Holidays are meant to be the highlight of your year – a time when you can relax and enjoy being with family. For me, though, sunshine trips were more of a nightmare than a dream getaway, and the reason was the way I felt about my weight.

As I was growing up, it had gradually dawned on me that, at 5ft 9ins and a size 14, I was a bit taller and heavier than my friends. By cutting out my favourite foods, like bread, ice cream, crisps and cheese, I stayed around a size 14-16 throughout my early 20s and lost weight fairly easily after each of my first three pregnancies.

Ignoring my own needs

Then I gave birth to twin boys two months early. My partner, Vincent, and I practically lived at the hospital’s special care baby unit: it took more than a month for the babies to be strong enough to come home.

With all the stress, plus looking after five children under nine, my own needs went out of the window. I just ate whatever was handy and quick.

The more weight I gained, the more my fragile self-esteem took a battering. And then came several holidays that, bit by bit, would inspire me to change my life.

Greetings from… Portugal

I’m a size 18, feeling even more uncomfortable than ever. I’ve tried losing weight – I started with my old trick of cutting out certain foods, yet got so hungry I ate more than ever. Then there was a raw juice diet, followed by a complicated plan that involved lots of weighing and measuring.

It seems that whatever I try, I can’t sustain my enthusiasm for longer than a fortnight. So I spend all day on holiday covered up in big denim shorts, worrying about what people are thinking when they look my way.

Greetings from… Ibiza

I’m now wearing a size 22-24. Part of the problem is my hectic lifestyle. I’m working four days a week at a big department store, and as the hours are irregular, I often arrive home after dinner time. Exhausted from being on the shop floor all day, I don’t have the energy to move off the sofa, let alone cook something healthy for myself.

When I’m not in the water, I wear a big skirt or dress, or long shorts, with perspiration rolling off me. Mostly, though, I retreat to our hotel room balcony, where I feel safe enough to strip off. I’m frustrated and angry – and food always makes me feel better when I’m upset.

Greetings from… Dublin

I’ve done it – I’ve just joined Slimming World. I came back from Ibiza determined to lose weight and I wish I’d joined sooner. I need to change my way of eating – filling up on Free Food rather than the fatty and sugary processed ones I’ve relied on until now.

I haven’t told anyone except Vincent and the boys that I’ve joined Slimming World, and I’ve even sworn them to secrecy. I feel that if I tell the rest of my family and friends about it, they’ll be expecting history to repeat itself and me to give up after a couple of weeks of following the plan. And that’s not going to happen this time.

Greetings from… Malta

I’m at my brother Dennis’s wedding in Malta. I got on the plane a whole stone lighter and felt on top of the world.Then something happened to knock my confidence: the seat belt wouldn’t go around me. Feeling low, I make a bargain with myself: if, after sticking to Food Optimising for this whole trip, I haven’t lost weight, that’s it. I’ll quit.

Greetings from… Florida

I came back from Malta a few pounds lighter, so I didn’t give up. As the months went by I steadily lost the pounds, and now I’m 12st 3lbs and a size 12. Yes, you read that right – I’ve lost more than 10st!

So here I am in sunny Florida, and it’s truly everything I’ve dreamed of. It’s so different… the seat belt on the plane fitted, for a start. And thanks to all the Body Magic I’ve been doing – going to the gym four times a week and lots of running, too (can you believe it?) – I feel energised for all the theme parks we’ve been visiting.

Instead of sitting on the sidelines trying not to cry, I’m laughing and smiling all day with everyone else. It’s the first time I’ve ever honestly enjoyed a holiday with the kids.

Greetings from… Puerto Rico

We’ve been invited to stay out here with my brother-in-law and his wife. I am a size 10-12 and I have two new bikinis (my first ever!).

I’ve been at or around my new target weight of 12st for almost a year now, and it still feels wonderful.

Food Optimising has become a way of life for me. I feel in control.

I can eat my Healthy Extra helping of cheese without feeling I need to demolish the entire block. I no longer use chocolate to fight fatigue or deal with stress – I exercise or go for a drive instead – and I can enjoy it as a treat.

Holidaying now that I’m slim is just fantastic. I walk around in the hot weather without feeling my thighs rubbing together. I wear strappy tops and pretty dresses at night, and I no longer worry about what strangers think of me.

For so many years, going on holiday made me feel like an outsider. Now I’m finally joining in the fun, wherever I am.

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