As I poured cornflakes into a vat and started stirring, I couldn’t wait to see the children’s faces when they realised their favourite dessert was on the menu. My famous chocolate cracknell always went down a storm, which was just one reason why I loved my job as a dinner lady! At the same time, there was no denying that working in a school kitchen was hot, busy and exhausting.

After I’d hung up my uniform for the day, I was far too shattered to contemplate any more cooking. I’d grab something easy for lunch on the way home, like a pork pie, and for tea, I’d pull a pizza out of the freezer or use a jar of sauce to make a quick spaghetti bolognese. It upset me that, although I knew how to make balanced and nutritious lunches at school (with the occasional pudding thrown in!), I didn’t have the energy to do the same at home.

And I knew that much of that was down to my size. It had slowly crept up since my teens, when playing netball, swimming and horse riding had given way to nights in with friends, enjoying takeaways and wine.

Then, during my pregnancy with my daughter, Lilly, I’d put on 4st, and that’s when I really started feeling unhappy with my weight.

I’d joined Slimming World and, over a year, I lost every single pound I’d gained. Then, when Lilly was three, I discovered I was pregnant with Max.

I hadn’t known then that it was perfectly fine to Food Optimise when you’re expecting. If I’d asked my Consultant, she’d have explained that Slimming World works with The Royal College of Midwives to support women to get the energy and nutrients their body needs during pregnancy. And if I’d realised that, I might have avoided gaining 4st all over again! But I’d just assumed I had to leave and, soon, I was feeling uncomfortable in size-20 clothes that only just fitted me. After Max was born, I carried on getting through the hectic days with high Syn foods, like pizzas, pork pies and bags of tortilla chips.

Years passed, and the baby weight just never came off. Outwardly, I became a dab hand at plastering on a smile and pretending my size didn’t bother me. Inside, though, my self-esteem was crumbling. I hated feeling that way, but I was too ashamed to go back to group. Instead, I tried various diets and shakes, but I never lasted more than a few weeks, when the hunger pangs would take over or I’d feel exhausted and suffer crippling headaches. 

I’d joined Slimming World and, over a year, I lost every single pound I’d gained. Then, when Lilly was three, I discovered I was pregnant with Max.

I hadn’t known then that it was perfectly fine to Food Optimise when you’re expecting. If I’d asked my Consultant, she’d have explained that Slimming World works with The Royal College of Midwives to support women to get the energy and nutrients their body needs during pregnancy. And if I’d realised that, I might have avoided gaining 4st all over again! But I’d just assumed I had to leave and, soon, I was feeling uncomfortable in size-20 clothes that only just fitted me. After Max was born, I carried on getting through the hectic days with high Syn foods, like pizzas, pork pies and bags of tortilla chips.

Years passed, and the baby weight just never came off. Outwardly, I became a dab hand at plastering on a smile and pretending my size didn’t bother me. Inside, though, my self-esteem was crumbling. I hated feeling that way, but I was too ashamed to go back to group. Instead, I tried various diets and shakes, but I never lasted more than a few weeks, when the hunger pangs would take over or I’d feel exhausted and suffer crippling headaches. 

On holiday in Wales in autumn 2017, I had my final-straw moment as we were heading back from the beach. The kids were tearing up the hill to the rental house we were staying in, as I lagged behind – and not just because I was weighed down with wet towels and buckets and spades! As my partner, Gareth, went ahead to catch up with them, I willed my aching feet to keep going. By the time I collapsed on to the sofa, flushed and sweating, Gareth was having a cup of tea, and Lilly, then eight, and Max, then four, were sipping their cold drinks, all of them without a care in the world. As I cradled my own mug and began to get my breath back, I knew I never wanted to feel that way again. I was going to rejoin Slimming World.

Finding hope

Two weeks after we got home, I found a new group. I couldn’t face going back to the one I’d attended before, although I know now that nobody would have judged me. I hadn’t weighed myself for ages, so when I stood on the scales and found the numbers 18st 4½lbs staring back at me, it came as a shock. But the Consultant, Claire, was so friendly and reassuring, and I decided to put my faith in the plan that had worked so well for me before.

Back home, I planned a full week’s worth of meals around the Free Foods and Healthy Extras in my Food Optimising book. The smiling faces and encouragement at group had given me a real sense of hope. My shopping list included loads of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat, dried pasta and rice. And, for the first time in years, I started cooking from scratch for myself. That week, I made a delicious spag bol, and it took no more time than if I’d used a jar of sauce. I started eating a ham omelette or scrambled eggs for breakfast. I saved my Healthy Extras for lunch, so I could still enjoy a cheese roll with a salad on the side – only now I was measuring out a portion of cheese. 

It meant a lot to me to know I could have my favourite lunch and it would actually help me lose weight!

In a week, despite eating more food than normal, including hearty dinners and healthy snacks, I lost 8½lbs. I could barely believe it – I’d begun to think I’d never lose weight again – and the weirdest thing was, I’d really enjoyed it. I began batch cooking so that I’d have back-up meals in the freezer. As my repertoire of Food Optimising recipes grew, I let Lilly and Max get in on the planning. I felt proud of the two of them – and proud of myself for setting them up with healthy skills for life.

And they weren’t the only ones who embraced my new way of eating. A month after beginning Slimming World, I made a mushy pea curry using a recipe that my group had raved about. I surprised Gareth with it as we sat at the table, and he enjoyed it just as much as if it had come from our local Indian restaurant.

On Christmas Eve that year, we were getting ready to go to my mum’s house, when Gareth pointed to the Elf on the Shelf. ‘What’s happened to him?’ he wondered. When I looked closer, I saw the elf was holding a small box and a piece of paper. I read the note and said, ‘Really?’. Then, as I opened up the box to find a ring and the question sank in, I threw my arms around Gareth and yelled, ‘Yes!’, still clutching the bit of paper that asked: Will you marry me? 

By then, I’d lost 1st 7lbs… Now, with a wedding date set for August the following year, I had a clear goal and nothing could send me off track. So when, about four weeks later, I didn’t get the result I wanted on the scales, I felt crushed. Thank goodness my Consultant, Claire, was on hand to spur me on. She suggested pretending I was a new member and filling in a food diary, recording everything I ate and drank, to be sure I was following the plan 100%. I decided to go a step further and started posting every meal I made on Instagram, too. As I gained more and more followers, I felt extra motivated knowing so many people were rooting for me.

Dropping dress sizes gave my energy levels a boost. Before I started Food Optimising, it would take me 25 minutes to walk to school and I’d arrive hot and bothered, convinced the other mums were staring at me. Now, as well as getting slimmer, I wanted to get fitter. I gave up smoking and began doing fitness DVDs at home. I also went for walks with friends, starting with three miles and building up to seven... By the end of the term, I was actually jogging to collect the kids, arriving at the playground with a spring in my step.

Walking down the aisle on our wedding day in August 2018, I couldn’t believe how special I felt. By now, I weighed 14st 11lbs, so I’d chosen a strapless gown. It was the sort of dress I’d never have dared to wear at my biggest, and the look on Gareth’s face when he saw me said it all. It was an amazing day, and I knew it was just the beginning of our lives together – and of my weight loss journey. After the wedding, I kept on Food Optimising and doing as much Body Magic as I could, and the number on the scales kept falling.

When we went back to Wales on holiday in August 2019, I set myself a challenge. This time, I ran up the hill from the beach with Lilly and my super-fit younger sister, Rosie, not stopping until I got to the house. It was a far cry from two years earlier, when I’d thought I was about to have a heart attack.

Two months later, and two years after joining Slimming World, I reached my target of 11st 4½lbs. Now, instead of spending my Sundays watching Gareth chase Lilly, now 11, and Max, seven, around the park, I take the lead as we all go on a family walk, trekking for miles. These days, it’s the kids begging me for a break, not the other way round!

Lydia’s day on a plate

Before

After

Breakfast

Nothing.

Lunch

Cheese sandwich on thick, buttered white bread with lots of mayo, or pâté on buttered toast.

Cheese or ham roll using my Healthy Extras, with plenty of salad on the side.

Dinner

A Chinese takeaway, lasagne topped with lots of cheese, or spaghetti bolognese made with a jar of sauce.

Diet cola chicken with plain boiled rice, or home-made burgers and paprika wedges with salad.

Snacks

Two bags of crisps mid-morning, and a large bag of tortilla chips in the evening.

Fruit and a Hi-fi bar in the evening.