As I wrapped myself up inside my coat, it was as though I was trying to be invisible. I’d reluctantly agreed to go on an evening cruise along the River Trent with my new university friends, but before I’d even stepped out of the door, I was regretting it. I felt so anxious as I climbed aboard the boat, and while my friends were having fun, I counted down the minutes until I could go back to the security of my own four walls.
That night set the tone for my entire first year at the University of Nottingham. Convinced my new friends would judge me for being bigger than them, I stayed in my room night after night, only coming out to make a curry using a shop-bought sauce or heat up a microwave meal, then returning to my room to comfort myself with chocolate.
By the time I went home for the holidays to my mum’s place in London, I was utterly miserable. I knew I couldn’t go back in September feeling this way, and when I told my best friend, Tia, she gave me some great advice: ‘You aren’t in the best frame of mind to make yourself feel better… I think you should get counselling.’ She was right and, through my GP surgery, I self-referred to an organisation called Thinkaction: a team of local mental health practitioners and counsellors.
After being diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, I started a course of four cognitive behavioural therapy sessions over the phone.
As I relayed my feelings and listened to the therapist explaining new ways of thinking about them, I began to see how my weight worries had been the root of my unhappiness.
Now, I was learning how to take control of my emotions, by challenging the negative thoughts that had made me anxious. By identifying how I was overanalysing other people’s reactions – assuming they were focusing on how I looked – I realised I’d probably misinterpreted their thoughts, presuming the worst, even though I couldn’t know what they were thinking. It was as though I’d been given the power to do something about how I felt, and I opened up to my mum, Karen, and elder sister, Gigi.
They’d always worried about how anxious I was but, like me, didn’t know how to help me. As it happened, they’d joined Slimming World while I’d been at university, and I asked if I could come along to their next group session a few days later.
With the support of Mum, Gigi and my Consultant, Joanne, I started cooking from scratch. I’d gone vegetarian since being at uni, so Mum taught me how to make a Food Optimising veggie chilli – and it tasted so much better than anything that came from a jar! To tackle my comfort eating, I started to reach for lower Syn options like pots of no-added-sugar jelly and bags of popcorn instead of chocolate. For the first time, I felt like I was listening to my body rather than eating mindlessly – and I was sure it was helping my mental state, as well as my weight loss. Even when we went on holiday to Ghana that summer to visit my dad, I enjoyed making the healthiest possible choices.
Finding a new routine
Back at university, I decided to join a local group in Nottingham, so I could continue going during term time. Now I was living with some friends from my course, was 1st 9lbs lighter and had a new positive outlook. It took a little while to find my new routine, fitting Food Optimising around my studies, so every Sunday, I’d batch-cook a big portion of chilli or soup, saving money by using frozen veg. And instead of staying shut in my room, I jumped at the chance to go for a night out or to the cinema with my friends.
As I wasn’t imagining that people were judging me, I felt happier and more positive, and I wanted to start doing some Body Magic. No longer worried about being seen in leggings, I completed a Couch to 5K app, started using a weighted hula hoop and joined a Body Pump weights class. Once, the scales stopped moving for a few weeks – so, feeling frustrated, I read back through my Food Optimising book. Going back to basics helped and I soon started losing weight again.
Now that I’m happy with my weight, my mind and body are in a much better place than they were when I started uni.
Rather than hiding away, since swapping my size 16s for size 8s, I love standing out in bright colours. I’ve put myself out there in other ways, too. I completed a placement with youth charity The Prince’s Trust; worked with Out in Education, a not-for-profit that supports young people around LGBT+ issues and healthy relationships, and I’ve shown school children around the campus to help inspire them to go to university themselves one day. Since graduating this summer, I’m taking a year out, and then I’m going to train to become a primary school teacher. I can’t wait to make a real difference to children’s lives.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.