We’d agreed to meet outside the cinema for our first date and, as I saw a smiling figure walking towards me, I couldn’t believe my luck. Sarah-Jane was just as stunning as her pictures had suggested.

It’s funny, I can’t ever remember seeing you out anywhere,’ I said. ‘You’d think we’d have met before.’ She gave me a quizzical smile, then said: ‘I think there’s a good chance we did, though you won’t have recognised me – I have changed quite a lot.’ She showed me pictures of her before she’d lost 6½st with Slimming World.

That was back when I’d been going through a very tough time in my life. After a difficult relationship break-up I was determined to do the best for my two young sons, Jamie and Bobby. We had no place to live and I’d turned to a charity for the homeless, which found us accommodation. Unemployed and coping alone, I felt like my life had reached a new low. I ate either fish and chips or a kebab every single night for months.

Finding love – and Food Optimising!

My confidence was waning; however, I was on Facebook one night when I saw an advert for Tinder, the dating app. Although I didn’t feel like I was much of a catch, I matched with Sarah-Jane and before the day was out, we were messaging each other.

After that first date, we started to spend more and more time together. Sarah-Jane would invite me over to her home and began cooking me tasty Slimming World versions of meals I already loved.

She made omelettes packed with mushrooms and bacon, shepherd’s pie (with a twist!) and pasta dishes packed with veg. She even made a trifle for dessert!

After seven months in the hotel, the boys and I were offered a home. With the excitement of moving I wasn’t thinking about my weight – though all the time I was enjoying regular Food Optimising meals at Sarah-Jane’s place, and she was gently reminding me that I’d have great results if I would only go to group with her.

Eventually I agreed to see what all the fuss was about, even though I was worried about being a man going into what seemed like a woman’s domain.

When I walked in I saw that there were other men in the group and it reassured me a bit. And the Consultant, Lorraine, was fantastic.

Listening as she explained the plan, and remembering the amazing food I’d been eating at Sarah-Jane’s house, I was ready to give it a go. Stepping on the scales and finding out I weighed 17st 5lbs was a bit of a shock, though – I decided that it was time to get cracking.

Transforming my life

Fully discovering how much I could eat with Slimming World was a fantastic surprise – it seemed like nothing was off the menu! I’d start my days with a big Food Optimising cooked breakfast. For lunch, I’d use my Healthy Extra bread with skinless cooked chicken to make a toasted sandwich, which I’d eat with a salad. Afternoon snacks would be fruit, Free yogurt or a Hi-fi bar (from group).

Sarah-Jane taught me how to make all the recipes she loved, including chilli and tacos, and how to load up my meals with Speed vegetables. I could even have chips and wedges, cooked the Slimming World way. 

Within two weeks, I’d lost a stone. I felt I’d been eating more than ever before, and enjoying it, while the weight was just falling away.

As my physique changed, so did my life. My confidence increased – after losing more than 3st in three months, I was full of energy, too.

I felt as though the boys had got their dad back and, instead of trailing far behind them, I could run through the park alongside them without breaking into a sweat.

It took me eight months to reach my 12st 5lb target. Around that time, I got a job in a sweet shop. It was challenging – and still is at times! But my Food Optimising lunches keep me on track.

She said yes!

Sarah and I both loved the idea of becoming Slimming World Consultants. Shortly before our groups were to launch in Dublin, we each sent a little story about our weight loss journeys to the local newspapers. Both were published, and mine also drew the attention of the RTÉ One television show Today with Maura and Dáithí.

At the end of the show, the hosts handed over to me and I was already down on one knee holding out the diamond ring I’d bought in Dublin. Everyone in the studio seemed to have left their posts to come and watch. ‘I’m half the man I was when I met you,’ I said to Sarah-Jane. ‘Will you marry me?’ Sarah-Jane put her hands to her mouth and nodded, crying out, ‘Yes!’ – making me the happiest man in the whole of Ireland that day.

We’re saving for a house together now, and marriage will follow. I can’t wait for us to say our vows with my boys, now seven and five, at our side. I know that with the positive lifestyle changes we both gained at Slimming World there’s a happy, healthy future awaiting all of us.

Slimming World Food Optimising surprises

At his lowest point, Ian lived on fish and chips and kebabs, which left him overweight and feeling unhealthy. With Slimming World, you can eat healthier versions of these classic takeaways that will taste great and leave you feeling fantastic. Prepare to be surprised by these five Food Optimising favourites!

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