A bed salesman who ballooned to 22st 7lb after spending more than £200 a week on takeaways during the Covid lockdowns has shed a staggering 8st 5lb in a year after joining a fat-busting football league where losing weight counts as goals scored.
Now a fighting fit 14st 2lb, Ashley Smith, 23, admits he has always been on the “larger side” but the pandemic saw his weight “spiral out of control,” as he scoffed down McDonald’s burgers and KFC fried chicken – sometimes ordering two take-outs a day.
When his weight was higher than his age, in April 2021, then aged 21, he saw the MAN v FAT football league advertised in his home town of Bicester, Oxfordshire, so joined and has since slimmed down from an XXXL to a snug L.
Ashley, who is single, is now happy to socialise and pose for pictures, having shunned company when his weight ballooned, saying: “I was too embarrassed to go out in public.”
He added: “I wouldn’t FaceTime any friends and didn’t want anyone to see or hear from me looking the way I did.
“The way I looked was ridiculous. I should have never got to that point in the first place.
“When I’m out with friends, it’s strange when they take pictures of me now, as I feel comfortable with it for the first time in a long while.
“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.”
While the unique fat busting football league he has joined launched in 2016 exclusively for overweight men who want to slim down, Ashley was not aware of it until he spotted a branch being advertised where he lived in April 2021.
He feared it sounded “too good to be true” but, at 6ft 2in and weighing 22st 7lb with a body mass index (BMI) used to gauge a healthy weight of 40.4, compared to the NHS healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9, he was clinically obese and needed drastic change, so gave it a shot.
And he has not looked back, saying: “During the lockdowns, lots of people were going for walks, but I wasn’t doing that. I stayed in all day.
“I hated going for walks to work because I would be sweating like a pig.”
He added; “I only ever wore black on black and my clothes were always baggy, because I wanted to hide in them.
“Seeing just how out of control my weight got was quite disheartening. I kept to myself quite a bit, because I didn’t want to explain to anyone that it had got that bad.”
Becoming part of a football team of men supporting each other as they lose weight was a genius move for Ashley.
Concerned he would be the “youngest and heaviest,” instead he 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 – providing everyone with a great incentive to stick to their diet plans.
Determined to help his team win, Ashley 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.
He said: “The scariest part of it on my first session was just being the youngest and fattest person there.
“But as soon as I met the team and my coaches, who were all supportive, it made the process so much easier.”
He added: “It was pretty clear we weren’t professional footballers. We were a bunch of men having a laugh during the 30-minute games and just trying to help each other.
“Any anxiety I had left me after about 10 minutes there, because it was such a positive atmosphere.”
Despite his incredible results in the last year, Ashley has yet to reach his goal weight of 13st 12lb.
Currently 14st 2lb, with a BMI of 25.4, he said: “Initially I went from goal to goal to goal. 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.”
Ashley became addicted to takeaways in the pandemic, spending up to £40 every single day on a 5,000 calorie diet of fried chicken, burgers and fizzy drinks – twice the NHS recommended daily calorie intake for men.
But, after joining the football league, he began calorie counting and slashed his daily intake to around 1,500, so he quickly saw his weight plummet.
He said: “My binge eating had gone mad. 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. But once I made the change, the impact was incredible.”
Now Ashley is urging everyone looking to lose weight to do so in a “physically and mentally positive way” like he has.
And he would recommend all overweight men to look out for a football league like his near them – swearing that he has added 10 years to his life by joining.
He said: “Joining MAN v FAT has added a good decade to my life and the atmosphere when you go there is so positive.”
“You go in, you’re all working towards the same goal and it’s brilliant. I can’t big it up enough.
“It’s a physically and mentally positive way to lose weight and make friends in the process.”
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