Growing up in my close, loving Hindu family, every celebration, from Easter to Diwali, was marked by a huge feast. Dad did most of the cooking – traditional curries, chapatis and deep-fried sweets. Whenever I visited my family, the first thing anyone said was: ‘Let me make you something to eat.’ Food represented love for us, and I couldn’t get enough of it. If anyone noticed my weight climbing, they didn’t say a word, so even though I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable in my clothes, I put it to the back of my mind.
Then, when I was 30, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and prediabetes. And although the doctor did tell me it was connected to my weight, I just took the medication, reminding myself that cardiac issues ran in the family, so it was inevitable they’d affect me, too. By now I was a nurse and, at over 16st, I knew deep down that my weight was probably affecting my health. But I laughed it off. ‘I’m built for comfort, not speed,’ I’d say with a wink, bringing in cakes and biscuits for my workmates so I wasn’t eating them on my own. After my arranged marriage had ended, I was raising my son, Sachin, alone.
Now Sachin was a teenager, I’d make fun of myself to him, too. When I told him about the embarrassment of getting stuck in a skirt in a shop changing room, he just shrugged and said: ‘I don’t know why you worry.’ He loved me as I was, and that was enough for me.
Each time I tried a fad diet, as soon as I felt deprived I’d think: ‘Why am I stressing? Embrace food! You only live once.’ Looking back, I can see I was worried that committing to weight loss would mean sacrificing my social life. I did try a weight loss club, but when I lost just 1lb after a week of virtually starving myself, I gave up, disheartened. It was more fun to go out with the girls, eat chips, drink a few glasses of wine and have a dance.
At 40, I fell in love with Patrick, an electrical engineer. But when he told me I looked nice, I felt like a fraud, certain he was only saying it to make me feel better.
And even though I loved every moment of our magical Bollywood-style wedding in 2015, I couldn’t help wishing I’d been slimmer under my colourful sari.
One evening, during a girls’ night in at a friend’s house, my chair broke and I ended up in a heap on the floor. My friends flocked around me, checking I was OK. I was sure my weight had caused the chair to collapse beneath me and I felt hurt and bruised, inside and out. But I slapped on a grin. As soon as I left, though, and knew nobody could see me, I burst into tears.
From then on, I couldn’t face seeing them, and for someone as sociable as I was, that was serious. Soon after, on New Year’s Eve 2016, a friend from work said she was joining Slimming World and I said I’d go with her. As I walked into group, though, I was wary. I was afraid of being patronised or made to feel ashamed, but everyone was friendly and normal. When the Consultant, Nicky Collins, explained how much I could eat, I doubted I’d lose anything. For a week, I followed the plan, eating more than usual to prove my point. To my astonishment, the next week, I’d lost 6lbs. And when I discovered home-made Slimming World chips, I was well and truly sold!
I’d always believed that food was far more than just fuel, so it was exciting to fall in love with it in a whole new way. Instead of buying ready meals and jars of sauce to make my curries, I cooked from scratch using lovely fresh ingredients.
I learnt how to make Food Optimising versions of some of Dad’s classic dishes, such as beef madras and chicken curry, with lean meat, vegetables and low-calorie cooking spray instead of ghee. As I could use lots of Free herbs and spices, there was no need to compromise on the flavours I loved.
Sachin and Patrick barely noticed any difference and when we celebrated feast days at home, the table was still filled with delicious curries, boiled dried rice, and dhal cooked without oil. And when Patrick realised I was swapping wine for a shot of spirit with a diet mixer, he set me up a bar with optic dispensers, so I could be sure I was getting the correct measures. Now that’s true love!
Because I’d met the nicest bunch of people at group, every week I looked forward to the big hugs on arrival and giggles over cups of tea. By now I’d swapped my Saturday group for a Tuesday one, as the timing worked better. Within weeks, we were messaging each other every morning, and we’d go out regularly for an on-plan meal. Our local Indian restaurant got used to us ordering salad with our mains and boiled rice instead of pilau.
The support we gave each other in group was vital, especially when we’d been disappointed on the scales. Our Consultant, Stevie, was amazing, too. If I’d put on 1lb when I’d expected a loss, I’d go quiet, feeling wronged. Then I’d get a text or a card from Stevie saying: ‘You’re doing great, keep it up.’ It always rebooted my motivation because I realised that if she believed in me, I could believe in myself, too.
While my weight loss had been going well, I’d been putting off starting Body Magic because I thought I was too unfit. I’d never been one for exercise, and used to say: ‘Why walk? That’s what cars are for!’ Then, when friends from group told me about a promotion at our local gym, I agreed to go with them, knowing we’d be in it together. After the 30-minute taster session, running and doing jumping jacks, I’d never felt so exhausted, so I surprised myself when, spurred on by the others, I kept going back. It got easier, and I noticed I was starting to tone up a little.
After six weeks of exercising alongside Food Optimising, I’d lost 2ins from my waist and was down at least two dress sizes.
I got the bug after that, and started going to a regular exercise class using weights. I even signed up with a personal trainer.
When I stopped avoiding mirrors and looked at myself properly, I was thrilled to see I had visible cheekbones. The more my face shape changed, the more I grew interested in make-up and aesthetic techniques, looking into beauty tutorials online. After I got to my 11st 2lb target weight in May 2018, there was one extra confidence boost I wanted for myself. I spent some of my savings on a breast reduction and lift. It was a decision I took purely for me – treating myself for having done so well with my weight loss – and once I’d healed, I was delighted with the results. Shopping for pretty underwear and even going braless made the surgery worthwhile. My new body confidence meant that now I believed Patrick when he complimented me, and that made our love life better than ever.
Losing weight has given me back my free spirit and allowed me to make exciting choices. It’s without a doubt the best time of my life. I feel younger, full of energy and my blood pressure and blood-sugar levels are no longer a problem. I’d never have found the confidence to work in the beauty industry before, and now, on top of my day job, I’ve trained as an aesthetic practitioner, which allows me to perform certain cosmetic treatments. I’ll always be a social butterfly and, as well as family and old friends, I count my gang of Slimming World buddies as a vital extra to help me stay healthy. When we’re ‘out out’ and I’m twerking on the dance floor in a fitted, body-con dress, I feel better in my 40s than I did when I was 30 – and that’s an amazing feeling.
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.