It’s July 2017, and you’ve just taken a team of clients out to a Go Ape high-ropes course. With a nervous gulp, you hurl yourself from the final platform and land on the net wall, arms and legs spread out like a spider. And, in that moment, you can’t move another inch, either up or down.
The calls of encouragement and support from the clients below make no difference – you know, without a doubt, that the only way you’ll be getting down from that net is by being rescued by the staff... But will they be able to carry you? Luckily, they’re fit and strong. As they get you back to safety, your cheeks burn with humiliation.
Even now, when you think back to that day, you shudder at how excruciating that experience was and at how it felt to be so low that you actually thought, ‘I despise myself’.
It takes another year for you to start on the path that will change your life. While you still don’t recognise that you need help, your wife does, and she pushes you to see your GP – something you’ll be forever grateful for. At your appointment, you learn that you weigh over 22st, and your history of emotional eating comes pouring out. Your doctor listens and says he thinks that depression is at the root of your seeking comfort in food.
He refers you for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help you cope with these feelings in healthier ways. As you start the course, you think about all the people who care deeply about you, and who have been trying in their own ways to help you. Like your mum and sister, who’ve been worried enough to leave out leaflets on type 2 diabetes, hoping you’ll see them. I know you feel stung by those leaflets, seeing them as a challenge or even an insult, and you’ve closed yourself off even more from your loved ones. Eventually, though, you’ll realise their intentions were nothing but concern, love and kindness.
The CBT begins to change the way you see yourself. You find ways to recognise and control the dark feelings that take over, and find it easier to talk about them with your wife and family. Slowly, you start to value and even like yourself again, and you realise there could be a path out into brighter times. Yet you still need help breaking away, both from the emotional eating habits that have become second nature to you, and from the burning shame you still feel about your weight.
One morning in November 2018, you’ll be on your way to the drive-through where you often get breakfast. Working in sales in the engineering industry and spending long days driving around the country, it’s not unusual for you to eat every meal of the day from the same fast-food chain. It’s so convenient that you don’t stop to consider it’s probably been another big factor in your weight gain, along with work stresses and your low self-worth.
Before you get there, though, you’ll be sitting in traffic and you’ll find yourself staring at the car in front. It’s branded with the Slimming World logo and you see there’s a phone number. You pull over and type it into your phone. Your thumb hovers over the call button – but something stops you pressing it.
It takes two weeks before you eventually call, a moment of bravery that you’ll think back to months afterwards, silently thanking yourself for taking that step.
Beckie, who runs the Slimming World group in your home town, answers. ‘It would be great to have you along to group; why don’t you come down?’ she suggests. In your mind, the answer is: ‘Because I’m paralysed by a feeling of absolute dread.’ But you push it down and instead say: ‘Thanks, I’ll think about it.’ When she doesn’t hear from you, she gets back in touch, encouraging you to come along just once, to see what group is really like.
Your mind is in turmoil at the thought of walking through those doors. What really worries you isn’t that it might only be women there – although that does cross your mind – and it isn’t even the critical eyes of strangers that you fear. Instead, the most difficult thought is: ‘What if there’s someone in there I know?’ That would mean acknowledging that you need help.
Then you think about how low you’ve been feeling and you also focus on something positive, your little boy – the greatest joy in your life. At three years old, he’s already able to run rings around you, and being an energetic, active dad would make all the difference to him as he grows up. That thought is mightier than those shame and fear gremlins, and you find the courage to push the doors of the community hall open...
You don’t see anyone you know; instead you meet people who know how you feel and who greet you with warm and genuine smiles. And though the number on the scales – 21st 8½lbs – feels intimidating, you’ve reached the point where anything is worth trying. Back home, your wife is incredibly supportive, batch cooking meals from Slimming World recipe books for you. You’re shocked that you can still eat pasta and rice – you really weren’t expecting those to stay on the menu – and she shows you how to make Food Optimising meatballs with linguine. That first week, you’re sort of on plan, but not ready to commit fully.
You lose 2lbs, and set yourself the task of really going for it over the next seven days.
The following week, you lose 6½lbs, then 6lbs... It seems almost miraculous that all this weight is coming off while you’re still eating your favourite dinners of chilli and spaghetti bolognese. Satisfied by these filling meals, you now drive straight past that fast-food restaurant, and if you need to eat on the road, you take a home-made pasta salad with you, or buy a low Syn pasta or salad bowl and a pack of cooked skinless chicken pieces from the services. Feeling more in control of your emotions means that you’re more in control of your comfort eating, too. Whereas before you’d reach for chunks of cheese and bars of chocolate, you don’t often feel the urge to snack – and if you do, you choose foods like slices of lean ham and cherry tomatoes.
In February 2019, you feel like you’re coming out of a dark tunnel into the light – and that’s when you’re dealt a sudden, devastating setback. For months, you’ve been aware that your performance at work has been poor. At your lowest, your mood has really affected your ability to hit your sales targets, and your confidence when meeting people has been at rock bottom. Now, just as you feel like things are on the up, you’re told you’re going to be let go.
Not long ago, losing your job would have sent you into a spiral of despair, so you surprise yourself by coping with it fairly calmly. Rather than letting it consume you, you put even more of your energy into losing weight, and your wife, who has been there for you through all of the tough times, plays a huge part in this – encouraging and supporting you, and helping you to continue with your progress.
Seeing that number on the scales come down week by week has changed something inside you – it’s built your belief in yourself and your ability to shape your own future.
As you start to feel lighter on your feet, you begin going on walks, and soon you can even manage a short game of football with your little boy. Those XXXL jeans are practically hanging off you and it’s definitely time to invest in a smaller pair. The biggest shock of all, though, is how important your Slimming World group has become to you – it’s the highlight of your week!
By the summer of 2019, you feel like a new man, and when a job opportunity comes up, you jump at the chance. You, the man who once felt so worthless, will now ooze confidence, ace the interview and get the job. And you know it’s because of the journey you’ve been on. Things are changing and you’re being relieved of a mental burden that’s just as significant as the physical one you’ve been carrying for so long.
Nearly a year into becoming a Slimming World member, you’re taking your son out cycling. It’s amazing gliding along with him sitting in his seat on the back, whooping and grinning as this new, fitter dad takes to the road. And it’s soon after, on your Slimming World anniversary in December 2019, that the scales in group tell you you’ve achieved your first target weight. You wanted to lose 5st, and in fact you’ve overshot it and lost 5st 2½lbs!
In May 2020, you achieve your second target weight of 15st. You feel pride when Slimming World contacts you to ask if they can feature you on their Instagram feed as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, so that it might inspire others who’ve been feeling how you once did. You get so used to feeling OK, that you almost forget how far you’ve come, until something happens to remind you – like when a client who hasn’t seen you in a few months is visibly shocked when you speak and he realises who you are. It feels incredible!
You go on to lose a few more pounds after reaching your second target. You’re feeling really good and thinking about resetting it again, this time to 14st. When you pick up your little boy from school, you walk there with a lightness in your step.
And when you’re at work, you feel professional and able to deal with whatever challenges come your way.
Your life is going to change, Julian, more than you could ever imagine, and it’ll all be down to you taking those first steps. So have courage – your fantastic future is waiting.
Having good mental health can improve our relationships, our sleep and our self-esteem, so it’s important to check in regularly with how we feel inside. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem, so whether you’ve been diagnosed with a condition or you’re just struggling to cope at the moment, recognising how you’re feeling and finding the right support can really help. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your mental health, talk to your GP or visit slimmingworld.co.uk/mentalhealth for more information.
*Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.