Interview with Pat Divilly – Health and Wellness Coach, Bestselling Author “21 Day Jump Start”, TV Presenter, Motivational Speaker

When did you first become interested in fitness?

I got into martial arts and judo as a teenager. I started lifting weights to get stronger for judo and found that I really enjoyed it. I did not really see myself as academic at school but I enjoyed training and reading about nutrition. After school I did an Arts degree and spent the summers in California training in mixed martial arts and working in a gym, so this is where I really became interested in fitness. I later qualified as a personal trainer.

What made you decide to do a Masters in Nutrition?

There were plenty of personal trainers around at the time. There are probably ten times as many now. I wanted to differentiate myself so I did a Masters in Exercise and Nutrition Science at the University of Chester.

How did your fitness class come about?

Exercise is only part of the process. I tell it as it is – and sometimes people don’t like to hear it! I worked in a number of different gyms in Dublin and was let go from 3 of them when I told customers that there was no point in exercising if you’re not eating right.

I moved back to Galway and set up my own fitness class on the beach near my home. I started with 5 people the first month, 20 the second month, and it grew to 100 people in 18 months so I opened a studio.

What’s different about your approach?

I believe in making fitness accessible to everyone. I recognised that people have a lot going on in their lives and I wanted to make it the most positive experience I could for them while they were there. It might be my sixth class of the day, but for the people in front of me, it was their only class, so I wanted to give each class everything I had. I also wanted to engage with each person individually.

The community aspect was also very important. I wanted everyone to feel included and to spur each other on. I set up an online forum, where people could comment and ask questions and I also included a lot of nutritional information and recipes.

What role do you think nutrition plays in fitness training?

80% of your results come from the kitchen. If someone is starting an 8-week course and misses a few weeks of training because of an injury, I say ‘do the nutrition and you will still see the results’. The right nutrition is a powerful thing and I have even seen it get people off medication. The key is to chase health, not weight loss. Choose real food, use common sense and see it through to the end and then you will see results.

There is too much focus these days on falling off the wagon. If you have a blip, identify the reason for it. If it’s stress-related, develop a strategy for dealing with that stress.

What is your fitness and nutrition philosophy?

To be successful, do the opposite of what everyone else does. I try to get people to take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. I get them to spend a half an hour at the start with a pen and paper thinking about where they want to be in their lives. For many people, it’s the first time they have done this. I also incorporate mindfulness, getting people in a better headspace by simply taking a bit of time for themselves. People want a quick fix but the best way to achieve their ultimate goal is to break it down into a series of more manageable steps.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to someone who is trying to get fit?

Do something you enjoy, particularly something with a social dynamic. Being with like-minded people really helps. Assess where you’re at every week.

When it comes to nutrition, keep it simple. The less processed, the better. The more ingredients something has, the worse it is for you. You instinctively know yourself what’s good and bad for you. Stick to the things your grandparents would have eaten and you’re on the right track.

Tell us a bit about your bestselling book – 21 Day Jump Start.

I have attended a huge amount of seminars and courses over the years. The book is basically a synopsis of everything I’ve learned so far. I just simplified the information and advice down and made it more accessible. The main point is to eat real food and exercise 5 times a week for half an hour. It’s honest, simple advice, with no smoke and mirrors to it.

You are also a motivational speaker. What does that involve?

It started off with a 10-minute talk in Galway. I was quite nervous at first but I decided that if I did 100 hour long talks in a year I would master it so that’s what I did. I talk to all sorts of groups – schools, colleges, companies – on a range of health and fitness topics. I will soon be doing a full day mindset course, so I am looking forward to that.

How important is motivation in achieving our goals?

Motivation is hugely important in achieving our goals. There’s a great book on motivation called “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. For example, if you want to lose weight, losing it for a wedding is not a very strong “why”, whereas losing it to feel more confident is. The stronger your “why”, the greater your chances of success.

Most people are not self-aware enough to find out why they want something so they choose things that they think they want. You need to get to the root of your pain and be really honest with yourself to find your true motivation.

What is “Be Your Own Hero”?

The Hero Academy is basically an online life and business coaching course. It runs over 9 weeks starting with a mission and covers topics like health, emotions, family and relationships. It’s all about making people more conscious in all areas and helping them to find a balance in life.

You still attend lots of courses and seminars yourself. Do you find that you are always learning?

Yes, I am always learning. I do a minimum of 2-3 hours of study a day. I don’t think there’s a point where you know everything you need to know. It’s all about reviewing, refining and adding more elements. My current teaching is based on what I know at the moment.

Who, in the area of fitness and nutrition, inspires you?

Paul Chek, who was a pioneer 20 years ago but his ideas are mainstream now. Also Rob Wolf, the New York Times Best Selling author of The Paleo Solution. I would love to meet Bob Proctor, too.

What advice would you give to people embarking on a career in the area of health and nutrition?

It’s all about people – the experience you give people and how you make people feel. Ask yourself if you can be the person to make them apply things and lead by example. Treat the person in front of you like the most important person in the world at that time.

There’s a lot of narcissism out there on social media – you see lots of personal trainers posting selfies of their 6 packs. I think if you can make your body look like that, then great! – but why not offer something that’s going to help other people?

More on Pat Divilly