My boyfriend’s smiling face appeared on the screen of my phone and I immediately felt my spirits lift. Just as it had been for everyone else during lockdown, being separated from loved ones was the hardest part – and I lived for video calls with Jake, my boyfriend of five years. I was living at home with my mum and dad, and although Jake didn’t live far away, we’d had to get used to being apart. The days and weeks had started to drag, and it was getting to me. ‘I really miss you,’ I sighed, ‘this already feels like it’s been going on forever.’ Jake nodded and said, ‘It’s OK, we’ll be back together soon.’

‘I wonder what you’ll think when you do see me?’ I thought, smiling to myself after I’d ended the call. What Jake didn’t realise was that some changes had been taking place in the months we’d been apart, and he was in for a little surprise…

Jake and I had met at college, then, in 2016, we went to different universities and it was the first time we’d been apart since we’d started going out. I headed off to Liverpool to study psychology and Jake went to Derby. The two cities were close enough that we could visit each other every two weeks, while throwing ourselves into student life when we weren’t together.

After lectures, I’d cook up large platefuls of cheap pasta with high Syn supermarket sauces, then head out for happy-hour cocktails and grab a Chinese takeaway on the way home. While I noticed my weight was creeping up, it didn’t seem like a big deal – I was having too much fun.

There were moments when I suddenly wouldn’t feel OK about my size, though. Turning from the mirror to Jake one evening in my room at uni, I waved a despairing hand at my dress. ‘I can’t even fasten this one up any more,’ I said. As ever, Jake said he loved the way I looked, and while his reassurances were good to hear, I’d started feeling less and less happy about getting dressed up to go out.

Back home at the end of the first year, I grumbled that my summery clothes no longer fitted. ‘I’m thinking of joining Slimming World,’ Mum said. ‘Why don’t you come with me?’ It seemed worth a try, and I liked the idea of going back to Liverpool for the new term feeling confident again.

In July 2017, Mum and I joined the group in our village, and I went home the first night thinking that, actually, it sounded like a bit too much food – surely I couldn’t eat all that and lose weight? Not believing it, I only semi-followed the plan, restricting myself to salads rather than enjoying all the other Free Food I was told about in group. All the same, I lost 12lbs over the summer and I did feel better about myself when I went back to start my second year. 

That’s when things started to go off track – I’d decided that I’d just weigh myself instead of finding a new group and I soon slipped back into the previous term’s routine of takeaways and cocktails. The stresses of trying to do well on my course were starting to get on top of me, too, and my coping mechanism was to comfort myself with food. It wasn’t long before I was putting the pounds back on and, as my weight crept up, my mood sank lower.

When I was weighed at a GP check-up, I was shocked to discover I was 13st. I’d not only regained the weight I’d lost over the summer, I’d added on a further stone.

In December 2017, I made the difficult decision to leave my course and return home to look for a job. For four months, I couldn’t find work, and my weight was still climbing steadily as I ate to try to feel better. Eventually, I was delighted to be offered a role as a sales administrator with a lighting manufacturer. I enjoyed the job, but I did find sitting at a desk all day meant I often turned to snacks.

As my 21st birthday approached in February 2019, I made a real effort to stay positive and embrace my curvy shape. For my party, I deliberately chose an outfit that would show my friends and family that I was feeling fabulous. The stripy black mesh trousers and lacy top signalled ‘I’m brimming with confidence’, but deep down, I knew it was just a front. Despite that, I Ioved the celebrations and I had great fun with all my friends and family. Once the excitement was over the next day, though, I felt quite low. Scrolling through my phone, I tried to pick out the best pictures to post on Instagram and Facebook to show how fantastic the party had been… but I couldn’t find a single one I liked or wanted my friends to see.

I had a great time at my 21st party and my outfit screamed ‘confidentʼ. I felt anything but on the inside, though...

Mum could see how I was feeling and suggested we go back to Slimming World together. It was June when we eventually walked back through those doors and I already knew that this time it was going to be different. 

I’d gained over a stone since that doctor’s appointment, and although at 14st 3lbs I was the heaviest I’d ever been, I felt like I could tackle it. This time, I listened intently to the new-member talk and before I left to go home, I told my new Consultant, Tracey, ‘I’m really going to get the most out of the programme this time!’ 

When I’d first joined, I’d avoided pasta – one of my favourite things – even though I knew I was allowed it, thinking it was too good to be true. Tracey explained again that I didn’t need to deny myself. Dried and fresh unfilled pasta was a Free Food, so I could eat as much as I liked. She said if I ate things I enjoyed and that satisfied my hunger, I’d be less likely to want to give up. It made sense and I promised myself I’d follow Food Optimising to the letter. This time, rather than just eating salads, I took a close look at all the food I could have and started cooking my own meals. I’d always loved my dad’s legendary spaghetti bolognese, so discovering that I could make a Slimming World version with just a few simple changes was quite a moment!

Putting all my faith in the plan and really enjoying my food was the thing that turned everything around for me. I was never hungry or bored, I was eating my favourite foods and I was steadily losing weight.

Then, in March 2020, my heart sank as the national lockdown was announced. Along with the many other worries that it brought for me and my family, I wondered if it would undo all my progress. I’d lost 2½st by then, but I still had more to go to get to target.

Furloughed from my job, I could easily have fallen back into old habits, so I was surprised to find I didn’t feel the need to comfort myself with food. Each morning, I’d get up at 8am and head out on a 5k power walk for my daily exercise. Then, when the rules relaxed a bit and unlimited outdoor exercise was allowed, I started doing another 5k walk with my sister, Celine, when she came home from work. 

In July, after more than three months without seeing Jake – the longest it had ever been – I could feel butterflies in my tummy as I waited for the door to open. As well as being thrilled to see him, I’d lost a further 1st 8½lbs since he’d last seen me just before lockdown and I hoped he’d notice how different I looked.

Finally, as Jake walked into the house and stood in the hallway staring at me with his mouth wide open, I blinked back the tears. ‘You look absolutely amazing,’ he said. That afternoon, I kept catching him staring at me and eventually burst out laughing. ‘You’re making me feel like I’ve got something on my face!’ Jake grinned in response and told me I looked incredible for the umpteenth time that day. His compliments meant being reunited was even better than I’d imagined!

Seeing Jake had been such a boost, so when I had my biggest-ever weekly gain of 3½lbs, instead of throwing me off course it only spurred me on. I planned in my meals and Syns, having learnt that feeling deprived wasn’t a sustainable way to live. I’d have a bag of Skips (4½ Syns for a 17g bag) mid-afternoon, and a low Syn chocolate bar after my evening meal with a cuppa. I also went out for a walk every day no matter what – and four weeks later, I got to my target weight.

Now, Jake and I are closer than ever, and I know we’ll keep smiling through whatever life throws at us. Finding a new mindset around weight loss has changed my whole outlook on life, and being happy in my own skin has filled me with energy and positivity – I love the way it feels. 

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