Exhausted from a hectic day at work, I got comfortable on the couch with my two bearded collies, Loxley and Ludo, snuggled up at my feet. With a mug of hot chocolate and a plateful of biscuits on my lap, I felt the stresses of the day slowly fade away.
Relaxing with my dogs was just the tonic I needed at the end of a long nursing shift. Before long, though, I’d be back on my feet again to feed the rest of our ever-increasing menagerie of animals, including alpacas, horses and chickens. My husband, Eddie, and I had a smallholding and our much-loved pets brought me so much happiness and comfort, they were more than worth the time I spent looking after them. And I’d convinced myself that, because they needed me, I didn’t have time to tackle my weight.
I’d started getting heavier years earlier, when I qualified as a nurse and started working shifts. Around the same time I met Eddie, who was also a nurse, and together we got into the habit of snacking on sugary food. Then I moved into palliative care – helping to make the ends of people’s lives more comfortable – and as much as I loved my job, it could be emotionally draining. Packets of biscuits, chocolate bars and cakes were my pick-me-ups during my breaks, and when I got home, tiredness made convenience food and takeaways seem like the easiest option. I’d often put a large pizza or ready-made quiche, some veggie sausages and nearly a full bag of frozen chips in the oven to split with Eddie, followed by ice cream, cake or chocolate for dessert. Both our waistlines expanded year on year.
Now and then I’d try to lose some weight by dieting, but each time I’d quickly lose interest, slip back into old habits and put it all back on, plus a bit more.
Then, Eddie and I bought our first horse. We’d always loved animals and dreamt of eventually having our own smallholding. Over the next five years, our hopes started to come to fruition. We bought another two horses, then in 2012 we had the opportunity to buy some land and that’s when our animal family really began to expand. We soon added two alpacas (eventually building that up to nine!), five chickens, three ducks, two geese and a stable cat.
As our collection of animals grew, we got heavier, so the physical work of caring for them became harder. It would take two of us to cut the alpacas’ toenails and I found bending down to use the clippers almost impossible.
Then, in March 2016, Eddie and I were strolling along a Cornish beach on our annual holiday to the coast. While he and the dogs kept up a decent pace, I had to keep stopping. I pretended to take photos of the view on my phone, so I could catch my breath for a moment and then carry on. As I continued walking, I couldn’t stop thinking about how uncomfortable I’d felt recently in my size-24 trousers and shapeless tops. And, though we’d been doing the same walk for years, it had never been this tiring. I knew my weight was slowing me down.
First steps to a new life
A few months later, we were due to go on holiday to France, so I asked my friend Niki to take care of the animals while we were away. When she popped round to see what needed doing, I couldn’t believe how much weight she’d lost in just a few months. I complimented her on how great she looked and she invited me to go along to Slimming World with her when I got back from holiday. Later that evening, I was chatting it through with Eddie. ‘I hope Slimming World works as well for me as it did for Niki,’ I said. Eddie had an idea, too: ‘If you go to group, I’ll eat all the same food as you at home – maybe I’ll lose some weight as well.’ It was just what I needed to hear. Eddie had always been so supportive of anything I wanted to do and knowing he’d be following the plan alongside me gave me a real boost.
When we got back from France, though, I started to get cold feet. I’d been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 22, and being vegetarian as well, I worried there wouldn’t be enough choice for me. I felt I wouldn’t be able to stick to it, especially around looking after the animals and my tiring shifts at work. Still, I decided I’d at least give it a go and a couple of days later, I walked into my first Slimming World group. I was immediately made to feel welcome and, as my Consultant, Kath, explained Food Optimising, I realised there’d be lots for me to choose from that would fit around my lifestyle and what I’d been advised to eat to help manage my diabetes. So, when I stood on the scales and found I weighed 20st 5lbs, I was shocked, but determined that next week’s reading would be lower.
That night, feeling positive about the changes I was making, I planned a full week of meals and ordered all the groceries I needed online. In many ways, it felt like going back to basics.
I swapped all the processed ready meals and snacks we’d been buying for ingredients such as fresh vegetables, pulses, fat-free natural yogurt, pasta and dried couscous, and started cooking meals from scratch.
I was surprised at how easy it was to make a tasty Mediterranean veg pasta or a bean chilli. And, a week later, I stepped on the scales to find I was 5½lbs lighter!
After such an amazing first week, I had all the incentive I needed to carry on. Planning our meals in advance helped us keep on track, no matter how busy we were. We took turns doing the cooking, and would make delicious packed lunches of pasta salad with lots of Speed Food and home-made low Syn vegetarian Scotch eggs, which kept us feeling full and less inclined to snack. We made sure we planned our Syns in advance, too – I liked using some of mine for an indulgent dessert of meringue topped with fresh fruit and plain quark.
From the very beginning, Eddie and I went swimming twice a week. The first time, feeling self-conscious in my swimsuit, it took me an hour to do 20 lengths. As the pounds continued to come off and my energy levels rocketed, I was soon powering through a length a minute! Oddly, despite the fact we were cramming more activities into our already hectic week, Eddie and I felt like we had more time on our hands. I think part of it was that the physical daily chores of looking after the animals were taking less and less time, and even cutting the alpacas’ toenails was getting easier!
Now that I could be more efficient on the smallholding, I had more time to experiment with new recipes. It wasn’t long before I’d built up a repertoire of favourite Food Optimising meals I knew I could cook easily after a busy day – such as butternut squash and lentil curry, or mixed pepper omelette and salad. I was enjoying my food and still losing weight. While sometimes I lost 3lbs and other times 1lb or 2lbs, the thing that surprised me most was that when the scales didn’t move, or I’d gained a little, I carried on. Rather than giving up, as I would have done before, I’d listen to Kath’s encouragement at group and not let myself get demotivated.
Having fun with fitness
As my weight came down, my self-esteem and confidence grew. Eddie started running about three months after I’d joined group and I soon caught the running bug, too! I started with really short distances, gradually going further and further, until I was taking part in free, local 5K Parkruns with Eddie. We eventually progressed to 10K races, then half-marathons, and canicross events – where you run with your dog strapped to you with a harness, waistband and lead. It was tremendous fun, and I got to spend even more time with Loxley and Ludo.
Soon my work colleagues started to see the change in me and there were a couple of funny moments when friends I hadn’t seen in a while had to do a double take. Then, in October 2017, I stood on the scales and almost cried with joy when the numbers flashed up: 11st 12lbs. I’d reached my target!
After years of thinking that trying to lose weight was futile, I felt so proud of myself. And I was bursting with pride for Eddie, too, who’d lost 5st just by eating the same meals as me.
At a routine health check soon after, it was a delight to see the surprise on my doctor’s face when I stepped onto the scales. Then he gave me the news I’d been waiting for – that I had my diabetes under much better control, and I could also come off the medication I’d been taking for years to help control my blood pressure and cholesterol levels. As I left the room, I felt elated. I’d done it! I’d beaten the cycle of losing and gaining weight, and found a way to slim that I enjoyed – and that made my life so much better!
One of my biggest dreams had always been to climb Snowdon. And last summer, with rucksacks on and Loxley and Ludo in tow, we marched up the mountain barely pausing for breath. As I stood at the peak, enjoying the breathtaking scenery, I reflected on my journey. Back in 2016, after I’d lost just over a stone, Eddie and I had only managed a small part of the route, and it had seemed like such a triumph at the time. One year later, there I was – at the top of the mountain. I’m now considering a marathon, or maybe a triathlon, and I can’t wait to tackle a Go Ape course and go kayaking. Whatever I’m doing, whether I’m striding up a mountain or mucking out the alpacas, I’m so glad I found a way to take control of my weight. Who knows what I’ll do next!’
Emma’s day on a plate
Breakfast: Toast or a teacake with butter and marmalade.
Lunch: Shop-bought cheese sandwich and a packet of crisps.
Dinner: Quiche, pizza or a ready meal with oven chips, followed by ice cream.
Snacks: Crisps, chocolate bars and cakes.
Breakfast: Overnight oats with fat-free natural yogurt and fruit.
Lunch: Roasted-veg couscous, or a Healthy Extra wholemeal pitta filled with Quorn slices and salad.
Dinner: Butternut squash and lentil curry with rice, or a jacket potato with home-made bean chilli.
Snacks: Apples, melon, and a meringue nest filled with plain quark and strawberries.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.