As I closed my eyes and strummed the first chord, I left my everyday worries far behind and began to sing. It was the best part of my day – home from school, learning songs on my guitar, blissfully alone.
My bedroom was my safe place and music had become my saviour. In here, I couldn’t be mocked or laughed at, called names, or even punched for being different.
From as early as I could remember, I’d been bigger than the other kids my age, but it hadn’t seemed to matter. Secondary school changed all that, though. I’d been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at 13, and struggling with my weight and wearing glasses brought me to the attention of the bullies. I was so miserable that, at times, I thought about taking my own life.
I dread to think what might have happened if my grandma, Jane, hadn’t been such a huge fan of my singing. ‘You have a beautiful voice, Jordan,’ she’d said. ‘Why don’t we start by getting you a guitar?’ I’d jumped at the chance of anything that might distract me from everyday life. ‘Yes please, Grandma,’ I said. ‘I’d like that.’
Music soon became my passion and I started playing the guitar, drums and piano. Back then, it was a secret I shared only with my family – I was too self-conscious to perform in front of anyone else. I comfort ate throughout secondary school and my weight matched my age – 12st, 13st, 15st. I was so happy when it was time to leave, and I could get away from the daily jibes at last.
I wanted to show that, like many people with Asperger’s, I could be independent. I moved into my own place aged 17, got a job in a call centre and finally plucked up the courage to join an amateur dramatics group. I enjoyed having my own space, but without my mum, Georgie, encouraging me to eat healthier meals, my weight increased even more quickly.
Breakfast would be a huge bowl of cereal with lots of milk and sugar, then lunch was a cheeseburger meal with a milkshake, plus an extra burger and fries. Dinner was always a takeaway, such as kebab-meat pizza and curly fries, followed by two tubs of ice cream. Now nearly 25st, I didn’t have any energy and would drive to the shop just a few doors away to buy family-size bags of chocolate.
At 19, I was wearing size 5XL tops. Worried about the implications for my health, I went to see my GP for a well man check. After taking my weight and measurements, the doctor sat me down. Gently, he said: ‘The thing is, Jordan, if you continue the way you’re going, you won’t see 30.’ I stared back at him, stunned, as he explained it was because I had a body mass index of more than 50.
I told Mum and my grandparents what the doctor had said, and they looked shell-shocked. They were even more surprised, though, when I announced I was going to join Slimming World.
I drove to my local Slimming World group and sat outside in the car. Several times, I almost switched the engine back on and drove away, as negative thoughts raced through my head: it would be full of women my mum’s age, I’d have nothing in common with them, and they’d have no time for me. With the doctor’s words still fresh in my mind, though, I forced myself to get out of the car and I walked through the doors.
As I was welcomed in, I realised none of the women were judging me – in fact, they were so supportive I soon came to refer to them as my Slimming World mums!
I came up with my own version of a popular goal-setting tool, which I called the seven Ps: Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance. When I announced it to the other members at group, it got a big laugh!
Joking aside, planning was what helped me change my eating habits so completely. After living on takeaways, I kept it simple, having a Healthy Extra portion of cereal with skimmed milk for breakfast, and snacking on strawberries or raspberries at my desk at work. For lunch I’d have a jacket potato with baked beans, then melon. I started trying out dinner recipes and loved Slimming World chips so much I made them every other day, often with a lean, home-made burger and onions fried in low-calorie cooking spray. If I wanted the takeaway experience, I’d make a Slimming World chicken tikka masala with boiled rice – all Free!
I’m not great with change, so it wasn’t easy for me at first, but I stuck with it – and to my utter astonishment, I lost 10lbs in my first week. As the weeks went by, I smashed goal after goal. On the occasional times I’d gained a couple of pounds, my Consultant, Caroline, was always there to support me with a text or kind word. The encouragement I got from her and the group was making all the difference…
When I’d lost about 8st, I started to feel like a new man. Just walking around during the day had become loads easier. Encouraged by how much more comfortable it felt to be more active, I decided to join a gym. I gradually built up my fitness and soon I was at the gym every day. After years of being too embarrassed to exercise, I was even wondering about becoming a personal trainer.
Music was still a big part of my life and as well as feeling confident on stage, I could really hit those big notes while still moving around. Now, I felt happy being the centre of attention – and for all the right reasons. When I reached my target in May 2016, having lost over 13st, my growing self-esteem was clear for all to see.
My 5XL shirts had been replaced by smalls or mediums, and my 56in-waist trousers had become a trim 30. I even became a qualified personal trainer to help others feel fantastic about themselves!
When I went for a check-up with the doctor who’d started this extraordinary transformation of my life, he looked me up and down, clearly impressed by my weight loss.
You’ve added years to your life,’ he told me. ‘It’s an amazing achievement and you should be incredibly proud of yourself.’ I left the surgery feeling on top of the world.
Recently, I played Archibald Grosvenor in my local Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of the classic operetta Patience. They’d adapted one of the lines especially for me and my new physique. ‘Patience, I am so much taller and so much slimmer than I was,’ I sang. The audience was in on the joke and as they broke into laughter, I could see my family among them beaming with pride. In that moment, standing confidently on the stage, singing my heart out, I realised just how far I’ve come.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.