made her decide to tackle her weight.
"I was sweating so much in the PPE that I was coming home from work in physical pain from sweat rashes," she says.
"I was finding it very hard and I knew it was to do with my weight.
"I had been in Zara's Slimming World class before and unknown to Harry I went ahead and signed us both up for 12 weeks as it is a lot easier to follow when there are two of you."
Antoinette also enlisted the help of a personal trainer, Sharon Westerman of Gain Forth Gym in west Belfast, and joined a boot camp which she takes part in three times a week.
In just six weeks she has slimmed down from 19 stone 6lbs to 18 stone.
She says: "It has been easier because Harry is doing it too. We are totally on-plan measuring everything and eating home-cooked meals rather than takeaways which were so handy when I worked shifts.
"There is a new Slimming World app which has really helped me to keep track of everything. I work out with my personal trainer and then do a 45-minute boot camp three mornings a week, unless I am working.
"I feel so much better. My uniform in work is now too big on me and I am not sweating as much or as sore as I was. I have lost a stone-and-a-half and it has made a massive difference.
"I have more energy and enjoy getting the kids out for a walk whereas before I was so tired after working all week I just lay on the sofa.
"I've dropped from a size 24 to an 18-20 which is fantastic."
It is Antoinette's aim to reach 14 stone and the impact the first stone-and-a-half has made has spurred to her keep going: "This time I feel so much better about myself and I couldn't have done it without the support of Zara and the other members of the group."
For details of Zara Frame's virtual groups call 07709 302685
Lynda Wycherley from Co Down will emerge from lockdown feeling healthier, happier and two stone lighter.
The 64-year-old, who lives with her 11-month-old West Highland Terrier pup Toby in Carryduff, has discovered a new joy in cooking healthy meals and walking for hours every day.
Before the pandemic she was working long hours running her business, The Electrolysis Centre on Belfast's Bloomfield Avenue.
This led to eating handy ready meals and falling into bed so exhausted and stressed that she struggled to sleep.
Now after 13 weeks of being at home she is sleeping soundly for eight hours a night, cooking delicious meals from scratch and walking for up to two hours every day.
"I stopped work on March 18 and I decided early on that I wanted to spend the time in a positive way," she says.
"I have been attending the 'WeightLiz' class in Belfast with Liz Miller and when she announced she was putting her classes online during lockdown I decided if I didn't join I would be even heavier than I was at the end of it.
"I am a comfort eater and I could never really follow Liz's programme properly before because I was so busy with my business and working so many late nights.
"I never had the time to eat properly and would have bought meals already prepared and heated them when I got home from work.
"With the online class we have been weighing ourselves at home each week and sending the picture to Liz.
"I was shocked when I stood on the scales the first week and I realised I had two choices: I could take control or let myself get even heavier."
Lynda has enjoyed the weekly WeightLiz online classes where members encourage each other and swap recipes. She started a food diary, noting down her favourite recipes and counting how many calories she was eating.
"I have really enjoyed experimenting with recipes and cooking only things I like," she says.
"I have started to cook in batches and freeze meals so that I don't have to cook every day and I hope to continue to do that when I am back at work."
Exercise is also a new part of Lynda's daily routine and she now enjoys a long hour-and-a-half walk with Toby every morning and a second walk in the afternoon.
Thirteen weeks on and she says she feels healthier both physically and mentally and has dropped a dress size after losing two stone in weight.
"I only now need to lose half-a-stone to meet my target and it's wonderful," she says.
"From a health point of view I have more energy and I am sleeping much better but it is not just physical, I also feel more confident and happier in myself because I have lost so much weight.
"It is lovely to go to my wardrobe and know that I fit back into my old clothes rather than just wear the few things that fitted me."
Lynda has no doubt that without lockdown she wouldn't have had the time or found the energy to make such positive life changes. "Lockdown has been good for me," she adds. "Being able to join the online class with Liz every week was fantastic and really kept me motivated and it was also great to be able to interact with others.
"I will definitely be hoping to continue to eat healthily and exercise when my business reopens."
WeightLiz at Home run by Liz Miller can be found on Facebook