Getting into my car to drive to work, I felt the summer sunshine warming my face and suddenly I had a better idea. It was a short journey, plus I figured the exercise would do me good, so I said to myself: ‘Actually, I think I’ll walk.’ I’d only got 50ft up the road when I was stopped in my tracks. I had cramp in my left calf and heel that was so bad it took my breath away. I managed a few more steps, wincing, before giving up, hobbling back to my car and driving to work, a children’s soft-play centre run by my sister, Michelle. 

My foot began bothering me most days and I couldn’t wear flat sandals any more or walk far without pain. I spent all summer in sweaty trainers and struggled with being on my feet at work. But when Michelle and I went out with our friends to the bar just outside our village on a Saturday night, I was quite comfortable in my block heels. It made no sense! 

After eight months of putting up with it, I saw my GP, who referred me to a podiatrist – a healthcare professional specialising in the feet and lower limbs. After she’d checked me over, she said: ‘You have plantar fasciitis in your left foot.’ She gave me special insoles to support the arches of my feet, and showed me stretches to do at home to ease the ache in my calves. The reason wearing heels sometimes helped, she said, was because it shortened the calf muscles, easing the cramping. I did some research online and found plantar fasciitis occurs when a band of tissue that helps support the arch of the foot becomes inflamed, and that it’s often worse in the mornings. I also discovered that carrying extra weight can raise your risk. 

That struck a chord with me. My size-16 jeans had been feeling tight for a while. Since having my younger son, Alfie, my weight had crept up. And over the last few years, being uncomfortable with my size had quietly eroded my confidence. 

I’d become so skilled at putting on a bubbly front I hadn’t realised that underneath, I really didn’t feel OK. 

That Christmas, in 2016, Michelle and the rest of our family were at my house, and we were sitting on the sofa talking about Davina McCall’s show This Time Next Year. Feeling a bit merry, I joked: ‘This time next year, I’m going to be 3st lighter!’ There was a pause, then I burst out laughing. I’d never been able to lose weight when I’d tried before, and it sounded like the most far-fetched idea. 

The final straw

Days later, when a picture of me on New Year’s Eve in my red party dress popped up on Facebook, I couldn’t believe it – I just didn’t recognise myself. But even though I wanted to be slimmer, I still found myself having two or three takeaway burger meals during the week. 

Snacking at night was my real Achilles heel (no pun intended!) and one reason I’d never stuck to diets I’d tried.

Then one morning, in May 2017, I was leaving the house when I bumped into a woman called Kerry, who lived in my village. She was handing out leaflets for her new Slimming World group, and we chatted over the gate for 20 minutes. She was so friendly, I decided to give her group a go. 

That first evening, my mind was racing so much that I wasn’t really taking in what Kerry was saying in the new-member talk. Everyone in the group seemed to be getting along with Food Optimising, yet I told myself it was all too complicated for me. I still set myself a target – to lose 3st – but I couldn’t imagine reaching it.

A little later on, settled on the sofa, I realised that I’d probably only felt that way because the whole idea was so new to me, and maybe I should give it a proper chance. So I read through my Food Optimising book as Kerry had encouraged me to do. Sure enough, as I was reading it, I realised that it wasn’t complicated at all... 

The next day, I shopped for potatoes, lean meat, spices, lots of fruit and vegetables, as well as some lower Syn snack options. I’d decided I’d be using most of my Syns on snacks, knowing that come the evening, I’d want a bag of crisps or some sweets. 

The following week at group, I stepped on the scales and beamed: I’d lost 5½lbs! 

From then on, I really began to believe in myself. Being able to have a packet of low Syn crisps at night while watching telly made a world of difference, as it was where I’d always come unstuck when I’d tried to lose weight before. 

Now that I was cooking from scratch, too, it surprised me how much I enjoyed it. I made slow-cooker curries and bought 5% fat meatballs, which I cooked with canned tomatoes and Speed Food veg and ate with home-made sweet potato chips

By the time summer arrived, not only had I lost 2st, but the pain in my foot and ankle had all but disappeared! That spurred me to start introducing some Body Magic into my week. My cousin gave me a bike; I also began walking to and from work, and invested in a weighted hula hoop. 

Autumn came, and my waist had shrunk to 28ins and my legs, hips, stomach and back felt toned and strong. I realised I hadn’t had any pain in my foot or calf for ages. When I saw the podiatrist for my follow-up appointment, she was delighted with my progress, agreeing the weight loss would have helped speed my recovery. Discharging me from her books, she joked, ‘I hope I never see you again!’ And I agreed with her wholeheartedly. 

Far from struggling to achieve the 3st weight loss target I’d set myself, I ended up losing 5st in 15 months.

I kept going to group every week, where everyone was bursting with ideas. We’d all become great problem-solvers, supporting each other with any worries or blocks we were having – and I needed them now as much as ever, as I found the right balance to maintain my weight long term. I was thrilled to bits when my group voted me their Miss Slinky in 2017 and Greatest Loser in 2018. 

The next chapter

Food Optimising has become a way of life, and my relationship with food has completely changed. I’m no longer ruled by my need for snacks, yet if I fancy something, I’ll have it using my Syns. During lockdown, I stuck to my usual food shop and eating plan, which I’m so pleased about.

My life feels balanced now, and all the more enjoyable for it. For years I tried to disguise my low self-esteem behind my bubbly personality, but reaching my goals has boosted my confidence no end. Now, the happy, content person you see on the outside tallies with how I really feel on the inside! 

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