I’d just met my idol, Gary Barlow, and had my photo taken with him. It was every fan’s dream and everything I’d hoped for – he was so lovely! Then I saw the photo… and I couldn’t have been more disappointed. There I was, standing next to the man that I’d longed to meet for 22 years, and I looked huge.

I’d been gradually getting bigger since giving birth to Aaron when I was 20. I had a slow recovery following an emergency caesarean and, as a single mum, I felt terribly lonely and struggled to lose the 3st I’d gained while pregnant. I became heavier still after having a hysterectomy at 30.

A few months later, I met Lee online and after a whirlwind romance we got married. Unfortunately, I became poorly and was diagnosed with Churg-Strauss syndrome (an autoimmune condition also known as EGPA) and prescribed steroids. I put on another 7st over the following years, developing type 2 diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. The doctor even asked me if I’d ever considered a gastric bypass. Me? Surely I hadn’t got that big?

A step in the right direction

I went to see my GP to ask for help and was offered Slimming World on Referral – and a few weeks later, I plucked up the courage to join.

After my first week of Food Optimising, I was stunned to find I’d lost 8lbs. From then on, the pounds disappeared week after week.

I started to tweet Gary Barlow, telling him how well I was doing, and I was thrilled when he tweeted back congratulating me! Feeling bold, I asked if he’d mind us updating our original photo once I’d lost weight and he was kind enough to direct message me back, which really spurred me on.

Take two!

Eventually, when I’d lost 9st, my dream came true: I went to see Take That perform on The X Factor and Gary invited me on to the stage for a new photo. This time, he could loop his arms right around me.

Now I’ve reached my target and I’m learning to love the new me – a fitter, healthier woman with normal cholesterol and blood sugar levels, who has the energy to cycle, swim and go to a FitSteps class. And yes, I still go to lots of concerts!

With a little help from...

Mandy shares the tricks and treats that made a difference to her slimming journey.

  • Realising I could eat proper food without feeling guilty was a real revelation to me. I decided to share pictures of all my favourite meals on Instagram to keep me motivated and I’ve now got more than 4,200 followers. One of my favourite recipes is pulled pork, which I often make when I have friends coming over. If I’m short on time, I pop it in the slow cooker and it practically cooks itself.

  • When I fancy some chocolate, I make sure my Syns go as far as possible. A chewy 26g Cadbury Curly Wurly bar feels like a real treat for 6 Syns.

  • I love creamy-tasting yogurt – Arla Skyr Icelandic Style Yogurt Mixed with Strawberry is 3½ Syns per 450g pot and fab with a fresh fruit salad.

  • I used to have so little energy. Now I cycle, go swimming and take part in a weekly FitSteps class. Body Magic is such a buzz!

  • At my biggest, I really wasn’t into fashion – I just wore whatever would fit. In fact, I pretty much lived in black trousers, day in, day out. Now I’m happy showing off my shape in skinny jeans and fitted dresses.

  • When I got to target, I treated myself to a shopping day – shopping is so much fun now everything fits!

  • After years of avoiding the hairdresser, I enjoy spending time on my hair. My styling tool kit includes lots of products and my trusty straighteners.

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