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Source: University of Otago

Brendan Reid
Brendan Reid was never much of a writer – until he had a story to tell.
“I could spell but I just wasn’t into writing stories or anything at all, until I reached a point in my life where I finally felt like I had something worth writing about.”
That point came when Brendan turned a corner in his weight loss quest and wanted to share his journey. The result was The Fat Ginger Nerd, a memoir which charts his personal journey navigating “the first four decades of my life, where, for 90% of that time, I was fatter than 90% of those around me.”
Brendan, who works as a Senior Developer in Information Technology Services on the Dunedin campus, was morbidly obese for much of his life.
“Until the age of about 37, I was a stereotypical fat ginger nerd,” he says.
As a young person, he was aware that he was larger than his peers – to the point where classmates and teachers would comment – but was at a loss to explain why. He ate the same as his family, had the same general lifestyle and followed expert advice from dieticians.
“The assumption was always whatever the problem was, it was my fault. That I needed to take more personal responsibility, which in principle, I’m not against. But there are limits to where personal responsibility can take you. All those things the experts said about the healthy food pyramid I was honestly, sincerely doing. And those things weren’t working.”
After school he moved into broadcasting and became increasingly interested in computers. “You feel like the real world has rejected you and you want to withdraw from it entirely and make your own virtual worlds. You learn to make friends with things instead of people.”
Brendan acknowledges this was a sedentary lifestyle which was also a contributing factor to his declining health as he hit his 30s. “I’m really struggling physically. I’ve got chest pain and I’m medicating for that. I’m depressed – not diagnosed with it – but I’m clearly unhappy.”
Brendan’s weight dropped from 132kg to 82kg.
At this point he was 137kg and decided he had to do something to improve his lifestyle. He began walking the 2.5 km to work and home again in the evening.
“After six months that I’d lost a little bit of weight. It wasn’t much but it was enough to get me thinking, maybe this is something I can get some professional help with. Because no dietician or anybody has ever been able to help me. Maybe my way is just to exercise my way out of it.”
It was a meeting with a gym instructor, who suggested he try the “low carb diet”, which helped Brendan finally turn the corner.
“I was immediately sceptical, because I had seen enough of food pyramids and dietary guidelines and things over the years to know that low carb is not part of that standard advice.”
But he didn’t want to give up without having investigated every possible avenue. So he decided to give it a go. Fifteen months later he had dropped from 132kg to 82kg, a weight he has since maintained.
He describes the diet as “basically meat and vegetables.” He has eliminated all processed carbohydrates such as bread and pasta and avoids starchy vegetables like potatoes.
While his health has improved greatly and he is “living an awesome life”, Brendan stresses that the diet may not work for everyone the way it has worked for him.
“I’m absolutely accepting of the fact that other people are able to succeed in other ways. It doesn’t have to be the one size fits all solution for everybody. If I had to criticise the current guidelines as they currently stand, it would be from that perspective. They are marketed as one size fits all.
“But if I respond physically in a very bad way to carbohydrates, doesn’t it seem that a natural solution for me is to just avoid them?”
Before the book was published, Brendan was sharing his story in speaking engagements in Australia and the United States, an experience he hopes to repeat.
“I was in the States in March 2020 just as COVID was getting serious. I was very lucky to make it home. I haven’t done any more speaking since then. But I’m hopeful of doing a little bit more of that as things start to open up again.”