Dave 'Brown Buttabean' Letele: 'Exercise really saved my life, because I really hated my life at one point' - NZ Herald

Dave ‘Brown Buttabean’ Letele: ‘Exercise really saved my life, because I really hated my life at one point’ – NZ Herald

“If people ask me how I feel, I’m always honest,” says Dave Letele. Photo / Provided

South Auckland Community Leader Dave Letele, also known as Brown Buttabean, is a life coach, motivational speaker and founder of the BBM program. He has lost over 100 kg through good nutrition and exercise and now dedicates his time to helping communities struggling with obesity, diabetes and heart disease. He is also running a campaign to encourage people to become part of the census collector workforce for Stats NZ’s 2023 census.

The first thing I do once I wake up, I have a coffee and I go to practice. I try to get into the gym at 4:30. It’s more for my sanity than anything.

I feel at my best when I eat well. You know, when you have line balance, which is pretty hard to get. When you eat well and have family time, that’s when I’m at my best.

The work we do is quite physical. We do all these free boot camps, and we help a lot of people with our food bank, so I’m really busy throughout the day. With all my free time I try to be with my family and go out and ride my bike and stuff like that. It’s spending time together, and also keeping ourselves in shape.

To stay mentally and emotionally healthy, training is my spare time. I don’t drink, I don’t go out. Me going to the pub, it’s actually me training with my friends. And that’s what helps keep my sanity. The exercise really saved my life, because I really hated my life at one point, and it was the exercise that kept me from thinking about everything. I didn’t think about how shitty my life was when I exercised. So that’s really how I take care of myself mentally, and also have good friends that I can talk to about it. I’m not afraid to talk about how I feel. If people ask me how I feel, I’m always honest. We always give that generic “everything is fine” or “not bad” response, but in reality, you may not be.

“Exercise really saved my life… I didn’t realize how shitty my life was when I exercised,” says Dave Letele. Photo / Provided

We always talk about having a strong “why”, you know, a goal. When I started my journey, my “why” was that I really wanted my kids back, and I got my kids back now. And now my “why” is to be an example for my people, for my family, my children and my wife. To show all those who struggle that it is possible. This is my core “why” and purpose. But sometimes it doesn’t need to be so deep and meaningful. It can be like the thought of having a really good cup of coffee. Basically, if your “why” is strong enough, you really can overcome anything.

The best advice I’ve ever been given never give up. It’s so simple, but it’s so true. Life sucks sometimes. But you just have to be prepared to keep getting up and not lying down. I am not afraid of failure, greatness comes from it. I did Dancing with the stars; I was definitely not good at it, and I felt like I didn’t belong. And I had a critic going through my head saying, “Why are you doing this?” But what got me out of it was remembering why I was doing it. I did it to publicize our work. I was doing it for our people. And to show others what is possible.

The thing I realized as I got older is what all your children want, what your children need is your time. And you are the best version of yourself. We are so determined to give them material things when they really don’t matter. It wasn’t until I got older that I really realized that.

to encourage me, I am my biggest fan. We all have a hyperactive inner critic. So, I try to be a hyperactive “biggest fan”. And I say to myself: “You understood, come on, you understood”. Sometimes you’ll see my lips move, because I’m only talking to myself. If you can’t love yourself and talk about it, then you can’t expect anyone else to.

When things get complicated, I just talk to myself, like “you’ve been here before”. It’s cliché, but it won’t last. I always tell people, “Don’t be afraid to fight. You can overcome it; hard times will not last. When I give speeches, all I’m doing is saying how shitty my life was and how I managed to turn it around. No one can replicate your story, so if you embrace your fight, you can really get something out of it.

Dave with his wife, Koreen and sons (oldest to youngest) William, Tavita, Fabian and Brook.
Dave with his wife, Koreen and sons (oldest to youngest) William, Tavita, Fabian and Brook. “All your kids want, all your kids need is your time,” says Dave Letele. Photo / Provided

What makes me happiest look at my children and see them smiling and having fun.

My biggest life hack learn to delegate. And say no. Because I always say yes to everything. I learned to do nothing on weekends. I say no a lot more so I can spend time on the weekends with my family. That’s one thing I’ve learned: not to feel bad about saying no and to put myself and my family first.

As told to Maxene London. This interview has been edited for clarity.

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