My youngest daughter tapped on the door of the changing room and passed me an elegant navy and white shift dress to try on. Anna was getting married in three months and I was desperate to find the perfect mother-of-the-bride outfit.
As I struggled to do up the size-22 dress, my heart sank. ‘The zip won’t go near me,’ I said, opening the door. Hugging me, Anna said: ‘Mum, I think you’re absolutely beautiful, but I know you don’t think so. You have got to do something about this.’
Getting out her phone, she started searching for a local Slimming World group. ‘There’s one in two days’ time, Mum. Get yourself there – and I won’t take no for an answer.’
I was close to all three of my children, but Anna and I had been inseparable lately. The year before, she’d been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Though the family reeled with shock and sadness, we rallied together to support her in any way we could.
So when Anna announced she was getting married, we were determined to make it the best day possible. And if me feeling good about myself would make her even the tiniest bit happier, I would do that for her.
When my two older children, Victoria and Matthew, were small, I rarely seemed to have time for proper meals. I could easily finish half a packet of biscuits with a cup of tea, and don’t get me started on cheese – I swear it screamed my name whenever I walked past the fridge!
Following my divorce from my first husband, I met my absolute soulmate, Keith, and we got married. Then, while I was pregnant with Anna, my mum had a sudden heart attack and passed away. I was floored and turned to food for comfort.
Over the intervening years I went on a series of yo-yo diets. With Anna’s diagnosis, though, food became my solace again. But watching my 23-year-old daughter fight so hard despite being very ill, and seeing her tirelessly campaign for more funding into brain tumour research, put my weight struggles into perspective.
So I joined the group she found, and discovered I weighed 16st 3lbs. I followed my Food Optimising book to the letter, having two Weetabix with a banana for breakfast, followed by a big chicken salad for lunch, and something really satisfying such as kedgeree with vegetables for dinner.
Despite feeling fuller than ever before, I lost 9lbs in my first week. Anna practically jumped off the sofa when I told her. ‘I’m so proud of you, Mum,’ she said.
I quickly got into Body Magic, too. Another member at group had joined a Zumba class, so I agreed to go along, despite protesting that I had no coordination. And wow, did I love it! I immediately felt the energising benefits and couldn’t wait to go back.
Soon afterwards, Anna’s condition deteriorated rapidly and we had to cancel the wedding to her fiancé, Andy. The day before they should have married, Anna died as I sat by her side.
It felt like a light going out and we were plunged into grief. But I knew Anna wouldn’t want me to mope about forever. She always had a great passion for life and I could hear her telling me, quite firmly, to carry on.
Planning my meals and food shops gave me back some order and focus, which I clung to. My weight loss was something I could take control of amid the turmoil. I’d already lost over 2st, so a couple of weeks later I returned to group – it felt as if I was being wrapped in a giant comfort blanket and was just what I needed during the hardest time of my life.
We’d bought Anna a dog for her birthday, an English springer spaniel called Enid, who quickly became part of the family and was wonderful therapy for me. I walked her for miles every day – as well as helping my grieving process, she kept up my Body Magic. I’ve no doubt she helped me get to my 10st 3lb target.
Anna had taught me so much about inner strength. When I lost the sight in my right eye in September 2017, her example and the support of my group kept me going, where in the past I might have looked to food for consolation.
My weight loss has given me the confidence to keep Anna’s legacy alive by continuing her campaign to fund research into her cancer. To date, we’ve raised £175,000 for the Brain Tumour Research Campaign. Carrying on her work, I’m part of a group that lobbies Parliament for more research and funding. I have no doubt how proud Anna would be of her new, more confident mum.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.