As I hurried down the corridor, I could feel my knees aching and my heart pounding. I was a manager in a care home and, at more than 21st, every day felt like a physical challenge. I had this feeling that I was letting everyone down.
My weight had started creeping up at university. If I got a good mark on an essay, I’d celebrate with drinks and a takeaway. If I’d had a bad day, I’d commiserate with a tub of ice cream. I’d always had sweet cravings, and I’d eat white chocolate biscuits and ice cream to try to satisfy them. By the time I graduated I weighed more than 15st.
In 2016, I started working as a care home supervisor, and the shifts were long and hectic. I’d pick up a takeaway burger for lunch and eat biscuits throughout the day. Dinner was often another takeaway burger or pizza. When I met my now-husband Damian, we bonded over our love of food. He’s Nigerian and I learnt how to make one of his favourite dishes, spicy chicken with jollof rice. I’d saturate the chicken in oil, then use more oil to cook the rice. I’d also make us boerewors sausages, which I’d serve with rice and some chicken curry, again cooked in lots of oil – a dish from my native South Africa.
I was a size 18 when we married, and my weight carried on increasing as we enjoyed cosy dinner dates at our local Italian and Chinese restaurants. When our son David was born, I loved him more than anything – but I found being a new mum more difficult than I’d imagined and I turned to food for comfort.
Once I started eating anything sweet, I’d just eat more and more.
I couldn’t ever seem to stop at just one or two biscuits, or a couple of scoops of ice cream. After a woman mistakenly congratulated me on being pregnant again, I felt a sudden determination to lose weight before my next birthday. I wanted to be a confident, energetic mum by the time I turned 35.
A friend of mine had lost weight with Slimming World but, knowing nothing about it, I worried it might be too restrictive. In January 2022, I decided I had nothing to lose by finding out. The Consultant, Emma, made me feel really at ease, and as she explained the plan, I realised it wasn’t a fad at all. It was about eating real food and making my meals healthier – not cutting them out or reducing their size. I felt positive – right up until the moment I was taken discreetly aside at the end to weigh in. Emma must have seen my face drop as 21st 2½lbs flashed up. ‘You can do this, Mbali,’ she said.
At the supermarket the next day, I remembered her words as I filled up my trolley with the healthy swaps I’d learned about in group. I didn’t even notice the difference, and there were no complaints from Damian or David either! One aisle I avoided on those early shops was the one filled with biscuits and chocolate, as they were such trigger foods for me. I decided to have low-fat fruity yogurts, bananas and grapes instead. I was slowly starting to build a new relationship with food.
Within my first two weeks, I’d already got my half-stone award. I loved the support I was getting during IMAGE Therapy – the bit where we shared our challenges, as well as our triumphs, and got personalised support from Emma.
I never once felt judged, and that meant I could be honest about how I was feeling.
After four months of avoiding biscuits, chocolate and ice cream, I felt ready to add sweet treats back in. That week in IMAGE Therapy, I talked about how I’d felt powerless against sweet cravings, and I could see heads nodding around the room, as so many members knew how it felt to have a trigger food. I started to feel more in control and found I could enjoy a chocolate bar without it derailing my day.
More for members: Discover how to make friends with your trigger foods
With my confidence on the up, I felt inspired to start the Body Magic physical activity support programme. I realised that the exercise I enjoyed most was walking. It didn’t cost a penny and all I had to do was pull on a pair of trainers and I was good to go.
On my 35th birthday in August 2022, I went to group and was thrilled to see I’d lost 6st 13lbs. That evening, I slipped into a size-12 dress and happily posed for photos. Before the end of the year, I’d reached my target weight of 12st 8lbs and my whole group cheered. I decided to lower my target weight a little bit, and I’m now 11st 10½lbs.
It’s hard to believe I’m more than 9st lighter! My healthy lifestyle gives me so much energy, at work and at home – whether I’m running to an emergency or helping a patient get out of bed, or I’m down on the floor playing with David.
Feeling so much better in my own skin has given me the confidence to pursue my dream career as a web developer – something I’d never have had the guts to do before. I’ve also started my own podcast, aimed at empowering women. I just needed to believe in myself and, finally, I do!
Mbali’s day on a plate
Cornflakes with whole milk, or a fried breakfast with buttered toast.
Porridge with semi-skimmed milk.
Burger meal with large fries and a vanilla cola. Or a takeaway sandwich with lots of toppings and dressing.
Chicken stir-fry with rice and lots of veg.
Boerewors sausage with curry and rice, or chicken with jollof rice, cooked in lots of oil. Or a Chinese takeaway with ribs, sweet and sour chicken, rice and prawn toast.
Chocolate bars, white chocolate biscuits and tubs of ice cream.
Bananas, low-Syn flavoured yogurts, and Hi-fi bars (which I get at group).
Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.