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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Katie Gallagher

Operation Transformation through the years - from Gerry Ryan launch to lycra backlash, changes and controversies

Operation Transformation returned to screens with a bang this week, with five new leaders baring their souls on screen in the hopes of building a better lifestyle.

Host Kathryn Thomas launched the 16th season at the helm, alongside an expert panel made up of new dietician Sophie Pratt and returning experts Dr Sumi Dunne, Dr Eddie Murphy and Karl Henry.

But a lot has changed since the hit show's premiere on radio in 2008 with Gerry Ryan at the helm - with changes all across the board from presenters, expert panels, and a shift from a focus on weight loss to wellness over the years.

Read more: Meet RTE Operation Transformation 2023 group as final leader revealed

Here's a look back at how much the show has changed since it began.


'Operation Transformation' initially ran as part of RTÉ Radio 2fm's 'Gerry Ryan Show', but transferred to RTÉ Television and in January 2008.

Broadcaster Evelyn O'Rourke was originally a reporter on the show alongside the late TV and radio host.

TV presenter Darren Kennedy was also a reporter in the early seasons of the show.

12/11/'09 Gerry Ryan with Some of the Operation transformation - final 20 overweight people pictured at Sportslink in Santry this afternoon this morning. From left, Carmel Brown, Amanda Casey, Conor O'Connor, Penny Dwyer and Ann Harding. (Collins Photo Agency)

The first show saw six hopefuls, selected by Ryan on his radio show, attempt to reshape their lives with the expert’s help, with weekly updates on television, daily updates on radio and a 24/7 live webcam on a dedicated site within RTÉ.ie for a period of seven weeks.

Ryan hosted Operation Transformation until his sudden death at the age of 53 in 2010.


Kathryn Thomas began hosting the popular weight loss series the following year after the much-loved presenter Ryan passed away.

The star told how she only agreed to host the show after she got the nod from Gerry’s family, admitting she was ‘terrified’ to step into the legendary broadcaster’s shoes.

The RTE star wore a Zara suit for the Operation Transformation final. (RTE)

“Straight away I said no. I said ‘That is not for me, that’s Gerry's show, how can I take this on, how can I do it.’

Kathryn continued on the Real Health podcast with Karl Henry: “I met the production team and I was and still am friends with Mick Ryan, Gerry’s brother, so I rang Mick and said ‘What do you think?’

“This was less than a year after Gerry’s passing so it was all very soon and sudden.

“He said ‘Absolutely, this is the show for you, it’s a great gig, you’re perfect for it and you’re great with people’.

“I said I’m going to it differently because I can’t do it the same. He said it to Morah[Gerry’s wife]. Once I had their backing, it made the decision easy for me.”

The glamorous presenter has remained host of the series ever since.


The radio element of the show was also provided by RTÉ Radio 1's The John Murray Show in the early seasons.

Ray D'Arcy has also worked with the series over the years, featuring the leaders and experts and documenting their progress on his RTÉ Radio 1 afternoon show each series.

Operation Transformation leader Chris McElligott, Ray D'Arcy and Dr Ciara Kelly (RTE)

He also filled in for Kathryn Thomas last year when she was forced to miss a show due to Covid.


Fitness coach Karl Henry is the only original expert still remaining on the panel.

The show kicked off in 2008 with a panel consisting of him, medical doctor and psychologist Dr Ian Gargan, and Dr Eva Orsmond , a medical doctor with decades of experience of the overweight and obese.

Irish clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy joined later on, and still remains on the panel as an expert today.

There was a shake up to the team in 2014, as GP Dr Ciara Kelly took over as the doctor on the programme and dietician Aoife Hearne joined the panel to provide nutritional advice.

Doctor turned radio host Kelly, who currently presents Newstalk Breakfast, went on to depart the show in 2019.

She said it was time for her "to move on" as she focused on new ventures.

Laois GP Dr Sumi Dunne has since joined the panel of experts and remains as part of the team in the new series.

There has been a further shake up this year, as Hearne also announced her departure from the show before the new season launched this month.

The dietician, who was on the show for 12 seasons, said: "After a rewarding nine years and twelve series of working on Operation Transformation I have decided after careful consideration, that it is time for me to leave".

Sophie Pratt has stepped in to replace her on the show's panel this year alongside returning experts Dr Sumi Dunne, Dr Eddie Murphy and Karl Henry.

The show which ran for two years and saw some of Ireland's best-loved celebs baring all and stepping on the scales in lycra for the viewers at home.

The celebrity version of the hit weight loss show first hit screens back in 2016, before being scrapped shortly after two seasons, in 2018.

Series One saw Elaine Crowley, Katherine Lynch, Karl Spain, Gerald Kean and Brenda Donohue ditch the pounds.

Celebrity Operation Transformation (RTE)

The following year, James Patrice, Mary Byrne, Gary O'Hanlon, Kayleigh Cullian and Triona McCarthy sought professional help as they lost weight in front of the camera.


Operation Transformation has sparked controversy and criticisms over the years, due to the dieting and weight loss element of the show.

Eating disorder group BodyWhys have said that they feel it is “triggering” to some of its service users whilst thousands signed a petition last year calling on the broadcaster to axe the programme.

RTE said the TV series has evolved considerably over the years and now encompasses a more holistic approach to adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well as losing weight.

A spokesman for RTE said: “Operation Transformation has evolved considerably over the years and now encompasses a more holistic approach to adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well as losing weight.”

The show was also dogged with complaints over the leaders’ lycra outfits every year, with viewers at home debating whether it was necessary for the leaders to wear skimpy outfits at their weigh-ins, and some labelling the element of the show as 'humiliating'.

Host Kathryn said the choice of clothing was a choice for the leaders, and explained that some liked to see their progress.

She : “I mean we get criticism every year about the lycra and at the end of the day the leaders are all given a choice.

“And there are some women and some men who actually like to see the physical transformation as the weeks go on that is visible when you are in a top and shorts.”
The element has been scrapped in recent years, with leaders now appearing in full length clothing.


The show format has been gradually changing over the years following the feedback, with a shift in focus from weight loss to wellness and healthy lifestyle.

The ‘evolution’ will continue this year according to RTE, who said the focus will be on overall health and well-being.

The leaders will have a weekly health check in where 14 health indicators will be monitored. These include upper body strength, balance, lower body strength and cardiovascular adding to the usual hydration, blood pressure, metabolic age, weight, general health, nutrition, movement, among others.

This year, the show will also have an element of reflection, by revisiting previous leaders and catching up on their journey on the show.

RTE said: “Leaders will share their personal stories and their own tips, their highs, and lows as they continue to prioritise health and well-being in their lives.”

They have also launched a podcast with former OT leader Katie Jones. Each week Katie will also talk to a former leader in the company of one of the OT experts to help their wellness journey.


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