My little niece, Paisley, was looking me up and down with a puzzled frown. ‘Have you got a baby in your tummy?’ she asked solemnly. While I laughed it off, inside I felt mortified. Was I really so big that I looked pregnant?

When I’d first moved in with Danny, at the age of 19, I was a size 8. The problem was, neither of us knew how to cook. Mum had tried to show my sisters and me the basics, but I wasn’t very interested. It seemed much easier to get curry or Chinese from the local takeaway, or stick to frozen oven food like chicken nuggets and potato waffles. We ate out at least twice a week, too.

Unsurprisingly, I gained weight quickly: in about three years, I was up to a size 16. I managed to drop a dress size for our wedding, five years ago, by eating more healthily and exercising regularly. Then as soon as the big day was over, I lost motivation, cancelled my gym visits and quickly went back to my old habits. Before I knew it, I weighed over 15st.

My big sister, Jodie, Paisley’s mum, kept saying she was worried about me and that I ought to do something about my weight. I ignored her – even though I knew she was right.

Then, she asked me to be her bridesmaid. I was thrilled... until, at the first dress fitting, I was told that I’d have to pay more than the other bridesmaids because they’d need more material to cover my size-18 figure.

My next embarrassing moment was far more serious: I’d gone to see my GP for my annual contraceptive pill check and, after weighing me and taking my blood pressure, he explained that he was going to have to change my prescription. My blood pressure was high and my body mass index (BMI) had gone above the recommended range for that particular pill. I felt so ashamed, I didn’t know where to look. I was given a 24-hour monitor to wear that took blood-pressure readings at intervals throughout the day. The funny thing was, it bleeped every 30 minutes… so when I went to my first Slimming World group, I was bleeping in IMAGE Therapy! Luckily, nobody said anything. Everyone was super-kind and welcoming, and only wanted me to feel comfortable. It was a noisy reminder to me of why I was there, though, and even though the blood pressure results turned out to be normal, I saw the whole episode as a warning.

Breaking old habits

Determined to lose weight, I set about making changes to my convenience food-heavy diet. When I really craved something, I played a trick on myself – I’d tell myself I no longer liked the taste of some of my previous high Syn favourites, like cake or ice cream, and ate fresh fruit instead. Then, if I still really wanted a sweet treat, I’d use my Syns for a Curly Wurly or a couple of squares of top-quality dark chocolate. To my surprise, I really enjoyed learning to cook for Danny and me, and trying out recipes from the Slimming World members’ website, LifelineOnline. Our favourites included tandoori chicken or the genius sweet and sour chicken recipe made with diet fizzy orange and soy sauce.

By the time Jodie’s wedding came along, I was 1½st lighter and needed the dress taken in by a size. I was feeling so much better already. 

And when I finally reached my 10st 10lb target in May 2016, I jumped up and down screaming! As the other members gathered around to congratulate me, I couldn’t believe I’d really done it.

These days, there are no more awkward misunderstandings about what’s in my tummy – just fashion advice from Paisley’s stylish nine-year-old brother, Noah, who found me a lovely A-line dress the other day. Shopping for clothes has turned into a real pleasure now that everything fits and I can wear whatever I like. Plus I’ve got so much energy and, most importantly, my blood pressure remains in the healthy range. I’m so glad I had that warning when I did – who knows how my health might have suffered if I’d carried on gaining weight. Now I’ll never have to find out!

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