I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t overweight. One of my earliest and most embarrassing memories is of my primary school PE teacher telling me I needed to lose weight before I could play for the football team.
I started to put on the pounds in the latter years of secondary school and carried on when I went off to university. I spent a lot of time sitting in my room in halls, eating junk food and hiding away from the world. I also drank a lot of beer on the occasions I did venture out, which led to me eating even more junk food. My size meant that my life became increasingly insular, and I made up a variety of excuses for not going out. I ended up dropping out of uni without completing the final year of my degree.
As the years went by, I’d avoid gatherings like parties and weddings because I just felt so uncomfortable, and I’d have panic attacks about social situations where I knew my size would be an inhibiting factor. I knew I wouldn’t fit into a plane seat, so I never travelled, even though I really wanted to. My weight even affected my job as a civil servant – my sickness record definitely prevented me from taking part in numerous promotion boards. I also had to have a special chair ordered as I couldn’t fit into the standard office ones.
For 20 years, doctors told me that if I didn’t do something about my weight, I’d be lucky to reach 40 – and there I was at 44, seeing my life and friends slip away from me.
I knew if I didn’t do something urgently, or at least try, then I would likely be dead in a few years. And since I was living on the third floor of my parents’ home, the thought of how they’d remove my body from the house if I had a heart attack in my sleep was a constant worry.
Hitting rock bottom
Mum was facing her fourth cancer battle and it spurred me into action. I knew that this time I had to try to be as healthy as I could – not just for her, but for me as well. I was also worried that if my mum did pass away, I wouldn’t be able to be a pallbearer at her funeral, which was a heartbreaking thought. Sadly, it was to be her last battle and she died in October 2017, by which point I’d lost 5st. I know she’d be really proud if she could see me now.
My friend Laura was a Slimming World member and I agreed to join a local group with her. I was nervous on that first night, of course, but it really helped to have Laura beside me. I even contacted the Consultant, Lyndsey, in advance to check that the scales would be able to take my weight. The last time I’d weighed myself was at the doctor’s, where I’d had to stand on two sets of scales to get a reading. Lyndsey assured me that there was nothing to worry about and she was right – everyone was so supportive and friendly. And although it was a shock to see the scales hit 37st, thanks to Lyndsey’s kindness and hearing about Slimming World’s plan, I finally felt like I could do something about it.
I soon got to grips with the Food Optimising eating plan. In the past, I’d been referred to dietitians and dabbled with intermittent fasting and restricting my portions. I’d lose weight initially, but I could never stick to it because I was hungry most of the time. What was so different about Slimming World was that I could lose weight while still eating hearty meals to satisfy my appetite.
It felt like a bit of a light-bulb moment when I realised slimming didn’t have to mean starving myself.
I was a bit veg-phobic when I first joined, but now one of my favourite dishes is a Mediterranean vegetable pasta – and I even have an allotment with a veggie patch!
The group environment really helped me, too. For the first time, I was surrounded by people who knew how it felt to struggle with their weight. Checking in with everyone each week has been invaluable and I’ve learned so much from everyone. I attend virtually now that we’re in lockdown, which is great and helps keep me on track. I couldn’t be without my group.
A healthy future
Years of being overweight took its toll on my knees, and I used to take daily medication to manage the pain. I’ll still need a knee replacement at some stage, but I’ve certainly delayed the inevitable and made the operation itself more likely to be successful. When I was 37st, my doctor told me it was too risky for me to have surgery because calculating the anaesthetic needed for someone my size was so tricky.
More recently, I was ill with suspected coronavirus. Obviously it wasn’t pleasant and I was knocked off my feet by it – but I dread to think how my body might have responded had I still been 37st. It’s a timely reminder that my health is so important.
Now I’m slimmer, exercise has become part of my life. I’m cycling for the first time in nearly 30 years, I can walk without getting out of breath, and I’m also enjoying yoga. It’s a completely different life to the one I had before – one that’s full of opportunities, friends and adventures.
By far the best thing that’s happened to me since losing weight is meeting my partner, Nicole. When I was bigger, I couldn’t imagine ever finding love and I felt resigned to dying alone.
Since meeting, we’ve moved in together, been swimming in the Mediterranean and done a walking tour of Berlin. I’ve also learned to drive, after avoiding travelling in a car for years because I knew the seat belts wouldn’t fit. There are lots more adventures Nicole and I want to tick off the list and, for the first time in ages, I’m excited about the future.
Phil’s day on a plate
Breakfast: Sausage roll or a sausage bap with cheese and ketchup; full-fat latte or cappuccino with added sugar.
Lunch: Canned soup with three or four rounds of white bread, a large bag of crisps and a chocolate bar. Or chips with cheese and lots of sauce.
Dinner: Large supermarket pizza, crisps and chocolate, or a Chinese or Indian takeaway.
Evening: Packets of crisps, jumbo bar of chocolate, family bag of sweets, doughnuts, biscuits.
Breakfast: Bran flakes or reduced-sugar muesli with fat-free yogurt and frozen berries; Americano coffee with skimmed milk.
Lunch: Leftovers from a home-cooked meal the night before, or a Slimming World pasta dish and some fruit.
Dinner: Chicken or salmon with Slimming World chips or potatoes and lots of fresh veg from my allotment.
Evening: A Slimming World Hi-Fi bar.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.