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Mark cut sugar, caffeine and alcohol from his diet for 30-day challenge and was amazed at health-boosting results!

Mark Regan, CEO of Belfast private hospital Kingsbridge, talks to Stephanie Bell about his great start to 2016

Most of us will attempt a diet when the pounds pile on but when one local health boss found his clothes getting tighter and tighter he felt compelled to take a more drastic step towards changing his lifestyle.

Mark Regan, CEO of the private hospital, Kingsbridge, in Belfast, has started the New Year as a new man after completing a tough 30-day challenge to cut sugar, alcohol and caffeine completely from his diet.

And, as he reached the end of his month-long trial last Friday, the busy father-of-four emerged feeling healthier, more energised and a stone and a half lighter.

He says: "It may sound a bit of cliche, but I feel like a new person. I've been obsessive about making the effort to change my diet but the effects are way beyond my expectations.

"I was really sceptical when I started the challenge about whether or not it really would make a difference. I got a health check before I started and again last week when I finished - and the results speak for themselves, I'm genuinely amazed by the difference it has made."

Cutting out sugar was an eye-opening experience for Mark who, like most of us, had no idea just how much hidden sugars he was consuming on a daily basis.

However, he says his biggest struggle as a chief executive who has to attend regular business functions was cutting out alcohol.

He also introduced exercise into his weekly routine and one month on is feeling massive benefits.

Mark (41), who lives in Templepatrick with his wife Cora (40), a radiographer and their four children Charlotte (12), Sophie (11), Rachel (9), and Oliver (6), explains why he decided to do a 30-day challenge.

"In the last six months I noticed that my weight was becoming a problem. I had found myself slipping into the situation where I needed to go up another collar size.

"As part of my job I spend most of my days promoting a healthy lifestyle, so I just felt the least I could do was to start practicing what I was preaching."

Mark's demanding business schedule meant that he would often skip meals and grab a bar of chocolate or crisps to keep him going during work.

Meanwhile, in the evenings he relied on the convenience of processed foods in cans and jars for his meals.

Now, having educated himself on sugar content, he is horrified to discover just how much hidden sugar there is in his favourite can of tomato soup and jar of Bolognese sauce.

In fact, he had to seek professional guidance from local nutritionist Gillian Killen to learn how to spot foods with sugar content so that he could cut them from his diet.

He says: "The challenge in cutting sugar out of your diet is knowing where the hidden ones are. I was never the type to put sugar in my tea or coffee or on my cornflakes and I don't buy sweets so I needed to look at food packets and find out where the refined hidden sugars were.

"I had no idea and I went to nutritionist Gillian Killen for help and she showed me what to look for. I was horrified. I had no idea, for instance, that bran flakes contain 32g of sugar in a 100g portion, whereas porridge has about 1g.

"I have been eating them for years, thinking I was eating something really healthy.

"I was also amazed to discover a jar of Bolognese sauce contained 10-15 cubes of sugar.

"Also, flavoured sparkling water, which I thought was healthy, has more sugar than a tin of coke.

"Gillian showed me how to cook from scratch and that changed the whole thing for me.

"I started making Bolognese with fresh ingredients and, instead of pasta, we have spirals of sweet potatoes which we all now love and had never eaten before in our lives.

"The whole family is benefiting - and even the children have changed their attitude to sugar. While they still have a McDonalds, they are asking for milk with it instead of Coke.

"I am not having any sugar cravings at all and I feel so different, I have more energy and I am sleeping a lot better at night."

Mark no longer skips breakfast or lunch and, instead of sugary snacks, he is grazing during the day on fruit and nuts.

Pre-planning his food has made a huge difference to what he eats and the result is that his energy levels have soared. He says: "I have noticed a real difference in my working day now because I don't take sugar.

"I have porridge for breakfast, which is a meal I mostly skipped before and then I would have grabbed a Mars bar or packet of crisps mid-morning when I was hungry.

"Now, I bring berries and nuts into work to snack on and maybe have soup for lunch - again this was a meal I often skipped and ended up snacking on something really unhealthy in the afternoon if I felt hungry."

Another vast improvement for Mark is in his sleep. He was aware before his challenge that he had sleep apnoea - a serious condition which causes you to stop breathing briefly during the night, causing you to wake feeling exhausted.

Mark says he is astonished at the impact changing his diet has had on his sleep condition: "My sleeping was so bad, I could actually hear myself snore.

"The extra weight on my neck was putting pressure on my airways and, now that I have lost a stone and a half, it's not happening any more.

"I am enjoying a deeper sleep and waking up feeling refreshed for the first time in a long time.

"My wife is also much happier because there is no snoring." Cutting out alcohol was perhaps the biggest challenge for Mark who, because of his job, would often find himself at numerous functions where wine was being served.

He says: "Alcohol was my biggest problem. I would go to a lot of awards dinners and events where there is always drink on the go. That was the most difficult thing to do - to sit there until midnight or 1am and have water instead of wine.

"Also, at home on a Saturday night, instead of wine I had my bottle of vintage 2015 San Pellingrino sparkling water and a bag of almonds.

"Supported by my wife Cora, who opened her Chateauneuf-du-Pape beside me.

"The competitive side of me kicked in and I was determined not to give in to temptation."

Mark also introduced regular exercise to his weekly routine. For years, he joined a gym every January, but like many of us, was cancelling his direct debit by March. He found a gym in Belfast where there is a unique approach to exercise.

The Collective Gym doesn't rely on traditional exercise equipment, but puts members through a series of exercise routines which Mark describes as "like taking you back to your childhood".

He says: "I exercise in some form or other five days a week -walking, running or at the gym. I measure this on my Garmin Vivosmart HR with the aim of doing 12,000 steps a day.

"I don't attend what I'd call an ordinary 'commercial' gym, of which there are many, but go to the Collective Gym on the Ravenhill Road.

"My trainer Mark Bear takes me through routines which exercise muscles I didn't know I had - it's truly unique.

"They have us down on the floor doing simple things which kids would do in the garden, but which have a great effect.

"At school I did compete at a fairly high level in athletics and cross country and more recently ran three marathons, yet I've never felt exhaustion like they manage to induce in me at the gym without moving too fast. It's just very different."

Mark has finished his 30-day challenge and, while he toasted his success at the weekend with a well deserved glass of wine, he says he will be continuing his new healthy lifestyle.

A health check has shown that his cholesterol rate has dramatically reduced over the 30 days, his blood pressure is down and his heart rate - which was up - has now settled.

He adds: "I know it sounds like a cliche, but I do feel like a new person, with a new body and no tiredness whatsoever.

"Whereas before in the mornings I could so easily have gone back to bed, I now have a new vigour and a new passion for work.

"I have a lot more concentration and I really genuinely have much more energy and endorphins. I promised myself that I wouldn't weigh myself at any point during the 30 days and I've stuck to that.

"Halfway through, though, my belt moved inward two notches and I was thrilled to lose a total of one and a half stone.

"I have gone down a collar size in my shirts to a 16 and I've dropped from a large to a medium. It is so noticeable for me. I feel so much more comfortable wearing a tie all day now.

"It's been four weeks since I last had refined sugar of any kind, tinned food, alcohol, tea, coffee, bread, fizzy drinks or fast food.

"Not a drop of any of these products has passed my lips, and I feel so much better for it."

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