Believe it or not, the thing that made weight loss click for me was playing Cupid! Sarah, one of my best friends, was thinking of leaving Ireland to live in America, and I knew how much I’d miss her. In a cheeky bid to get her to stay, I introduced her to my single younger brother, Daniel, and my cunning scheme worked… Fast forward a few years and here I was in a size-12, dusty-pink bridesmaid dress, watching two of my favourite people in the world say their vows to each other. Their wedding had given me the motivation I needed to lose weight, and now, as I posed for pictures with the happy couple, life felt good. And as we enjoyed the wedding breakfast and champagne, I knew I wouldn’t feel guilty in the morning, because my healthy-eating habits were here to stay. It couldn’t have been more different to the yo-yo dieting days of my 20s and early 30s…
I’d been slim and sporty at school, but starting my first job in a Dublin bank had led me to slow down and eat more. After my morning commute, I’d head straight to the work canteen for a fried breakfast or scones with jam and cream. At lunchtime I’d order a cheesy pizza, chips and mayo, and in the evenings, back at home with my parents, I’d end a tiring day with a big bowl of pasta or stew. At 23, I weighed 16st and my size-18 clothes pinched my waist, leaving red welts. My friends would wear boob tubes and miniskirts on a night out, while I covered up my 36GG bust with shapeless shirts. No one would have guessed how I felt as I joked and laughed at myself, but I’d often leave early, longing to liberate myself from my heavy-duty bra and restrictive control pants.
I’d tried every faddy diet, but if I lost a couple of pounds, they soon went back on… and then some. After a few days of eating nothing but cabbage soup or boiled egg whites and bun-less hotdogs, I’d be ravenous and cranky. I tried a slimming club, but it meant counting almost everything, and I soon tired of trying to keep track. After weigh-in, I’d scarper, telling myself I could now eat what I wanted because I wouldn’t be weighed for another week. I’d stop off for a cheeseburger, large fries and full-sugar fizzy drink, eating until I had a pain in my stomach. ‘Why did you do that?’ I’d scold myself afterwards, yet each week the cycle continued. My next job was in an office just five minutes from home, and as it didn’t have a canteen I’d rely on vending-machine snacks and shop-bought cheese and coleslaw sandwiches for lunch. In 2007, I underwent breast-reduction surgery because my large bust was giving me backache. And while my cup size was reduced to a more manageable DD, that instant ‘weight loss’ didn’t give me the energy I’d expected.
Not long after, I adopted a stray Pomeranian dog, Max, and I struggled to walk him. He only had little legs, but I’d still get short of breath trying to keep up!
Deep down, I was unhappy and desperate to change, but I had no faith in myself. So when I joined Slimming World in 2014, weighing 13st 2lbs, I unconsciously self-sabotaged and treated it like a diet. I went to group purely to weigh in, leaving before IMAGE Therapy – and if I thought my weight had gone up, I skipped a week, then the next, until eventually I quit. When I returned a year or so later, I started off a little better. I lost weight, slowly, but I was making up my own rules. I’d kind of follow the plan in the week, eating meals I enjoyed – porridge, scrambled eggs and chickpea curry – then declare Saturday as a day off. I’d moved into my own house by now, but I’d go round to my parents’ up the road for breakfast, where Dad cooked hash browns and eggs with soda bread and butter. I’d have an off-plan lunch with friends, then drink cider in the evening and finish with a late-night pizza and chips. Stuck at a loss of 1st, my motivation vanished and I drifted away from group again.
After seeing some pictures of myself that weren’t exactly flattering, my outlook suddenly changed. It was August 2018, I was now 12st 12lbs, and as I thought about rejoining Slimming World, it was with renewed enthusiasm. Happily, Tracey Houlihan, an inspirational member I’d had contact with on Instagram, had posted that she was launching a group near my home. It seemed like a sign. By now, Sarah and Daniel were engaged and with less than a year to go until the wedding, I set my sights on feeling confident as a bridesmaid. And when I arrived at group and Tracey gave me the warmest welcome, I knew I was among friends. Buzzing with my new-found motivation, I went to the supermarket straight after and loaded up with fresh vegetables, chillies, ginger, garlic and tins of tomatoes for sauces, along with fish, plain quark and reduced-fat cheese. I felt like I’d been halfway there before, and this time I was ready to give it my all.
With a whole week’s meals planned out, I had my best seven days of Food Optimising ever, and at my next weigh-in, was amazed to see I’d lost 7lbs.
I wanted to get to target by Christmas, and wrote ‘30lbs to lose in 12 weeks’ on a piece of notepaper, which I stashed in my purse to keep me focused. Unlike before, I always stayed for IMAGE Therapy now, and I took Max on longer and longer walks to earn my Body Magic awards. When my weight did plateau a few times, I was grateful for all the ideas other members gave me to help me stay motivated. I still went out with my friends, ordering fish with the sauce on the side, and a salad, and swapping my usual cider and wine for vodka, fresh lime and fizzy water. If I did go off plan, I didn’t give myself a hard time. Instead of my old, guilt-ridden way of thinking, which was, ‘You’ve messed up, you may as well give up’, I’d remember: ‘It’s not about the next day, just the next meal.’ I’d make myself a delicious on-plan breakfast and be back on track again. My mindset towards weight loss had changed completely, and my body was showing the results! As the wedding drew closer, the pinafore dress I always wore for weigh-ins was hanging off me, and on 4 December I hit my target of 10st 10lbs, weeks before my self-imposed deadline.
Shopping for bridesmaid dresses the following February was a fabulous experience. Rather than contorting my body to avoid unflattering angles in the changing-room mirror, or getting cross with shops for ‘stupid sizing’, I delighted in picking out a size 12 or a ‘medium’ and zipping myself in – no control pants needed – before strutting my stuff in front of Sarah. I was already so excited that Sarah was joining our family, and now I was looking forward to wearing my beautiful dress, too. Knowing how I’d have felt if I hadn’t lost weight, I was so glad I didn’t give up.
My lifestyle and, most importantly, the way I see myself, have totally changed. I trust, that with Slimming World behind me, I won’t put weight back on. I’ve even taken all my old clothes to the charity shop, rather than telling myself: ‘I might need them again one day’. Before, I held onto them because I was dieting, and diets always have to end. Now that eating well and being active are part of my life, I don’t need a safety net. And I love the way that feels!
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.