As I watched my 78-year-old mum, Surinder, walk a gentle loop around my back garden, I smiled as she paused by the vegetable patch to see if the lettuce, potato and chard plants were any bigger than the day before. As Mum enjoyed the sunshine, I felt grateful that she was doing so well after years of recuperation. And I also gave silent thanks for my own health and for the fact that I’d discovered a way to lose the weight that had been holding me back, so I could continue to be there for my family.
Before Mum got ill, she’d always been there for me. When she had a stroke in January 2017, it was so important to me that I could help look after her and return all the love she gave me. Becoming a carer for Mum while looking after my kids, Evelyn, then 13, and Dillon, four, became a bit of a juggling act, though.
While I was growing up, Mum had always been so capable and caring. I remember our kitchen being filled with the smell of fragrant spices as she patiently guided me through cooking my first dhals and curries. Now, as a mum-of-two and a carer, my curry repertoire had gone out of the window as, shattered each evening, I’d ask my husband, Dermot, and the kids, ‘Who fancies a takeaway?’. Like many mums and carers, I’d also stopped doing the little things that made me happy. I’d studied art at university and used to have fairly regular exhibitions, but now my art supplies had been put to one side and forgotten.
Over time, I was relieved to see a little of Mum’s spark returning as she began moving around independently.
As she became more mobile, I started to reflect on my own health and how, over the past few years, I’d been steadily getting bigger.
A particular low point had been a family day out in April 2016. As a treat for Dillon’s fourth birthday, we took him to Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Theme Park. Bouncing with excitement, Dillon led us onto the Bertie Bus ride. With a little difficulty, I took my seat in the narrow carriage and pulled down the safety bar. Then I turned to Dermot. ‘It won’t go over my tummy!’ I hissed, starting to panic. ‘Try to breathe in… and push hard!’ he said. I did both and, to my relief, the bar clicked into place – but what followed was the most uncomfortable and embarrassing ride I’d ever taken. For the rest of the day, I just followed my family around and watched as they had fun. Later, in the gift shop, I caught sight of my reflection in the window and my heart lurched. The woman looking back seemed years older, shrouded in an oversized black T-shirt. It was a memory I couldn’t shake.
Around 15 months after Mum’s stroke, struggling as usual to bend and tie my shoes, I reached the end of my tether. ‘I’ve got to do something,’ I told Dermot. ‘I’m just not in a good place.’ I weighed myself and, discovering I’d gained 4st, I made an appointment to see my GP. He listened as I told him how worried I was about my weight and how it might affect my future health. He nodded and said, ‘I can offer you 12 weeks’ free membership of a Slimming World group*, and also three months’ free membership to a gym. What do you think?’.
A gym? It had been many years since I’d set foot in one of those. Slimming World, though, I knew well. I’d been a member twice before and, both times, I’d regained the weight I’d lost after leaving group. Why would this time be any different?
But, deciding I had nothing to lose, I joined the group I was referred to and listened as my Consultant, Gary, outlined the plan. Then, he added: ‘If you’ve been a member before, it can help to think about the first time you joined Slimming World. Remember how great you felt when you tried out the recipes and started losing weight.’ It was as if a light bulb had been turned on. It had felt amazing when, six years or so earlier, I’d first joined. I’d really taken to Food Optimising, making simple changes to the way I cooked and ate. I thought about the two times when I’d stopped going to group and regained weight. The first time I was pregnant with Dillon and then coping with looking after a baby and an eight year old; the second time was when Mum had her stroke.
With the support of Gary and my group, and with renewed enthusiasm, my faith in my ability to lose weight felt stronger than ever.
I knew that this time really would be different and I went home determined to get straight back into healthy cooking.
Around the same time, I joined the gym. Even though the thought filled me with dread, it felt like free membership was an opportunity I had to take. I picked a class to attend – it was for older adults, so I hoped it would be quite gentle...
Wearing a T-shirt so loose it swamped me, I edged quietly inside and hid at the back of the class. I prepared myself for a gentle session of stretching – perhaps a little jogging on the spot? Forty minutes later, I staggered out, wreathed in sweat and struggling to breathe as a lady in her 70s strode nimbly past me towards the car park. I wasn’t about to give up on Body Magic yet, though, and as I kept on Food Optimising, exercise slowly started to get easier.
It felt great to be back in the kitchen making proper meals, and my family were loving everything I was cooking, too. With a few simple adaptations, I could enjoy all the wonderful recipes Mum had taught me. I even made my own curry powder by roasting coriander and cumin seeds in the oven, then grinding them and adding dried garam masala, chilli powder and turmeric. Using low-calorie cooking spray, I’d fry onion, garlic, ginger and chilli, adding my curry powder and tomatoes to make the base for really tasty, fragrant curries, which I’d pack with whatever fresh ingredients I had to hand.
Dermot embraced healthier eating too, and we signed up for an allotment, growing everything from butternut squash to Swiss chard. The pounds were coming off steadily, and I was now regularly attending Pilates, yoga and Zumba classes. To my surprise, after a few months, I’d stopped feeling embarrassed about how I looked. Full of confidence, I decided to try a new high-intensity class called Fight Klub, which involved kicking and thumping a punchbag to loud, high-energy music. Despite how hard the class was, I loved it! The stresses of the day would disappear as I gave that bag a fearsome beating, and I’d leave each session laughing and thinking: ‘Who are you, Kal?’.
By the end of 2018, I’d lost 4st and was bursting with energy. In fact, I loved the way I felt after exercising so much, I decided to put on my trainers and go for my very first run. I jogged short distances at first, then built up until I could run 5km. Eating home-cooked Food Optimising meals every day, and feeling energised by my runs, there was no stopping me. In October last year, I was thrilled to reach my target weight of 10st 5lbs – 5st lighter than when I’d joined Slimming World. Feeling proud of what I’d achieved acted as a mental lift, and I found myself yearning to get my paints out again. With renewed vigour, I picked up my brushes and headed out into the countryside to capture my favourite landscapes.
Making the most of each day
In time, I felt confident enough to join a local art group. I also established a new routine, which involved getting up at 5:30am for a run before the kids were awake and Dermot got up to start his day. It became one of my favourite times of the day, as I took to the quiet streets and cleared my mind, concentrating only on the steady rhythm of my feet on the pavement.
Dermot and I have moved some of our allotment vegetables into the back garden now. I know having all that lovely fresh veg to hand will help me stay on plan, and I’ll be able to include home-grown pak choi, lettuce and potatoes in our family meals.
My 50th birthday came at the end of March and I felt so blessed to be able to spend it with my family. Mum still takes her daily walk in the garden and she’s doing so much better now, and that’s one of the reasons losing weight was so important to me. I’m slimmer, fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been in my life and that means I can look after my family to the very best of my ability – with enough energy to find time for myself, too. Now, every precious moment means the world to me.
Kal’s day on a plate
Breakfast Toast with jam and butter, or a croissant
Lunch Shop-bought cheese and ham sandwich or a chicken and mushroom pie
Dinner Takeaway pizza or Chinese
Snacks Crisps, biscuits and sweets
Breakfast High-fibre cereal with milk using my Healthy Extras
Lunch Food Optimising chilli beef pasta or crustless quiche with salad
Dinner Salmon with boiled new potatoes and veg
Snacks A sliced apple or pear, or a treat-size chocolate bar using my Syns
*Slimming World on Referral is a programme that lets health professionals offer their patients 12 weeks’ free membership at their local group. If you’d like the chance to lose weight with the support of one of our warm and friendly groups – which are currently running virtually – contact your GP practice to see if it participates in the scheme.