Across the dinner table, my wife, Bev, smiled at me as we finished up the delicious meal she’d made for my 47th birthday. She poured us both a glass of Prosecco and I held up my glass, smiling back. ‘Just look at us, we’re like new people,’ I said.

It was no exaggeration – a year before, I’d been more than 9½st heavier and couldn’t have imagined feeling this good. And not only had Bev surprised me with an amazing birthday spread, she’d made sure all of it was on plan, knowing how much my weight loss meant to me.

Now they are fully in the Food Optimising groove, Bev and Mark can enjoy meals out and all-inclusive holidays – and still stay on track!

I’d been a company mechanic with the Royal Engineers until 1995, and it was after leaving the Army that my weight started creeping up. I enjoyed spending time in the kitchen, so I tended to cook for both of us – often something like pasta or a jambalaya using a jar of ready-made sauce. Then we’d sit down after dinner with a few glasses of white wine, a bag of crisps and some chocolate.

My new job with a car supermarket was less physical than life in the military, too, and I got bigger so gradually, it never crossed my mind to do anything about it.

Then, in May 2016, Bev and I went on holiday to the Canary Islands and hired bikes to ride along the coast. But we both really struggled to make it up the hills, and we probably spent more time pushing the bikes than we did riding them.

After we got home, Bev was uploading our holiday photos onto Facebook, when she suddenly called me over. ‘Mark, I can hardly bear to look at these,’ she said. ‘I have to do something about my weight.’ When I looked at the pictures it was my turn to feel aghast – not at Bev, but at my own increasing size. No wonder those hills had been a challenge – I’d got so big I was unrecognisable from the fit Army man I’d once been.

Bev saw the dismay on my face. ‘My friend at work has done so well at Slimming World,’ she said, ‘I’m going to give it a try.’ I knew what she was saying and nodded. ‘I’ll come with you,’ I said, adding, ‘but only so you don’t have to go on your own!’

When Mark saw his holiday photos, he barely recognised himself

It wasn’t the first time she’d suggested Slimming World. I have type 1 diabetes and thought it would make any kind of dieting impossible. But being overweight was clearly affecting my health – I took blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills, and larger and larger daily doses of insulin. Maybe it was time to try something new.

I went along to group with no real expectations and when I stepped on the scales, my eyes widened as they read 22st 5lbs. As usual, I covered my embarrassment with a joke. ‘That’s actually my ideal weight, it’s just that I’m not the ideal height – I should be 8ft 9ins!’ I said to Ann, our Consultant.

The moment Bev and I got home, we restocked the cupboards with lots of Free Food – I threw my heart and soul into the plan and we spent time choosing recipes and deciding what meals to make each week.

I discovered I could make sauces with plain quark instead of cream and got a taste for all kinds of grilled fish, served with lots of vegetables stir-fried in low-calorie cooking spray. And we could still have our favourites – a lean fillet steak with salad, and even a Food Optimising version of jambalaya, which tasted just as good as the high Syn ones I’d loved before.

We were both enjoying our food and it certainly seemed to be working. I lost 8lbs in my first week, then 6lbs the week after. At first, I stayed off the wine as I knew it was a big temptation for me, then, as I got into a healthier new groove, I had the odd glass again using my Syns.

Full of energy, I’d started going running four times a week. Our Newfoundland dog, Millie, couldn’t believe her luck as her walks got brisker by the day.

Then, in September, we returned to the Canaries on an all-inclusive holiday. Determined not to gain any of the weight back, we used our Food Optimising knowledge to make the healthiest choices in the buffet restaurant, joined in the hotel’s aqua aerobics class every day, and I went for a run every other day. When we got back, I’d lost 5lbs!

Once I’d lost 9st and was nearly at my target, I realised something remarkable. Millie, our dog, weighs 9st… I’d lost an entire Newfoundland’s worth of weight! My GP is delighted, and Bev is thrilled to have lost almost 3st, too. I’ve also managed to stop smoking. Life is good. Sharing this experience with Bev has been really special and it’s changed her life as well as mine. I owe everything to her: without my amazing wife, I would never have taken that first step to becoming the man I am today.