It had been a wonderful holiday in Croatia and I couldn’t wait to relive the memories. But as my boyfriend, Dave, scrolled through the photos on his phone, I spotted something that burst my bubble – the picture of me on a Segway taken just a few days before. I didn’t recognise myself.

Until my teens, I’d been a super-fit competitive gymnast. And while I didn’t want to go back to the rigours of competitive gymnastics, I knew I wanted to be slimmer than the girl on the Segway.

I’d heard about Slimming World, so I found some recipes online and tried them. I was delighted when I started losing weight.

I wondered if I was missing out on the support of going to group, so I found one in Cardiff, where I was at university.

To be honest, I was worried group wasn’t for me. I was anxious I’d be the only teenager there. I also wondered how I’d afford healthy ingredients on a tight budget. As I chatted to my Consultant, Alison, though, I knew I’d made the right decision. She suggested trying frozen vegetables, as they’re cheaper and last longer. And everyone in the group was so friendly.

Food Optimising was a change from any way I’d eaten before. When I was on the gymnastics team, my diet was strictly controlled to support my training. Then when I retired from the squad, aged 16, I ate all the foods I’d denied myself – chocolate, fast-food burgers and chips!

I quickly went up two dress sizes. Then I started university and threw myself into socialising, and went up a couple more sizes. Feeling uncomfortable, I tried meal-replacement shakes, which left me tired and grumpy. I gave up after a fortnight, believing there was no happy medium – I could either eat and gain weight, or be miserable and slim.

As the number on the scales climbed, I put my figure-hugging dresses to the back of the wardrobe. Instead I lived in baggy jumpers and leggings. I still loved fashion, though, and spent hours saving screenshots of the outfits I wished I could wear.

While I loved the idea of going out with the girls, I hated shopping for something to wear. I’d leave the changing room feeling dismayed, and the moment we had to get dressed for the evening, my mood would take a further nosedive. It wasn’t unusual for me to do my hair and make-up, then refuse to go out because I didn’t feel comfortable in any of my clothes.

Discovering Slimming World

Then something happened in my first week at group to really boost my confidence – I lost 5½lbs. Sunday night, I planned my meals for the week and batch-cooked my dinners, made overnight oats for breakfast, and stocked up on the ingredients for home-made tomato soup for lunch.

After a few weeks, my mum, Deb, said: “I’m going to join, too.” When I was away at uni, we’d text each other with recipes, low Syn treats we’d found in the supermarket, and how we were feeling before and after weigh-in. And when I went home, Mum would cook my favourite Syn free dinners, including spaghetti Bolognese, and send me back to uni with meals to freeze.

My weight loss continued to fall steadily at 1-2lbs a week. To help keep myself motivated, I started an Instagram page (@chloephillips_sw) and posted everything I ate. 

In time, I realised going out with the girls was becoming more fun. As I dropped two dress sizes, I stopped limiting selfies just to my face, and started letting other people take full-length pictures. It was so liberating to feel comfortable in my own skin again.

As I learned about the importance of Body Magic, I felt torn. Wanting to see the benefits of regular exercise without putting pressure on myself again, I joined the gym. I started doing some cardio on the treadmill, but it wasn’t for me.

Instead, I parked my car further away when I went to places like the supermarket, and took the stairs whenever I could. As I got fitter, I joined a Zumba class and started running – and even took part in a Race for Life with my Bristol group. Body Magic helped me fall back in love with activity.

By the time I reached my target, losing 3st 3½lbs, I felt very different about hitting the high street. I’d already stopped saving screenshots of the bodycon dresses and cold-shoulder tops I dreamt of wearing. Now, I was buying them – in a size 8! In came a whole new wardrobe, which I’m still adding more beautiful clothes to.

Sometimes I bump into old sixth-form friends when I’m out in Bristol with Dave, and they don’t recognise me. It gives me a huge boost and leaves me brimming with pride. And my time with Dave seems even more special now I’m not worrying about how I look. This year we’ve been on a cruise around the Adriatic and on holiday to Turkey, and the pictures are every bit as lovely as the memories.

The biggest change in me has been on the inside – I’m so much happier about myself, and no longer feel guilty about my food choices. I’ve found a way to eat that makes me feel great. In short, I love the new me – and she’s staying around for good!

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