There are 96 steps down the grassy bank to the promenade at Minster-on-Sea on the Isle of Sheppey where I was sitting early today, watching the waves roll in from the North Sea. I know because I’ve counted every one, many times, in my breathless climb back up to our house high above the shingle beach – usually after having been convinced by my wife, Tracy, to make the climb. And I’d spend every step thinking about how I’d much rather be in front of the TV with a glass of wine.
Today, Tracy strode along beside me, chatting, as our dogs, Ebony and Tallie, trotted ahead. I stopped in my tracks, puffing, to catch my breath. ‘Right,’ I said, ‘we can either walk or talk, but I can’t do both.’ ‘Let’s just walk, then,’ she said, pushing ahead as I struggled up the bank behind her. Wheezing up the steps, my knees creaking, I watched her go, and thought about how close I’d come to losing Tracy two years ago.
She’d been so determined throughout her treatment for breast cancer, and our children, Abigail, then 19, and Callum, then 18, and I had willed her on all the way. Through the days after her mastectomy, followed by months of debilitating chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she’d remained focused on beating it for the sake of her family. When she was given the all-clear in 2015, a weight lifted from all of us.
But it was during those dark days that I was forced to face a terrible future for our children where they might not only lose their mum, but me as well. At over 21st, and struggling to control my type 2 diabetes, I’d been warned I was also at high risk of a heart attack or stroke. I’d become used to the idea I wasn’t going to be around to see my grandchildren, but until Tracy’s diagnosis, I’d always assumed that at least the children would have their mum. The thought of leaving them all alone cut me to the core.
This morning, in the kitchen, I had a flash of inspiration. ‘I’ve been thinking,’ I said to Tracy. She looked up from the kitchen table, listening as I told her that when she was ill, it had been all any of us could think about. Now, I felt ready to tackle my own health. ‘A couple of people at work have been going to Slimming World and they’re doing really well,’ I said. ‘I thought maybe we could try it?’ Tracy smiled and nodded. ‘OK,’ she said. ‘Let’s give it a go.’
Peering in through the window of the community hall earlier this evening, I saw the Slimming World members taking their seats, and wished Tracy had come with me. We’d had a silly row about nothing, and it had ended with me snapping: ‘Fine, I’ll go by myself!’, and marching out of the door.
Just as I was about to make a swift exit before anyone saw me, the Consultant, Verity, smiled warmly and ushered me inside. Moments later I was sitting in the new members’ area, trying to concentrate while she explained the plan, my heart thumping loudly as I imagined having to reveal my weight later to the horror of the room.
By the time I did go home, all my preconceptions had been shattered. As well as not disclosing my weight to anyone other than me, Verity had been so encouraging, and after hearing how well the other members were doing, I couldn’t wait to get started.
I burst through the front door full of energy, the earlier row forgotten. ‘I might need some help getting to grips with this,’ I said to Tracy, as I flicked through the Food Optimising book I’d received at group. ‘I think I’m going to have to learn how to cook…’
I had to laugh this afternoon as Tracy and I stood next to each other in the kitchen, chopping up vegetables for tonight’s Slimming World dinner. As soon as I’d got home from my first group she started helping me put Food Optimising into practice, and now that she’s joined group, too, we’re an unstoppable team. Having her beside me makes everything seem more fun, just as it always has.
We met in 1987, when I was called out to fix a cooker in the kitchen of a glass factory. As I lay underneath the appliance, the catering manager started chatting to me, and when I re-emerged, it was love at first sight – and we’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since!
Back then, working as an electrical technician had seemed pretty straightforward, helped by the fact that I was nimble and could easily fit under whatever equipment I needed to fix. But after years of cosy evenings in eating Tracy’s delicious dinners, as well as ordering in takeaways and enjoying pints of my favourite scrumpy cider, things had become very different. At my biggest, the only way I could get down that low was to kneel, and my knees were so painful that they twinged whenever I walked.
Now, thanks to Tracy’s cooking skills and my enthusiasm to give Food Optimising a proper go, I’ve discovered to my utter astonishment that I like cooking, and I love vegetables! Previously, they were grudgingly added to the small section of my plate that wasn’t already filled up with meat and chips. Tonight, we made a delicious spicy chicken, veg and rice dish that was so tasty and filling it was hard to believe it could be slimming. But the scales are going down, so something’s definitely working…
We’ve spent this weekend in a large, lovely rental house in Loughborough, for a family holiday to celebrate Abigail’s 21st birthday. Guests came from far and wide to join us, and Tracy and I have also been using it as a bit of an experiment!
The thing is, because we’ve been doing so well, we didn’t want to go off plan – so we decided all the meals for the weekend would be Slimming World recipes. And last night, the sounds of appreciation from all around the table were proof that our Free pasta dish had gone down a storm. Afterwards, Tracy and I were like a production line, preparing overnight oats for 12 people to enjoy this morning. ‘The food’s been amazing, and you look great,’ my mum, Gerry, told me as she got ready to leave. And watching the family heading off home with smiles on their faces, we knew it had been a real success.
Mum told me that since the party weekend a few months ago, seven family members had joined Slimming World! Today, as we were getting ready to sit down for Christmas dinner, Callum tugged at my waist. ‘Dad, do you realise you still have the label on those jeans?’ he said. ‘Yes, and I’m keeping it on,’ I replied. ‘Take a picture of it.’ He laughed, as he raised his phone for the snap.
I couldn’t believe my new jeans were a 36in waist when just over six months earlier they had been a 44in waist. No more scrabbling away at the back of the rack for me whenever I go clothes shopping. Now I fit the mainstream sizes, and I’m so proud of myself – that label’s staying on for a bit longer!
When my phone rang earlier, I looked down to see the number for my doctor’s surgery flashing up. What did they want? My heart sank. I’d just had my regular diabetes blood tests and I thought they might be calling me in to run some more. But it was quite the opposite... ‘Mr Davis, we need to let you know that it’s time to reduce your diabetes medication, as your weight loss is having a very positive effect.’ I hung up and grinned. Just before joining Slimming World, my blood sugar levels had been rising despite the five tablets I was taking, and the doctor had warned me I’d soon have to inject myself with insulin. Who knows, maybe I won’t be taking any tablets by the time I get to my target!
Today is our 25th wedding anniversary, and a few hours ago I stood in Minster Abbey in front of our family and friends to celebrate a quarter of a century with my beautiful wife. We’d decided to mark the occasion by renewing our vows, because over the past few years we have, in every way, renewed ourselves. I felt great in a well-fitting suit that showed my new trim figure, and I caught my breath as I looked at my stunning wife. ‘Thank you for being there every step of the way,’ I said to her as the service drew to a close.
Happy 51st birthday to me! And that’s not all I’m celebrating – today I hit my target weight of 13st, and I no longer need any diabetes medication. Tracy and I still love experimenting with new Food Optimising recipes, so we never get bored of what we’re eating, and we’ve also been doing a lot of Body Magic together. It all started in May last year, when I got on Callum’s bike and unsteadily headed off to cycle alongside Tracy, who was training for a triathlon. It was a strangely liberating feeling, and when we got back home having covered 15km, I felt a real sense of achievement. That spurred me on to start running, slowly building up the distances I was doing until, a few months later, I was taking part in my first 5K event with no pain in my knees at all! And now that I’ve hit my weight loss target, I’ve set myself a new fitness one – I’m going to take part in the Great North Run in Newcastle next year.
Tracy and I jogged slowly back along the promenade after pushing ourselves to the limit in the Parkrun that takes place on the Minster seafront. Since hitting my new, lower weight loss target of 12st around 10 months ago – and Tracy losing 5st 2lbs to hit her target weight in April – we’d never felt better.
The morning sun was glinting on the waves as we came to the 96 steps up the grassy bank and, laughing, we leapt up them two at a time in a race to the top. Reaching the road, I turned and looked back to the foot of the steps, thinking about that unhealthy, stressed and worried man who’d barely made it to the top three years earlier.
Sometimes I wish I could go back and show him how things would work out, and take away those worries. I’d show him that, rather than leaving his family without a dad, he’d be crossing the finish line of the Great North Run with his daughter cheering him on. And I’d show him how, with his wife at his side, that man would achieve more than he ever believed possible. And I have to admit, I’m rather proud of him for it!
*Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.