The 42-year-old, who has now been named Slimming World’s Greatest Loser 2019, says: “To be honest I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t overweight. At secondary school I was bullied very badly, so much so that to comfort myself I would come home and eat spoonful after spoonful of brown sugar – just because for a few moments that would make me feel better. As I grew older and earned my own money I just ate whatever and whenever I wanted. This was mostly in secret, but it must have been obvious because my size was increasing quite dramatically by that point.
“When I was at my biggest I struggled with severe anxiety – to the point where I was once rushed to hospital in an ambulance because both I and the paramedics thought I was having a heart attack. Thankfully I wasn’t, but my anxiety had reached a stage where I was suffering from severe panic attacks which often present similar symptoms. I was at a very low point in my life and started to hide myself away. My only comfort was eating.
“Later that year it was recommended that I had an operation to remove a lump at the bottom of my back. My size meant that what should have been a routine procedure became highly dangerous because the anaesthetist was worried that I would have a stroke. While some of my health issues were a direct result of my weight, there have been times where diagnosis and treatment of more serious issues have been affected by my size.
“I previously had to have a cancerous lump removed and following the operation I had to have a CT scan to determine the next course of action. The only problem was the upper weight limit for the scanner was 32 stone. They went ahead with the scan even though I was over the threshold and thankfully got the information they needed – but I had to be pulled free from the machine because it was such a tight fit. In fact, the motorised table stopped working as a result of the extra weight. They said that the only other option was to be referred to an equine centre where they scan horses. It was moments like that which really struck me – I wasn’t just putting my life on hold because of my weight, I was putting it in danger too.”
Jon had achieved some success with Slimming World in the past, before a loss in the family changed everything. He says: “At one point I lost 9st 7lbs at Slimming World and was doing really well, but everything changed when my mum fell ill. From her diagnosis to her passing was a matter of seven weeks and my world fell apart. I started using food as a comfort again and I just couldn’t see a way out.
“A while after a close friend mentioned that he and his wife were attending a Slimming World group close to home and suggested that I go with them. I knew that the plan worked because I’d had such great results before. I was welcomed back without any question and this time something just clicked. I fell in love with Food Optimising – so I still enjoyed delicious meals like curries, chillis, burgers and chips – I just prepared them in a different way and cooked most of my food from scratch.
“In time my dad joined with me too and he’s been a great support and my biggest cheerleader! It really does make a difference when the people around you understand and support what you are trying to achieve. The members of my group are amazing too, as is my Consultant, Sian. As a group every week we share ideas, inspire each other to keep going and learn from each other about overcoming hurdles and challenges. Sian and the group have helped me rediscover my self-belief – something that had been lost for years. I genuinely don’t think I would still be here without them.”
As well as losing weight and learning to love to cook and prepare food, joining Slimming World also made Jon think about becoming more active. He says: “Before I lost the weight even the simplest tasks would leave me exhausted and I missed out on so much. At work, a friend encouraged me to go for a short walk with him one lunch time and I could only manage a few steps. Over time I built this up and we were soon walking 4-5km a day. Before I knew it I was signing up for a 10km race! I went with a couple of friends who were both much quicker than me, but we stuck together and crossed the line together which was an amazing feeling. Since then I’ve competed two more 10km races and enjoyed both of them so much. My life is so much better now because I’m filling it with memories instead of hiding away. In June I’m even climbing Mount Snowdon!”
Since his remarkable transformation Jon has had some explaining to do – mostly because so many people don’t recognise him! He says: “I was recently best man at my brother Anthony’s wedding, which was a great day for me because I felt so much more confident than I had ever done before. I had to laugh though when my uncle asked my dad why Anthony hadn’t asked me to be his best man… He literally had no idea it was me and wanted to know who this imposter was!"
Now that Jon has found his zest for life, there’s one more ambition on his agenda. He says: “It might sound corny, but my biggest dream is to find someone to share my life with. I feel like I’ve got a second chance and I want to fill it with things that I used to miss out on because of my weight, so meeting that special someone to share those memories with me would be amazing.”