To the outside world, it looked like we’d had the perfect family Christmas. It was my daughter Daisy’s first one – so extra special – but I couldn’t help feeling unhappy as I edited our family video. I knew that, even while opening gifts and merrily singing festive songs on one of the best days of the year, I’d felt desperately down about my weight.

Sadly, that emotion wasn’t anything new. From the moment I was christened the ‘fat kid’ at school, my weight spiralled out of control, until I weighed 15st at age 13, then 17st at 17. Late nights and stress-eating meant that I gained another 5st during my time at uni, leaving me at an unhealthy 22st. It was time to take action.

Stuck in a dangerous cycle

Unfortunately, I didn’t take the sensible kind of action. Instead, I set off down the equally unhealthy path of starving myself while hitting the gym hard. I looked into how to get fit fast and started an extremely-high-intensity workout programme. I lost 3st through punishing my body but, far from feeling good about it, I felt completely exhausted, stressed out and I had got myself stuck in a dangerous starve-myself-then-binge-eat cycle.

Even my regular games of football had become too much for my body to cope with. I struggled with knee issues and the pain was especially bad after my weekly kickabout. By the time of my unflattering close-up on our Christmas home movie, I’d regained a stone. I really wanted to get fit the healthy way – but I needed help. So, in January 2018, weighing in at 20st, I decided to join my local Slimming World group.

A feeling of belonging

I’d had lots of preconceived ideas about slimming clubs, and I was concerned Slimming World wasn’t for men. I felt comfortable lifting weights at the gym and running around a football pitch, but I was worried I’d feel out of place in such a female environment. And I was so low and insecure that I felt like it was weak to have to ask for help with weight loss.

Of course, I shouldn’t have worried. I was welcomed wholeheartedly into the group from the minute I walked through the doors, and I instantly felt like I belonged.

I quickly realised Slimming World definitely isn’t just for women, and that men can really benefit from group support, too.

Making smart swaps

Learning about food was a game-changer for me. I’d been trying to change my body through exercise alone, but I quickly realised that the saying ‘You can’t out-train a bad diet’ is true. And my diet left a lot to be desired... After skipping breakfast, I’d head to a fast food chain for a burger, foot-long sandwich or sausage rolls for lunch. Then dinner would be a massive spaghetti bolognese piled high with cheese. In between, I’d snack on sharing bags of crisps or sweets (regular-size bags just didn’t hit the spot!).

The biggest revelation about Food Optimising was that I could still enjoy my favourite foods – I just needed to make some smart swaps. Spaghetti bolognese is still one of my go-to meals, for example, but now I make it the Slimming World way, using lean mince and low-calorie cooking spray instead of oil (I really like the garlic version), and my Healthy Extra ‘a’ portion of reduced-fat cheese. Instead of buying foot-long subs, I make wraps full of lean ham, reduced-fat cheese and spinach.

There’s no need to give up treats either. I like Digestive Thins or sugar-free biscuits, especially crumbled over fat-free flavoured yogurt to make a dessert. And if I do fancy a bit of chocolate, I have it and just count the Syns within my daily allowance.

Crispy M&Ms and Malteser Buttons are my favourite treats – I just don’t eat the full sharing bag any more!

I’m really enjoying cooking now and I love discovering Slimming World versions of the food I used to eat out. The Swedish pork meatballs recipe in the All for One book tastes just like those you’d get from a famous flat-pack furniture shop, and I also like making Slimming World chicken nuggets to sort my fried chicken cravings. Everything that I’m eating now is super tasty and enjoyable, while being healthy and nutritious.

Getting fit the healthy way

I lost 3Ibs in my first week as a Slimming World member – then I lost weight consistently every week after that. Having the support of my family really helped me to stay on track and my beautiful wife, Louise, was my absolute rock. I’d often find a plate of Slimming World food waiting for me when I got home after working late.

This time, instead of pushing myself to get fit fast, I made sure that my gym sessions were sensible and went hand in hand with eating well. Slimming World taught me how to get fit the healthy way and the results speak for themselves.

By July that year, I’d lost nearly 5st and hit my target weight of 15st!

I’ve fallen back in love with football too, as knee pain no longer holds me back. I’m much quicker on the pitch and I’m also finding certain exercises (like push-ups) much easier. You don’t realise how much your weight is holding you back until you lose it! Another benefit is that I look so much better in a clingy football top than I did before! When I was heavier, I hated wearing anything close-fitting, but now I’ve swapped all my XXL tops for mediums and I even wear skinny jeans. I’ve binned all my ‘slimming’ black clothes, too, and replaced them with colourful, fashionable outfits.

After being miserable about my weight since school, I’ve totally transformed my life in just six months – and it’s thanks to Slimming World and some easy food swaps. I’ll definitely be getting the video camera out again this Easter, now I’m ready for my close-up!

Five Slimming World smart swaps

Nick has swapped his fast food favourites for super-healthy, easy-to-make Slimming World versions. Here are his top five swaps:

1. Swap stodgy pizza for satisfying pizza-topped chicken

2. Swap a greasy kebab for healthy home-made kebab and chips

3. Swap a Chinese takeaway for tasty beef and noodles in hoisin sauce

4. Swap fast food burgers for Nick’s Free naked burgers

5. Swap a bucket of fried chicken for a Slimming World chicken fakeaway

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