Unwrapping the last of my presents on Christmas morning wearing a new size-10 outfit, I paused for a moment. It was a year to the day since everything had clicked, sending me on the journey that would become my Christmas gift to myself – a 4st 11½lb weight loss.
I still kept the photograph that had started it all – a snap of me tearing open my presents the year before with “help” from my little beagle, Bella. I’d always been good at hiding from cameras, but that photo had made me face the truth I’d been avoiding – I wasn’t happy about my size.
I started putting on a little weight after I left school. Over the next three years, I went up three dress sizes, with my weight gain speeding up even more when I left home. I have a really tight circle of friends but I felt frumpy next to them – they’d all be trying on the latest figure-hugging dresses while most things I took into the changing room were baggy and black.
By the time my friend Georgina’s birthday came around in December 2015, even my go-to party outfit didn’t fit me any more. I briefly considered telling Georgina I wasn’t going to her party, but she was one of my best friends and I really couldn’t let her down. I had no choice but to go shopping and ended up with an all-black ensemble that would just about do.
I can hardly bear to think about how I felt that night – I’d never been so uncomfortable in my own skin. Then the Christmas photo came along and it was the final straw. I just wanted to feel like me again.
One of my closest friends was a Slimming World member and I’d seen how much weight she’d been losing. So I went online and found a Saturday morning group – I knew if I went at the weekend, there’d be no danger of work commitments stopping me from going.
Walking into group for the first time in January 2016, I couldn’t deny I was a little nervous. Everyone there was friendly, though, and it seemed that there was a real bond between us – a feeling that we were all in this together.
In those first weeks, I was amazed to find that I was eating more than I had been before. And for the first time in forever, I was inspired to start cooking from scratch.
My next step was to find Food Optimising versions of my favourite takeaways: chicken tikka masala made with fat-free natural yogurt instead of cream, and home-made burgers made with lean mince and topped with bacon with the fat trimmed off.
My friends and family were incredibly supportive and I never felt I was missing out. By week three I’d lost over half a stone, and after that I lost a pound or two a week.
I was overwhelmed by the support from Slimming World members on Instagram, too. I began posting pictures of my dinners and couldn’t quite believe it when I started getting a few new followers every week! They’d send me lovely messages telling me how much I’d motivated them, and their encouragement helped keep me on track (@zoes_sw).
At group, everyone had been sharing their Body Magic progress and I realised I didn’t have to go to the gym to start my own fitness journey. I walked Bella every day, and began gradually making my routes longer. As I felt fitter, I wanted to add in some toning exercises. I found workouts online that I could do at home, fitting them in while dinner was cooking. I kept posting on Instagram, too, and from those first few followers I’ve now got 36,000.
I just wanted to feel like ‘me’ again. Now I’ve achieved that, and so much more
As the weight came off, my self-esteem rocketed and I started feeling more positive. I’d been promoted to communications manager at work, which involved organising events and lots of chatting to groups of people. Before, I'd dread having to stand up and speak – now I was talking about work with passion and enthusiasm, not worrying about what people might be thinking of me.
I reached my target weight of 10st on Christmas Eve 2016. The following morning, as I slipped on my size-10 leather skirt and black-and-white striped top, I thought about how I’d felt a year before and knew there was no way I was ever going back.
It’s not just my shape that’s changed – it’s my outlook. My friends suggested a holiday to Gran Canaria this year and, rather than searching for every excuse under the sun not to go, I jumped at it. My first thought was even, “I’ll need to buy a bikini”! It’s moments like that when I realise just how far I’ve come.
Breakfast: Nothing, or a cup of tea with two sugars and biscuits
Mid-morning snack: Two pieces of white toast with butter
Lunch: Bakery sausage roll or steak pie, followed by crisps, chocolate and a doughnut
Dinner: Ready meal or takeaway fish and chips
Breakfast: French toast using wholemeal bread as my Healthy Extra, with fresh berries
Snacks: Melon wedges with fat-free natural yogurt, a 5-Syn fun-size Twix, or a Hi-fi bar from group (3 Syns)
Lunch: A chunky soup from one of my Slimming World cook books
Dinner: Slimming World fish and chips with salad, or chicken tikka masala with spinach and rice
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose