My weight issues began when I was just nine years old, after my mum and dad split up. Around that time, I learned to use food for comfort. I’d buy doughnuts with my pocket money and then go to the corner shop and get penny sweets with the 30p change. I also used to sneakily eat spoonfuls of golden syrup – if it made me feel good for a minute or so, I’d eat it. My dad worked a lot, too, so I’d often cook for us, which usually meant ready meals I could just stick in the microwave or oven.
My size didn’t go unnoticed at school and I was bullied incessantly – I was regularly spat on and called ‘Big Mac’ because my maiden name was McGregor. I had no friends and would often have my lunch in the school toilets, so no one would see me eating. It got so bad I had to have counselling.
After leaving school, things got worse as I drifted into an unhealthy relationship. It ended after three years, but my relationship with food only got worse.
I really was at rock bottom. I ate to make myself feel better, then cried afterwards because I felt even worse. I was spiralling out of control and hated myself. One day, my sister found me sobbing on the stairs and said, ‘Enough is enough. We’re joining Slimming World’.
So, in January 2002, weighing 13st 7lbs and wearing a size 18, I walked through the doors of my first Slimming World group. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done – and also one of the best. The main thing that struck me was the acceptance I felt – I’d expected everyone to laugh or stare, but for the first time ever, I found myself in a roomful of people who didn’t judge me and I was immediately made to feel really welcome. As a Consultant myself now, I always remember that and I think having the courage to walk into a group when you’re at your lowest is something to be very proud of.
Staying and listening to the other members helped me so much – I soaked up every word. At first, I never used to speak – I stayed every week without fail, but I’d sit at the back hiding. Then, as the pounds came off, I found my confidence – and my voice – and they couldn’t stop me talking!
I swapped processed meals and sugary snacks for home-made cooking. I don’t think I ever ate fruit and veg before. I loved that I could still eat pasta, and I loved the freedom of Food Optimising, which meant I didn’t have to count and weigh everything or ever feel hungry. It’s so liberating compared to counting calories or fat. After all these years, I’m still discovering delicious new recipes each week in my group and it’s brilliant that, despite what a lot of people think, healthy eating doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
I nearly gave up on myself at the age of 19 – but because of Slimming World, my self-esteem grew and, bit by bit, my life changed.
It was a dream come true when I hit my target weight of 9st 7lbs. When I first joined Slimming World, I was worried it would just be something else I failed at. Week after week, though, my group and my Consultant helped me to find my inner confidence, and I did it! I felt comfortable enough to start being more active, taking up running via the Couch to 5K app, and now I’m due to run the London Marathon in April 2022.
It’s not just about stepping on the scales and seeing that number though, it’s about gaining the life I always wanted to live.
Losing weight finally gave me the confidence to meet new people, and I joined an online dating site in 2005. As a result, I met my future husband, Matt. We had a dream wedding – I wore a beautiful white gown and we honeymooned in the Maldives. Having spent 10 years of my life living in darkness, I couldn’t believe my luck. Now, we have two children, Daisy, nine, and six-year-old Max.
In 2011, I decided to train as a Slimming World Consultant. I felt strongly that I wanted to help people change their lives like I’d changed mine. It really is the most rewarding role, seeing people step off the scales feeling great about themselves and their achievements – especially when you know exactly how wonderful that feels.
There have been times in the past 17 years when I’ve struggled to maintain my weight, including during the pandemic, and having the Slimming World programme and community to fall back on has been invaluable. Lockdown and homeschooling was something I – like everyone else – had never experienced before and I was surprised to see old habits (habits that I thought had gone forever) sneak back in. I quickly realised I needed to do something to regain control, so I joined a virtual group because I wanted that support.
Thankfully, I’m back on track and am now delighted to be Slimming World’s Top Target Consultant 2021. It feels amazing! I’m so grateful to have found Slimming World, it changed my life and, I believe, saved my life, as I really was at my lowest ebb. Losing the weight and keeping it off feels like more of an achievement than anything academic, because I’ve beaten the demons in my head. I know I can do anything I set my mind to now, and I love inspiring others to make a change, too.
Watch Zoe tell her story here
Zoe’s day on a plate
White toast with golden syrup
A sandwich, crisps and a chocolate bar
Fat-free yogurt or a Hi-fi bar
Chicken nuggets, chips and beans
Sweets, cakes and chocolate
I use my Syns on a Cadbury Twirl
*Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.