As I watched my mum, Liz, bound down the road ahead of me, I realised there was no way I was going to be able to keep up with her. I’d been jogging for a couple of minutes and I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest.

I’d volunteered to take part in a 5K run to celebrate my niece Lily’s cancer going into remission. For the last few years the only exercise I’d done was taking my two greyhounds for a short walk twice a day.

Even so, I was shocked to realise my 60-year-old mum was so much fitter than me.

I’d been putting on weight since I was 26, when I moved out of my parents’ house to live with my partner, Alex. I felt free to make my own choices about what I could eat. I got into the habit of nipping to the supermarket after work and grabbing the first thing I liked the look of for dinner, like stuffed tortellini with double cream and Parmesan.

When Lily was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer, I comforted myself with sweets, chocolates, creamy dinners – anything that was close to hand to make myself feel better. My weight shot up to more than 17½st.

Thankfully Lily recovered well, but after that 5K race my worries about my weight played on my mind more than ever. Then, on Christmas Day 2019, I was sitting at home flicking through photos I’d taken with my family when I came across one of myself that made my heart sink. I looked so much bigger than I’d imagined. I knew then that enough was enough. I joined Slimming World as soon as I could, in January 2020.

I’d joined a group a few years earlier to lose weight for my sister’s wedding, so I knew Food Optimising worked for me. Even so, I was terrified about walking through those doors again. I’d forgotten what a warm and friendly place group is, and I convinced myself that I’d be judged for putting the weight back on.

Of course, I was completely wrong! Everyone was so welcoming. As I listened to the other members share a laugh with the Consultant, Lynsey, and talk about how their week had gone, my nerves settled and I really enjoyed being back.

The first change I made was to start planning my meals rather than popping to the supermarket after work. Each week I’d stock up on fresh vegetables and fruit, lean meat and low-calorie cooking spray, and make a list of recipes I wanted to try. I enjoyed challenging myself to make Slimming World versions of our favourite meals, like takeaway-style burger and chips, salt and pepper chicken and, my favourite, a Food Optimising roast dinner.

I also started to share my experiences in group. Lynsey helped me recognise the situations that could send me off track – like feeling bored or stressed – and the other members in group helped me put a plan in place to change my habits for good.

I started to reach for fresh fruit if I felt the urge to eat between meals and, gradually, I came to realise that I didn’t need to use food to comfort myself.

By March 2021, I’d lost 4st and I was feeling much more energetic. I’d heard about the Body Magic programme in group and one night Lynsey shared how she’d enjoyed using the Couch to 5K app. It got me thinking… I’d tried to follow the programme three times before, but always gave up after only a few runs. Losing weight had given me a lot more confidence, though, and I thought if Lynsey could do it, maybe I could, too?

Back home, I downloaded the app and went out for my first run… and I absolutely loved it! I found it easier than I’d expected and, this time, I completed the entire nine-week programme. As well as running three times a week, I joined a few fitness classes, like HIIT, cardio and weight training. I never thought I’d be the type of person who’d enjoy exercise – actually, it’s still a shock to this day!

Losing 8st 11½lbs has made me feel like anything is possible. Alex and I recently got engaged, and I’m really excited for the big day. I’ve been out to try on wedding dresses, and it was such a lovely experience. I felt beautiful, and really comfortable having my photograph taken, which is a world away from the way I felt two years ago.

I feel like I’m the version of me I was always supposed to be. I’m so much more confident and full of life now. I recently applied to become a trainee psychologist and was overjoyed when I got the position – it’s just something I wouldn’t have felt able to do before. Nothing feels out of reach any more, and that’s an amazing feeling.

Watch Sophie tell her story