Even at primary school, I remember being bigger than my friends – and the more I was teased by the other kids, the more I’d reach for food as a comfort, tucking into thick slices of buttered white bread, sandwiches and chocolate. Through my teens, I either soothed myself with bread, cheese and sweets, or skipped meals to lose weight. So, my mental health and my weight had always seemed connected.
After I left school and college, I started my first job working with children with autism, and I’d have a chocolate bar for breakfast and an egg mayonnaise baguette with chips for lunch, only getting a balanced meal when Mum cooked dinner in the evening. I began feeling very low and went to my GP, who put it down to tiredness and anaemia. I was convinced it was linked to my weight, though, so when my mum, Jeanne, joined Slimming World, I decided to give it a go, too. I lost 2st and for the first time in years I felt confident, happy and full of energy.
An emotional roller coaster
At 21, I fell pregnant with my twins, Tiana and Ella, followed by Evie two years later. They were the best things that had ever happened to me, but life wasn’t easy. I found myself raising them on my own, and the emotional ups and downs came with ups and downs for my weight. Then, in 2006, I met Chris. He loved the girls as though they were his own and, at last, I felt settled. When the twins were four, my mental health took a sudden turn for the worse. I went back to the doctor and, this time, I was prescribed antidepressants. They did help for a while, but I’d stop taking them as soon as I felt better, sinking into a low mood again and seeking comfort in food, until I went back on the medication. I stopped going out and never took the girls to the park, to play on our local beach or to go swimming.
I hated the idea of venturing out in public and became more and more reclusive.
Chris was as loving and patient as he could be. Inevitably, though, I could tell my mood swings and refusals to go anywhere were wearing him down. Then everything finally came to a head on holiday in 2013.
It was meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, but I’d never felt so low. I didn’t have the energy to go on rides and I refused to have my photo taken – it was very different from the magical family holiday I’d imagined. One evening, peering over the side of our hotel balcony to the ground far below, I briefly thought about jumping off it. The impulse really shocked me. When I told Chris, he was at a loss, saying: ‘But you have so much to be happy about.’ He was right, of course – he and my three girls were my absolute world. Yet that couldn’t stop those dark feelings from overwhelming me. I knew then that I needed a better way to manage my mental health, because I never wanted to feel that way again.
This time, alongside a new prescription for antidepressants, my GP referred me for counselling. Talking to a professional made a real difference, and I gradually learnt to rationalise my thoughts. By October 2014, I felt like I’d turned a corner. There was still something I felt really unhappy about, though – my weight.
In January 2015, I went back to my Slimming World group. I was nervous about returning, but when I walked in, my Consultant, Justine, gave me such a warm welcome that my fears began to ease. Stepping onto the scales and discovering I weighed 18st 2½lbs, I took a deep breath... I knew this was my chance to really make a change. Justine urged me to think about my dream weight, and I settled on a target of 10st 7lbs – telling myself, this time, I wouldn’t give up before I got there. The fear that my children might have to grow up without their mum had become my motivation.
Keeping it simple
Each morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and said: ‘You can do this today.’
In my first week, I lost 5½lbs, then the same again the following week. I started to get a bit more adventurous with my cooking, from butternut squash soup to home-made burgers with Slimming World chips, which the girls loved. Each time I got a half-stone award, I treated myself to a charm for my Pandora bracelet – a growing, permanent reminder of how far I’d come.
My self-esteem was gradually rising as my weight was going down. To get in some Body Magic, I started walking the dog, going a little further every day until I was walking for two hours. When a member at my group suggested trying a couch-to-5K running challenge, despite not being convinced I’d manage it, I decided to give it a go. Nine weeks later, I was running the full 5K – and buzzing!
By June 2016, I’d reached my target of 10st 7lbs and felt amazing. So when my mood suddenly dropped again, I couldn’t work out what was going on. I went back to the doctor and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder; a condition that can affect how you think, feel and interact with people. The more I learnt about it, the more it helped me manage my mental health ups and downs. Now, along with having lost weight, I felt as though a second burden had been lifted from me and, over time, I gradually came off the antidepressants altogether.
The future’s bright
I realised I wanted to help other people find the same self-worth I’d gained, and decided to train to become a Slimming World Consultant. In September 2018, I welcomed my very first new members, explaining I knew exactly how daunting starting a slimming journey can feel. At the same time, I set myself a new target of 9st 12lbs, promising my group I would be there with them every step of the way. A month after opening my first group, I reached my final target weight!
It’s hard to put into words how different life feels now. The person I used to be – the one who had a difficult relationship with food, and even experienced suicidal thoughts – seems unrecognisable. Since reaching target, I’ve never been on so many shopping trips with my daughters, or family visits to theme parks. But some of my favourite moments are when we’re all just hanging out together. Being with my family is the thing I love the most in the world, and I’m truly treasuring it.
Chris and me with our girls (from left), Ella, Tiana and Evie
How are you feeling?
Having good mental health can improve our relationships, our sleep and how we feel about ourselves, so it’s important to check in regularly on how we feel inside. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem, so whether you’ve been diagnosed with a condition, or you feel you’re struggling to cope at the moment, recognising how you’re feeling and finding the right support can really help. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your mental health, talk to your GP or visit slimmingworld.co.uk/mentalhealth for more information.
*Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.