Swishing a beautiful black fishtail dress in front of me, I gazed into the shop mirror. It was floor-length and perfect for my daughter Ebonee’s 21st birthday party, which was a few months away in March. I didn’t try it on, as I knew it wouldn’t fit – I was deliberately buying it two sizes too small, my tried-and-tested trick for getting into shape.

That had always been the way for me: picking a goal dress, event or holiday to slim down for. Then, I’d steel myself for weeks of restrictive calorie counting and intensive sessions of weightlifting and running. I’d got into plenty of slinky outfits that way, though I’d always have the stress of whether I’d manage it in time. And the moment the event was over or I was lying on a sunlounger, I’d breathe a huge sigh of relief as I stopped getting up early to exercise and happily indulged in all the food I’d been denying myself. Weeks later, I’d be right back where I’d started. 

As it happened, I never needed to get into that dress. Ebonee’s party was cancelled when we went into lockdown in March 2020, and as soon as the ‘stay at home’ order came, my motivation drained away like water down a plughole. I went back to the comfort of our usual dinners, followed by a bag of jelly sweets to perk up my evenings stuck on the sofa. Usually, I’d have gone out on five-mile runs with my running club, but with meet-ups suspended, I didn’t feel like exercising. It wasn’t as much fun doing it on my own, without Parkruns and half-marathons to motivate me. And with no parties or holidays to aim for, I soon regained the 2st I’d worked so hard to lose.

Time to try something new

As the new year approached, with tough tier-four lockdowns in place across most of the country, I started thinking ahead to when we’d all be enjoying some normality again. I pictured going back to work, out with friends, on dinner dates with my husband, Ewan and, most importantly, throwing a great 22nd birthday party for Ebonee to make up for the last one being cancelled! Finally, I might get to wear that black strapless dress. But after nearly a year at home in loungewear, and making (and eating!) every cheesecake recipe I could get my hands on, I knew I wouldn’t be coming out of lockdown feeling my best... and I certainly wouldn’t fit into that dress!

Lots of my friends raved about Slimming World and had always recommended it over my more taxing regimes, so I decided I’d give it a go. I found out that my local group was running virtual sessions on Zoom while lockdown was on and, as I didn’t want to wait until real-life groups would be able to open again, I committed to a 12-week Countdown course. It started on 29th December, and ended just in time for Ebonee’s birthday and, hopefully, her postponed party. In my first virtual group, I listened as my Consultant, Helen, explained the plan. Food Optimising was a really different approach for me and I was surprised to hear I wouldnʼt have to cut out carbs or go hungry. 

I got inspiration from listening to everybody else talk about their journeys, picking up lots of great tips. Helen had suggested thinking ‘Speed first’ – loading up my plate with weight loss-boosting veg, before dishing up other Free elements of the meal, such as lean meat. I loved the way that I was switching my focus from what I couldn’t eat to the lovely abundance of things that I could eat! I also picked up the idea to start planning out my week’s meals, and I bought a small whiteboard for our kitchen. Every Sunday, I’d think about what I wanted to eat over the coming seven days and I drew a little box for any meal ideas Ewan and Ebonee had suggested. Then I’d look for slimming-friendly versions in the online recipe section and in my Slimming World cookbooks. We enjoyed a brilliant variety of meals, including on-plan Chinese buffets, Friday night fajitas and fakeaway recipes for sweet and sour chicken and chicken tikka masala

I didn’t feel like I was on a diet at all – which was such a huge change from my restrictive fit-into-the-dress efforts.

After a few weeks, I realised that Ebonee and Ewan had ditched their fortnightly takeaway for my home-made Thai curry. For the first time in years, we sat down to eat together every night. Before, we’d each make something fast and easy for ourselves and eat separately. Now, Food Optimising was bringing my little family of three together, and it felt good to know they were eating really well – and enjoying it, too. 

A game-changing realisation

I started running regularly again and, as the pandemic restrictions eased, I encouraged some of my new friends at group to join me. It was great having that physical support and motivation. Getting my Body Magic certificates meant the world to me and helped me realise that exercise didn’t have to be all or nothing – even doing 15 minutes a day added up, so it didn’t matter if I wasnʼt in the mood for a big run. I created a simple weekly chart to keep fitness at the front of my mind, and shared it with my fellow members, who loved it. We were all hula-hooping, walking or dancing about the house and sharing our achievements in group. It made me see that, when I ate well, I felt better in myself; and when I felt better, I wanted to exercise. Because I was eating well, my body was fuelled up to perform better, too. I called it my ‘circle of goodness’. 

Something that really hit home for me was hearing Helen talk about the importance of not sabotaging ourselves after an off-plan meal or day, and instead drawing a line under it and moving on. In the past, I’d go hardcore with my dieting and then burn out… until it was time for the next crash diet. It had been a vicious circle, underscored by immense guilt and blaming myself for not sticking to it. I’d found it a hard cycle to break, but Slimming World was changing me from the inside out! 

As week 12 approached and my target weight drew closer, I realised I didn’t want to stop Food Optimising. Why on earth would I? I loved not feeling exhausted, hungry or self-conscious!

In fact, I was 42, and I felt the best I had in years. We were still in lockdown and, for a second year, Ebonee’s birthday party had to be postponed. Instead, Ewan and I decided to celebrate me hitting my target with a romantic dinner date in the garden, so we could both dress up. I pulled that gorgeous size-10 fishtail dress out of the wardrobe, and was thrilled when it slipped on and clung to my trim new shape in all the right places. I felt so glamorous and confident. We enjoyed a meal of stuffed mushrooms and steak with Slimming World chips by candlelight out on the patio, and rounded off an incredible evening with a low-Syn cheesecake for dessert. 

Now that I’ve ticked off my dream weight, I’m ready for my next Slimming World challenge. I’m aiming for Diamond Member at the end of the year – the award you get after staying at target for 12 months. Honestly, I wish I’d joined years earlier. I’ve no idea why I left it so long before trying Slimming World, but now I’m here, I’m in it for the long run!

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