Lifting my head from the pile of books I’d been studying, I suddenly realised the career path I’d chosen wasn’t for me. Until that moment, I’d been determined to be a doctor and I was in the fourth year of my medical degree. But no matter how much I imagined becoming a medic, there was something on my mind that meant far more to me: becoming a mum.
‘I’m going to swap to social work,’ I told my partner, Matt. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked. He knew becoming a doctor had always been my dream. Right then, though, I’d never been more sure of anything in my life. If I carried on into the medical profession, it would be at least another decade before I could even think about children, and I’d recently discovered that I didn’t have 10 years.
At seven years old, I’d been diagnosed with leukaemia, and though the treatment had been successful, it had come at a cost. It meant I’d probably have a shorter time frame than most women to fall pregnant. And I knew I’d do everything in my power not to miss my chance.
The cancer treatment also had a lasting impact on my weight. The steroids stimulated my appetite, so I felt hungry all the time, and I got used to eating more. By the end of primary school, I was big for my age and some of the kids taunted me over it.
Whenever I felt hurt or fed up, I turned to food for comfort.
I left secondary school a size 16 and unhappy about it. My mum, Sally, tried her best to help, suggesting I try calorie counting. I gave it a go a few times, but I couldn’t stick to it long term.
Then, just before my 17th birthday, I met Matt at the pool where I was a lifeguard. Our dates often revolved around takeaways, and I soon crept up another clothes size. In time, I realised he was the one. And when, four years later, my medical team explained that it was possible I’d struggle to become a mum, Matt was calm as ever. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘We’ll find a way.’
I graduated and started on a masters that would lead towards a career in social work; meanwhile, Matt and I planned our wedding. By calorie counting, I managed to slim back to a size 16, the size I thought was ‘acceptable’ for me, and as slim as I was ever likely to get.
Just under three years later, I was working as a newly qualified social worker when I suspected I was pregnant. When the home test came back positive, Matt wrapped his arms around me and we burst into floods of tears. It was such a relief – until that moment, I’d known there was a real possibility I might never conceive. My excitement grew even more when, at the 12-week scan, we discovered I was carrying twins. For years, my biggest worry had been I wouldn’t be able to have children and now we were expecting two! It felt as though all our Christmases had come at once.
Our daughters, Kate and Sophie, came along in December 2014, and holding them in my arms for the first time was the most wonderful moment. That wasn’t to say I didn’t find those first months a challenge. Having two babies to care for left me exhausted, so I ate whatever came to hand. I would easily get through a whole packet of biscuits as I nursed the girls through the night, convincing myself I was naturally burning off the calories. And though I did need to eat more to breastfeed, I was still putting on weight. By the time the twins started crawling, I’d gone up to a size 20.
As my babies became toddlers, I’d occasionally take them to a soft-play centre. More often than not, Kate would go one way through the maze of tubes and slides, and Sophie the other. And while the other parents seemed to have no problem chasing after their little ones, I struggled to catch either of mine. My anxiety over getting stuck in the tunnels, along with a fear that other mums and dads were judging my size, meant I started to avoid going there, preferring quieter play dates with friends or staying home to do crafts.
When the girls were nearly three, I was ecstatic to fall pregnant again. Despite expecting just the one baby this time, I was definitely eating for two. By the time William came along, I was the heaviest I’d ever been, only just squeezing into size-22 clothes. Now, with a new baby and very energetic twins, life became even more exhausting. Convenience food was my go-to – a fast food burger with fries or a sandwich meal deal if we were out, and takeaways and cake in the evenings once the children were in bed. At the weekend, we’d head to a playground and as I sat on a bench with William I’d watch, feeling guilty, as Matt chased the twins up and down the climbing frames.
For so long, I’d dreamed of having a family, and now I did, I felt like I was on the sidelines.
Shortly afterwards, I was driving when a news item came on the radio about the link between cancer and weight. Suddenly it hit me. I’d beaten cancer once. What if I wasn’t as lucky a second time? I drove home, my mind racing. I felt I owed it to my children to be as healthy as I could be, so I could enjoy every moment with them for as long as possible.
When I told Matt I was determined to be a healthy weight, he pulled me into a hug. ‘I just want you to be happy and I know you’re not,’ he said. My sister-in-law, Sarah, had lost weight with Slimming World, and I thought it was worth trying something new. I was a nervous wreck as I walked through the doors in August 2018, though. I found a quiet spot and barely said a word, until the Consultant, Gemma-Louise, sat down with me to talk about the plan. Because I was breastfeeding William, she explained I’d have more Healthy Extra choices to give me all the extra calcium and energy I needed. She reassured me she’d be there every step of the way. I still wasn’t convinced, though, and stepping on the scales was a shock – I hadn’t realised I’d reached 16st 8lbs. But again, Gemma-Louise promised me that, if I followed the plan, I’d get to my goal of a healthy BMI, so I decided to give it my best shot...
That night, I made a menu plan and shopping list, which included dried pasta and rice, lean meat and chicken and lots of fresh fruit and veg. I swapped my normal breakfasts of sugary cereals for fruit topped with fat-free natural yogurt, or lean bacon and eggs and omelettes. For lunch, I made filling salads topped with lean ham or skinless chicken, or jacket potatoes with baked beans or tuna. Instead of opening jars of sauces, I tried Food Optimising pasta recipes based around Free ingredients. Not only did it work out a lot cheaper, they tasted tons better!
Despite eating big plates of food and never once feeling hungry, I lost 9lbs that first week. That was a better result than I’d ever had from calorie counting and, more importantly, I’d found a way to beat what had always sent me off track in the past – feeling deprived.
And I needn’t have worried that I’d have to cook myself separate meals. I discovered so many family dinners to try that I could pick and choose ones I knew would suit us all. We began sitting around the table together and I loved that family time as much as I enjoyed the delicious food.
As my weight dropped each week, my energy levels rose and keeping up with the twins didn’t feel quite as strenuous. I began adding Body Magic, putting music on while I did the housework. I felt like Mrs Doubtfire as I danced around the living room with the vacuum! Soon, I began walking more, and as my confidence grew, I joined a fun dance group with a fellow group member and went swimming. I realised I didn’t need childcare to fit in more Body Magic sessions – and I started doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts when the children were in bed.
By Christmas, I’d lost 4st. Then, I had my first 1lb gain. When I got home from group, instead of eating to comfort myself as I’d have done before, I messaged Gemma-Louise to say how upset I was. She rang me back to talk it through and explained that, as long as I didn’t lose focus, I’d see the weight come straight off again the following week. She was right and I realised how important it was not to let a little blip take me totally off track.
In May last year, I reached my target of 9st 7lbs.
I was so excited, I went straight from group to meet Matt at work and we did a victory dance in the street!
Back home, he pulled out a pair of my old size-22 jeans he’d secretly kept, so I could see my progress. I wriggled into one leg of them, thrilled at how far I’d come.
It wasn’t the end of my journey, though. I still needed ongoing support from my Slimming World family as I maintained my weight, knowing they’d be there for me when things didn’t go to plan. In lockdown, I really looked forward to the virtual group sessions. They kept my spirits up and we all shared ideas to stay motivated through such unusual times.
Losing weight has changed my whole outlook. I’m no longer on the periphery of our family time – I’m the first to shout, ‘Let’s play tag!’. I turned 30 earlier this year and instead of dreading starting another decade miserable about my weight, I’m the fittest and happiest I’ve ever been. I try to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way, because I know how precious life is.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.