I’d struggled with my weight for most of my life. I was adopted at birth, and as a kid I found it quite hard that I looked different to the rest of my family – I even convinced myself that I had the ‘fat gene’.   

When I left home for university, I starting relying heavily on takeaways and I was drinking more than I ever had before. It was also during this time that I started to realise I wasn’t straight, and as I came to terms with my sexuality I sought comfort in food.   

I had lots of embarrassing moments over the years due to my size – one that particularly sticks in my head was an incident at Thorpe Park theme park. I couldn’t fasten the safety harness on the Colossus ride, so I had to get off and walk past a queue of people, who I’m sure all knew exactly why I couldn’t ride. I tried to brush it off, but I was completely mortified.

I suffered from chronic podagra (also known as gout), too. I’d have a flare-up every four to six weeks, during which time I’d be in a lot of pain and sometimes unable to walk for days. My husband, Gareth, used to complain about my incredibly loud snoring as well – which must have been linked to my weight because he doesn’t mention it any more!  

I was desperate to slim down, but I was trapped in a cycle of yo-yo dieting. Once, I cut out all carbohydrates for about two years, and while I did lose a lot of weight, I was absolutely miserable. And as soon as I started eating normally again, I put all the weight back on. I felt like I was always on or off a diet, and I’d never found a way to lose weight sensibly and sustainably.

The turning point came after a summer of back-to-back weddings. I usually avoided having my photo taken by other people and I’d become quite good at angling the camera for selfies so I looked slimmer, or cropping out my body so you wouldn’t notice my weight as much. I even used apps to change how I looked. So when the photos came back from my friends’ weddings, I was shocked. I’d become so used to editing my pictures that it really hit home to see the ‘real’ me and it made me feel terrible.

Watch Joe tell his story here

I joined my local Slimming World group just a few days after that. At nearly 20st, I was pretty nervous about walking through those doors, so I texted Lorna, the Consultant, in advance and she was so lovely that it really reassured me. I'll admit I was quite cynical as she explained to me about Food Optimising, though – I just couldn’t see how I’d be able to lose weight without cutting carbs or counting calories. I decided the only way to find out was to put my faith in the plan, though – and it worked. I lost 11½lbs in my first week! 

I really threw myself into the group and within a few weeks I’d made some lifelong friends. I genuinely think the support of my fellow members was fundamental to my success. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before – I wasn’t alone any more and that was such a wonderful, powerful feeling. 

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I love that I can eat to satisfy my appetite on the plan – and not having to weigh and measure everything is so freeing. Before, I’d ‘run out’ of calories and end up hungry. With Slimming World, that never happens because my meals are so substantial and there’s always something Free and tasty to eat if you’re peckish. It was totally revolutionary for me.

If I think back to the way I used to eat before, it was pretty much all processed food and takeaways. Now, I make healthier versions of what I used to eat, like cooked breakfasts with lean bacon medallions and scrambled eggs cooked using low-calorie cooking spray instead of butter. I also love a Slimming World fakeaway – my favourite’s chicken tikka masala. I never feel that I’m missing out.

Joe’s day on a plate

Before

After

Breakfast

Bacon and sausage sandwich with butter and ketchup.

Poached eggs and bacon medallions on Healthy Extra ‘b’ wholemeal toast. 

Lunch

Pack of instant noodles topped with cheese.

Home-made vegetable and chilli soup.  

Dinner

A takeaway from the Chinese, Indian or pizza place. 

A from-scratch Food Optimising meal like spaghetti bolognese, burgers or a Chinese fakeaway.  

Snacks

Tube of crisps, chocolate, sweets, white toast with butter.

Low-fat yogurt with sugar-free syrup.

I was actually quite sporty during my childhood, but my podagra meant that I’d become really sedentary over the years. As my symptoms eased and the flare-ups became less frequent, I started to do more walking – I find it’s as good for my mental wellbeing as it is for my physical health.  

Slimming World’s Body Magic physical activity support programme gave me a framework to build up gradually, and there wasn’t any pressure. As I became fitter, I started walking with a 30kg weighted vest. It’s amazing to think I used to carry extra weight around like that every day!

I’ve now lost 5st 3½lbs and it’s transformed my health and my confidence. I really enjoy inspiring others by sharing my journey on social media, and I love it when someone tells me that they’ve joined Slimming World because of me. I wish I could tell everyone that losing weight doesn’t have to be depressing and boring – and that by joining a group, you’ll always have the support you need to achieve your goals. I’m done with the yo-yo diets because I’ve finally found a way to live healthily for the long term.

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