Sometimes, watching the Olympics – and the chiselled bodies of every competitor – it's easy to think this whole sport thing has gone a bit far. Sure, they've dedicated a life's work in the pursuit of athletic perfection, but at what cost?
No, the true essence of sport is in its mass participation; the idea that someone hungover and bleary-eyed, shambling down the street with last night's kebab swilling unpleasantly around their insides in a form only generously described as "a jog", is actually participating in the same sport as Usain Bolt. They're both runners, and no one can convince FourFourTwo otherwise.
For us, Tokyo 2020 pales in comparison to the big summer sport currently taking place.
The MAN v FAT football leagues put an inventive spin on the beautiful game. It's where the biggest losers are the biggest winners: the teams who shed the most pounds are the ones who get the (metaphorical) podium finishes here.
Almost 90 MAN v FAT leagues are running already, with a further 30 going live this summer.
It's not a programme that judges on technical ability; it's about trying to find a way of making losing weight more fun. Over 5,000 men participate every week in a COVID-safe manner – with individuals as well as teams able to sign up – and 90% of participants lose weight.
Those who sign up take part in training to improve their football ability, and get tips on how best to approach losing weight, but they're given the responsibility to do it themselves.
Here are some of the star non-Olympians so far:
Star team: Inter My Belly (Twickenham)
Since the start of the league in June the players at the MAN v FAT Football club in Twickenham have lost 230kg between them. Table-toppers Inter My Belly lead the way on 54kg. That’s 6kg each on average; just under 1 stone.
Team captain Scott puts this success down to the camaraderie among the team and across the club. He says: “It's the best thing about MAN v FAT. Ultimately the men are there because on their own they've not managed their health well. Having people that are going through the same struggles as you is priceless.”
Chris from Whitton credits MAN v FAT Football for keeping his weight loss journey on track, “I’ve tried to lose weight before, but always managed to find a reason to stop doing it, but this time definitely feels different in a positive way”.
There isn’t any one quick fix for losing weight. The players at MAN v FAT Football Twickenham have made multiple lifestyle changes to shift their stubborn excess fat.
Terry from Whitton has used MAN v FAT Football as a springboard to increase his physical activity levels. He says: “I have increased my exercise; walking and cycling rather than driving everywhere. I’ve also joined a gym and play badminton and do boxing every week.”
Dan from Sunbury points to improvements in his diet for the progress that he has made, saying: “I’ve cut out junk food. I haven’t had a biscuit or chocolate bar since I started MAN v FAT Football, and I’ve cut down on fizzy drinks considerably”.
John from Twickenham, who has already lost 16kg, sees MAN v FAT as much more than just a diet. “This is a permanent lifestyle change, so I’m determined to keep doing what I’m doing, and to keep getting the results.”
And how have these results made John feel? We’ll leave him with the last word, “I’ve not felt this sprightly in years. I’ve got a way to go yet but I’ve got the bit between my teeth now. Bring it on!”
Star individual/player: Jaydon Hadley from MAN v FAT Football Oldbury and MAN v FAT Football West Brom
Neil (Jaydon's coach): "I put Jaydon forward as his story will resonate with a lot of men. He’s been with us for a long time, and in the early days whatever I did to try and help him fell on deaf ears in all honesty. It had to come from Jaydon, he had to have that mindset. Input and support from me will only succeed on top of someone’s own mindset.
"I spent many hours messaging and chatting with him, but it needed to click and thankfully, it has.
"Pre-lockdown 1, he smashed it, but unfortunately by the time we got restarted, all his progress was lost. But that was replaced with determination. He was determined to make this his time to shine.
"He played in two MAN v FAT Football clubs (West Brom and Oldbury), he opened himself up to a support network, and he was open about his weight, his challenges and his goals.
"What he is achieving right now is amazing. He is a total inspiration, both for himself, his family and his fellow players. He’s currently lost 18% of his body weight since April.
"He’s a star off the pitch and on the pitch, and his losses on the scales are matched by his left foot on the pitch. He’s involved in the 11-a-side action too and he’s a real asset to the league. He’s a great bloke and changing his future with every kg he loses."
Jaydon: "I’ve lost 5.1 stone in 3 and a half months. I started MAN v FAT Football 3/4 years ago and I’ve always been on and off with it. I’ve loved every second of it but struggled on some occasions to actually lose the weigh.
"Lockdown affected me massively and I put on loads, putting myself at 30 stone 3. Currently I weigh 25 stone 1.
"I’ve achieved my weight loss due to how much motivation I’ve now got. I’ve got the determination to actually succeed this time as I’m getting married next year - I don’t want to go to a shop and have to get the biggest suit possible, I want to try ones on and be normal!
"My MAN v FAT Football coach Neil Glover gives me so much great advice and always has a good word to say about me losing weight every week. This helps me massively.
"What I love about MAN v FAT Football is the people around me - everyone is just completely supportive and no one judges you at all. If you're struggling, they help you and motivate you to carry on which helps massively for me. I was embarrassed to be 30 stone 3 and as soon as I expressed my feelings to the lads for the first time, they helped so much to get me over that initial embarrassment.
"My advice to people is DON’T STOP. I’ve had so many times where I’ve said I wanted to go on a diet and two days later I’m eating a massive takeaway. It’s just willpower you need.
"It was really hard for me being over 30 stone. I couldn’t wipe in a cubicle, I was struggling to put socks on, it was awful. There’s a time where you just snap and think I don’t wanna be like this anymore!
"My future goals is just to get to 20-21 stone, where I can maintain my weight loss. I want to be able to go out for a meal and not worry about what to eat. I’m about 3-4 stone off my goal which I will hopefully get to by Christmas maybe, but my motivation is so high at the moment so I won’t be stopping at all. It’s time to make a change and make a difference about myself."
Think you could match any of that? You can sign up to play a weekly game of football in a MAN v FAT league if you have a BMI of 27.5 or over, and you’ll get expert advice on how to lose weight – with the rest left up to you. The leagues are about wanting to lose weight and enjoying football, not having pressure to stick to strict regimens. You’re not aiming for the Brisbane Olympics 2032, after all.
Joining up also gives you access to SilverCloud, an online mental health and wellbeing app, and The Other Room Gym, an online gym with a wide range of classes, as well as becoming part of a supportive community of thousands on the MAN v FAT Facebook page. You can sign up to play with MAN v FAT from just £27.50 a month at www.manvfatfootball.org – or find out more on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
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