When I joined Slimming World, I never expected my self-belief would grow so much that, one day, any goal I set myself would seem possible. Just recently, I was cycling in the beautiful countryside near my home with my boyfriend, Jack, when I saw a steep hill up ahead. I was about to switch to a lower gear to make it easier, when a voice in my head piped up: ‘No, Grace, you’re going to stay in this gear all the way to the top’. And I did!

Standing at the top of that hill, looking at the landscape below, I felt so far away from the place I’d been in before I joined Slimming World in 2017. Back then, life felt defined by the things that I couldn’t do. 

I’d been studying acting for film at university, having switched from my musical theatre course because – at 15st and bigger than all the other students – it had involved too much dancing and physical activity for me. Three years on, my journey with Slimming World had taught me that if I wasn’t happy, I could make positive changes – and if things didn’t go to plan, tomorrow was another day.

While some things haven’t panned out since I shared my dream of becoming an actor with Slimming World last year, I’ve come through it all smiling, with a resilience I didn’t realise I had.

It was my incredible friends in group who really helped me to believe in myself. From the moment I joined, they’d always made me feel so welcome. When I told them I’d been practically living on takeaway pizzas at university, nobody judged me or made me feel bad, which helped me to stop judging myself. And the more Food Optimising recipes I tried, the more I fell in love with Slimming World. 

As I approached my target of 9st 3lbs, my confidence rocketed and I started to audition for acting roles. I was amazed to find I was brave enough to put myself out there – but the process was tough. Having given it my best, I’d stand on stage as the producers looked me up and down and muttered to each other about my performance. Every time, the verdict was the same: ‘Sorry, you’re not quite what we’re looking for’. Once, I’d have run home and consoled myself with lots of chocolate. Now, no matter how hurt I felt after an audition, I stayed focused.

A difficult decision

I’d tell myself: ‘That audition might have ruined your day, but don’t let it ruin your week by going off plan.’ My strategy was to have a big Food Optimising breakfast before an audition, and carry fruit and Hi-fi bars in my bag for energy afterwards. Over time, I realised that constant rejection was part of being a professional actor – and that it just wasn’t for me. Losing weight had given me the confidence to see that wasn’t the life I wanted. So I decided to enjoy acting as a serious hobby instead and I became the musical director for a local theatre group, after playing Rizzo in their production of Grease

But I still needed to find a career I felt passionate about – and that’s when I had the idea to go back to uni to train as a drama teacher. The more I imagined it, the more I loved the thought of inspiring kids to follow their own acting dreams.

Fitting my musical director job around essays and school placements meant there wasn’t a lot of free time. Having such a heavy workload meant rethinking how I planned my meals, because I was determined this career change wasn’t going to undo my weight loss. I decided to schedule in when I was going to eat, as well as planning what I’d be having, so I didn’t leave myself too hungry and then get tempted by a high Syn snack on the go. Sometimes, this meant arriving at the theatre and heating up a meal to eat before I ran through a song with the band!

Considering how self-conscious I’d been as a student, jumping around in front of a bunch of unconvinced teenagers really didn’t bother me! Teaching drama involved a lot of movement, from coaxing the class into doing a warm-up, to moving swiftly around a room to act out a particular scene. If I’d still been over 5st heavier, I would have found it near impossible. And, having been in that place, I was able to empathise with the less-confident students, too. If any of them said, ‘I can’t do this, Miss’, I’d reply: ‘Believe me – if I can, you can!’. And seeing me dance about the room would help them lose their inhibitions and join in.

Life turns upside down

One moment, I was busy juggling going into college or school with coursework and the theatre group. The next, lockdown happened... Suddenly, everything changed, as I had to get to grips with doing my lessons and training online. There was another blow, too – the restrictions had put paid to our plans for Jack to move in with us. And we were separated just when I was so excited we’d be living together. 

Working from home, there was less incentive for me to plan meals, and I found myself reaching for the odd biscuit or piece of chocolate and not counting the Syns. One evening, I remember gazing into the fridge, feeling uninspired at the prospect of chicken for a fifth night in a row. ‘Who’s up for a takeaway pizza?’ I asked my mum and sister Abi. I told myself that, with everything that was going on, who knew when I’d next be able to go to group to weigh in. Without being conscious of it, I was using the situation as the perfect excuse to go off track…

Very soon afterwards, an email pinged into my inbox saying that virtual groups were starting up. 

When I dialled in to our first meeting, I felt reassured that I wasn’t alone when some of the members said they’d found things hard, too. 

And I was inspired by those members who had stayed on plan. Their tips helped me get my motivation back, as did my Consultant Jillian’s advice. ‘Go back to basics,’ she said, ‘and structure your meals around how your day is now, in lockdown, and build a new routine.’ 

Suddenly, I felt accountable to someone again. I knew how to lose the extra pounds I’d gained, I just needed to find a routine that fitted my current lifestyle. Sooner or later, lockdown would be lifted and I’d be out in the world again – and I didn’t want to be a stone or two heavier the next time I saw my students. I gave Abi a list for the next weekly shop with everything I needed for a week’s Food Optimising. When she phoned from the supermarket in a panic – ‘There’s no pasta or rice!’ – I didn’t let that deter me. I asked her to get potatoes and extra Speed Food veg instead, telling myself that with even more Speed on my plate than usual, I’d soon be back where I wanted to be.

Before lockdown, my only Body Magic had been leaping around in lessons – so now I wasn’t doing any at all. Then one day, Abi said: ‘I’m going to try one of these workouts my personal trainer friend sent me. Do you fancy it?’. We grabbed some bags of rice from the kitchen (which luckily were back on the supermarket shelves!) and stood in the garden, squatting and lunging. Soon, an hour had gone by and I realised I’d loved it. Every few days, we’d find new workouts to try and I discovered that, not only was it good to have a proper break from my coursework and doing online lessons, but the lunchtime exercise sessions gave the day more structure, too. 

I also made sure I went back to having a big Food Optimising breakfast, so I wouldn’t feel like nipping to the fridge! In the evenings, I’d often have Zoom calls with friends or join them for online quizzes, and sometimes it was hard to see everyone enjoying free-flowing wine and snacks. But I knew the socialising was far more important to me than the alcohol, so I’d pour myself a diet cola with ice and a slice, and use my Syns for a biscuit instead.

Now, I’m looking forward to a fun, healthy and settled future with Jack. When restrictions eased, he was able to move in with us and we’re now planning to find our own place together.

I was so excited to get back to my real-life group, where I picked up even more recipe ideas – a member tipped me off about a baked spaghetti pie dish and it’s now a new favourite. We’re also using our slow cooker more to make delicious Food Optimising stews and curries. I’m nearly back at target, and I keep my enthusiasm up by focusing on goals, like a new workout or recipe I want to try, or on my job as a newly qualified drama teacher. Whatever happens next, I’m determined to maintain my weight, because looking after my health – and my self-esteem – means more to me than ever. 

*Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.

*If you’re planning to start a new exercise programme, we recommend you check with your GP first – especially if you have an existing health condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma. If you’re pregnant, check the suitability of the exercise with your midwife.