Scrolling through the photos on my phone, it suddenly hit me just how different I looked in reality compared to the image in my mind’s eye. ‘Look at this one,’ I said to my wife, Clare, showing her a picture of me taken in the United States. I was wearing a yellow XXL shirt and looking so much bigger than I’d imagined. Clare nodded and smiled, saying: ‘I think the time’s come for both of us to do something about this, hasn’t it?’
It wasn’t so much the photo itself that troubled me, more the story behind it: we’d been to America to scatter the ashes of my brother-in-law, who had died aged just 55. It had made me take stock. I knew my size was beginning to take a toll on my health and, back then, in 2018, with my 60th birthday just a few years off, it felt like now or never. Even though I was tipping the scales at 20st 3lbs, I’d been telling myself that, because I was fit and strong, my increasing waistline didn’t matter all that much.
In my 35 years as a Royal Navy chaplain, I’d been part of the crew on 30 ships and had travelled the world. My job – to bring worship, pastoral care and prayer to crew and their families – wasn’t as physically rigorous as many of the roles on board, but I was still required to pass the same annual fitness test as everyone else. I either had to complete a one-and-a-half mile run or a multistage fitness test, doing sets of 25-metre shuttle runs in a specific time.
I passed every year, but it was getting harder and I put that down to my weight. A niggling knee injury had made running almost impossible and even just getting around the ship was beginning to prove difficult. My daily journey involved climbing 176 steep steps, and yes, I counted every one! In that sense, it was a relief when I took up my last posting in 2016, an onshore role at HMS Collingwood, Hampshire. I could have coasted into retirement at that point – then that family tragedy made me very aware of my own mortality.
Even so, when Clare suggested joining Slimming World, I had my doubts. ‘It’s going to be like that comedy sketch, isn’t it?’ I said. ‘It will be all women and a bossy type telling us off every week.’ She, quite rightly, rolled her eyes. ‘Let’s just try it and see, shall we?’ she diplomatically replied.
Learning the ropes
When I reluctantly walked into our local Slimming World group in November 2018, I was relieved to discover there were a few other men there. And our Consultant, Kirsty, couldn’t have been less like the finger-wagging character I’d imagined. From the moment I met her, I felt inspired.
She made it clear from the start that this was a supportive environment, where everyone looked out for each other – not unlike the Navy, I thought.
Food Optimising very quickly became part of everyday life. Clare and I, and our daughter Rebekah, who lives at home with us, would all eat the same dinners. I’d always enjoyed cooking, so planning menus and preparing meals wasn’t new to me. In the past, though, I’d make creamy curries with naan breads, or cook up lasagne or spaghetti bolognese using lots of oil and cheese. The first and best tip I got from group was how to make a pasta sauce with roasted butternut squash. It tasted rich and smooth, and added a delicious creaminess – it was a fantastic twist on a family favourite. I also quickly discovered a new love of roasted veg in all its forms.
Another way in which my attitude to food changed was learning what it meant to feel full. Over the years – especially when I’d been at sea – I’d eaten three large meals every day. There was always a cooked breakfast, followed by a hearty lunch and a three-course dinner, usually rounded off with something like a sponge pudding. In between, I’d have meetings and chats with officers and crew that often involved cups of tea, cake and biscuits. A lot of the time I felt so full, I couldn’t physically eat any more.
One week, Kirsty explained how really savouring your food can help you to realise when your hunger’s been satisfied, so you don’t end up eating so much you feel uncomfortable. That really struck a chord with me, and I started paying attention to when I felt comfortably full.
By now, it was early 2019, and I’d lost 2st and already felt much better. The knee problem that had dogged me for years had disappeared because I’d lightened the burden on my joints, and there was a literal spring in my step! I started going running again and got out on my bike. Bit by bit, my weight continued to drop, and I hit some memorable milestones along the way.
When I reached target, I took six bags of clothes down to the charity shop and bought myself the kind of new wardrobe I’d never have dreamt of wearing before.
This April, I hung up my Royal Navy clerical shirt (now a size 16½ins instead of 18½ins) for the last time. It’s given me the opportunity to explore my favourite pastimes, like yachting and scuba diving. Although my working life at sea may be over, I’m definitely not ready to sail into the sunset just yet. I have a lot of life to live and, thanks to Slimming World, retirement feels like the start of a new adventure!
Mike’s day on a plate
Full English with toast.
Spaghetti bolognese or lasagne made with lots of oil and cheese.
A big fresh salad with skinless chicken, eggs or leftover lean meat from the weekend – sometimes with cheese, using one of my Healthy Extra choices.
Three-course meal such as pâté with toast, followed by a chicken roast and sponge pudding with custard.
Poached salmon and prawns with roasted veg couscous, followed by fruit mixed with fat-free natural yogurt.
Snacks and drinks
Biscuits and cake. And beer, wine and gin and tonics at the weekend.
Fruit, a Hi-fi bar, the occasional gin and slimline tonic and a Healthy Extra ‘a’ glass of warm milk before bed.
How did you celebrate reaching target? Maybe you shopped up a storm or booked the trip of a lifetime! We’d love to know, so please do drop us a comment below...
*Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.