Losing weight as a gluten-free slimmer
4st 8lbs* lighter, Louise Jansen from St Albans, Hertfordshire shares the key stages on her journey from overweight and miserable, to slim and self-assured at 54.
#1 Having a health scare
Around 12 years ago, I started suffering from some worrying symptoms. I found myself rushing to the toilet a lot after eating and noticed bleeding from the bowel. Ten years earlier, my mum Judy had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and my immediate thought was, ‘it’s happening to me’. I will never forget quite how scared I was.
After a series of tests, specialists discovered that, rather than having cancer, I had coeliac disease – an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakes substances found in gluten as a threat and attacks them. It was serious and I was told I needed to overhaul my diet completely.
#2 Going gluten-free
Up until then, I’d never really had any trouble with my weight. I remember when I was much younger being called a ‘little weed’ as I was so tiny! Even after having three babies (Harriet, Zoë and George), I was still a dress-size 10/12 and around 9st. I probably did put on a few pounds after meeting my second husband Paul, 22 years ago. He started making all our meals as he’s a keen cook and we enjoyed tucking into his lovely big dinners. I certainly wasn’t complaining, even if it meant my weight did creep up a little.
Now, though, the coeliac diagnosis was having a big impact on my body and I had to give up many foods I once enjoyed, including my favourite goodies from the local bakery. And I was feeling really sorry for myself, too. So, when shopping for gluten-free foods, I’d head straight for the cakes, breads and sweets section, thinking ‘if I can’t have my old foods, I’ll tuck into these – at least they’re gluten-free’.
My weight suffered as I cheered myself up with treats and in just a few years my shape changed drastically. When I went for my annual check-up with the coeliac specialist, I’d be consistently a stone heavier each year. I felt so embarrassed. I just didn’t feel like me any more. I hated going into changing rooms and couldn’t bear to look at the now shapeless legs I’d once been so proud of. Paul was great about it, but inside, I knew how much I’d changed. My job as a dental nurse involves working in quite a confined space and I was finding it increasingly difficult to manoeuvre around the equipment. People even used to ‘joke’ that I looked like I was having twins. Whereas I’d been quite fit before, now my knees were painful and I was struggling for breath just climbing the stairs. And the thought of wearing a swimsuit at the pool on holiday made me cringe. I so desperately wanted to be trim again.
#3 Finding my ‘why’
Despite feeling miserable, it took a long time for me to find the right moment to make a positive change. It finally came last May, when my elder daughter Harriet announced she was planning to get married in June 2015. It was just the motivation I needed. I immediately knew I wanted to lose weight for her and be the sort of elegant mother of the bride she would be proud of on her special day.
So when I spotted a banner advertising my local Slimming World group, I plucked up the courage to call. The voice on the other end was very friendly and encouraging, and I tentatively went along the next week. I was so nervous! Right from that very first meeting, though, I was blown away by the support – I genuinely hadn’t expected it to be that way. The group spirit was amazing and I immediately wanted to succeed not just for me, but for the lovely, inspiring people I’d met there, too.
When our fabulous Consultant Denise explained the eating plan to me, including all the Free Foods I could eat, and how to use Healthy Extras, I remember thinking that for the first time in my life, I’d found something I could stick to.
#4 …and my ‘how’
Once I was into the swing of things, it was quite easy to adjust to Food Optimising and I soon realised it was all about being organised. Now we started planning what we were going to eat for the whole week before going shopping. And I made sure I had time in the mornings to have a filling breakfast (fat-free natural Greek-style yogurt with fresh fruit and a Healthy Extra serving of chopped cashew nuts) and also to prepare a healthy meal for lunch.
Paul threw himself into cooking Slimming World recipes in the evenings – we particularly loved the curries and they’ve stayed firm favourites.
I often swapped my evening glass of wine (or two!) for sparkling water, using my Syns to enjoy tortilla chips with it. Sweet treats were on the menu, too, such as a pot of Hartley’s No Added Sugar Jelly or a square or two of dark chocolate.
It worked! I lost 5½lbs in my first week and 7lbs the next. I dug out an old photograph of Paul and me on holiday in the Norfolk Broads back in 1997 and used it as inspiration, telling myself I wanted my legs to look that good again! The support and encouragement I got from Denise and the other members gave me a boost as well, and my weight losses soon settled at around 2lbs a week, so that by the end of August I had lost more than 2st.
#5 Feeling target-tastic
As the numbers on the scales went down, I found my energy levels shot up. I ditched the car or bus and put on my trainers and began walking. I walk as often as I can now – I always go on foot to Denise’s group, come wind, rain or shine. And Paul and I love to go on long walks together, too. I also joined a Zumba class. At my first one, I remember standing there feeling a bit silly, but it didn’t take long before I really got into it and started looking forward to the dance workouts and fun music week after week.
When I reached my target on 15 December 2014, I felt absolutely fantastic. I had given myself a year to get there and managed it in just six months!
We went on holiday and rather than dreading wearing a swimsuit in public, I strode out across the beach to the sea with complete confidence – it was great! Now, if I do occasionally put a couple of pounds back on, I just get straight back to following the plan – and, of course, I’ve had Harriet’s wedding to help keep me on track for the past year! By March this year, I’d actually smashed my original target of 9st. I’ve now lost 4st 8lbs* and am happily settled at a revised target of 8st 8lbs.
#6 Being mum of the bride
I wore the most gorgeous pink dress on Harriet’s big day – I felt wonderful in it. My family’s so proud of me and I know my mum would be, too. She passed away in July 2012 and I’ve always had to wear her wedding ring on a necklace – I’m thrilled I’m now slim enough for it to fit on my finger. My daughters love my new wardrobe. I’m wearing jeans for the first time in years and have just bought a little black dress – I never thought I’d be doing that in my 50s. Patients at the dental surgery hardly recognise me now I’ve swapped my size 16/18 uniform for a 10. And I’ve never been fitter; I’m practically skipping around the dentist’s chair! I never dreamed I could feel like this. I’m so much more excited about life. I’ve realised that if you want something, you just have to go for it. You really can achieve anything you want – whatever your age.
My go-to gluten-free foods
- Breakfast Total 0% Greek yogurt with loads of chopped fresh fruit, or Nairn’s Gluten Free Oat Muesli as a Healthy Extra
- Lunch Dietary Specials Herb & Onion Crackers (1 Syn each) topped with low-fat natural cottage cheese, tomatoes and peppers, or gluten-free Glorious! SkinnyLicious Thai Tuk-Tuks & Turmeric Soup (half a 600g pot is a Healthy Extra)
- Snacks Satsumas, kiwi fruits and grapes
- Dinner Gluten-free Debbie & Andrew’s Harrogate 97% Pork Sausages (they’re 2½ Syns each and the best I’ve found) with mash and greens; salmon with new potatoes and broccoli; or home-made Slimming World curry with rice
*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.