Struggling with her weight growing up, 26-year-old Laura McCusker from Glasgow couldn’t help being compared to her slim twin. Now she’s 6st*lighter, four dress sizes smaller and matches her sister in confidence as well as looks.
"Until recently, I couldn’t have looked more different from my twin sister, Michelle. We’re polar opposites in every way – appearance, character, interests – although we’re best friends. Everyone used to say that she and my older sister, Louise, should have been the twins instead: they have the same small and athletic build. I’m a completely different body type, though. I was always curvier and, growing up, I felt like I didn’t fit in.
"I never felt comfortable with my body and as I got older, I began to hide myself away; avoiding family gatherings and nights out on the town. During my teens and early 20s, I tried every fad diet going, even following a strict no-carb plan while I was at high school. My classmates would see me picking my beefburger out of its bun and think I was crazy. Another time, I spent £200 on meal-replacement shakes. Through it all, my mum gently tried to support me. She encouraged me to try a diet class, but when I stepped on the scales, I was horrified and far too embarrassed to go back.
"In 2012, I moved from Glasgow to Aberdeen for a new job and put on 2½st in 10 months. My boyfriend, Danny, came to live with me. We were both working really hard from Monday to Friday, so we’d eat out two or three times a week to save us from cooking. The weekends were even worse for my waistline... On a Friday night, we’d make the three-hour drive to Glasgow to see our families, then leave at 4am on Monday to get back to Aberdeen in time for work. We’d stop at petrol stations on the way and snack on sweets, crisps and chocolate.
"I began to suffer from swollen feet, and pain in my shins and lower back – walking became so painful I was referred to a podiatrist. I’d thought they were simply side effects of the fallen arches in my feet (I'd been born with them), so when the podiatrist told me the cause was my weight, I was shocked – and upset. Up until that point, I’d been in denial about just how heavy and inactive I’d become. Now, I had to face up to the fact that, at only 24, my size was already affecting my health and well-being.
Stepping into Slimming World
"My mum, aunt and I all joined Slimming World together in January 2014. I was at my biggest ever – 15st 4lbs and a tight size 16. Although our Consultant helped me set a target of 10st, I was laughing to myself as she wrote down the number; I just couldn’t believe that I would ever get close to it!
After 14 days as a Slimming World member, I’d lost 7½lbs*, and in six weeks, I was slimmer by a whole stone. I was stunned, as I felt I was eating as much as ever!
"While I’ve never been a breakfast person, now I start my day with fresh fruit and fat-free natural yogurt, and follow it with lean meats and salad or low-Syn sushi for lunch. In the evenings, I fill my plate with home-made spaghetti Bolognese, grilled meat or fish with vegetables, or a Food Optimised version of my favourite meal – cheesy chicken and broccoli pasta from my local Italian restaurant. Life sometimes gets in the way and hiccups happen – the next day, though, I’m 100 per cent back on plan and off to a fresh start.
"Like everyone, I have ups and downs, and during tricky periods I’ve found keeping a food diary helps me stick with the plan. So does logging my latest stats on LifelineOnline (the Slimming World members’ website), so I can see my progress. I also write weekly and monthly goals on sticky notes and put them on my computer at work – that way, they’re always there to inspire me if my motivation slips. Sometimes I’d only lose ½lb or 1lb a week, and while that can be frustrating, I’ve accepted that you can’t always have a perfect week. Before Christmas, when I really wanted to be losing, I maintained for six weeks in a row; so I looked back through my old food diaries and replicated the weeks when I’d had a good result. It helped to kick-start my weight loss again.
"Slimming World has helped me break unhelpful habits I didn’t even know I had. Now, I make time at the weekend to plan all my meals for the week ahead, then do a food shop. That way, I’m never caught off guard – I use the Slimming World app if I’m not sure how many Syns a food contains. If I know I have to travel for work, I get up earlier to prepare a cool bag full of healthy meals and fruit to snack on.
When I eat out, I choose tomato-based sauces, grilled meats instead of fried, and swap chips for a side salad. While they’re only simple adjustments, they felt natural really quickly and have had an incredible impact on my weight loss.
"The slimmer I’ve become, the more active I’ve wanted to be, and that’s a shock because I was the girl who never did any exercise! These days, I do a spin class three times a week and I’ve built up from walking 5K to running the same distance. My feet are almost pain free now I’m not carrying so much weight.
With this new body...
"It was only when Michelle lent me a miniskirt that I felt slim for the first time. The zip on my skirt was broken, so Michelle went to get me one of hers... When she came downstairs she was holding this tiny thing! I looked at it, my family looked at me, I went and put it on – and it fitted perfectly! I’d never been able to fit into any of her clothes before. Moments like that remind me how far I’ve come.
I reached my 10st target in June last year, then reset it because I was determined to lose 6st in total. As a target member, I know it’s hugely important for me to carry on attending group; it keeps me focused and gives me the motivation and support I need for the week ahead.
"Danny has been a brilliant support, too, keeping me positive and reminding me how much I’ve already achieved whenever I’ve had a wobble along the way. He loves to try out new Slimming World recipes with me; dinner time has become real quality time for us, when we get together to cook, eat and catch up on each other’s day. And if it’s a nice evening, instead of sitting in front of the TV, we head out for a long walk – which I love.
"I’m a size 8 and 9st 3½lbs, which is amazing when you think that two-and-a-bit years ago I was firmly stuck in a comfort-eating rut. I’m fit, healthy and reinvigorated. My BMI has moved from the obese range to the healthy range, I no longer suffer from pain in my feet, legs or back, and my diary is jam-packed – my fellow members have become great friends of mine (they inspire me every day), and we meet up regularly for lunches, days out and social events planned throughout the year. Going to group has given me the confidence I needed – I love feeling slim and smart, and I get up early for work to give myself plenty of time to choose the day’s outfit. Getting dressed up for a night out with friends is something I actually look forward to and shopping for clothes – which I used to hate – is a favourite hobby of mine. Just as well, really, because I have to share my wardrobe now. Only last week, my twin sister asked if she could borrow one of my tops!"
My sister and me
Laura’s twin, Michelle, gives us her take on her sister’s weight-loss success
The old days: ‘I used to hate it when Laura was struggling with her weight and people would compare us because we’re twins. I knew how much being labelled “the big one” upset her. It really meant a lot to me when she joined Slimming World, and for the first time ever, I saw her relaxed about her eating and enjoying following a plan.’
Along the way: ‘The whole family wanted to help Laura reach her target. Mum would always cook her Slimming World dinners when she came to visit, and we’d encourage her to make healthy choices if we went out to a restaurant together.’
The new Laura: ‘The biggest difference in Laura isn’t her dress size, it’s her happiness. Her whole outlook on life has changed, and she’s more outgoing, confident and self-assured. I’m just so proud of her – and she’s determined to stay this way forever.’
*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.