‘I lost 9st* and rewrote my health history’
When he was overweight, 32-year-old Andrew Hall from Southampton knew he was gambling with his health. Here’s how he took control and changed his future...
"Being overweight had been the norm for me for as long as I could remember. My parents had tried to help me tackle my weight as a teenager. They arranged for me to see a dietician when I was 17 – after I’d been diagnosed with having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). At that point, though, I wasn’t ready to acknowledge what I was eating, or how big I was.
"Deep down, I really did care about my size – it wasn’t a happy time for me. I was bullied at school, and even suffered verbal abuse in the street from total strangers. When I was 21, and had reached my heaviest weight, I went away on holiday with my then-partner. I overheard people on the plane saying things like: ‘I pity whoever’s sat next to him.’ It was so humiliating.
"Not long after that I was away with my friends at Butlins and couldn’t go on the rides because I was physically too big. I even broke a toilet seat while I was there, and was too ashamed to tell anyone. What really embarrassed me was not being able to fit into the fairground rides – it’s just one example of how being overweight can stop you doing things slimmer people take for granted.
"As I got older, I became very conscious that my weight was affecting my chances of meeting someone special. The media ideal of attractive men, especially gay men, is one of a lithe, fit physique – I really wasn’t matching that at all. I did meet someone, though it wasn’t a great relationship by any stretch. On top of that I was constantly out of breath and had digestive problems and high blood pressure. My self-esteem had fallen to an all-time low, and I realised I needed to change my life drastically.
Taking the plunge
"I’m a health care support worker in a hospice and one of my colleagues had lost a few stones with Slimming World. I even remember looking at how much she was eating and thinking, ‘How can you still be losing weight?’ Whatever she was doing was clearly working, so I found out about my nearest group and plucked up the courage to go along.
"I’ll admit I did have the usual preconceptions of what a weight-loss group might involve. I worried that, as a man, I’d stand out like a sore thumb. Though, to be honest I felt more anxious about my size than the fact I was going into what I’d always considered a ‘woman’s world’. I was so conscious of my body that I really didn’t feel comfortable in the company of any strangers, men or women.
"Thankfully, the group was such a fun, bubbly place to be that I soon put concerns about my weight (and gender) to the back of my head. I wasn’t the only guy there, and it soon became clear that it wouldn’t have mattered if I had been. We were all there for the same purpose – to lose weight – and many of us had been through similar experiences. It was a relief after years of feeling so alone.
Everyone was so positive that their enthusiasm seemed to rub off on me immediately and I felt my confidence rising. My first Consultant Claire took me under her wing from the very beginning. She was kind and patient, helping me to get familiar with Food Optimising then praising my results as I went along.
"The whole atmosphere was genuinely one of encouragement and self-belief. We talked about lots of things, including favourite meals we’d had that week and how we cooked them healthily. We had food-tasting days where we all made dishes to share, so everyone got to try something new. We also discussed what we had planned for the coming week, and the ploys we could use to stop ourselves going off track. It’s all about planning ahead.
Making the break
"The more I went to group, the more weight I lost, and I soon began to feel much better about myself. The unhappy relationship I was in finally ended and I moved back home. In three months I’d lost three stones, and there was no question of me giving up Slimming World. So, within hours of my move, I sought out a group to join in my new area.
"Again I went into an unfamiliar environment full of people I didn’t know. Again it was as a (still) overweight bloke in a room full of women. And again everyone was so welcoming and supportive I soon felt at home. To be honest I found it a lot easier the second time around. I knew what to expect and, as I kept on losing weight, I noticed how much calmer and more open I became in the company of others.
"Before I lost weight, I was eating takeaway Chinese or Indian at least three times a week, and in between I’d be putting away frozen processed foods like burgers and pizzas. I was definitely comfort eating: I’d have a couple of chocolate bars a day, several packets of crisps between meals and could easily consume a block of cheese and a whole loaf in a day.
Now I cook almost everything from scratch. I can still have a burger and chips, I just cook it all using fresh ingredients, and it tastes so much better. I’ve also got into the habit of making a batch of healthy meals and then freezing them. I work long hours and, in the past, that’s where junk food would have been my easy option. Now I can rely on my own supply of freezer meals, like spicy chicken noodles, cottage pie, chilli con carne and my absolute favourite – Slimming World quiche.
"Group is like a family to me now – we’re always online helping each other out, whether it’s Slimming- World related, or tips and advice about life in general. We’re friends first and foremost and we all egg each other on to do well. My parents have also been amazing, giving me emotional support throughout my journey and treating me to clothes each time I reached a new milestone. We have a family history of diabetes, and knowing that my weight loss was making them happier as well as making me healthier, helped me to stay focused and driven.
Fit for the future
"It’s great to get such positive comments from people, who are amazed how well I’ve done, and I’m always happy to share the advice I’ve picked up along the way. I’ve made some very good friends at Slimming World, both at home and from other groups around the UK. I was lucky enough to reach the semi-finals of Slimming World’s Man of the Year 2014, which brought me into contact with other blokes who are going through the same process, and we keep in touch and encourage one another online.
"Right now I’m looking to buy myself a whole new wardrobe. When you go through such a transition in size and shape it takes a while to discover your true style, to find the look you’re most at home with. Plus, I’m 12 stones now… and the last time I weighed that I was just 12 years old! I’ve gone from ordering XXXXL shirts online (which were still a tight fit) to being able to buy clothes off the peg, so it’s taking some getting used to. Not that I’m complaining!
"Overall, I’m much more comfortable socially than I’ve ever been – I’ll even chat people up when I’m out on the town, dancing the night away. I’m much fitter than I was, I enjoy going to the gym twice a week, I swim regularly and I even do a bit of running. What’s more, at work I don’t need help for tasks that involve bending or lifting, which gives me so much more job satisfaction. I feel alive. My blood pressure has dropped from a high 160 over 110, to a healthy 105 over 70, and I’ve been told my diabetes risk is a fraction of what it was. I feel capable, confident and happy, and I know one thing for sure – I’m never going back to being the old me!"
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose
Find your nearest group