Concerned at the state of his health, he says the light bulb went off in his head, knowing all too well something had to give. And for him, that meant food…
It had been a big year for the 51-year-old CINews columnist and prime minister’s media advisor.
He says he packed on 30kgs over the past 12 months, but is now working hard to shed the extra kilos.
Wynne says he’d reached a tipping point in his life, where if he didn’t make critical changes now, it could take years off his life.
He realised he’d been prematurely digging his grave, one spoon or forkful at a time…
Those who read his column in CINews on Saturday October 1, would have had an insight into the personal battle that he, and many others are having with food addiction and the epidemic of obesity plaguing Cook Islanders.
He said the problem was evident from the high proportion of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) hurting locals.
Not happy with the potential risks that come with his 165kg frame and having a 51 per cent body fat reading recently, Wynne is now setting an example for anyone wanting to make a change, and make healthy eating and exercise part of their daily routine.
Already down 5kgs, he says he is now 12 days into a seven week “body fit challenge” with Zuu fitness, at the Tupapa Community Centre.
Three mornings a week Wynne gets up very early for a 5.30am class. He says, from 100 original overweight participants seeking change, after only just one week, they’re already down to only 50.
The exercise regime has, however, been very successful, with successive classes running over the past few months, he says.
It involves high intensity interval training, using primal moves – push, pull, bend, twist, squat, lunge and locomotion, all targeted at burning calories and getting heart rates up.
“It’s pretty tough”.
The holistic programme also runs in tandem with a dietary guide where participants eat only a couple of times a day - lunch and dinner. Meals feature plenty of greens, and a small hand-sized portion of protein. And just a protein shake for brekky to start the day.
Wynn’s goal? To lose the 30kgs that he’s put on during the year, cut his body fat by half, and be around in future to enjoy seeing his children and grandchildren grow up.
The programme is a contrast to the addiction that he has battled, winning and losing at different stages over his life. Food is a drug he says, and needs to be treated as such, because you crave it.
“You crave certain foods because they’re sweet, and they taste good, and I get a hit from it. The only problem is, my body stores it all, and I have to deal with the repercussions of that.”
“I think it’s about becoming conscious about what we stick in our mouth.”
“We eat more for pleasure and less for nourishment”.
He also cites our inability to do something for ourselves, especially when it comes to our health.
But at 160kgs he says he can feel the consequences of ignoring his health when he’s walking up and down stairs: His knees are sore, and he is short of breath…
“It’s a yo-yo if you know what I mean. It’s been really good there for a while, but then it lapses back. I haven’t quite yet understood that if I don’t change my lifestyle, I’ll be caught on that treadmill.
“So I’ve got one of two choices… and I’ve chosen the treadmill before, and I’m endeavouring (instead) to choose lifestyle, but it’s a matter of weaning myself off.”
So far for the challenge, he’s cut out problem foods, with bread at top of his “poison” list, followed by chips, chocolate and other processed carbs.
On the underlying problems facing the Cook Islands, he says: “The thing here is, it becomes so accustomed for us to see big people, it’s become normal. So to be overweight we don’t even think twice about it.
“The thing is, when it is morbidly obese, ‘off the Richter (scale)’, then it’s like, ‘oh that guy’s overweight’. But the reality is, according to the stats, we are too, so many of us.”
The issue is complex and he cites a number of reasons why the Cook Islands – and other countries, are facing an obesity epidemic.
He says we’re not cultivating crops as in the past, and our modern sedentary lifestyles coupled with out of control deep fried, sugary, and processed eating habits are killing us.
“The other thing is, it happens incrementally. We put on weight incrementally one kg at a time, and people pass away incrementally. They’re not all dying at once. So we don’t see it… (but) when we look back on the year how many people do we know who died prematurely?
Simply because of what they’ve put in their mouth. It’s way too many.
“Or they have a diminished quality of life, through gout, diabetes and heart-disease.”
If there were as many people dying at once, there would be a massive public outcry, he says.
He adds that the first High Commissioner to the Cook Islands 116 years ago predicted the demise of Cook Islanders within one generation, thanks to “colonialists” importing foreign diseases. Today, he says, Cook Islanders are still facing a similar problem, in a different context.
In our DNA is a healthy balance, we come from generations and generations that were healthy, and lets not turn the tide of generations of good health, he says. So how do we combat the problem? Firstly, through education, says Wynne, using the analogy of smoking and how it’s only in the past few years that the multitude of negative health impacts has been highlighted.
Ten or 20 years from now, he says, the younger generation will look back on us saying (as is the case now with smoking), “I can’t believe you ate that stuff. It was just poison.”
“The problem is, we can have all the information in the world and still make poor decisions,” he adds. At the end of the day, we need to make changes, he adds.
“We don’t have to run half marathons, or cycle around the island, just get your heartrate up a little bit. Go for a walk… It’s simple maths, your output has got to beat your input.”
And that’s why he loves Zuu for the comradery, and holding each other accountable. It’s been great seeing the same people every week he says. They have a weigh-in every week too.
“And that will be the big test for each of us. The diet we’ve been committing to, plus the exercise, will be the ‘proof of the pudding’.”
He says it’s not just a matter of doing it so your clothes will fit better, but because you’ll live longer. Speaking of friends who have died too soon due to poor lifestyle choices, he says: “I’m tired of going to funerals. I want to go to a lot more birthdays for family and friends in future.”
Wynne said he’s already had some good feedback from friends at Zuu on his recent writing on the subject.
“I was out earlier for morning tea and I’d just had a coffee and said no to a piece of cake, and there was a woman there who said she saw me say ‘no’ to the cake. She said “I read your article on Saturday”, and added “well done!”
“I’ll now need to be mindful about eating a big bowlful of spaghetti bolognaise in public.
“People are watching!”
CINews will also check in with Wynne over the coming weeks to catch up on his progress, so stay tuned.
Or, if you’ve been inspired by his message, he says anyone at any stage of their weight loss or fitness journey can join the ZUU class at the Tupapa Community Centre.