Smoothing down my smart, tailored dress, I walked confidently through the airport, full of excitement about my upcoming work trip. As an international trade union officer, overseas conferences like the one I was heading to were all part of the job. But only a couple of years earlier, I’d felt quite differently about flying off to mix with high-level delegates and talk to representatives from all over Europe. All my work outfits had become so uncomfortable, I’d ended up travelling in loose clothes, then having to change quickly when I got there. And even smartened up, I still worried people might think I looked unprofessional in my too-tight clothing.
My weight had crept up without me really noticing. For most of my adult life I’d been a size 14, then when I was 38, doctors discovered a polyp in my nose. Thankfully, it turned out to be benign, but as I was recovering from the surgery to remove it, I used food to help make myself feel better.
Before I knew it, fish finger sandwiches and huge bowls of cereal had become a regular habit, and I’d often pick up a takeaway after finishing work.
My role, supporting and promoting the international agenda of a civil service trade union, involved regular trips away, and socialising with colleagues was a big part of the job. That meant eating out a lot, and as I gradually went up the dress sizes and my clothing choices narrowed, I found it harder to be as well-presented as I wanted to be.
I’d been having problems with my knees for years, and in 2015, on a girls’ trip to Derbyshire, they hurt so much I could barely climb the stairs. My GP suggested that a walking stick might help... so now, instead of carrying a stylish handbag, I had to use a rucksack. Suddenly, my style was being dictated by my health, and since I was already worried about looking unprofessional, it felt like a real blow.
A year later, during a flare-up of pain, I reacted to some medication and ended up being admitted to hospital for a blood transfusion. This time, I didn’t bounce back as quickly as I had after having surgery, and my self-esteem took a knock. While I was housebound, friends came over armed with shepherd’s pies, cakes and goodies to cheer me up.
I accepted their gifts gratefully, and during my slow recovery I gained another stone or so.
In June 2018, a friend and I booked a trip to Portugal. I’d lost my mum, Olive, eight months earlier, so it was just what I needed. But as we sat in the sun and showed each other the photos we’d taken, my heart sank when I saw one of me. I was the biggest I’d ever been. Back home, I was browsing through Facebook when I saw that a friend had lost over 9st with Slimming World. That night, I searched online for my nearest group – and found that it was the very next evening. Feeling my resolve waver, I gave myself a pep talk. ‘If you want to lose weight, you’re going to need to find the courage to go to that group,’ I said out loud. I crossed my fingers that it would be different to the diets I’d tried in the past, when, bored and lacking motivation, I’d given up after a couple of weeks.
Fired up for change
It seemed very different that first night at group, which gave me hope. I’d always thought I wasn’t much of a cook, but my Consultant, Maria, had assured me that anyone could get the hang of Food Optimising. I started with quick meals, such as home-made egg wraps filled with turkey rashers and shredded lettuce, and started batch cooking pasta sauces to keep in the fridge. Now, instead of nipping out of work for a meal deal at lunchtime, I’d have a tub of my spicy chicken and vegetable couscous, and snack on Slimming World houmous with veg sticks. Then, when I got home, I’d heat up a portion of bolognese and have it with spiralised carrots and some broccoli.
Even when I was working away from the office, I’d take a chicken and pasta salad and plenty of fresh fruit with me, as well as a couple of Hi-fi bars, which I got from my Slimming World group.
And it was working – after a month I was a stone lighter and had already dropped a couple of dress sizes.
I went for walks during my lunch hour, and five months after joining Slimming World I completed the London Bridges Challenge, a 10-mile walk, for Diabetes UK. It was only after I’d crossed the finish line that I noticed what was missing – the pain in my knees. That confirmed something I’d never dared admit to myself before – that my weight had been a factor in my knee problems. Feeling inspired, I put together a workout of up to 30 minutes that I did at home most days. I’d jog on the spot, and hold hand weights while doing boxing-inspired air punches and uppercuts, spurring myself along by putting on my favourite upbeat music – anything from soul classics to the soundtrack for Hamilton the musical.
When I reached my 10st target in December 2018, I felt like myself again. It gave me such a boost when my colleagues commented on a new dress I was wearing, or how I’d paired a tailored top with some cropped trousers. Feeling back to my best gave me the extra confidence I needed for the new role I’d taken on, too, which involved meeting with MPs during parliamentary drop-in sessions
Four months later, I turned 60, and I couldn’t wait to get glammed up. After years of feeling restricted to flat shoes, knowing even a low heel was likely to make my knee so painful the swelling would last for days, I took great pleasure in rounding off my outfit with a pair of elegant 2in heels. And as my friends and I enjoyed afternoon tea at a top London hotel, a real treat, I felt so excited at what my next decade might have in store…
And I didn’t have long to wait! The following months involved one business trip after another, first Vienna, then Dublin, and then the Trade Union Congress. Determined to look the part, I even colour-coordinated my wardrobe with the stand I was staffing. As I chatted to the delegates and visitors, I felt on top of the world, knowing I could give my all to my work. Wherever life takes me, my new-found confidence is here to stay.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.