A teacher who suffers from a potentially fatal kidney condition is starring in a life-changing TV series that aims to keep the nation fit during the coronavirus lockdown.
Mother-of-two Rhiannon Harrison, 28, from Aberystwyth, hopes that taking part in FFIT Cymru will help her avoid becoming a diabetic by adopting a healthier lifestyle and a new fitness regime.
She was born with renal artery stenosis and her right kidney is atrophic which means it is wasting away.
According to Rhiannon, the opportunity to take part in the programmes being made by Caernarfon-based Cwmni Da couldn’t have come at a better time for her.
This is the third series of the popular show but the format has had be changed radically because of the restrictions caused by the coronavirus lockdown, with much of the action taking place via social media platforms like Skype.
The series launched on S4C last week (Tuesday, April 7) and is on air every Tuesday at 9pm.
Rhiannon, whose weight ballooned to 17st 13Ibs, hopes the programme will spark the need in her to become fitter and lead to a much healthier lifestyle for her and the family.
She said: “I was born with renal artery stenosis, which is basically the narrowing of my renal arteries, and my right kidney is atrophic which means its wasting away. That’s resulted in me always having high blood pressure, even from a young age.
“My left kidney is oversized to compensate. I know being obese can lead to diabetes and that could be further damaging to my kidney function. My mum and grandmother suffer diabetes and the last thing I want is a diabetes diagnosis.
Rhiannon, who is currently on maternity leave from her supply teaching job, says since becoming a busy mum she had fallen into the habit of eating junk food and watching too much television instead of being active.
Another thing that didn’t help was setting up a company called Pwdin (Pudding) to make chocolate brownies – and enjoying the fruits of her labour a bit too much.
She said: “I used to go to the gym all the time up until about four years ago. I was avidly into exercise and looking after myself. But I had a second child with my partner Gethin and somehow the socialising reduced and the gym and everything else seemed to stop.
“Our eldest son Harry, who is six, is in lots of sports clubs. Before the coronavirus crisis we would take him to basketball, swimming, cricket just about everything he wanted to try. But while I was busy looking after Harry and our one-year-old son, Iago, I never had time for myself.
“I don’t really know how it happened but I just stopped. Now I hate the way I look and at 17st 13lbs I know I’m overweight and need to do something about it. But it isn’t just about weight it’s about my and my family’s physical and mental well-being.
“I can’t get away from the fact that over the past four years I’ve piled more than four stone on. I’m half the woman I used to be but double the size.
“We have been given a diet and fitness plan. Each food plan is designed by the dietician Sioned Quirke for each individual participant. I’m allowed 1,600 calories a day. However, it’s all fresh food and we are working on this as a family. Gethin and our two sons are eating the same food.
“The meals are so tasty though, proper food and nothing like the take-away meals I was so used to.
“As part of the programme I filmed the process of baking some brownies and I wasn’t tempted to eat even a nibble of the chocolate, I’m very proud of that! The fact I was able to resist temptation bodes well for the future that’s for sure.
“We are doing this together as a family. I’d forgotten the buzz and excitement I felt from exercising. Our fitness coach, Rae Carpenter, lives streams a fitness lesson each morning to us which Harry enjoys joining in with.
“We have a tread mill and I work out as instructed. It goes to show that, despite being isolated and at home, you can still do a high intensity work-out. Then when we get out for our daily exercise away from the house we make sure we stick to government guidelines during this health crisis.
“I know she and my whole family are proud of me for taking this on. It’s not easy as I have two left feet and must be the clumsiest person ever, so appearing in a TV series is a big step.”
FFIT Cymru executive producer Llion Iwan, says the third series will very much focus on looking after physical and mental health while self-isolating.
He said: “FFIT Cymru has always been a popular show. Essentially, it’s about taking a group of people who want to transform their lives and showing them how they can improve through healthy eating, improved fitness and improved mental health.
“The challenge has been taking what was a very successful format involving lots of face to face contact and changing it so everything is about being isolated at home and using technology to converse.
“It has been a massive challenge but we have chosen our leaders well and we will hopefully see, over a two month period, how they transform their health by following a strict food and fitness plan.
“We have three top experts in dietician Sioned Quirke, personal trainer Rae Carpenter and psychologist Dr Ioan Rees who will, through technology, share advice with the leaders, viewers and presenter Lisa Gwilym in the studio.
“Meanwhile, chef and Great British Bake Off contestant Becca Lyne-Pirkis is contributing to the food plan each week while sharing some easy-to-follow, healthy recipes which can be re-created at home.”
He added: “FFIT Cymru is a series that can help people keep healthy, both physically and mentally, as people are forced to live apart from their family and friends.
“This is an educational and entertaining series offering real guidance and practical advice during a period of social distancing and self-isolating.
“It’s going to be really interesting to see how our leaders and their families cope adjusting to a new healthy lifestyle as we all adapt to the changes forced on us by the Coronavirus pandemic.”