As I started paddling the kayak away from the shore, it felt so much easier than I’d expected. Gliding across the lake, I thought back to just 18 months ago, when I’d been sure that my athletic past was well and truly behind me.
My love of water sports had started when I got into swimming as a child. Soon, I was taking part in all sorts of competitions – the thrill I’d get at the end of a race was like nothing else.
When I was 18, I went to university to study outdoor education and sports science, and I joined every water-sports club going: water polo, surfing, kayaking... You name it, I was up for it. That and my studies kept me busy in the daytime, then most nights I’d be out drinking with my mates. And as well as having a kebab on the way home, the next day I’d battle my bad head with more stodgy food. By the end of my first term, I’d put on 2st.
My size carried on creeping up and, as I got bigger, I began to feel less energetic. At the start of the second year, I didn’t sign up to any water-sports clubs at all.
After I’d finished uni, my girlfriend, Amy, and I moved in together and settled into a happy routine. I started my first full-time job, working on the sales team of an insurance firm. The office was always full of cakes. Amy was a great cook and I was always nipping back to the kitchen for a second helping, then popping out for a bag of sweets afterwards. Other times, I’d work late and grab a takeaway on the way home.
Amy started hinting that she was worried about my weight. Despite her concerns for my health, though, I knew she loved me the way I was, and that was enough for me.
That summer, Amy and I went on holiday to Menorca. One evening, on the beach at sunset, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes! After being on a high for the rest of the week, I was brought back down to earth with a bump when I saw our photos. I looked much bigger than I’d thought.
The weekend after flying home we went to Amy’s parents’ house to tell them our news. As we chatted in the lounge, the subject of suits came up. That aspect of getting hitched hadn’t really occurred to me – suddenly, I realised I didn’t want to be in any wedding photos... not until I’d lost some weight.
As I explained my worries, Amy’s mum suggested I go to Slimming World. ‘You can eat as much as you like, so you’ll never be hungry,’ she said. While it sounded too good to be true, I knew for a fact she’d lost 2st on the plan. I found my local Slimming World group and resolved to go the following week.
My fear of being the only man soon eased as the smiling Consultant, Susie, welcomed me into the hall. I already knew I had to do this to feel good about myself for the wedding – and after being weighed, I was even more motivated. I’d been kidding myself I was still around 17st when, in fact, I was almost 19st.
My final challenge
Armed with my new-member pack and the ideas I’d picked up in group, I went home and told Amy about what I could eat, including little swaps that would help my weight loss. The next day, we went shopping for the ingredients to make a Slimming World spaghetti bolognese, buying lean mince rather than our usual high-fat variety, and skipping the ready-made sauce.
After a week, I’d lost 5½lbs... and couldn’t wait to see how much more I could lose.
Week after week, my group kept me fired up – it was such a boost to get a cheer whenever I lost another few pounds. I decided to be open with my friends and my workmates, too. No one made fun – instead, they asked about the plan and brought in low Syn treats on ‘Food Friday’.
To me, though, the difference went beyond what others saw on the outside. Amy suggested a walk in the countryside one weekend and I found myself jumping at the chance to get out in the fresh air. Soon, I was playing squash and going to the gym occasionally, though I still hadn’t found the confidence to get back in the water.
After I’d lost almost 3st, I decided it was time... I signed up for a 1500m open-water swimming event the following June. I started training at the pool, doing 40 lengths three times a week at first, then building up to four. I reached my target of 15st 7lbs that March. By then, I was swimming 80 lengths at a time, and I’d started kayaking and surfing again, too. I was well and truly back in the water!
The day of my open-water swim came, and there was an amazing atmosphere. We ran in and started swimming. It felt so good to be able to power through the water.
Running back out of the water, I felt a huge sense of achievement. I’d done it! I dried myself off, pulled on my clothes and went over to my dad, who told me I’d come third. I couldn’t believe it! A few weeks later, I took part in a similar swim and, this time, I came second. Amy was with me and she couldn’t have looked more proud.
Whether I’m swimming, surfing or kayaking, I feel a huge buzz knowing that taking control of my weight has given me this energy and self-belief. Now, I have no qualms about how I’ll look waiting for Amy as she walks down the aisle.
Recently, we went to a friend’s wedding and I wore a slim-fit suit – a year ahead of our own big day. The best thing, though, is knowing that as Amy and I sail off into the future together, I’m ready for anything it brings.
Matt’s day on a plate
Breakfast A bowl of sugary cereal with semi-skimmed milk.
Morning snack Crisps.
Lunch Two supermarket meal deals: a pack of sandwiches and a pasta pot, crisps, a chocolate bar and two fizzy drinks.
Afternoon snack A big bag of sweets.
Dinner Two helpings of spaghetti Bolognese made with a shop-bought sauce and loads of cheese.
Breakfast Two Weetabix with skimmed milk.
Lunch Home-made pasta salad with olives (1½ Syns for eight), spring onions, radishes and tomatoes. A 15g bag of Pom-Bear Cheese & Onion crisps for 4 Syns.
Snacks An apple and an orange.
Dinner Slimming World pasta bake, curry or all-day breakfast.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.