Debbie and I were childhood pals. We’d grown up together and we told each other everything. We met in the pub after work almost every night, catching up over food and drink – I could easily get through 10 pints, then stop for a kebab or pizza on the way home. My weight crept up and up, but it didn’t occur to me to change my lifestyle – I was happy as I was. 

Then, suddenly, aged just 34, Debbie died following a blood clot. I was distraught, and alcohol became a way to block out the pain. The feelings were so overwhelming I just needed to not feel them. 

I don’t know how long I’d have carried on drinking my way through my grief if something hadn’t happened to make me stop and think. 

It was just before Christmas 2016, and I was at a friend’s house party. It was still quite early in the evening, and as I sat down on a metal dining chair, it buckled beneath me. After getting up from the floor, shaken and embarrassed, I quickly made my excuses and took a taxi home.

Slumped on the sofa back home, I spotted the local newspaper and thumbed through the pages, not really reading it properly. Then something caught my eye. It was a story about Steven Little, who’d lost 6st with Slimming World. He looked amazing, and as I read on I discovered he was setting up his own group just around the corner. My mind was made up.

Find your nearest group here

Being honest with myself

Debbie’s death had made me re-evaluate my life. I realised that I’d convinced myself I was doing OK because I was out socialising all the time, but actually, I was deeply unhappy. I’d been single all my life because I had such low self-confidence I never dared to strike up a conversation or ask anyone on a date. Making the decision to go to Slimming World felt like a fresh start, and in January 2017, I walked through the doors of Steven’s group.

Seeing 22st 5½lbs on the scales was a shock. It was at least 4st more than I’d expected, and it completely threw me. I went home in a daze and messaged Steven. ‘I can’t come back,’ I texted. ‘I’m so much heavier than I imagined – there’s no point trying to lose all that weight.’

My phone pinged almost immediately. ‘It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. I was there myself once and I know what you’re going through,’ Steven replied. ‘I also know what’s possible, though. I’m living proof that Food Optimising works.’ His kind words reassured me, so I stuck faithfully to the plan all week. I cooked meals for myself for the first time in my life, making Cajun chicken with rice for dinner one night and a delicious burger in a bowl the next. All the while, I kept track of my Syns and stayed out of the pub to give myself the best start. And when I went back the following week and discovered I’d lost 6lbs, it felt like a miracle! 

I had some more great losses over the next few weeks and was thrilled with how it was going. I was making friends, too, and meeting up at group had become the highlight of my week. I listened to how the other members overcame similar issues, and started to think about what mattered most to me.

In one IMAGE Therapy session, I talked about how I’d been avoiding the pub, and shared my fear that I’d regain all the weight as soon as I started socialising again. When Steven asked me if I could change the way my social life was set up, it was a revelation. Everyone chipped in with ideas for nights out, and I started to meet up with my new friends from group for coffee dates and cinema trips. I also discovered that I really enjoyed tenpin bowling, and we started going for regular games. I was having a great time – without feeling hungover and low the following morning!

As the losses kept coming, I started thinking about Slimming World’s Body Magic programme and how I could build activity into my routine. I decided to start off by walking to the betting shop where I worked as a manager. Before, even walking a short distance put a painful strain on my knees and back, so I’d taken taxis everywhere – in fact, I’d been so reliant on them, it had become a running joke at work. So I was delighted when I arrived for my 8am start and it didn’t hurt at all. 

Soon I was running – something I’d never done, even as a kid! After a while, I’d achieved all of my Body Magic awards and exercise had become a permanent fixture in my life. I was still Food Optimising 100%, enjoying my new social life and powering towards my target, which I reached that October. I had to take a moment to really let that sink in… I’d lost 9st! If someone had told the dejected, frightened me – the one who’d wanted to throw in the towel when he stepped on the scales – that within just 10 months I’d be a new man, I would have laughed them out of the room.

My self-esteem was so low and I had constant pain in my joints. Now I’m fit, healthy and happy

Feeling free to be me

Being healthier made life feel easier – and it was just as well, because in 2018, something happened that would require all of my energy. Dad developed vascular dementia following a stroke, and when Mum needed help with his care, I left my job so I could focus on looking after him.

Going through such a change made me take stock, and I started to realise that I’d been suppressing my true self.

Now I felt like a different person. I was ready to be fearless – and to make an announcement that would change my life.

I looked around at my friends in group and told them I was gay. There was applause, hugs and an outpouring of support from everyone, which is what I’d come to expect from such an extraordinary group of people.

With the encouragement of my friend, Sarah, and the other members, I decided to start dating. It felt strange, putting myself out there. I’d spent so long hiding away and denying who I was, that to reveal myself as a proud gay man felt exhilarating. And my courage paid off. I met Ben in April 2021, and before long we were a couple. After years of being lonely, it was wonderful to share my life with someone. 

By October last year, I felt like I could do anything, so I ran the Manchester Marathon! It was gruelling, but the sense of achievement was incredible, and it meant so much to me, as I was raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society. 

As I crossed the finish line, my mind suddenly turned to my lovely friend Debbie, and I wondered what she would have made of this fit, healthy and happy man. I think she’d be delighted that I feel so good, but she’d be even more thrilled to see me finally living life – as the person I truly want to be.

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