It's my time to shine
As a self-conscious teen, Kirsteen Kneeshaw from Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway faked her smiles for the camera. Now 5½st* lighter, she’s blossomed into a happy young woman with the world in her sights. She's 24 years old and is 6ft tall.
"A few days after my 21st birthday, I glanced through the dozens of photos that had been taken. More than 150 of my family and friends had gathered to help me celebrate. I should have been smiling with delight as I flicked through the shots. Instead, I was fighting back tears.
"I’d spent a small fortune on the long purple chiffon dress, carefully applied my make-up and had my hair professionally curled and styled… and all I could see was my size. I had to stop looking. I felt utterly heartbroken.
"A couple of weeks later, I went to see my GP for a routine check-up. After taking my blood pressure, her face was serious. ‘It’s very high,’ she explained. ‘It’s not good for you.’ Stunned that I could have worryingly high blood pressure so young, I asked what I could do. And, in all kindness, she told me the best thing would be to lose weight.
"That was it – my light-bulb moment. I was a size 22 with high blood pressure… and I was only 21. I knew there and then that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling unhealthy and unhappy. And if I wanted to do something about it, I’d need to make some real changes.
"In 2010, I started university, studying for a degree in technological education. By then I was a size 20-22 and weighed around 18st. I’d moved to Glasgow, some 100-odd miles from our family home in rural Castle Douglas, and, as a country girl, I felt lost in such a big city. Because Mum was no longer cooking my dinners, I started relying on ready meals, plus two or three chip-shop or Chinese takeaways a week.
"I found myself struggling to fit in socially, too. Despite the distance, I’d end up going home almost every weekend to see my family and my boyfriend, Steven. And, although I did make some good friends at university, in my whole three years I only went on two nights out. My self-esteem was so low I couldn’t face getting dressed up and being surrounded by hordes of people in a bar or club – I always made excuses, or claimed I needed to study.
Life begins at... 21
"It was with that 21st birthday revelation, towards the end of my second year at uni in March 2013, that everything finally changed.
"I decided that joining a Slimming World group would suit me best... and my timing couldn’t have been better – a new group was starting in Castle Douglas. In June 2013, I decided to give it a try and convinced my best friend, Lizzie, to come along. Even with Lizzie right beside me, I still felt incredibly nervous as we stepped into the hall that first time. As much as part of me wanted to drive straight home, though, I knew this was my chance to find a road back to happiness.
"I wasn’t sure what I weighed. I hadn’t stepped on the scales in years and was absolutely mortified when 17st 5½lbs flashed up on the screen.
My Consultant, Grant, was extremely sensitive and kind, reassuring me that soon this number would be a thing of the past.
"That night, I left group and went straight to my nearest supermarket, telling myself that by the time I returned to university in September, I’d be a whole new person. Instead of my usual pile of ready meals, I filled my trolley with punnets of blueberries, strawberries and grapes, along with bags of fresh vegetables, Free yogurts, lean meat and jars and jars of dried herbs and spices. It was the healthiest food shop I’d ever done! I was a bit concerned because I’d never really cooked for myself before, so Mum helped me to get started.
"From then on, I was hooked. I discovered loads of flavoursome Food Optimising recipes, such as Diet cola chicken and Slimming World curries. It made me realise that I didn’t need to go to a takeaway – I could make healthier versions at home that were just as delicious and packed with nutritious fresh vegetables, too.
Because I was enjoying all these tasty new foods, I found it easier than I’d expected to stick to the plan 100 per cent... and in a week I’d lost 8½lbs.
"For the first time I could remember, I felt really proud of myself, and pleased with what I was eating. It was just the inspiration I needed to carry on going week after week. Plus, I was on a mission, determined to look like a new person to my university mates. I didn’t deprive myself, though, and never felt hungry – and the weight just kept coming off.
"When I did go back to uni that September, I’d already lost nearly 3st. I couldn’t believe I’d changed my body that much in just one summer... it felt amazing. My friends complimented me on my slimmer figure and a few of them almost didn’t recognise me! Although I could easily have joined a Slimming World group in Glasgow during term time, I loved my Castle Douglas group so much I decided to make the journey home each week. I’d already become part of the social team, helping with weigh-ins and chatting to and motivating other members, which spurred me on as much as them.
"With every half-stone I lost, I felt so much happier. My mood was the best it had been since I was a child. And I got the clothes-shopping bug!
"My energy levels increased and my biggest dream, to play netball again, finally came true. I joined a local team near home, and this time I wasn’t at all self-conscious – I actually felt really good!
"To my delight, in August last year, I reached my target of 11st 5½lbs – something I’d once thought was impossible. Since then my weight has fluctuated a little. It doesn’t worry me, though – ultimately, I’m the one in control of it and I know exactly how to get right back on track again.
"Health-wise, I’m in a much better place. I no longer have high blood pressure – something I feel extremely proud of. I’m now a technology teacher at my old school. Some of my subject teachers still work there and when I first went back they couldn’t believe how much I’d changed. As well as being slimmer, I’m so full of energy and I’m constantly smiling. The pupils laugh at me as I never sit still during a lesson – I’m always up and down and dashing between the tables. I coach the school netball teams, too, which is great fun.
"For a long time, it was as though my personality had gone into hiding. Now, I feel like the real me. And do you know what? I really like her!"
My stay-on-track tips
Kirsteen shares the little things that have helped her on her weight-loss journey.
Draw up a meal plan every week, before doing your shopping. It really helps me stay on plan, as I know exactly what I’m eating each day and won’t get caught short.
When you’re going to a restaurant, check out the menu online beforehand if you can. This means you have plenty of time to decide on the best meal options, instead of feeling flustered when the waiter is hovering over you...
Use social media. I love Instagram and post my meals every day – a bit like a food diary. I’ve gained so many new cyber friends. It keeps me motivated and I get lots of tips and new ideas from followers.
Keep your eyes on the next prize. As a teacher I know how motivating an award can be, and that was definitely my own experience as I worked towards the next half-stone award. I used to put my certificates on my mum’s fridge, too!
Treats are important, and they don’t have to be food! I’ll go shopping for clothes, make-up or a blingy piece of jewellery as a reward for staying focused, or as a little pickme- up. I think it’s just as important to be kind to yourself when you’re having a tricky week as when you’re feeling great.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose
You'll find more delicious recipe and menu ideas at your local group, along with all the help you need to get started and reach your target weight.