Gavin Gleeson, co-founder of Pura, is no stranger to the weight loss struggle. At 144 kilos, and a pair of jeans that just wouldn’t fit, he turned things around for himself, and is now chasing his own goal, while helping other people reach theirs, too.
Back To Basics
It’s simple. I was always heavy when I was younger. I come from a family of big, tall boys, so we always ate large portions and I never exercised. When I was 15, I got into cooking, and had to deal with the lifestyle that followed – crazy schedules, lots of eating and drinking. I have had the privilege of working in some of the best restaurants worldwide – that also means, you’re always on-call. So, during that crazy life, I had no interest in exercising. Obviously, my size ballooned, but it didn’t bother me.
Wake Up Call
I wish I could give you some dramatic story about how my weight-loss journey began; unfortunately, it all came down to a simple pair of jeans. I used to buy Lee Cooper jeans, and as my weight went up, I started buying their largest size. When I couldn’t fit into those any more, I moved over to Wrangler, whose largest size went up to a 44-inch waist. Honestly, I could lie to you and say that I wanted to be healthier, but I wasn’t thinking about that. My goal was to be thinner and look better. That was it. Then, about 10 years ago, when I could no longer fit into the Wrangler jeans either, I suddenly thought, “Ok, this is not good!” and that’s when I decided to do something about it.
Fat Is (Not Always) Flavour
I was at a whopping 144 kg at my heaviest. My weight yo-yoed because I had no knowledge of how to deal with it, so I went through stages of starving myself and being unhealthy. I also lost some weight whenever I started a new job due to the stress, so I wouldn’t eat or sleep properly. I was always obsessed with food. I knew everything about it. I knew how to source the fi nest ingredients, and definitely knew how to make everything taste great. Unfortunately, that’s where my knowledge stopped. I had no concept about what happened once the food was in your body. I had no concept of calories; I didn’t care. We have a saying in the kitchen that ‘fat is flavour’, and that’s what I lived my life by. Every time I sat in front of the TV, I was eating fries, fried chicken and chocolate. I was literally eating more than half my calories for the day in one sitting.
Not Much Of A Gym Rat
When I decided to lose weight, I went to a gym in Ireland, called Sporty’s Town Gym, and all the guys there were competing up in Northern Ireland for the one-max powerlifting, so they would do deadlifts, bench presses, squats and they were all natural athletes. When I walked in there, I was petrified by them, the gym and the noise. I thought they were all looking at me, laughing at me. The owner of the gym was nice to me. He used to lead me in, and say, “Hey Gavin, this is your gym as well, you need to be comfortable.”
So that’s basically how I got started. I was uncomfortable at the gym initially; I would do one exercise, feel like I didn’t know how to do it properly, and thought it was a waste of time. I never adjusted my eating because I was being told crazy things like ‘you can eat as much protein as you want’. After all, if you tell someone like me that, I will gobble two steaks for dinner and feel pleased about it! I was told to avoid cereals and opt for eggs, so I’d have six eggs for breakfast, loaded with butter. It soon became frustrating because the weight loss was taking so long. I bought all the supplements, thinking that’s what I needed, but I never paid attention to my diet. My story is a classic example about how under-educated we are about food.
For The Love Of Food
I’m not totally at my ideal weight right now. I don’t think everybody can adopt this lifestyle with ease, and that’s mainly why I started my company, Pura. My first trainer (I’ve been through several) told me that I should stop eating carbs, and gave no information about why. The more I started to learn about food, the more shocking it became. I started paying attention to the calories I was using while cooking my own meals, and how many of my daily calories were in something as simple as a teaspoon of olive oil – which I was using liberally. I started adjusting quantities, but even then, I was way over the amount that would lead to weight loss. I then started doing my meal prep at home (even though I was working at a restaurant), and brought my food with me to control my portions and calories. Unfortunately, I was still eating too much because I had to taste the food for the restaurant, but overall, my situation was improving.
Pura came about when my best friend wanted to open a business with me. We talked about a restaurant for ages, but having worked in so many establishments in the past, I knew it was something that I would find difficult, not to mention incredibly time-consuming. My schedule at the time was a 5:00 am wake up; gym for two hours, then work for about 10 hours a day. I would then get home and wash up all my food containers, while cooking my next round of meals. It was hard. I’m not the kind of person who can eat grilled chicken and broccoli five days a week; that’s just not going to happen; I’m a chef, I love food. So, I made my own meal plans interesting. I was cooking fresh every night. Unfortunately, this didn’t go down well at home. My wife saw me only a few hours a day because of my timings, and when I got home, I started cooking, and all she could see was the mess I was making in the kitchen.
The more I learnt, the more I realised how under-educated people are about what they eat, and how they eat. They fear fat, fear carbs, have no understanding of caloric deficit, don’t know what a real high-protein diet is, and that’s exactly why so many people are still struggling to lose weight. Ultimately, 80% of weight loss is dependent on your diet. I think that many – as I did – believe that you can either exercise or diet and you will lose weight. Few truly understand that you need to do both. That is the reason behind Pura; I want to help people that struggle, just like me.
When I couldn’t lose weight, it was always my personal trainer’s fault. In my mind, he was doing something wrong; it had nothing to do with my limited understanding of food.
Just Keep Moving
I genuinely love training. Eventually, I started hitting a plateau in my weight-loss, as is normal, so I started changing my goals. I now understand there is no such thing as a quick fix but it took time. I started setting new goals; I did 5k, then 10k then a half marathon, and I entered White Collar Boxing this year. Unfortunately, I broke my ribs so I couldn’t carry on with it. Now, I do weight training with a PT four days a week, I do CrossFit at Vogue Fitness CrossFit Yas in Abu Dhabi, go to group classes and I love it all. I do MMA and TMMA, boxing at the Warehouse Gym. I do a bunch of stuff and enjoy everything.
Instead of a goal weight, I am now focussed on body-fat goal, which is 14%. It’s realistic but I haven’t given myself a time limit. Honestly, for the effort that I put in, my results should be better. When I talk to our Pura clients and see some of the transformations, I think “what the hell?” but the reality is that we all wear our jeans differently!