Sitting on my friend’s sofa, hardly able to move at nearly 34st, I forced a smile for a ‘Happy New Year!’ photo. But the truth was that there was only one thing worth smiling about: my year from hell was over. Behind the grin I hid a deep depression and horrendous anxiety, and, in that moment, I made a very big and very challenging resolution – I needed to tackle my weight.

Several health issues had made 2014 an awful year for me. First, I suffered a panic attack so severe that I thought I was having a heart attack and was blue-lighted to hospital, sirens wailing. Shortly afterwards, I found myself rushed to hospital again for an emergency abscess operation. The doctors were very worried about giving me a general anaesthetic, so they tried to reduce the risk by giving me an epidural instead. Unfortunately, my size meant this wasn’t an easy procedure and, after four attempts (with three needles breaking in my back), there was no option other than to put me to sleep. I was incredibly lucky and the operation went well, but my recovery was slow and difficult because of my weight.

That wasn’t the first time that my size had impacted badly on my health. In my late 20s, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Obviously I survived, but my weight made treatment more difficult. One particularly horrible memory is almost breaking the CT scanner and having to be pulled free from the machine.

I was so big that the doctors even suggested putting me through the horse scanner at an equine centre.

Struggling with sugar

Even putting my serious health issues aside, there wasn’t a single area of my life that wasn’t affected by my weight. At work, I was unable to perform everyday tasks because standing for more than a couple of minutes left me with terrible back pain. And my all-round confidence couldn’t have been any lower, which affected me both at work and socially. Although my family and friends tried to support me through my issues, I shied away from social contact. The only thing I cared about at that time was my next sugar fix – I honestly felt like I had a sugar addiction.

I can trace my issues with sugar back to secondary school, where I was badly bullied. I’d rush home from school and eat raw brown sugar from the bag, as it made me feel better for a few minutes after another horrible day. Then, after leaving school, my new-found freedom to eat whatever and whenever I wanted caused my weight to soar.

Looking back, I can’t believe that I would eat half a box of cereal covered in spoon after spoon of sugar. Lunch was egg mayo sandwiches, then dinner was always a takeaway or a couple of microwave meals. Throughout the day, I’d snack on crisps and endless sugary treats, including bags of sweets, chocolate bars and cake. My eating habits needed a complete overhaul, and I knew from experience that Slimming World was the best place to do that.

The importance of IMAGE Therapy

I’d actually lost over 9st with Slimming World previously, so I was confident that Food Optimising would work for me. The issue I’d had was maintaining my motivation. Because my confidence was so low, I didn’t feel comfortable engaging with the group and rarely stayed to IMAGE Therapy – I’d just weigh in and go. Without that support, my determination waned. Then, very sadly, my mum died after a sudden illness, and I turned to my old friend sugary food for comfort. If I did go to weigh-in, instead of trying Slimming World desserts, I’d pick up biscuits, cakes and sweets on the way home. I soon put all the weight back on.

Following my New Year’s epiphany, I rejoined Slimming World and stayed to IMAGE Therapy every single week. Even though everyone was really welcoming, I’ll admit that I found it difficult at first as I’d shut myself away for so long. One thing that really helped was having my dad join group too. After Mum died he fell into a ‘heat and eat’ approach to food – eating nothing but microwave meals or takeaways, just like me. Once I was settled in at group, I told Dad that I was going to treat him to dinner and took him along to a Slimming World food-tasting evening. He was amazed at the fantastic food you can eat with Food Optimising, and it inspired him to join group and lose an incredible 6st!

My own eating habits have changed dramatically. Instead of starting the day with spoonfuls of sugar, I now cook up a healthier and much more satisfying breakfast of scrambled eggs, beans, mushrooms, spinach and bacon. If I fancy something lighter, I top two Weetabix with fruit for natural sweetness. Lunch is something hearty and home-made, like a Slimming World chilli or pasta dish, and dinner is another tasty Slimming World recipe, such as Diet Coke chicken. I’ve kicked my old habits and I’m now choosing fruit over sugary and fatty snacks – which is testament to how fantastically filling the Food Optimising plan is. If I do fancy a sweet treat, there are loads of low Syn Slimming World desserts to choose from.

A brand-new confidence

As the weight started to come off, I discovered a much more confident and sociable Jon underneath. So much so that socialising has become a big part of my Body Magic routine. Adding a social side to activity really helps to motivate me, and every day I join a good work friend for a walk or bike ride. At the very start of my weight loss journey, I couldn’t even manage 1km, but now we walk 5km or cycle 10km in our lunch break. Last year I took part in the 32-mile Relay for Life walk and made a whole new set of friends in the process. I’m also preparing to climb Mount Snowdon with a group of slimmers I met through social media. No mean feat when you consider that, before joining Slimming World, I would get out of breath just walking the 50 metres from my desk to my car.

Open my wardrobe at home and you’ll see another very dramatic change. Before, I was limited to whatever I could find on the internet in my size. There was very little choice and the clothes available were expensive and unflattering. At my biggest, I was wearing trousers with a 66ins waist (that were a bit tight) and tops in an XXXXXXXL. Now my 34ins skinny fit jeans are too big and I’m buying shirts in an M.

Being able to walk into a shop and buy flattering and fashionable clothes feels amazing.

In January 2019, four years after joining Slimming World, I hit my target weight of 13st 9Ibs – a total loss of over 20st. After needing to lose weight for around 40 years, finally being in a position where I feel I’m the perfect weight for me is a whole new experience. Since then I’ve continued to attend group every week, and I always stay for IMAGE Therapy. I feel like it’s key to keeping me on track, and I also feel that I’m in a good position now to inspire other members who may be facing a big weight loss. If I can do it, anyone can!

Sharing the love

Winning the title of Slimming World’s Greatest Loser 2019 was a dream come true for me. There were times when losing 20st seemed like an impossible task, and this award acknowledges my perseverance and determination in reaching that target. The next big dream for me is to meet someone special. Now that I’ve got my life back, I’d love to find someone to share it with. My size and social anxiety caused me to shy away from people, but now I’m much more open.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m now unrecognisable as the man I used to be. So much so that, when my brother married his childhood sweetheart, my uncle asked my dad why I hadn’t been chosen as best man. Of course, I had – he just didn’t recognise me and was very confused about the interloper taking my rightful place!

I wouldn’t have missed my brother’s big day for the world, and I took my place beside him with pride and confidence. I’m filling my life with good memories instead of bad experiences, and getting a much bigger high than any amount of sugar could give me.

Watch Jon tell his story

8 low Syn Slimming World desserts

The average Brit eats around 140 teaspoons of sugar per week, which is more than three times the recommended limit. Eating less sugar can help with weight loss, but it doesn’t have to mean giving up sweet treats completely. Our recipe collection has lots of delicious low Syn Slimming World desserts, so you can satisfy your sweet tooth while still sticking to the Food Optimising plan.