Hidden behind the backstage doorway, I peered out and watched proudly as my daughter, Catrin, took to the stage in her latest musical theatre production. She looked like she was having so much fun that I longed to be out there with her – but I worried that I’d be laughed off the stage.
Self-conscious in my size-22 clothes, I’d always shied away from performing, preferring to help sew costumes for the cast or support Catrin from backstage. Then, when my daughter was 10, the organisers needed a few adults for a group song and dance from the musical Oklahoma!.
Knowing how hard it was to get volunteers, I didn’t have the heart to say no. So I rummaged through the costumes until I found a Wild West-style full skirt and blouse that looked just about big enough. As I followed the other, much slimmer parents onto the stage in my tight outfit, I couldn’t have felt more out of place. ‘Never again,’ I told myself as the final curtain fell.
I don’t remember ever really being happy with my size. I was always one of the biggest girls at school and by the time I turned 21, I was a size 18. Then I began a cycle of yo-yo dieting. I lost weight when I first met my husband, Carl, before putting it all back on plus more when I fell pregnant with Catrin.
As a busy mum, I’d tell myself I didn’t have time to worry about eating healthily. I also didn’t eat meat, so that limited my daily diet – I was grabbing vegetarian snacks and meals that were easy but very unhealthy. I’d skip breakfast, have several mid-morning coffees with a chocolate bar and a bag of crisps, then have the same for lunch with a cheese sandwich and a scone, too. In the evenings, I’d eat a vegetarian pasta dish – usually in a creamy sauce with a garlic baguette, rounding off the day with cheese and biscuits and a glass of wine before bed.
As time passed, I started to worry about the effect my weight was having on my health. I already relied on indigestion tablets, and my ankles would swell up when I was on my feet for any length of time.
Each year, we flew to our favourite holiday resort in Lanzarote, and each year the aeroplane seat belt became tighter. For days leading up to the flight, I’d work myself up into a panic, terrified that this would be the time I’d finally need a seat-belt extender.
In July 2015, that day came. Except I didn’t ask for an extender. Instead, I desperately pushed back into the seat and sucked in my tummy for the whole journey. With my 50th birthday around the corner, I’d reached a turning point – I didn’t want to hit another milestone birthday feeling miserable.
A few days later, a Slimming World group leaflet dropped through my door. I knew a colleague who’d lost over 5st on the plan, so it seemed like the right solution at the right time. As I walked into group, I was greeted by my Consultant, Mo, who instantly put me at ease. Mo explained that planning ahead was key, so I started making a shopping list of meals for the week. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, smiling. ‘You can do this.’ I hoped she was right – at 19st 2lbs, I had a task ahead of me.
For the first time in years I actually had breakfast, eating soft-boiled eggs and a bowl of chopped fresh fruit. Then I would still enjoy my vegetarian pasta dish for lunch, swapping the creamy sauce for a roast vegetable ragu – or I’d fill up on a baked potato with a rich tomato sauce.
There are so many tasty vegetarian Slimming World recipes that I was easily able to break my unhealthy eating habits – I finally stopped reaching for the stodge! The vegetarian chilli and vegetable lasagne became firm favourites. The recipes on the website were fantastic for freshening up my daily diet – I especially enjoyed the vegetarian curry as an easy and healthy ‘fakeaway’.
After a few months, my swollen ankles improved and I no longer relied on indigestion tablets. And, almost a year after I joined Slimming World, I was 8st lighter and ready to step outside of my comfort zone and into the spotlight! I joined an adult musical theatre group with Catrin and was soon dancing out onto the stage with my daughter by my side. We were performing a medley of songs from different musicals – including Oklahoma!. This time, though, I wasn’t dressed as an old, motherly type – I had no qualms about showing off my legs in a cute, size-10 cowgirl outfit!
Now I often volunteer for comedy roles, so I’m no longer worried about people laughing at me. In fact, I love seeing the audience laugh for all the right reasons! From a tiny pink shift dress with knee-high boots in Return to the Forbidden Planet, to worn-out rags in Les Misérables, whichever costume I’m wearing, I feel like I’m just where I want to be. I’m happier in my 50s than I ever imagined.
As a vegetarian Slimming World member, having a wide variety of meat-free recipes to choose from was important to Jo. Luckily, our group and online members have access to hundreds of healthy vegetarian recipes, including this fab veggie-friendly five:
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.