A man moved to a remote village and cut contact with loved ones. He reappeared months later 137 pounds lighter and says he's broken a decades-long cycle of weight loss and gain.
Bryan O'Keefe had tried every diet but was losing and gaining what felt like the same 40 pounds. So he decided to do something drastic.
Bryan O'Keeffe, 34, had tried everything to lose weight so decided he needed to do something drastic.
He moved to a remote village, quit his job, and cut off contact with loved ones for seven months.
He moved for five hours a day and cooked from scratch to lose over half his body weight.
Bryan O'Keeffe had struggled with his weight his whole life, trying every diet and workout regime under the sun but feeling like he was losing and gaining the same 40 pounds again and again.
So he decided to do something drastic.
O'Keeffe, 34, from Ireland, weighed 338 pounds when he moved to a small village in Spain, quit his job, and cut off all communication with his family and friends.
Seven months later he had lost 137 pounds, more than half his body weight, and went home to Ireland to surprise his loved ones, capturing their reactions in a TikTok video that has been viewed over 32 million times.
In the video, O'Keeffe said that after 15 years of trying fad diets and workouts, he decided to stop focusing on the scales and instead on being mentally resilient and building discipline.
Speaking to Insider, O'Keeffe said that losing the weight was incredibly hard, and he acknowledged that his methods were extreme.
New drugs such as semaglutide that have helped people lose weight after years of struggling reflect how being overweight isn't simply a problem of poor self-control and a lack of will power. And experts generally advise people to lose weight gradually by slowly building up healthy habits without too much restriction.
But a drastic, brief period of weight loss lasting one to three months can be beneficial for those who have a lot to lose and have lost belief in their ability to succeed, before transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle, personal trainer and fat loss coach Jordan Syatt told Insider.
A healthy and sustainable rate of weight loss for most people is one pound per week on average, or 0.5% of your body weight, but obese and overweight people can safely lose weight faster due to having more to lose.
Personal trainer and dietitian Mike Matthews believes that people with more than 100 pounds to lose can safely lose up to four pounds of weight per week.
"I definitely wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but it was the perfect scenario for me," O'Keeffe said.
O'Keeffe gained weight throughout his 20s
O'Keeffe was an overweight child, but going to boarding school as a teenager and playing lots of sport helped him to slim down, he said.
When he went to college, however, the typical student lifestyle of drinking and eating take-out, combined with an injury, resulted in O'Keeffe gaining weight "aggressively," he said.
Throughout his 20s, he tried all sorts of diets and workout styles — from keto to Crossfit — went to weight management clinics, and even had a balloon fitted in his stomach that was supposed to reduce hunger, which he later had removed. He'd lose some weight for a few months but would always regain it, usually coming back up to around 330 pounds, he said.
"Dieting and weight loss is seen as a huge stress on the body, and the body works to eliminate that stress by shutting down and resultingly, ensuring you climb back to your starting weight," Dr. Nick Fuller told Insider.
Dietitians warn that fad diets like keto are too restrictive to be sustainable, while research suggests banning foods can make you more likely to crave them and less likely to stick to a healthy diet.
In 2017, O'Keefe lost 70 pounds in five months after moving to London and getting into a good routine with his diet and exercise. But he said everything fell apart after he celebrated earning his master's degree. He put the weight back on in half the time it took to lose it after he started ordering large takeouts most nights.
"Weight loss was the thing I wanted the most, but I wasn't willing to put the sacrifices in to get it long term," O'Keeffe said.
O'Keeffe moved to a tiny Spanish village to remove temptation
At the end of 2020, aged 33, O'Keeffe moved to the Spanish city of Palma, on the island of Mallorca, where his brother, who was working as a doctor, encouraged him to join him and make a change. But the cycle of weight loss and gain continued.
Around October 2021, O'Keeffe once again pledged to break it.
He reasoned he was struggling because it was so easy to access indulgent foods, and his social life centered around food and drink. So he removed those aspects of his life by moving to a tiny Mallorcan fishing village "in the middle of nowhere" called Cala Figuera, which only had one shop open in winter.
O'Keefe's thinking reflects research on what are known as obesogenic environments, where easy access to and the advertisement of highly processed, calorie-dense foods encourages people to eat unhealthily and live sedentary lifestyles, contributing to rising obesity rates.
O'Keefe also cut off all contact with his family and friends, telling them he was going to "work on himself" and wouldn't speak to them for three months.
They were, at least to his face, mostly supportive, O'Keeffe said. But there was more pushback when he told them he was continuing at the end of the three months.
"I just felt like I'd tried everything, and maybe it was going take something as extreme as this to change," he said.
He moved consciously for five hours a day
O'Keeffe began by walking his dog for an hour a day, before going to a dusty old local gym, as well as swimming, running, and stretching. Soon he was doing conscious movement for five hours a day.
O'Keeffe challenged himself by working out every day, even when injured, to build discipline and resilience, even though he knew he was overtraining, he said.
"I needed to push myself to the limit," O'Keeffe said.
"There's a vicious cycle with weight loss where you eat because you're unhappy about being overweight, so then you gain more weight and it makes you more unhappy," he said. O'Keeffe wanted to create the opposite — "a cycle of positivity and reinforcement" — and consistently feel he was achieving something to drive him onwards.
A month in, he quit his job to focus 100% on weight loss, living off his savings and saving money by cooking meals from scratch.
O'Keeffe tracked his food using the MyFitnessPal app and intermittent fasted to help him stick to his goal of 2,200 calories a day and 200 grams of protein, he said.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming between 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. However, obese people are advised to aim for less (1.2–1.5 grams daily per kilogram of bodyweight) given their overall bodyweight is greater.
At one point, when he was about 56 pounds down, he craved McDonald's but decided it wasn't worth it when he realized the nearest one was an hour away.
O'Keeffe's plan was working and the weight kept coming off.
O'Keeffe always knew he would need longer than three months to lose the weight
O'Keeffe never thought three months would be long enough to lose around 140 pounds but he thought saying so would make it easier for his friends and family.
The one person he did speak to was his father, who he would call twice a week when his mother was out. He has "fairly advanced" Alzheimer's, and O'Keefe said he knew he wouldn't remember the call.
After four months he also started speaking about training with an acquaintance who is a strength and conditioning coach — but didn't tell him what he was doing.
Around that time, O'Keeffe's younger sister texted him, "Are you happy?"
He replied: "Yes," even though that wasn't necessarily true, later realizing that he was "fulfilled." He was pushing himself incredibly hard, but was feeling good about his achievements.
"I was achieving something that I'd wanted more than anything for 15 years," O'Keeffe said.
O'Keeffe surprised everyone when he returned home
As summer approached, O'Keeffe planned to go home and surprise his friends and family, only telling a couple of people about his plan so they could film their reactions but keeping the level of his weight loss a secret.
In July 2022, he showed up on doorsteps looking like a completely different person from seven months earlier.
"It was amazing," O'Keeffe said. "Everyone was just so shocked and so happy for me. I'll never forget it."
It's the little things that have struck O'Keeffe most since losing the weight, like being able to sit in an airplane seat comfortably: "I used to be locked in, I'd leave with a seatbelt mark. And then when I sat for the first time in the airplane seat, I felt I was like swimming in it," he said.
O'Keeffe's sister signed him up to Bumble and he was amazed by how much attention he received. He now has a girlfriend who lives on the Spanish island of Tenerife, and has moved back to Palma.
Since the summer, O'Keeffe has eased up on exercise and started eating more to help build muscle, he said, but wants to pare back again after enjoying indulgences with his friends and family.
O'Keeffe didn't post on social media while losing weight, but now shares educational content and helps others with their own journeys, which also encourages him to stay on track, he said.
O'Keeffe is confident he'll keep the weight off this time not just because he lost more than ever before, but because — as he'd hoped — he's built resilience and a lifestyle he enjoys.
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