On the tre­ble

Oper­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion’s Aoife Hearne on bal­anc­ing fam­ily and ca­reer

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Front Page -

WHEN Aoife Hearne opens the front door of her home in Water­ford, my eye is im­me­di­ately drawn to her t-shirt, em­bla­zoned with the words ‘cof­fee and con­cealer’, two things I’d imag­ine she has needed more than usual lately. The di­eti­tian and ex­pert on RTÉ’s Oper­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion gave birth to her third child, Zoë, in May. Along with car­ing for Dy­lan, 4, and Alva, 2, run­ning her nu­tri­tion con­sul­tancy busi­ness, pub­lish­ing a book, and her tele­vi­sion obli­ga­tions, life has been hec­tic, to say the least.

Hearne is re­fresh­ingly hon­est about the sac­ri­fices re­quired to keep all those balls in the air.

“I got mar­ried [to Alan Kir­wan, an en­gi­neer and part-time farmer] in De­cem­ber 2012, started on Oper­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion in Jan­uary 2014, and got preg­nant with Dy­lan that Jan­uary as well. OT was kind of thrown in my lap and I had to try it — but we were start­ing a fam­ily and you can’t post­pone it. I was 34 as it was, I’m an only child and we wanted a few kids, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time.”

Hearne says there is no such thing as hav­ing it all and that ap­pear­ances can of­ten be de­cep­tive.

“Ex­ter­nally, you’d think ‘God she’s great, she’s on TV and do­ing all those things’, but it’s hard mar­ry­ing the two. I want to be a mother, as good as I can be, and I also have to give a lot to my ca­reer. There are con­se­quences and com­pro­mises, peo­ple lose out. My hus­band has to take up the slack when I’m not here and it’s hard when he’s work­ing full-time, and he’s a part­time farmer, there’s a lot go­ing on for him and then I’m miss­ing break­fast and bed­times — crunch times. I def­i­nitely don’t have it all.”

There was a sig­nif­i­cant bump in the road af­ter the birth of her mid­dle child, Alva, when Hearne was di­ag­nosed with Grave’s dis­ease, an au­toim­mune con­di­tion that af­fects the thy­roid.

“She didn’t sleep very well and the stress of that to­tally trig­gered it. I have to mind my­self so that doesn’t hap­pen again be­cause I’m no good to any­body at that stage. I was hav­ing pal­pi­ta­tions, sweat­ing, my mood was all over the place. I was in with my GP, cry­ing, think­ing I had post-na­tal de­pres­sion. I was so scared to even say those words. I do feel very fear­ful when I think back to that time be­cause I was very close to the edge.”

Hearne finds her­self on stead­ier ground this time around. “It’s eas­ier with three. Go­ing from one child to two was chal­leng­ing… and, with my thy­roid go­ing bananas, look­ing back I was re­ally all over the place. Also, hav­ing to be this ‘to­gether’ per­son on TV, which took all of my en­ergy. Then I’d come home and nearly crum­ble and I was no good to any­body.”

Hearne’s firm but em­pa­thetic ap­proach on OT has won her many fans, and she is con­scious of how her per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence un­der­pins her pro­fes­sional ad­vice.

“I think I al­ways try to walk the walk. If I wasn’t or­gan­ised from a nu­tri­tional per­spec­tive, we would not be eat­ing prop­erly. I try to put a lot of time into prep work at the week­ends or what­ever day I’m not work­ing. I’m like every­one else, we couldn’t have a healthy meal if the prep work wasn’t done and there are weeks where that doesn’t hap­pen, where we’re eat­ing beans and omelettes a lot.”

Right on cue, just as I ask about how her two sib­lings have re­acted to her ar­rival, the gur­gles of baby Zoë, who is hav­ing a nap, be­gin to em­anate from the baby mon­i­tor and Hearne goes up­stairs to get her. She is adorable and alert, and Hearne says her ar­rival hasn’t prompted any tears or tantrums from her brother and sis­ter.

“They are ac­tu­ally very good. Now, they could jump on top of her or put the blan­ket over her head so you have to be care­ful, but there doesn’t seem to be any jeal­ousy yet.”

As Zoë snug­gles in for a feed, Hearne chats about the ben­e­fits of breastfeeding. How­ever, she knows from ex­pe­ri­ence that it isn’t al­ways easy and un­der­stands why many women give up on breastfeeding in the face of dis­com­fort, pain, and sleep de­pri­va­tion.

“My mid­dle child, Alva, had a pos­te­rior tongue-tie when the frenu­lum is too tight. I wasn’t sore so it wasn’t picked up un­til she was seven months old. She was fill­ing with wind and if I put her down, she’d sleep for five min­utes. I was on the brink of los­ing it.”

With Zoë, the tongue-tie was picked up when she was born.

When it comes to in­tro­duc­ing solid food, Hearne is a pro­po­nent of baby-led feed­ing, where the baby is given food they can eat them­selves. What about peo­ple who would like to try it but are fear­ful? “The chok­ing risk is what peo­ple worry about… but the most im­por­tant thing is that you’re giv­ing them safe shapes. And re­mem­ber, the gag re­flex is very close to the front of their mouth. We see gag­ging and think they’re chok­ing, but they’re not. The whole idea of baby-led feed­ing is not nec­es­sar­ily only about solid foods, it is about you not spoon­ing it into the baby. You can still give them mashed po­ta­toes, yo­ghurts, all of that, give them loaded spoons and just let them grab it. It’s messy, but it does pay div­i­dends in the long run… from the very start it keeps them con­nected to their hunger and full­ness.”

Hearne says par­ents need to trust that chil­dren know their own ap­petites and ul­ti­mately will not go hun­gry.

“We have this idea of how much we feel they should be eat­ing but maybe they know bet­ter than us. Even some­thing as small as a man­darin an hour be­fore din­ner for a tod­dler could stop them eat­ing that din­ner. It is also about try­ing not to get into a power strug­gle… If they say they’re full, ac­cept it, even if they haven’t touched their din­ner. Then say, ‘that’s grand but noth­ing else tonight, don’t for­get’. It’s not easy.”

A top-level sprinter, Hearne was na­tional se­nior cham­pion in the 100m in 1997. She went to the US on a sports schol­ar­ship when she was 17, pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties she says she never would have had in Ire­land. She went on to study nu­tri­tion at the Uni­ver­sity of Ten­nessee and com­pleted an in­tern­ship at the renowned Mass­a­chu­setts Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in Bos­ton.

“Re­al­is­ti­cally, I was never go­ing to make a ca­reer out of run­ning, if I was hon­est. Back then, as a teenager, I was very hope­ful I would. The points to do di­etet­ics in Ire­land are crazy, I never would have made those points. I was re­ally lucky in some re­spects, the way things worked out. I would have been quite shy in school, I wouldn’t have liked speak­ing in pub­lic. Amer­ica knocks that out of you.”

She may not be sprint­ing any more but sport is still very much part of Hearne’s life. She has a mas­ter’s in sports and ex­er­cise nu­tri­tion, and has worked with the Chicago Bulls bas­ket­ball team and the Chicago Bears base­ball team. In what is lit­er­ally a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ball game, she has also worked with the Tip­per­ary hurlers for nine years.

“That’s some­thing peo­ple in Water­ford aren’t happy about,” she says, laugh­ing. “I am the only woman in the back­room team — I love it be­cause I get that com­pet­i­tive buzz in my life that I don’t have any­where else.

“It is amaz­ing how ded­i­cated they are and how much they do look af­ter them­selves. Noth­ing beats be­ing in Croke Park on Al­lIre­land fi­nal day. And win­ning.”

While, much to her dis­may, she has yet to ex­pe­ri­ence that feel­ing as a Water­ford sup­porter, she has with Tipp, in 2010 and 2016.

“Those ex­pe­ri­ences were amaz­ing, but in 2009, when Tipp were beaten by Kilkenny, go­ing back into that dress­ing room, see­ing grown men cry, it was un­be­liev­ably dif­fi­cult. That’s sport, you lose more than you win. You have to re­ally en­joy the win­ning.”

For Hearne, the key to win­ning when it comes to nu­tri­tion and good health, for her clients and the lead­ers she men­tors on Oper­a­tion Trans­for­ma­tion, is ban­ish­ing the diet men­tal­ity and get­ting into good habits.

“It is look­ing at what their life is and how we can fa­cil­i­tate that to make healthy eat­ing a lit­tle bit eas­ier. That’s why for me, the prep is im­por­tant, know­ing what time in the week you have and think­ing about what is go­ing to make it quicker and eas­ier. Per­haps us­ing pre­chopped or frozen veg; a slow cooker is great, es­pe­cially with the win­ter com­ing in. Then un­der­stand­ing that you don’t need to be per­fect.”

In a so­ci­ety where so many peo­ple feel un­der con­stant pres­sure to show their best face, Hearne’s recog­ni­tion that per­fec­tion is a thank­less pur­suit is some­thing to be ad­mired. That, and the fact that she has an­swered all my ques­tions with­out hes­i­ta­tion while feed­ing and wind­ing a wrig­gling Zoë, and per­form­ing a com­plete change of clothes.

The jug­gle goes on and Hearne looks right at home.

“Hav­ing to be this ‘to­gether’ per­son on TV took all of my en­ergy

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