To the outside world, it looked like we’d had the perfect family Christmas. It was my daughter Daisy’s first Christmas – so extra special – but I couldn’t help feeling unhappy as I edited our family video. I knew that, even while opening gifts and merrily singing Christmas songs on one of the best days of the year, I’d felt desperately down about my weight.

Sadly, that emotion wasn’t anything new. From being called the ‘fat kid’ at school, my weight spiralled out of control until I weighed 15st at age 13, then 17st at 17. Late nights and stress-eating meant that I gained another 5st during my time at uni, leaving me at an unhealthy 22st. It was time to take action.

Trying to get fit fast

Unfortunately, I didn’t take the sensible kind of action. Instead, I set off down the equally unhealthy path of starving myself while hitting the gym hard. I looked into how to get fit fast and started an extremely high intensity workout programme. I lost 3st through punishing my body but, far from feeling good about it, I felt completely exhausted, stressed-out, and had got myself stuck in a dangerous starve/binge-eating cycle.

Even my regular game of football had become too much for my body to cope with. I struggled with knee issues and the pain was especially bad after my weekly kickabout. By the time of my unflattering close-up on our Christmas home movie, I’d regained a stone and I really wanted to get fit the healthy way – but I needed help. In January 2018, weighing in at 20st, I decided to join my local Slimming World group.

Slimming World for men?

I had lots of preconceived ideas about slimming clubs, with my number one concern being: is Slimming World for men? I felt comfortable at the gym, lifting weights and running around a football pitch, and I was worried that I’d feel out of place in such a female environment. I was so low and insecure that I felt like it was a weakness for a man to ask for help with weight loss.

Of course, I shouldn’t have worried. I was welcomed wholeheartedly into the group from the minute I walked through the doors, and instantly felt like I belonged.

I quickly saw that Slimming World definitely isn’t just for women, and that men can benefit from group support too.

Making smart swaps

Learning about food was a game-changer for me. I’d been trying to change my body through exercise alone but I quickly realised that the saying ‘You can’t out-train a bad diet’ is true. And my diet left a lot to be desired! After skipping breakfast, I’d head to a fast-food chain for a burger, footlong sandwich or sausage rolls for lunch. Then dinner would be a massive spaghetti Bolognese, piled high with cheese. In between I’d snack on sharing bags of crisps or sweets (individual-portion bags just didn’t hit the spot!).

The biggest revelation about Slimming World was that I could still enjoy my favourite foods – I just needed to make some smart swaps. Spaghetti Bolognese is still one of my go-to meals, for example, but now I make it the Slimming World way using low-calorie cooking spray instead of oil (I really like the garlic version), and my Healthy Extra ‘a’ portion of reduced-fat cheese. Instead of buying footlong subs, I make wraps full of lean ham, reduced-fat cheese and spinach.

There’s no need to give up treats either. I like Digestive Thins or sugar-free biscuits, especially crumbled over fat-free flavoured yogurt to make a dessert. And if I do fancy a bit of chocolate, I have it and just count the Syns within my daily allowance.

Crispy M&Ms and Malteser Buttons are my favourite treats – I just don’t eat the full sharing bag any more!

I’m really enjoying cooking now and love discovering Slimming World versions of the food I used to eat out. The Swedish pork meatballs recipe in the All for One book tastes just like those you’d get from a famous flat-packed furniture shop, and I also like making Slimming World chicken nuggets to sort out my fried chicken cravings. Pizza-topped chicken is another winner as it’s like eating a pizza, only so much more satisfying. Everything that I’m eating now is super tasty and enjoyable, while being healthy and nutritious.

How to get fit the healthy way

I lost 3Ibs in my first week as a Slimming World member – then I lost weight consistently every week after that. Having the support of my family really helped me to stay on track and my beautiful wife, Louise, was my absolute rock. I’d often find a plate of Slimming World food waiting for me when I got home after working late. This time, instead of pushing myself to get fit fast, I made sure that my gym sessions were sensible and went hand in hand with eating well. Slimming World taught me how to get fit the healthy way and the results speak for themselves.

By July that year, I’d lost nearly 5st and hit my target weight of 15st!

I’ve fallen back in love with football now, as knee pain is no longer holding me back. I’m much quicker on the pitch and I’m also finding certain exercises (like push-ups) much easier. You don’t realise how much your weight is holding you back until you lose it! Another benefit is that I look so much better in a clingy football top than I did before. When I was heavier, I hated wearing tight clothes, but now I’ve swapped all my XXL tops for mediums. I even wear skinny jeans! The ‘slimming’ black clothes have also been banished from my wardrobe and replaced with eye-catching colours and fashion-forward styles.

After being miserable about my weight since school, I’ve totally transformed my life in just six months – and it’s thanks to Slimming World and some easy food swaps. I’ll definitely be getting the video camera out again this Easter. I’m ready for my close-up!

Five Slimming World smart swaps

Nick has swapped his fast-food favourites for super-healthy, easy to make Slimming World versions. Here are his top five smart swaps:

Swap stodgy pizza for satisfying pizza-topped chicken recipe

Swap a greasy kebab for healthy homemade kebab and chips

Swap a Chinese takeaway for tasty beef and noodles in hoisin sauce

Swap fast food burger meals for Nick’s Syn-free naked burgers

Swap a bucket of fried chicken for a Slimming World chicken fakeaway

*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.