On the first warm day of spring this year, I pulled out my collection of colourful, sleeveless tops and pushed my jumpers to the back of the cupboard. It made me smile broadly – before I’d joined Slimming World, I didn’t even have a summer wardrobe. On sunny days I’d sweltered and felt awkward in my size-20 cover-up tops or jackets, as I was too self-conscious about my arms to go without. And I even wore them with trousers or a floor-length skirt to hide my legs.

I’d always been bigger than my friends, and when I went on holiday with them, instead of letting my hair down and having fun, I was constantly worrying about looking like the odd one out. While they were all slim and wore whatever they liked, from body-con dresses to short shorts, I kept covered up.

My weight didn’t just restrict what I felt I could wear; it also made me shy away from being in photos or hitting the shops with the girls. I found it enough of an ordeal shopping for clothes at home, let alone abroad, where I often found there was nothing at all that went up to my size in the trendy boutiques.

From time to time, I’d try a restrictive fad diet, but I could never keep it up for more than a few days, and then I’d go back to eating meals laden with cheese and oily dressings, and snacking on crisps, biscuits, and chocolate.

Disillusioned by having tried to slim so many times, I didn’t really have high expectations when I joined Slimming World. I thought I’d probably be hungry all the time, or that it would be too tricky for me to follow as I don’t eat meat. So I was amazed to find I could still have all the dishes I loved, like chickpea curry and lentil soup, simply by cooking them in a new way. I picked up all sorts of new recipes, too, from courgette noodles topped with grilled salmon and vegetables to oven-baked butternut squash chips.

My target weight seemed a very long way off, so I took it week by week, counting each pound I lost as a mini victory. At group, I was inspired by my Consultant, Veronica, and the other members, in so many ways. If I ever got stuck in a rut with my recipes, they were guaranteed to have good ideas that fired up my imagination. And they picked me up when I needed a boost, such as when I hadn’t lost as much as I’d been expecting.

The greatest thing I learnt was that no matter how bad a day or week I’d had, tomorrow was a fresh start. And it completely changed the way I thought about losing weight. Before, the moment things got tough I gave up. Now I forgave myself and carried on, learning how to cope with all sorts of situations and becoming more aware of my relationship with food.

The more confident I got about Food Optimising, the more I realised I could tailor the plan to suit my tastes. I’d base my meals on the Free Food I enjoyed, such as filling bulgur wheat and lots of vegetables, pulses, tuna, plain mackerel and veggie sausages.

Rather than using my Syns for sweet treats, I chose Free snacks such as apples, pears and home-made houmous with veg sticks most of the time, with the occasional rich tea biscuit or cup of hot chocolate when I fancied one. I usually preferred to use my Syns by adding some olives to a meal, or having a low Syn crispy flatbread on the side.

Holiday ready

By the following summer, my friends were suggesting holidays to the South of France and Tenerife... and I was ready to say yes to everything! I couldn’t wait to pack a suitcase with a very different selection of clothes – now in a size 12.

My days of covering up are long gone. I feel happy showing my arms in sleeveless dresses.

Heading out to resort bars for drinks with my friends, my old cover-ups were a distant memory as I embraced colourful tops and dresses that showed off my new shape. I stopped saying ‘no’ to shopping trips and, when the inevitable photos popped up on social media, I liked what I saw and was happy to have a lasting memento of our adventures.

Now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I can really enjoy my weekends with friends and family, without worrying about what I’m wearing. I happily walk into any shop on the high street and can buy clothes I love. I’ve gone from dreading the summer to making the most of every sun-soaked minute!

*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose