My weight gain began at secondary school, when I’d got into the habit of eating sausage rolls, cakes and sweets at break time. By the time I was 14, I weighed 14st. I hid my embarrassment well, telling myself I was ‘the funny one’ with the big personality. The only person who really knew how I felt was my mum, who always did her best to boost my confidence. 

When I was 24, I met my fiancé, Dave, on a night out in London. As he never once commented on my size, I’d tell myself that if it didn’t matter to him, it didn’t matter to me. We’d spend our evenings curled up on the sofa, watching TV with a bucket of fried chicken or a Chinese takeaway. And while Dave didn’t put on an ounce, soon I could barely fit into a size 20 and I started to feel increasingly unhappy about my shape.

Then, in April 2014, I found out I was pregnant. I indulged my cravings for chocolate biscuits and told myself I’d lose weight after our baby had come along. But at 22 weeks, my waters broke. I knew it was far too early. The doctors did everything they could, but they couldn’t save our baby. The future I’d dreamt of, all the plans we’d made to start our family together, were gone. We named our little boy David and leaving the hospital without him was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Just as I had with my feelings about my weight, I put on a brave face and tried to keep my grief and sadness locked away. Although there was no medical evidence to support it, I blamed the fact that I’d been overweight for David’s death. Eating became a way to quieten my constant, tortured thoughts of ‘what if’ – and, in some ways, it was as though I was punishing myself for what had happened.

I just about got through each day, eating anything that was convenient and watching my weight slowly creep up.

Then, nine months after I lost David, I fell pregnant again, and I was terrified that we would never get to meet our much-wanted baby. I was closely monitored and although everything looked fine, at 27 weeks history repeated itself when my waters broke. Just like last time, Dave took me to hospital, only this time instead of being rushed into theatre, I was given steroid injections to prevent the labour from starting.

I was sent home to rest, but just a week later a contraction stopped me in my tracks. I willed my unborn child to stay put as Dave rushed me back to the maternity unit. This time, though, the doctors couldn’t stop my labour and hours later, it was time for me to push. I saw the midwife lift a tiny, fragile baby, and then I heard a cry. Our baby was alive! But before I could hold him, our son was whisked off to the neonatal unit.

Later that day, I finally got the chance to meet our little boy, who we’d named William. As I looked at him, tears flowed down my cheeks. Although he could fit into the palm of my hand and was wired up to countless machines, he’d made it. In the weeks that followed, I barely left William’s side as he fought one obstacle after another. I didn’t think about myself, eating anything to give me the sugar rush I thought I needed to keep going.

By the time we took William home at seven weeks old, my size-28 clothes were uncomfortably tight. I knew something had to change, so I found a local Slimming World group – but I hadn’t envisaged how exhausted the sleepless nights would leave me. Caring for a premature baby was a full-time job and after going for a few weeks just to weigh in and leave again, I decided it wasn’t the right time for me to try to lose weight.

As William grew, I struggled to do all the things I wanted to do as his mum. Just getting up and down off the floor to play with him left me shattered, and I worried that it would only get harder the bigger I got. At the same time, I was back and forth to the doctors after being diagnosed with gallstones. When I begged my GP to help me get rid of the agonising pains, he explained that it wasn’t safe to operate until I’d lost some weight.

Time for a change

William’s first birthday party was the final straw – I really struggled to keep up with him, gasping for breath and grimacing with pain. Something clicked in my mind. I had to lose weight and improve my health, not just for my sake, but for William’s, too. I decided to give myself a fresh start at a different Slimming World group. Despite it being the start of December, with Christmas coming up and a holiday booked, I wasn’t going to wait a moment longer. My enthusiasm didn’t come without fear, though. Would I be the biggest person there? Worse still, would everyone be judging me for my size? Remembering that I was doing this for William, I pushed those thoughts aside and walked in.

Instantly, I was reminded what a safe, friendly place group was, and that nobody was going to make rude comments or think badly of me for having gained weight. Still, when I saw 18st 4½lbs flash up on the scales, I was shocked – it seemed like a real mountain to climb. My Consultant, Paula, assured me everyone was there to help me get to where I wanted to be and, feeling fired up, I went home ready to make changes.

I knew my biggest challenge was going to be getting to grips with making healthy food – I’d never cooked a home-made meal in my life. So I started off just following a few basic Food Optimising recipes.

Each time I enjoyed a tasty plateful of food, it boosted my confidence, and I felt ready to try something a little more adventurous.

Before I knew it, I was making a cooked breakfast with lean bacon, chopped tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans – followed by a home-made chicken and sweetcorn soup for lunch, and anything from fishcakes and salad to a tomatoey pasta dish for dinner.

Taking it step by step

Because I was eating satisfying portions, I didn’t feel as drawn to the crisps, sausage rolls and bags of sweets that had been my comfort for so long. Instead, with lots of ideas from the other Slimming World members, I planned in treats each day using my Syns. For the first time in my life, I was looking at food as a way of giving me nourishment and energy, and that seemed to help curb my cravings. I also found posting my meals on Instagram helped keep me on track, and I was amazed at the amount of online encouragement I received.

Before I’d joined group, William had eaten separate meals to Dave and me – now I was finding most of the recipes went down a treat with him, too. I could batch-cook and freeze meals we all liked, such as meatball pasta, then grab a portion whenever I was busy. As I planned our week’s meals in advance, I soon discovered our new way of eating was saving us money, too. And I wasn’t nipping to the shops every day and picking up a basket of snacks while I was at it!

As the numbers on the scales started to drop, I felt ready to try doing some Body Magic. One day, I downloaded the Couch to 5K app, then pulled on my trainers and started to jog. After a few steps, I was gasping for breath, but I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. I followed the plan, slowly building up my time and distance, and three months later I completed a 10K Race for Life. Then, the following April, I entered the ballot for the 2018 London Marathon. My friends thought I was crazy, worried I’d never manage to complete the distance, but I wasn’t listening – I knew that, with determination, I could do anything! On the day of the London Marathon, when I crossed the finish line after six hours of running, I could hardly walk, but the smile on my face said it all!

The combination of Food Optimising and regular Body Magic meant that my shape was changing dramatically – now I had a waist!

Instead of hiding under baggy tops and dresses, I felt free to try on whatever I fancied. No more scouring the high street for anything that might work. Now I could walk into any shop and pick up a pair of skinny jeans or a little dress, and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t quite believe that slim woman was really me.

My new-found confidence and energy powered me through all the hectic, busy-mum days. Even now I was getting close to my target, there were still moments when I found life got in the way and I’d have the occasional gain on the scales. Over time, I learnt that those blips are just part of being human, and that getting straight back on plan is always the answer. I was grateful for that mindset when William was diagnosed with autism. It was a moment when I could have easily reverted back to my old habits of comfort eating, but I knew that, in the long run, it would only make me unhappy and unhealthy. I kept myself strong for William, knowing that more than ever he’d need a mum who could always give him her best, and that thought boosted my determination to keep my healthy lifestyle on track for good.

Making memories together

In January last year, I went for a routine check-up at the doctor’s. I told my GP I’d been losing weight, and that I hadn’t felt any gallstone pains for over six months. The doctor took one look at me and said: ‘I can’t believe how much weight you’ve lost. I wish more of my patients were like you!’ After he examined me, he told me that I no longer needed the gallstone surgery, and I felt extremely proud of myself – I’d done this!

In September last year, Dave, William and I stood together as I let go of a balloon shaped like the number five, on what would have been David’s fifth birthday. As the balloon floated skyward, I felt lighter, unburdened of the guilt I’d been carrying all these years. I know now that I didn’t let David down – and while I wish he could be sharing all the special memories we’re making as a family, I feel like he’s always here with us, spurring me on.

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