You know the old adage: families that shred together stay together. OK, fine, so maybe that’s not how the saying goes, but it’s certainly true of the MacGillivrays from Manchester, England. Following the death of Sue’s mother from diabetes, Sue and her husband Roy decided that the time had come for the entire family to start taking their own health and nutrition seriously.
Sons Ben and Simon were already gym-goers, and they welcomed the idea of a family challenge, so all four of them started working with trainer Anthony Paulhe at Ultimate Performance Fitness. Over the course of six months, they lost a total of 91 pounds, built strength, and put on muscle. On top of all that, they also developed a new outlook on life.
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“We’re a lot more resilient, stronger, more proactive,” says Ben, 28. “We’d become guilty of living quite a lazy lifestyle; we weren’t very active, weekends were all about TV and junk food. But because we wanted to get in shape together, everyone was committed to that… We didn’t want to let each other down, or let Anthony down. It was really intense and difficult, but it’s something we can look back on and say we did this together.”
Simon, 24, adds that the family dynamics lent an extra layer of accountability to their training. “I worked out a fair bit with my brother,” he says. “We’re fairly similar in terms of our fitness, so things did get a little bit competitive! Also, having the biweekly measurements and the progress pics really helped keep us motivated.”
Roy, 56, found himself reckoning not just with the new physical challenges of training, but with the realization of how sedentary his lifestyle had become: as the managing director of a company, he would work late and order pizza, and often grab something cheap and quick on the way into the office in the mornings.
“I didn’t feel overweight or unfit in any way, so when Anthony took my measurements, I was shocked,” he says. “I didn’t see myself as obese; maybe a little unfit for my age, but not overly so… We started out with a lot of cardio, and that worked well, but then you realize how weak you are when you start lifting weights: you think it’s going to be easy, and it’s not! Then you build that up and you start to see the difference; I just really felt that all of a sudden, I started to feel ten or twenty years younger. It’s only when you start working on your fitness that you discover how unfit you were.”
Grappling with a newfound understanding of nutrition was a huge first step for the entire family. “The main challenge was the cooking,” says trainer Anthony Paulhe. “The dad is 56, the youngest is 24, they have very different needs. They all have different jobs and routines, and eat at different times. So they needed to cook their own meals in the house, and have totally different nutritional plans… the idea was to have a similar nutritional plan with similar foods, so Sue would be able to cook for everyone.”
Addressing your diet is the first and most important piece of advice Anthony has for anybody who might be at the beginning of their own fitness journey. “You have to think about your nutrition,” he says. “There’s no need to do any of the training if you’re not going to sort out your food first. Go shopping, is the first thing. Get rid of all the junk food. The nutrition plan is the first thing you want to tackle.”
Once he had got to grips with nutrition, Roy recalls the next major challenge being getting through the arduous first leg of training where it feels like all pain, no gain. Staying focused during this period is crucial, he advises.
“Just because you decide to go to the gym doesn’t mean you’re going to become fitter or healthier,” he says. “The first few weeks can be quite demoralising, but stick with it, because when you start to see the results, whether you can lift a heavier weight, or run for longer, or lose body fat, that positivity starts to build up. It can feel like a chore, but within a relatively short period, it becomes enjoyable. You start looking forward to your gym session and your healthy meal. It becomes a habit.”
For Ben, part of building those habits means leaning into those lower moments — even when you think you might throw up.
“Be confident in your vulnerability, and trust yourself,” he says. “A lot of my family going into it, we were unsure because it was such a drastic change. But for drastic results, you need drastic change. If we’d compromised, we wouldn’t have had those results. You need to be absolutely committed to your goals and achievements, and then you get the rewards.”
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