As my dachshund, Winston, raced through the front door and down the hallway, he narrowly missed my mum – and he wasn’t the only one who’d come home full of excitement. ‘Mum, I’ve just done 15,000 steps!’ I said, beaming. Considering my dog only had little legs, he loved going for long walks, and that was getting me more active, too.

The aroma of the Food Optimised halloumi and chickpea curry Mum was making filled the hall, and I remember suddenly realising how natural exercising and eating healthy food felt. Not so long ago, it had been a very different story…

Chocolate and crisps had been my go-to stress relievers while I was studying for my GCSEs. I’d buy two or three bags and bars at lunchtime and sneak them into my bedroom to eat in private later. I was the youngest of five sisters and, one evening, when I was about to serve myself seconds, one of my sisters gently suggested I might not need another portion. I knew she’d said it with the best of intentions, but I couldn’t help feeling slightly hurt. I already felt insecure about my acne, and I suppose I was in denial about my increasing weight. From then on, whenever I ate, I was convinced my family was judging me.

I felt so self-conscious, I’d claim I wasn’t hungry, then head upstairs, where I’d hidden a secret supply of bread and cheese along with my chocolate stash.

After I left school, I started an apprenticeship as a hairdresser. Rushing around, there was no time for chocolate and I noticed I was losing weight. Then I had an allergic reaction to some of the hair colours we used and I had to give up the job. Next, I got a job as a shop assistant, and with more time at home, I soon slipped back into my snacking habits.

While my weight was steadily rising, my sisters, Alex and Lydia, were both losing weight with Slimming World. One evening, Alex cooked me the most delicious dinner – a veggie chilli packed with lentils and veg, and served with potato wedges. Seeing me hesitate about serving myself some more, she smiled. ‘It’s alright,’ she said, ‘everything in the meal is on the Slimming World plan!’ That weekend, she baked breakfast muffins with eggs, bacon, fresh chives and feta, and they were truly out of this world.

Then, a few weeks later, she revealed to Mum and me that she now fitted into size-10 clothes – down from a size 18. ‘That’s it, I’m going to join!’ I said. Both Alex and Lydia went to group at times that weren’t convenient for me, so instead I looked hopefully at Mum, wondering if she might want to lose a few pounds. As though she’d read my mind, she said: ‘Why don’t I go with you?’

Trusting the plan

That first day at group, our Consultant, Donna, made Food Optimising sound so tempting and generous that Mum couldn’t quite believe it. ‘Oh, I’ll prove that wrong,’ she told Donna, chuckling. All week, she filled up on delicious Slimming World recipes, always including a third of a plate of Speed Free Foods, certain she wasn’t going to lose an ounce eating so well. Then, when she next stepped on the scales, she’d lost 4lbs. ‘But I’ve never eaten so much in my life!’ she said. I’d still been nervous about allowing myself to eat freely, but encouraged by Mum, I’d had three square meals a day and lost 2lbs. Mum and I immediately felt at home in the friendly group, and in between making the other members laugh, she learnt a lot.

And so did I – after finding out that skipping lunch and having a big takeaway milky coffee was more Syns than a filling Food Optimising pasta salad, I started to look at food in a much more positive light. One of the other group members was a chef who’d lost 8st, and as he described a couple of delicious-sounding puddings he’d made, it hit me – if he could lose so much and not have any issues about enjoying his food, then so could I. 

I felt like I was beginning to put my hang-ups around food behind me.

Stepping it up

The big deal for me was having Syns – it meant that when I ate chocolate I didn’t feel guilty, so I stopped eating in secret. And, over time, I realised I could do more with my Syns than just use them on chocolate – for example, I could have some extra grated cheese on my favourite Slimming World lasagne. Gradually, I ate less and less chocolate and far more fruit and veg, and having a healthy, balanced diet seemed to do wonders for my skin – it suddenly struck me that it was ages since my last acne flare-up.

I started working as a carer and moved to a new group which fitted around my shifts. As I inched towards my target of 8st 5lbs, something strange happened – I found myself wanting to get more active. My boyfriend, Joe, was a gamekeeper and worked with dogs all day, while Lydia had a beautiful dachshund called Betsy… and after lots of thought, I decided I was up for the responsibility of getting a dog of my own. Within a few weeks, I was the proud owner of Winston, a handsome dachshund pup. He quickly grew and needed a lot of exercise. Most of the time, we’d go to the park and he’d bound ahead, and not a day went by when I didn’t exceed 10,000 steps on the fitness tracker I’d bought myself. Even during the lockdowns, Winston needed his hour-long walk.

My puppy, Mabel (left), isnʼt quite as keen on walking as me and Winston yet, but Iʼm hoping sheʼll learn to love it!

Losing weight has given me so much more confidence in myself that I’ve been doing really well at university, where I’m studying fashion. And with Mum, Joe and, of course, Winston by my side, I know I can achieve anything. Winston now has a new friend of his own – Mabel, my new dachshund puppy. She’s not quite as keen on walking and I tell her I know how she feels – hey, I’ve been there! But the more I did it, the more I loved it, and I’m sure it will be the same for her. The best thing is, I feel like my relationship with food is completely back to normal. Actually, better than normal, because I don’t just feel OK about filling my plate – I love the way healthy eating makes me feel! 

Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.

If you’re planning to start a new exercise programme, we recommend you check with your GP first – especially if you have an existing health condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or asthma. If you’re pregnant, check the suitability of the exercise with your midwife.