Swaying her head gently in tune to the music flowing through her headphones, my wife was flipping through a magazine, relaxing by the pool in our villa in Arabian Ranches. I was doing a bit of afternoon gardening when suddenly, I felt a constriction in my chest and severe pain. Next moment I felt breathless and all I remember was slowly collapsing while trying to call out to my wife.
Later, she told me that she was perplexed to see me suddenly fall to the ground.
It took her a few moments to process the scene, but she quickly rushed to my side and rang for an ambulance. It arrived in less than five minutes and I was hooked to an ECG machine, which conveyed live data about the state of my heart to a nearby hospital, and blue-lighted there. This happened last March.
It was not the first time that I’d had chest pains, but like many people, I was reluctant to visit the doctor. I led myself to believe that it was a gastric issue and ignored it.
At 51 then, I weighed around 110kg, and hadn’t really exercised in over 10 years. I am 182cm tall.
I regained consciousness in the ambulance, and once in the hospital, I was taken to the emergency room. I still wasn’t sure what was going on. Had I had a heart attack? All I knew was that I was in there for a reason and it was probably serious.
As I lay there, I recalled that this wasn’t the first time I’d felt the excruciating pain; I’d experienced the same thing during a trip to Rome a couple of months earlier. It hadn’t lasted long, and I thought it was due to lifting heavy cases at the airport.
‘Are you feeling OK?’ my wife had asked at the time.
‘I’m fine, just a strained muscle,’ I said and continued.
I had actually just started a bit of weight training a few weeks earlier in the vain hope of negating some of the worst excesses of my lifestyle. But I’d really been doing it to appease my family, as they were so worried about me. I had piled on the kilos, probably over 30kg, in the previous five years. I never did any exercise as I either didn’t have the time or the motivation, and I was beginning to look increasingly unhealthy.
My skin had taken on a sallow tinge and just walking up a flight of stairs left me breathless. My whole life was taken up by my business and what I didn’t realise at that point was that I was in a permanent state of stress. Thoughts about work had taken over the past 20 years and I couldn’t remember the last time I had really considered my health. I just didn’t feel I had the time for it so, like many men my age, I put it on the back-burner for a long time, ignoring those niggling signs and even bigger hints my body was giving me.
Even though I knew that dealing with too much stress on a daily basis was one of the key factors in driving poor lifestyle choices, I still didn’t feel motivated enough to change. I knew my diet was all wrong. Firstly, I ate a lot. And I’m not talking salads and vegetables here! I’d always been into unhealthy British food – fried breakfasts, deep-fried fish and fries and pie and mash were my staples. They were a lifelong habit, I thought, but I know now that they were actually my comfort food. I turned to them when stress overwhelmed me.
Then there were the fizzy drinks I was addicted to. I’d have around six cans every day. That alone constitutes over 60 spoonfuls of sugar! Now it seems ludicrous, but that was a normal day for me. Throw in regular junk food, bags and bags of chips, no veggies or fruit and no thought about what I was putting my body through, and it was a recipe for disaster.
I was a successful global trader, so I was working long hours and under a considerable amount of pressure to maintain results. I’d been having these pains in my chest, which shot down my arm and left me feeling breathless, but if I sat down they seemed to subside. I was so busy that I was reluctant to see a doctor in the fear that he’d insist I take time off or exercise regularly. It was far more convenient to convince myself that I had pulled a muscle in my chest after half-heartedly lifting weights in the makeshift gym. Now, here I was in the hospital and not sure what was wrong with me. Although I was relieved to be alive, I knew the doctor would have a lot of things to say.
The next day, after reviewing my test results and ECG reading, the doctor told me that they suspected my arteries were blocked. ‘We need to do some more tests to confirm the extent of the blockage,’ he said.
I underwent more scans and was hooked up to monitors to check my vital stats.
‘Are you aware, Mr Lloyd, that your blood pressure is actually 185/155 as compared to the healthy rate of 120/80?’ the doctor asked. I had to admit that I hadn’t visited a doctor for three years, let alone have my blood pressure checked.
That night, when I was lying in the hospital bed, I had my first chance to reflect on what had happened. I thought about all my hard work over the years, my success and the way I’d been living, and realised that things were so out of balance, they could all turn to dust if I carried on neglecting my health. It would all count for nothing if I wasn’t here to enjoy life. And those things that I’d taken for enjoyment – eating rubbish until I was stuffed, lying on the sofa after a hard day’s work, pouring sugar down my throat and then shuffling off to bed – could be responsible for killing me in the end. I knew I had to change, and lying there in the dark, the heart monitor beeping in the background, I hit my lowest point.
After being subjected to a barrage of tests, I heard the awful truth from my consultant the next day.
‘All the arteries to your heart are blocked at 85-95 per cent. In fact, I’ve asked all of my junior doctors to take a look at your angiogram, because frankly, it’s astonishing. Your heart has actually grown new small veins in the hope of bypassing the blockage.
‘You do have an amazing survival instinct, but it can only put off the inevitable for so long. If we don’t operate as soon as possible, the strain your heart is under will most definitely cause a major heart attack. And, if you don’t change your lifestyle, you will end up in the same situation or worse, so I would urge you to think long and hard about making those changes.’
I agreed to surgery and was whisked off to the operating theatre and had two stents put into my chest to open up my arteries. They were clogged with arterial plaque caused, in my case, by high levels of bad cholesterol and persistent untreated high blood pressure.
Thankfully, the procedure, which took around three hours, was successful, and in the couple of weeks following my recovery, when I had time to think, I vowed that I would never take life for granted again.
But, although I got good advice about changing my lifestyle from health professionals, I began to find breaking old habits a real struggle. In the initial days after the operation, I felt really determined and full of the feeling that I was truly a reformed character. I supposed my brush with death was enough to set me on the path of healthy living.
However, a couple of months later, I was slipping back to my old ways, justifying the odd plate of fries or can of soda, the odd day or two without doing any exercise. I kept promising myself that I’ll make up for it down the line by being extra good.
I started off my recovery by losing three kilos in the first couple of weeks, and I was so elated that I began to celebrate. But after a couple of months, I found that I’d put it all back on and more.
I was in a constant battle with myself. At the back of my mind were all those fears of dying, but this just made me feel more stressed, and for me, stress equalled comfort eating.
I knew I had to break this destructive pattern of behaviour, so I decided to consult an expert.
Ihad read some articles in print and online about hypnotherapy and how it could help people like me, and after a bit of research, I zeroed in on Russell Hemmings, a Dubai-based hypnotherapist and life coach. I’d read that he was remarkable when it came to helping clients make major lasting changes to their lives. His unique brand of life coaching, cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy are tailored to suit each individual’s personal needs.
After discussing my history of food associated with comfort and stress relief, Russell explained that he was going to turn off those connections and help me form new ones that would make me want to eat healthily. Ever the sceptic, I remained to be convinced.
Russell set about changing the way I thought about food at the deepest level of my psyche and supported me with a tailor-made programme designed to tap into my highly competitive personality. During the first session, he rightly identified that I am a very driven person when it comes to business. ‘You are used to setting goals and targets for yourself in business, right?’ he asked.
When I nodded in agreement, he said he would be using the same goal- and target-setting approach to get my health back on track. ‘That is what is natural to you and that is what you’ll be comfortable doing,’ he said.
I really enjoyed the sessions, not least because the hypnotherapy was incredible. Each time, I left feeling like a new person – deeply relaxed and with a clear focus on what I needed to achieve.
After just four sessions, I genuinely had no desire to turn to pies and fries when I felt my stress levels rise. I no longer associated stress with eating; naturally the business pressures were still present, but the need to quell them with food was not. Conversely, I now hardly associate hunger with stress, so I’m able to enjoy healthy, fresh flavours and sensations in my own time.
Russell taught me a number of stress-busting strategies to deploy whenever I became aware of those feelings around the edge of my consciousness. He also taught me some deep breathing techniques, which helped a great deal whenever I felt the pressure rising.
But the biggest change he brought about in me was the disassociation of stress and junk food and reassociation of healthy eating and exercise. Russell also provided me with a handy self-hypnosis recording, which refocuses my mind and gives me clarity of thought and purpose if I require it.
He helped me develop my own fitness targets that fitted in easily with my busy schedules and this new approach started to pay off. I began to enjoy my walks and time in the gym.
I realised that his techniques are apt for business people; he focuses on processes and systems I understood, such as targets, objectives and deadlines. He then used these skills, which I already had, to help drive me forward to accomplish the goals we’d set together.
The weight started dropping off, but what I was most surprised about was the fact that it didn’t feel hard. Instead, it felt really natural and the fitter and slimmer I got, the more I wanted to fully embrace this new life.
I felt like I’d been given a second chance and Russell had helped me to grasp it with both hands.
In three months and after six sessions, coupled with lots of support from my wife, I lost an impressive 25kg. The proof is there for all to see. And, over the past three months, I’ve lost a further 10kg, so my weight loss to date is a massive 40kg. I’m now down to a healthy 75kg, which took around six months to achieve, and which I’m able to maintain easily.
My waist size has dropped from 40in to 33in and now I’m reaching for the slim-fit 15½in collar shirts rather than the XXLs. This makes me feel great as I love nice clothes and it feels great to be able to buy what I want and not what fits!
The best news I’ve had though, and I’m really beaming about this, is that my blood pressure has dropped to 118/72 and my resting heart rate, which used to be over 70bpm is now 48bpm.
It’s all down to the lifestyle changes that Russell helped me make and the self-belief he instilled in me.
‘Here was this highly successful guy, sitting in my office, looking completely adrift and defeated. He said he’d never experienced such a sense of failure, as no matter what he did, his old eating habits kept coming back to trip him up. Although he felt very alone with his issues, I was able to reassure him that it was actually a very common problem. People try to impose these external demands upon themselves without first tackling those long-held, long-engrained beliefs that are hardwired into their brains. What I do is to help them with their rewiring.’