I can remember the moment when the penny dropped and I truly realised that a new, slimmer me had emerged. I was at a club with a friend and as we shouted our orders to the barman over the music, I spotted a boy I’d been at school with. I hadn’t seen him for three years, but it might as well have been 300 going by the confused look on his face as I smiled and said hello. ‘It’s me – Abi,’ I said. ‘Remember?’ His jaw dropped as he said: ‘Really? I didn’t recognise you.’ I had to admit, at 4st lighter and confidently wearing a slinky black dress, I was a different person to the girl he’d known at school. And my outward transformation was mirrored by how I felt on the inside. While I was still only part way through my weight loss journey, I could feel my true, creative and vibrant self blossoming, and it was the best feeling in the world. If the schoolgirl I used to be could have seen me, I don’t think she’d have recognised me either…
I grew up on home-made lasagne with potatoes and garlic bread, followed by Grandma’s lemon drizzle cake, and used up a lot of my energy at my local leisure centre on the swimming team. Then, when I was 12, I was told I was no longer quick enough to keep my spot. Disappointment made me angry and I instantly decided I was never going to swim again. In fact, I thought, if they don’t want me, I won’t do any exercise. From then on, I did the bare minimum in PE and even threw a sickie on sports day.
Wheezing when I climbed the stairs, I noticed my asthma starting to become more of a problem. Then, at a bridesmaid’s fitting for my cousin’s wedding, the only dress that fitted was a size 18.
I hadn’t turned 13 yet, and that was the moment when it hit me that I’d become much bigger than all of my friends.
Going to sixth-form college to study art, finally freed from school uniform, I couldn’t wait to experiment with cool outfits in bright colours – but there didn’t seem to be anything in my size. Every trip to the shops ended with the humiliation of handing back a pile of clothes to the changing-room assistant, with a mumbled, ‘They don’t fit’. I started shopping online, buying maternity tops long enough to cover my bum and wearing them with dark, size-22 jeans. And I got into the habit of laying out the next day’s clothes before going to bed, so I didn’t have a meltdown in the morning when I rifled through a wardrobe that didn’t inspire me.
I didn’t believe I had the power in me to change the way I was eating. I’d have my packed lunch of ham sandwiches, crisps and a cereal bar, then have chips from the college canteen and stop off to buy a big bag of crisps before going home. Then, when I got home, even though I didn’t feel hungry, I’d head to the snack cupboard before dinner. When friends suggested going swimming or to the beach, I’d make excuses, horrified by the idea of being seen in a bikini or a sundress. I didn’t even like putting my hair up because it exposed my face.
Then Mum and her friend decided to join Slimming World and asked if I wanted to go with them. I wasn’t sure about it at all – to be honest, I was put off by the idea that I’d probably be the youngest one there. But I desperately wanted to lose weight, and told myself that feeling a bit out of place was a risk worth taking. As my Consultant, Kelly, welcomed us into the group, it was very different to what I’d expected.
It really didn’t matter that I was one of the youngest, and I loved the sound of Food Optimising – I couldn’t believe how much I’d be able to eat, or that it was actually proper food, rather than meal replacements or bland diet food.
Mum and I stocked up on our favourite Free Food staples, such as pasta and canned black beans, as well as plenty of fresh fruit and veg, and a bottle of low-calorie cooking spray. We both knew what we were doing in the kitchen and soon got the hang of adapting our go-to recipes to make them slimming friendly. Spicy chilli made with lean mince and served with rice went down well with all the family, and I discovered tasty new ideas, too, like lentil bolognese. I got into a good routine and the pounds started to come off, until I got my one-stone certificate, then 2st, then 3st. Hearing the group applauding every week felt a bit strange at first, but I soon got used to their encouragement and looked forward to it.
Eight months after joining Slimming World, though I was 4st lighter, my head hadn’t quite caught up with my body – I was wearing the same old maternity clothes. ‘I think you might need to go shopping,’ one of my friends at group said. And when I looked down at my clothes, which were hanging off me, I knew she was right. I’d won a place at the Manchester School of Art and moving away to start my first term was the perfect excuse to reinvent my look. Surrounded by other creative people, I came into my own. I threw myself into the student lifestyle, never getting round to finding a new Slimming World group, and I could see my new waist beginning to disappear as I matched my uni friends’ pints of lager and takeaway pizzas. After two terms of worrying that I was going to slip back to my old size, I finally joined a group in Manchester.
I was on a mission and now nothing was going to stand in my way! Every Sunday I wrote a meal plan and got my fruit and veg from the market – my food bill was actually cheaper than before. I made two portions of everything and always tucked one in the freezer, until soon I had a bank of ‘ready meals’ for days when I was extra busy. I also swapped the pints of beer for spirits with diet mixers and passed on the late-night takeaway kebabs.
Bursting with new-found energy, I went swimming for the first time in eight years. Powering up and down the pool in a size-10 costume felt brilliant, and I was amazed when I didn’t get out of breath. Each successful swim gave me more confidence and inspired me to have a go at some of the exercise classes on offer at uni. Every time I tried something new, I loved it, and soon I was doing just about every class going. Legs, bums and tums, Zumba, yoga, Pilates, spin – you name it, I did it.
Recently, I went to a party, wearing a spaghetti-strap dress and neon-green bracelet, with my hair up to show off my cheekbones. Remembering what I used to wear to go out when I was 7st bigger, I couldn’t help smiling at the thought of how much I’d changed.
Now, I’m focusing on my future and wondering where my art degree will take me next. Who knows, because I’ve already learnt that anything is possible if I put my mind to it!