A new soccer league has kicked off with the goal of helping overweight men beat the bulge.

The UK-based Man v Fat Football league, which is only open to men with a BMI over 30, rewards teams for both games won and pounds lost. The six-a-side league plays 30-minute matches every 14 weeks and is a part of a wider weight loss program supporting players with resources such as behavior-change tools. In six months, it has become one of the most successful weight management schemes ever, with 95 percent of players losing weight and 62 per ent of players hitting their 5 percent body weight reduction target. Andrew Shanahan, founder of Man v Fat, explains how the league has been a weight loss winner for men. 

What led you to develop Man v Fat? 

I needed it! I used to work as a food journalist and although it was lovely being sent to review lots of nice restaurants, it took its toll on my weight. I grew in size until the point that I was not just overweight, I was obese. My confidence started to ebb away and I didn't feel healthy at all. I felt like I was letting my children and my wife down and not being the father or husband I wanted to be. I knew I had to do something. Unfortunately, there's nothing out there to support normal men who want to lose weight. There are gyms, of course, but they focus on fitness and that's really only 20 percent of weight loss. Plus, I found them incredibly daunting as I was sincerely worried about how healthy I was. I tried all of the weight loss groups and I was the only man in the room. It was really demotivating and I quickly got put off by the talks about bikini bodies and drinking white wine spritzers — no matter how healthy I get, I'm never going to have a bikini body.

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I wondered how many other men felt that there was something missing and who weren't getting the support that they desperately need when they’re trying to lose weight. I started Man v Fat with a crowdfunding campaign which raised 102 percent of its target and drew support from all of the major weight loss organizations and celebrities like Jamie Oliver. That was in 2014. And in 2015 Man v Fat had a book published and helped more than 300,000 men through the website manvfat.com. Launching the football leagues is our latest idea to help deliver weight loss support to men.

How has this project helped you?

Personally, I'm five stone (70 pounds0 lighter and professionally, I now spend my life helping other men to reach their weight goals. It's a dream job!

How does the Man v Fat program work?

Man v Fat Football is the scheme that we launched to work with men face-to-face. It works as a 14-week six-a-side football (soccer) league where the men weigh in before they play their game of football. The league position isn't just based on the goals that they score on the pitch but the weight that they lose off it as well. Teams and players get bonuses for weight loss, with bonus goals awarded for losing weight as a team, losing weight consistently and hitting targets set by their weight loss coach.

How can soccer help men to lose weight?

Let's be clear: The 30 minute game of football isn't the reason that 95 per cent of our players lose weight. As the old saying goes, you can't out-exercise a bad diet, so unless they address the things that are going wrong with their diet then they won't lose weight. However, we give them the motivation and support to make those changes and we give them a structure where it's enjoyable and easier to stick to than just doing a diet on their own.

What has been people’s reaction to your program?

It's been amazing. We've had applications to join the league from around the world and we're now launching leagues across the UK to help as many men as possible with the scheme. The pilot scheme we ran with Solihull Council in the UK has turned into one of the most successful men's weight management programs that has ever been run. 95 percent of players lost weight and 62 percent lost five per cent of their body weight. The 80 players on the league lost 783 kg (1726 pounds) and have since gone on to lose over a 1000 kg 2204 (pounds) of weight. We had 93 percent of players reporting health improvements with everything from reduction in joint pain, curing snoring and even reversing diabetes.

What advantages does Man v Fat offer over other weight loss programs?

It's fun! It puts you in touch with other blokes who all want to lose weight and gives you football as a motivation and a focus point. The support that players get means that they have all the information and guidance that they need. Plus, as it's men their competitive nature means that they all push themselves to do their best, but they support their teammates and those around them.

Could you share with us one success story of Man v Fat?

Ben Gallon is probably a good one to focus on. He lost 26 percent of his body weight on the scheme and has now been employed as a weight loss coach by Man v Fat to help other men achieve the same sort of success.

—Daniel Casillas