My friends were so used to me saying no to everything that I’d almost surprised myself by saying yes for once. My friend Amy had suggested a trip to Cape Verde and, instead of making excuses, I’d gone for it! And now here I was – lying on a sun-kissed beach, feeling relaxed and confident in my new bikini. It was so different from my last trip abroad to Mexico with Dad a year before, when I was 21 years old and 4½st heavier. All holiday I’d done my best to strike flattering poses for the camera, but when I saw the pictures, I didn’t recognise myself. I even thought that Dad must have been ashamed to have me as a daughter – though I knew deep down it wasn’t true.

I first started gaining weight when I left school, after taking a job at a beauty salon. I often worked long hours and relied on convenience food during my breaks. At work, conversation revolved around body size and ways to lose weight, and I found myself resorting to the latest fads, from diet shakes to cutting out certain food groups – all of which failed. Then, at 19, I was offered an exciting job working in the spa of a cruise ship. On the cruise, I was surrounded by guests happily walking around in their swimwear, and I felt so out of place. One day my cabin mate spotted some old photos of a much slimmer me. ‘Wow, was that you?’ she said, amazed. Then she looked me up and down, and added: ‘What happened?’ I’m sure she didn’t mean to be cruel, but I felt crushed. Six weeks in, I quit the job. Back home, my parents were concerned as I became a homebody, preferring to stay in rather than risk bumping into old school friends who would notice I’d gained weight. When Dad offered me a job in the family business, I seized the opportunity, happier with the thought of being in an office – avoiding salon weight-chat. 

I started boxing classes at the gym, but quickly realised that exercise alone wouldn’t get me to my dream weight. At the same time, my friend Luke had joined Slimming World. I’d heard of it, but always assumed it was more for older women, not people in their early 20s like Luke and me. After two months, when he told me he’d already lost 2st, my ears pricked up. I hadn’t lost a single pound from the boxing, and I was still eating the same convenience food I always had. Then, one weekend Luke invited me to a barbecue with some of his friends from group. All the food was made using Slimming World recipes – and to my surprise, it was delicious!

Soon afterwards, I was on a girls’ weekend in Bath. I couldn’t think of a way to get out of a day at The Roman Baths; I sat there feeling uncomfortable in my bikini, wishing I was happier with my figure. So when, days later, Luke called me and said: ‘I’m off to group. Want to come?’ I didn’t hesitate to reply: ‘Yes please!’ I found following the plan at home easy – the problem was that I didn’t put plans in place for eating out with my family, ordering the same meals I’d always done. I’d slowly managed to lose half a stone, but when Dad invited me on that holiday to Mexico, and with Christmas approaching, it had seemed like a perfect excuse to stop going to group. When I got home, though, my resolve strengthened. I decided enough was enough and returned to Slimming World with a very different mindset.

This time I was determined to succeed, and threw myself into Food Optimising. Every Sunday, I’d make enough salad to last me through the following week, then I’d take a bowlful into work with a different topping – perhaps tuna in spring water, lean ham or skinless chicken breast, sometimes adding hard-boiled eggs or new potatoes, too. I found I didn’t even need to use up all of my planned Syns each day, as I felt so satisfied on all the Free Food. And I didn’t have to miss out on my weekend takeaways, either. I learnt in group which choices were lower in Syns, then I’d make my own Slimming World noodles or egg fried rice at home for a side. 

My family and my boyfriend, Sam, really got behind my weight loss plans and supported me along the way. All of them were rooting for me to get back to being happy in my own skin. Mum knew all too well how my weight gain had zapped my confidence and she started coming out for walks with me in the nearby park. To begin with, I struggled to keep up with her. Then, as the weeks passed, I started running and leaving Mum far behind! Before, I’d had to push myself to walk through the door at the gym – now I looked forward to it, knowing it counted towards my Body Magic awards. And they weren’t the only certificates I was taking home from group: first I got my award for losing 1st, then 2st, then 3st...

I made a call on my mobile phone and, bursting with excitement, said: ‘Mum, you won’t believe what’s happened!’ I’d just received my 4st award, but that wasn’t what I was ringing her about. That morning, I’d gone shopping to find a new outfit to wear for brunch with my friends when I spotted a pair of knee-high boots. The last time I’d tried on a pair, I’d struggled so much to pull the tops over my calves that I’d given up. This time, wondering if maybe, just maybe… I reached for my size, and they slipped on! The minute I walked out of the shop, I made that call to Mum. She’d been with me numerous times when I hadn’t been able to get into clothes I liked, and understood just how important that moment was to me. That day at the brunch, surrounded by my friends, I felt great in my fashionable outfit. I knew I looked my age again.

As I got closer to my target, I ran into a bit of a hurdle. Everyone at group had been so supportive and it had been great to have Luke to spur me on. Then, nine months into my slimming journey, he moved away. I’d lost 4st 3lbs and as I was so close to target, I convinced myself I didn’t need group any more, and stopped going. Without the new meal ideas from the other members and the members’ website, I got stuck in a food rut and I soon realised I was slipping back into my old habits. Careful not to undo everything I’d achieved, I rejoined group. I started trying new food ideas again, and a few months later, I got down to my 10st 6lb target. Spending time with the other members at group each week kept me focused and gave me confidence – not just in knowing I could maintain a healthy lifestyle, but in other aspects of my life, too. Now I’ve taken on more responsibility in the office and I know that, if I keep working hard, one day I’ll be in line to take over the running of the family business. And far from thinking that Dad could ever be ashamed of me, I know how much that will make him, and my whole family, proud. I wanted the old Olivia back and now she’s here, ready to take on the world!

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