My slimming journey started 13 years ago, when I was in a band called Bad Lashes. We’d entered The X Factor in 2008, and ended up getting through to the live shows. It was an amazing experience but, at 21, my slightly wobbly self-esteem was knocked by being in the spotlight. Conscious of being on live TV, I felt big in comparison to my bandmates and the female celebrities we met backstage. As every show night approached, I’d just live on diet drinks for a few days. It was extreme – and it didn’t even work! It was almost a relief when we were voted off the show.

Thatʼs me (third from right), with my Bad Lashes bandmates and The X Factor host Dermot OʼLeary

Life in a band made it quite difficult to eat healthily. We worked so hard rehearsing every day and, following an evening show, we’d unwind with a takeaway and wine. After The X Factor, we recorded an EP but none of the record companies were interested. As we faced rejection after rejection, I lost belief in myself and couldnʼt see the point in trying to eat healthily. Then some things happened that overshadowed my earlier worries. My brother, Lee, then my mum, Theresa, were diagnosed with different types of cancer, and my aunt Diane slipped into a coma after a routine operation went wrong. Suddenly, my dreams of becoming a star didn’t feel that important. I left the band for good and returned home to Durham.

Seeing my loved ones go through serious illnesses made me want to enjoy my life to the full – and one of the ways I did that was through food. It was such a relief to see my mum overcome breast cancer and my aunt recover – while my brother’s blood cancer proved controllable and, against the odds, he had a daughter, Florence.

Yet instead of making me want to protect my future health, their experiences left me with a ‘you only live once’ mentality.

In my job helping medical students find placements abroad, I was doing a lot of travelling, flying off to places like Croatia, Thailand and Poland and enjoying the most indulgent local food – including lots of delicious bread and dumplings! When I eventually found a job closer to home, I took to secretly eating in my car at lunchtime. I’d have a pasty and a chocolate bar before going back into the office with a salad box, so my colleagues didn’t think I was unhealthy. Then, one day, Aunty Marie came over. As we were chatting, she said: ‘I’ve just lost half a stone in two weeks with Slimming World. You should try it.’ I wasn’t sure, telling her it wasn’t really my thing. ‘Come for a week and see what it’s about,’ she said. ‘You might be surprised.’

I didn’t actually know what I weighed – I knew I’d been 10st at one point. When the numbers on the scales flashed up at 12st 2½lbs, I had to blink back tears – I hadn’t realised I’d gained stones, not pounds. One of the other members, Carol, saw my distress. ‘Don’t worry, pet, next week you’ll be jumping off those scales with joy,’ she said. My Consultant, Vickie, agreed. Back home, I studied the new-member pack and planned my week’s meals. As a vegan, what impressed me was how well Food Optimising could be adapted to plant-based cooking – the things that could be done with beans, lentils and plain or smoked tofu were amazing! ‘We’re having a curry tonight,’ I told my boyfriend, Steven. I made a few changes to a chicken tikka masala recipe I’d found in Slimming World’s Curry Club cookbook to make it vegan. It was delicious and I knew it would help kick-start my weight loss, too. At the next weigh-in, I’d lost 4lbs!

Vickie was incredibly inspiring and she helped me discover so much about myself and my relationship with food. One of the things that really hit home was discovering the difference losing 10% of your body weight can make to your health. Hearing how gaining weight put me at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and having a heart attack got me thinking. Up until then, I’d always thought about others: my family, my bandmates, the students I’d been finding work placements for... Curing my brother had been out of my control, just as much as getting a record deal had been. Now, I realised what I did have influence over was my own body and health. Vickie had so many slimming tools to help me, and the group were full of great ideas – I just had to find the right mindset and want to make those changes. Another thing that helped was realising I could still have the foods I loved, like pizza and chips. And with some simple swaps, I could make them slimming-friendly and enjoy them regularly! I picked up some tips for lower Syn drinks options, too, such as gin and diet tonic or white wine with soda water.

Getting more active straight away, alongside Food Optimising, really helped, as well. I joined a gym and signed up for four gym classes a week, including weights-based ones and boxing. I loved the way exercise made me feel, and it always made me want to eat lots more Speed Free Food – I guess because I felt healthy! I also bought weights to use at home and, after Steven noticed how much stronger I was getting, we started doing the same workouts. We loved weekends away in the Lake District and now did the long walks together, rather than me waiting in a pub for Steven to get back.

I’d never imagined losing weight could change my outlook so much and make me feel so good about myself.

I realised I wanted other people to experience that feeling, so I started thinking about becoming a Slimming World Consultant – and the more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea of running my own business doing something I loved – and actually helping people – became. I launched my first group last October, running it virtually when I had to. I used all my Food Optimising training and also encouraged my groups to come up with new ways to stay on track during lockdown – from handy snacks to include in their food shop, to fun ways to move more, such as having a kitchen disco! I always came away with such a buzz, and the feedback from the members was so positive. I was able to leave my day job and become a Consultant full-time in January – and that was a wonderful moment.

I realised I didn’t want to slip back into old habits, so while I was focusing on my own Slimming World groups, I also made sure I went back to Vickie’s group as often as I could. It’s always great to see her and the other members, and I’m now well on the way to my 9st 7lbs target. Vickie often reminds me of something I discovered quite early on at group, that it’s vital to be kind to yourself. That new attitude gave me the motivation to really look after myself. It might sound funny, but my life now gives me way more satisfaction than being in a band ever did. In fact, since losing weight, I feel like I’ve won my very own talent show 10 times over! 

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