As Ruby and Jessie went through their kick-boxing drills, it was almost like watching a dance routine. My daughters, then 11 and seven, had started practising the sport six months earlier, and I loved seeing them do their stuff. But alongside my pride in my strong, beautiful girls, I felt sadness. I was the only parent sitting at the back of the hall, perched uncomfortably on a bench.

I’d never been slim, but my struggles began after I started university, when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as ME). I was constantly exhausted. 

After I graduated, I moved in with my boyfriend, Mark. Although I never weighed myself, I knew I was getting bigger as I kept needing larger clothes. By the time Mark proposed, I was a size 18. Adamant I was going to lose weight for our wedding, I cut out puddings and biscuits, and managed to squeeze into a size-14 dress.

A year later, I fell pregnant and had a constant craving for chocolate. I was a size 20 when Ruby was born, and three years later Jessie came along. I was so busy with the two of them that losing weight just wasn’t on my radar.

As the girls grew up, I began to feel very self-conscious. I tried to lose weight a couple times, joining Slimming World for a few weeks, then leaving after I’d lost a stone. I told myself I was too busy – deep down, I wasn’t committed to making long-term changes, and regained the weight I’d lost.

When I was at my biggest, we took the girls to Walt Disney World in Florida. While they had an absolute ball, I spent the whole time feeling like my weight was holding me back.

Joining Slimming World

It was 18 months later, sitting in that hall watching my girls kick-boxing, when everything fell into place. I knew with all my heart that I wanted them to grow up with a healthy role model. I’d go back to Slimming World as soon as possible and, this time, I’d change my lifestyle for good.

With a new determination, I walked into the Ivybridge group near my home. It had been ages since I’d weighed myself, so it was a shock to discover I was 18st 4½lbs.

I knew I’d have to rethink the kind of food I’d been eating. I’d been having buttered white toast for breakfast and cheese sandwiches for lunch, then snacking on chocolate and crisps until dinner – which was often a pizza or a Chinese takeaway with a couple of glasses of wine. So, to help with my fresh start, I went shopping and filled my trolley with lean meat, piles of fresh vegetables and fruit, and fat-free natural yogurt.

Giving weight loss my best shot

That night I cooked the family pasta with a home-made tomato sauce. As Mark and the girls tucked in, they were amazed that it could taste so good and be healthy at the same time. They had lots of favourite dishes including beef lasagne and spaghetti carbonara.

I went to group every week, even though I was just as busy at work as I’d ever been. I told myself that I had to prioritise my weight loss if I was going to succeed. 

I felt ready to do something that meant the world to me. At the girls’ next kick-boxing session, I stopped hiding at the back of the hall and got right into the action, spurring them on as they built up their skills.

When they both represented Great Britain at the World Martial Arts Championships in August 2015, I couldn’t have been prouder of my brilliant, determined daughters!

In December last year we went on holiday to Australia to see my brother. When we boarded the plane, it was the first time I didn’t worry that I might need a seat-belt extender or have to wedge myself into the seat. And when I met Steve at Sydney airport, he did a double take – last time he’d seen me I’d been a size 20. Now I was a size 10!

This time, I didn’t spend the holiday just watching my girls have fun. I was right in there with them, paddle boating alongside them!

Back home, inspired by all the activity we’d enjoyed during our down-under adventure, Ruby and I joined a ladies-only gym. As I continued losing weight, I noticed I was looking more toned, and in March last year I reached my target of 10st 5lbs.

Stepping off the plane in Florida last summer, as the heat hit me, so did the thought that this was going to be a very different holiday to last time. When we went to the theme park, I relished it, racing the girls up to the rides to sit beside them. I knew I’d become the slim, energetic mum I’d longed to be. And it felt amazing!

Rachel’s tips for busy families

  • ­I often cook double the amount and freeze it for a second meal when time is tighter. Slimming World lasagne is my favourite for batch cooking. 

  • Planning my meals for the week ahead keeps me focused – especially on a week where the girls have lots of activities and I know we’ll be rushing about.

  • I keep a stash of hard-boiled eggs, chopped fruit and veg sticks in the fridge, so I always have Free and Speed Free snacks on hand when I’m hungry.

  • I’ve noticed that if we eat our meals together, I don’t pick at the kids’ leftovers, so I look for recipes I know we’ll all enjoy.

  • I love getting the girls involved with the cooking. I feel like they’re learning how to make healthy swaps, which is really setting them up for the future.

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