To those around me I probably looked happy enough, but a smile can hide a lot – and I have a pretty big smile. In reality, I was deeply unhappy – I had no self-worth and no self-esteem.

Growing up, I was always bigger than my friends, but my weight really piled on after I entered into a relationship that made me very miserable. When I started reconnecting with my friends again, I realised that I'd become the ‘fat friend’. I didn’t like going out because I hated the way I looked and shopping for clothes would always end in tears. 

One day I thought to myself: ‘Imagine how different life could be if I were to take all of this time and effort that I spend hating myself and put it into creating a life that I love and could be proud of.’ I realised that I needed to become my own best friend instead of my harshest critic. I decided I’d like to do something with my life that would benefit others, so I started studying adult nursing. I wanted to be the healthiest version of myself that I could be in that role, so when a friend of mine asked me to join Slimming World with her, it just felt like the timing was right. My mum came along, too. 

We’re originally from America, so our family celebrations, like Thanksgiving and Fourth of July, usually centre around food. I realised that I didn’t need another diet, I needed a lifestyle change, and straight away Food Optimising just seemed to fit. I was eating a lot of the same meals as before, but I learned ways of making them more healthy – like using lean meat and making sauces from scratch.

I eat more now than I did before and I never feel hungry. I used to skip breakfast or lunch and would end up snacking and grazing all day; now I have regular mealtimes and enjoy satisfying home-made dinners.

Following the Food Optimising plan with my mum and having the chance to support each other throughout this journey has really deepened our relationship. I can’t thank her enough.

As I lost weight, I became much more active; I started playing volleyball, and doing Zumba and Body Pump classes. Now I have lots more energy for my busy shifts as a healthcare assistant, where I work alongside my nursing placement. 

Since losing weight I've had the confidence to volunteer in Tanzania on a nursing placement, and this summer I’ll be travelling to Alaska to work for my family. My biggest ambition is to travel and explore.

I’m definitely still a work in progress, but I feel so much happier and my smile is real now. I feel like I’m discovering a new me – a me that I’m proud of. I’ve found a sense of peace that I’ve never had before.

It’s crazy to think that I won Slimming World’s Miss Slinky 2016, because I’m sure there were so many other women who deserved this title – in fact, I know of many in my Slimming World group alone. I feel as though Slimming World offered me a glimmer of hope at a time in my life when I had none. From that first night when I walked into the group and got such a warm welcome from my Consultant, Denise, and all of the other members, I knew there was no going back.

Since losing weight I’m physically and mentally stronger than I’ve ever been before. The physical changes are great, but the psychological changes I’ve had are the ones that have benefitted my life beyond anything I could ever have imagined; my weight loss has been an outward reflection of my healthier state of mind.

I want anyone who’s struggling with their weight to know that they don’t have to struggle forever, and they certainly don’t have to do it alone because there is help and support out there.

Above all else, I want to be an ambassador of hope to those who feel as hopeless as I did. I want to inspire people to be brave enough to take that first step and really embrace the chance to change. There really is nothing to lose and so much to gain.

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