A 23st student nurse who lost 8st and reversed his pre-diabetes now looks so different that his dad failed to recognise him in the supermarket

·7-min read

A 23st student nurse who reversed his pre-diabetes by swapping the junk food he described as his “best friend” for healthy meals and mountain climbing says that, after losing over 8st, even his own dad failed to recognise him.

A yo-yo dieter since he started piling weight on at 17, Rhys Perry, 35, struggled with emotional eating, feeling self-conscious next to his three naturally tall and slim brothers.

Now a trim 14st 12lb, Rhys – who is single and lives with his Romanian rescue dog Alfie in Torfaen, near Newport, South Wales – said: “When my dad didn’t recognise me in the supermarket it was the funniest thing ever.”

Rhys pictured at a barbeque before losing weight. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys pictured at a barbeque before losing weight. PA REAL LIFE

He added: “I walked towards him and, obviously, the masks do have an impact, but it wasn’t until I was right next to him that he realised who I was!”

Watch: Simple steps to a healthier life

Admitting that he had every bad eating habit going, it was seeing overweight Covid patients in their early 60s, bedbound and struggling for breath on hospital wards, that finally made him lose weight.

He said: “It was so sad and I thought, ‘If you don’t do something, that’s going to be you.’”

At the top of Pen Y Fan, in South Wales. PA REAL LIFE
At the top of Pen Y Fan, in South Wales. PA REAL LIFE

He continued: “Think of a bad eating habit and I had it – stress eating, binge eating, emotional eating – I did the lot.

“Realising I was pre-diabetic at a university lecture when we were asked to do a test was a bit of a stark moment, but seeing the Covid patients finally gave me the wake-up call I needed.

“Now I feel happier, my mood is better. I’m more positive and confident in myself.”

Rhys before and after his 8st weight loss. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys before and after his 8st weight loss. PA REAL LIFE

At his biggest, the 5ft 11in former primary school teacher weighed 23st 3lb, wore a size XXXXL T-shirt and had a body mass index (BMI), used by the NHS to gauge a healthy weight, of 45.4, compared to the NHS recommended range of 18.5 to 24.9, making him obese.

But, since joining the slimming club app, My WW – formerly known as Weight Watchers – in June 2020, he has lost a staggering 8st 5lb, weighs 14st 12lb and wears a size L, also boasting a BMI of 29.1.

The super slimmer, who qualified as a primary school teacher in his early 20s says the job was a minefield for his terrible eating habits.

Rhys with work colleagues at a Christmas meal in 2010, prior to his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys with work colleagues at a Christmas meal in 2010, prior to his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE

He said: “I’d sit with a pile of marking and graze on whatever I could get my hands on or go from one extreme to the other and not eat all day.

“Masses of carbs and junk food were my best friends. They gave me emotional support.

“When the workload was overwhelming me, I would turn to food.”

In 2019, Rhys began a career change, swapping school whiteboards for scrubs and ward rounds.

“When I started nurse training I’d given up. I thought I would always be that size,” he confessed.

“I couldn’t wear what I wanted to. I was unhappy, but I couldn’t admit it to myself.”

Rhys pictured before his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys pictured before his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE

He said: “Then we had lectures on diabetes and had to do a test on ourselves and I was pre-diabetic Type 2.”

Feeling overwhelmed – as no diet had ever worked before – at first, Rhys avoided confronting his weight.

“I knew I was at risk, but when my test said I needed to see a GP even that wasn’t enough,” he said.

Rhys after his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys after his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE

Finally, what tipped him over the edge was seeing overweight patients in their very early 60s during the early wave of the pandemic, who were completely bedbound on hospital wards, needing full care.

“Thinking, ‘That is going to be me’ horrified me,” he said.

“On top of that, I’d do 12-hour shifts as a nurse and get home from the ward and my joints would be in agony from standing all day with the pressure of my weight.”

Rhys with his dad at Glastonbury Tor in 2020, about a month into his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys with his dad at Glastonbury Tor in 2020, about a month into his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE

So, in June 2020, after seeing adverts for the My WW app with TV star Curtis Pritchard, Rhys decided to take the plunge – settling on the Green plan.

Based on a points system, My WW asks users to record everything they eat, similar to calorie counting.

Rhys said: “I’m so grateful I found My WW. It’s all on the app on my phone.”

Rhys at a family birthday in 2017, prior to his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys at a family birthday in 2017, prior to his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE

He continued: “Mindset is a big part of it and it’s helped me unravel my eating issues.

“It’s total flexibility and total control at the same time. It’s based on science and prescribed by the NHS to help reverse Type 2 diabetes.”

Focusing on reframing his eating habits, Rhys found the structure helped him to cope with challenges.

“The world seemed to be in chaos, but the one thing I could anchor myself on was that I could control what I was eating,” he said. “I just carried on and suddenly 12 months had gone by.

“In June 2021 I did my transformation photo and I’d lost 8st 5lb.”

Rhys is still aiming to lose another stone to a stone and a half, but he is thrilled with his results so far.

Rhys aged 20 with his brothers in 2006. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys aged 20 with his brothers in 2006. PA REAL LIFE

He said: “I just ate what I know is good and healthy to lose weight and I base my life around that now.

“You can’t take care of other people if you don’t take care of yourself and nursing is notorious for poor eating habits.

“I don’t think of it as a diet, it’s a lifestyle change.”

Rhys pictured one year after starting My WW. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys pictured one year after starting My WW. PA REAL LIFE

Reactions from friends and family have also spurred him on.

He said: “Because of lockdown, people haven’t seen me in 12 months, so they were blown away.

“Everyone’s amazed. They’ve been so pleased and proud. People even say I look younger.”

Rhys at karaoke before his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys at karaoke before his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE

He added: “It’s nice when people ask how I did it, as I feel like I’m giving something back.”

Best of all, Rhys has completely reversed his prediabetes.

“It’s just such a relief,” he said. “Now, I’m looking to the future. I have even dipped my toe into the dating world.”

Rhys with a friend at an awards evening in 2018, prior to his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys with a friend at an awards evening in 2018, prior to his weight loss. PA REAL LIFE

He is also delighted to be able to take up new hobbies, including running and mountain climbing – and is hoping to fulfil his dream of visiting Egypt in September 2022 to see the pyramids as his present to himself for graduating as a nurse, in March next year.

“My WW does focus on movement and I’ve really taken that to heart,” he said.

“I did the Couch to 5K programme, despite not being a natural runner. I run 5K three times a week now, as well as doing power yoga, workouts at home and walking Alfie.”

Watch: 5 top tips to boost your mental health

He continued: “I really love walking and I’m planning on climbing the Blorange, the Skirrid and the Sugar Loaf – three other mountains in South Wales.

“I feel like I’ve got control of my life and I can go out and do things. I climbed Pen Y Fan with friends recently and I wasn’t at the top needing an oxygen mask – it’s a new lease of life.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt but never thought I could cope with the heat.”

Rhys at the top of Pen Y Fan, in South Wales. PA REAL LIFE
Rhys at the top of Pen Y Fan, in South Wales. PA REAL LIFE

He added: “I think there was always a thin person inside me – even at my biggest – and he just needed to be let out.”

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