Chatting with a group of friends I hadn’t seen in ages, I saw a man I didn’t recognise walking towards me smiling and I wondered if I should know him. Then, I suddenly twigged... ‘Rob!’ I said, ‘you look great! How have you lost so much weight?’ It was only a few months since I’d seen my friend and he looked in the best shape of his life. Rob laughed: ‘Thanks, I joined Slimming World!’ As we caught up, he told me that weight loss had finally clicked for him because he’d done it without ever going hungry. 

While we talked, I self-consciously adjusted the uncomfortable waistband of my 48in trousers. Deep down, I wanted to tackle my own weight issues, but the thought of feeling deprived had been putting me off. Later that night, I told my wife, Jacqui, that Rob had mentioned Slimming World. ‘Well, this is the perfect chance for both of us to lose weight,’ she said. ‘There’s a group in town – why don’t we go along?’ Now wondering if I should have kept it to myself, I mumbled, ‘Yeah, let’s see how it goes.’ I definitely wasn’t ready to commit to joining what I thought was a women’s slimming group, even if it had worked for Rob. 

Not long afterwards, I received some shocking news: my brother-in-law had had a heart attack. He was such a fit guy and the last person I’d ever expected to collapse at work. At his bedside in the hospital, I found myself reflecting on my own mortality. I knew being overweight raised my heart attack risk. If it had happened to a slim, healthy man like him, was I just living on borrowed time? He made a full recovery, but it was a huge scare.

Being honest with myself

Jacqui and I were out one evening with my pal, Marcus, and his wife, Julie, when he said: ‘We’ve been discussing what it’s going to be like when it’s just the three of us.’ Confused, I asked him what he meant. ‘Well, you’re not going to be around as long as the rest of us, are you?’ he said. It was exactly what I’d been thinking at my brother-in-law’s bedside, and to hear it said aloud in that blunt but well-meaning way... well, suddenly it felt like the world was trying to tell me something. 

So I stopped coming up with reasons why Jacqui and I shouldn’t join Slimming World, and we went along to Jo’s group in May 2019. 

When the scales revealed I was 24st 3lbs, I had a moment’s pause – I had a long way to go. Still, I was determined to see those numbers go down.

I was so focused on having a good weight loss in that first week that I made my life as simple as possible, eating the same pasta or noodle dishes for almost every meal. I was sticking to the plan – eating hearty bowlfuls of noodles flavoured with a little soy sauce and packed with Speed Food – but it wasn’t exactly varied. Scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast for breakfast, noodles for lunch, and maybe noodles again or pasta for dinner. 

I stuck to my guns and was astonished when the scales showed I’d lost 13½lbs in my first week. I knew I was on to a winner, though I was already feeling a bit bored by my limited meal selection, and I knew I was in danger of losing my enthusiasm. 

Thankfully, hearing the other members talking in group about all the different kinds of recipes they were enjoying inspired us to start experimenting, and we tried delicious new dishes like diet-cola chicken and Slimming World carbonara.

After eating that way for a couple of weeks, I began thinking more about my attitude to food. It struck me that the meals I’d been eating at home had been mostly quite healthy to begin with, then I’d always thrown in some high-Syn additions, like a dollop of cream or cheese, at the last minute. As I picked up useful swaps and Free ways of adding flavour in group, I realised I didn’t need those embellishments. They’d just become a habit and, actually, the food tasted really good without them.

We also chatted about the Syns in alcohol, and that’s when I began to realise that I was treating beer as a staple part of my day. When I thought about all those Syns going on beer, though, it suddenly seemed daft. I realised drinking could be a treat rather than a given and once that thought had lodged itself in my mind, I no longer wanted it. If I did feel like a drink, I’d reach for a low-Syn gin and slimline tonic.

Jacqui and I were both doing really well with our weight loss, and we’d started to think about adding in activity, too. Body Magic was often discussed in group, and towards the end of 2019, Jacqui had an idea that would help us start working towards our first Body Magic award – she suggested we do the Couch to 5K running programme together.

The first time I went out, I had to run in intervals of 60 seconds followed by a 90-second walk. My lungs burned and it felt like both my knees would collapse under me. 

With each run it got a little easier. Soon, to my surprise, I was looking forward to it! 

By Christmas 2019, I’d lost nearly 7st – and that’s when I rested on my laurels a bit and stopped Food Optimising. It wasn’t as easy as I’d expected to turn the gains around, though, and when lockdown arrived in March 2020, it completely threw me off my stride. 

Jo was always full of great advice, and suggested I look back at what had changed. Taking that time to reflect made me realise how much it mattered to me to see it through. Jacqui had hit a plateau too, and I reminded myself that, as well as having Jo and the rest of the group helping and supporting us, we had each other.

Ramping it up

Feeling inspired, I fell back in love with my healthy eating habits and my unexpected love of running. Jacqui and I both started upping our distances, and it became our little tradition to fist bump after every run, which always made me laugh. We really weren’t the fist-bumpy type, but we both recognised what it said – ‘Look at what we’ve achieved together!’ 

For me, the moment that crowned my journey was taking a flight with The Blades aerobatic display team. Marcus and I had received the same gifts for our 50th birthdays, and we took to the skies above Northamptonshire in separate planes. The significance of it wasn’t lost on me – at my biggest, I’d been well over the weight limit. As our planes wheeled crazily through the sky, they came together close enough for us to laugh and wave at each other from the cockpits. And as we walked back to Jacqui and Julie on shaky legs, I grinned at Marcus and said: ‘So it looks like I’m probably going to be around longer than you thought!’ 

I’m so proud of my wife. After losing 4st, the dress she wore 28 years ago on our wedding day is now too big for her, which I find incredible. Our life together is so much more active now, and it revolves around long walks and runs in the beautiful Surrey countryside. With no limits on what we can do together, I can’t wait to see what the future brings!

Active adventures

Look at how Ivan and Jacqui have upped the activity ante! 

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