Swinging away in the garden seat, bathed in glorious sunshine and with a glass of wine in my hand, I looked like I didn’t have a care in the world. I’d spent a wonderful weekend with family, but my happy bubble instantly deflated when I saw that photo. As feelings of shame and disgust overwhelmed me, I vowed to do something about my weight, once and for all.

Sadly, those feelings weren’t new to me. From starting my first diet as an insecure teenager, I’d dieted on and off for my entire adult life. That’s over 50 years of depriving myself to lose weight and then putting it all back on again – usually with a bit more besides.

I’d tried a meal replacement/very low calorie diet for three months and lost 3st, but I gave up during the maintenance phase. After a 12-week stint on such a strict regime of deprivation, I just couldn’t face another 12 weeks of hunger and restriction.

As soon as I started eating normal food again, my weight shot up – and it ended up even higher than it had been before.

Discovering low Syn snacks

My career as a teacher and headteacher really didn’t help matters. There was a lot of staffroom snacking on biscuits and not a huge amount of time to eat proper meals. Dinner was a microwave meal heated up after a long day – often at around 9 or 10pm – washed down with half a bottle of wine and followed by yet more biscuits and maybe some cake. My daily diet included far too many biscuits and sweet treats!

Since joining Slimming World, it’s safe to say that my diet has been completely transformed. I’m retired now, but if I’m out and about I always make sure that I have low Syn snacks like fat-free yogurt, fruit or soup with me. Slimming World Hi-fi bars are another handy low Syn snack to have in my handbag – although, because I’m actually eating three proper meals a day, I find that my need to snack has greatly diminished.

Now I’m starting my day properly with oaty pancakes topped with a pile of strawberries, blueberries, banana and fat-free natural yogurt. Lunch is a refreshing watermelon and feta salad, maybe followed by something from my stash of low Syn snacks. For dinner I sit down to a proper meal of steak, chips, mushrooms, tomato, onion and a big bowl of salad, with a glass of red wine. I try to cook Syn free meals, so I’ll always trim the fat from my steak and make my own Slimming World chips.

I’m eating so much more than I ever did before!

Overcoming obstacles

I joined my local group in June 2012, weighing 13st 11Ibs and wearing a size 16. In August 2014 I hit my target weight of 10st 7Ibs, with a new dress size of 10-12. At times, my weight loss felt a little slower than others in my group. I had several weeks where I maintained and, like many people, I was always a few pounds heavier in January than in December. But I kept confidence in the plan, stuck to my Syn free meals, and steadily lost 3st 4Ibs. And the best bit is that, unlike diets I’ve tried in the past, that weight stayed off!

Being organised really helped me to lose the weight and now helps me to maintain it. If I’m going out for the day, as well as having my little supply of low Syn snacks, I make sure that I plan where I can get a trusty jacket potato or low Syn tomato pasta for lunch. I also have a good variety of home-made Syn free meals in the freezer for days when I’m late home and too tired to cook.

Free Food is the foundation of the eating plan, and there are loads of brilliant Slimming World recipes to try. I also find the online Syns calculator really useful, and I still keep a notebook to plan my meals and record my Syns – although, as long as I continue to stay around my target weight, I don’t worry if I’m over my daily Syns allowance sometimes.

A new lease of life

Since losing weight, I’m so much more active. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis about 10 years ago, which really scuppered all the exciting retirement plans I’d made. There were times when I was in so much pain that I could barely walk, so anything more than the gentlest exercise was out of the question.

Three years ago, I had a hip replacement which, together with my weight loss, gave me a whole new lease of life. I’m convinced that my recovery was much quicker and easier than it would have been if I’d still been overweight. I was back on my feet within two weeks – and just eight weeks after the surgery, I signed up to a health club where I still enjoy using the gym, swimming and taking a variety of classes.

Now I take up to nine different exercise classes a week – I’m living my new active life to the full!

Being able to lead a more active lifestyle, alongside my healthier diet, meant that maintaining my target weight was easy. In fact, I felt able to reset my target to 10st, taking me down to a size 10.

My retirement years are so much more exciting now. One of the things on my 2019 to-do list is to travel to Africa for a reunion with a young man whose schooling I sponsored. The last time he saw me I was walking with a stick, so I’m sure he’ll be pleasantly surprised. I feel like I’ve started a wonderful new chapter of my life and I’m enjoying every moment as a healthier, happier me!

What snacks are Syn free on Slimming World?

Snacking on biscuits and cake played a big part in Jill’s weight gain. If you’re a snacker, choosing Syn free snacks or low Syn snacks will help you to keep losing weight beautifully – and keep it off. Here are some of our favourite no or low Syn snacks:

1. Sugar-free cordial or diet fizzy drinks are a Syn free way to quench those sweet cravings.

2. Syn free chips are a favourite of Jill’s and make a great snack for carb lovers.

3. Overnight oats don’t have to be for breakfast! They make a super-filling snack at any time of day.

4. Our little chocolate pots are a sweet 4½ Syn treat.

5. Jaffa cakes and Caxton Pink ‘n’ Whites are two low Syn snacks for biscuit munchers – just 2½ Syns each.

6. Dip crunchy crudités into our Syn free speedy houmous – a pinch of paprika adds an extra kick!

7. Jazz up your five a day with our Syn free jewelled fruit salad.

8. Weetabix cake is a low Syn Slimming World favourite at just 3½ Syns per serving.

9. Our members love little (11g) bags of Metcalfe’s Skinny Popcorn. Choose between sweet or salty for 2½ Syns a bag.

10. Slimming World Hi-fi bars are handy low Syn snacks that come in loads of yummy varieties, from Salted Caramel to Rocky Road. They’re 3 Syns per bar, or you can count two Hi-fis as your Healthy Extra ‘b’ choice.

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