Getting into Royal Holloway, University of London, to study drama when I was 18 had been a dream come true, though cooking for myself meant I was eating more unhealthily. I lived with my boyfriend, Tom, and for the first two years I didn’t have a clue about cooking or healthy eating. Crisps and chocolate got me through the day, then for dinner I’d do something like pasta with a jar of ready-made sauce, or dial for a takeaway. Although I never weighed myself, I noticed the pounds creeping on because of the things I couldn’t do.
My drama course involved a lot of movement and I struggled to perform dance steps that I’d previously found effortless. Growing up, I’d taken lead roles in amateur shows like Grease. Now, when a local production of Legally Blonde started auditioning, I only put myself forward for a small part.
My low point came one rehearsal when we had to wear cheerleader outfits for a scene. I hated standing on stage with my legs on display, and only the thought of letting everyone down stopped me from pulling out of the show. At every performance, I smiled and went through the motions, even though I was convinced that everyone in the audience was judging me for being the biggest on stage.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried to lose weight, I just couldn’t seem to get anywhere going it alone. Without any guidance, I was either just eating less and feeling ravenous, or having what I thought was healthy when I wasn’t really sure, which meant I didn’t know if I’d ever see any results. Eventually, it turned into a spiral of despair. Not only did I not want to take part in any more productions, I didn’t know if I’d ever achieve my dream of becoming a drama teacher and I’d often turn to food as a comfort.
I’d start eating healthily on Monday and give up by Tuesday.
People around me could tell I wasn’t myself, especially my mum. One day, she said: ‘Have you thought about Slimming World?’ As she explained that you could still eat things like potatoes and baked beans, it sounded too good to be true. Still, I reckoned anything was worth a try, so I looked up my nearest group and found a morning session that fitted around my lectures.
Pulling up in the car park for my first Slimming World group, I kept thinking of reasons not to go in. I could just picture people judging and staring. Instead, the moment I stepped inside, the Consultant, Marie, greeted me with a warm and friendly smile, and I knew I’d be OK. Eventually, the time came to step on the scales, something I hadn’t done in years. It was a shock to see the number go past 14st, and I found myself opening up to Marie. ‘I’m just scared I’ll never do this… I’ll never be the weight I want to be.’ Even though we’d just met, Marie and the other members were so supportive and caring that I felt like I could tell them anything. ‘Don’t worry,’ Marie said. ‘You can do this.’
I’d never made a meal from scratch before, so that first week turned out to be a crash course in cooking.
Following the recipes in the Food Optimising book, I tried spaghetti bolognese first – using lean mince, and chopped tomatoes, garlic and onion instead of a jar of ready-made sauce – and soon I was trying slimming-friendly versions of my other favourites, such as chilli con carne and fakeaway curry.
Tom got involved with the cooking, too, and together we tried dishes that we’d never dreamt of making ourselves before, like creamy risotto. I’d been expecting to cook separate meals, so sitting down together to enjoy something we’d made from scratch was quite exciting.
I’d enjoyed myself so much, in fact, that I was sure I couldn’t have lost any weight. Back at group, the scales showed I’d dropped 3½lbs. The applause I got from the rest of the group made me beam with pride, and going home afterwards I felt such a buzz.
Very quickly, I discovered more about myself – about what, when and why I was eating.
Filling up on proper meals made with filling Free Foods, such as pasta, potatoes or rice, lean mince or steak, salmon and lots of Speed Free Food veg, meant I no longer felt the need to snack on chocolate and crisps. I never used to have any breakfast, but now making time for a bowl of porridge in the morning made all the difference in terms of keeping me going through a day of lectures. Because I was satisfied by the meals I was eating, and excited to see the results at group every week, I didn’t have any trouble keeping within my Syns.
Marie had explained the importance of planning, and every day I’d map out what I was going to eat and when, including how I wanted to use my Syns. The variety of Food Optimising and all the exciting recipes I could make meant I fell in love with food in a new way; it was no longer something that controlled me and made me miserable.
The other members at group helped me out with ideas and strategies to enjoy myself while keeping my weight loss on track. Over time, I got so confident about asking restaurants to adapt dishes for me that even on my birthday I requested for my salmon and pasta to be cooked without oil. I enjoyed my meal just as much, and that week I had my biggest weekly loss of 4½lbs!
Hitting my target
Soon I reached my target of losing 3st, then decided to lower it by a stone… and then by a bit more. Already I felt much more confident in myself, and I’d had the courage to apply for a teacher training course, knowing I’d be slimmer by the time it came around. When I lost focus and had a gain now and then, although it was frustrating, I knew I just had to stay motivated, and going to group really helped. By now, the other members had become my friends and they spurred me on. ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ they’d say. ‘You’ll see the results next week.’ Each time, someone would send me off with a new curry recipe or a tip for making my Syns go further – things like melting chocolate over strawberries.
The more weight I lost, the more energy I had, and so I naturally became more active as time went on. For me, exercise wasn’t just about supporting my weight loss – it did so much more because it made me feel better mentally. Slowly but surely, the dance and movement for my course became second nature again, and I felt happier and more confident performing in front of the others.
With my confidence soaring, I felt able to achieve anything. I was thrilled when I heard that my application for teacher training had been successful. And when I aced my placement I knew nothing could hold me back! Not long afterwards, I had an interview for a job as a drama teacher in another school. The old me would have been petrified, but it didn’t faze me at all. I went in there smiling, excited to show them what I could do. Whether in the theatre or in the classroom, I know that I’m ready to give any audience my very best performance.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.