Far and away the best present I received for my 50th wasn’t anything expensive or flashy, but it meant the world to me: a pair of skinny jeans. They were something I’d always yearned to own and now not only was I wearing a pair, I was rocking them confidently in a size 10!

Where it all began

I hadn’t always been unhappy with my weight. From my teens I’d been a keen horse rider and I went into my 20s around a size 12-14, feeling fit and healthy, never really thinking about my weight at all. That all changed when my mum, Mary, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was 30. I was living in London at the time, and I’d spend my weekends travelling up and down the motorway to see her. On the way, I’d stop at a service station and grab a cheese and pickle sandwich, a bag of crisps and, more often than not, a chocolate bar.

Turning to food

Coping with Mum’s illness was hard, and chocolate had become a way of soothing my  stress. As a little girl, I’d always been given sweets when I was sad and I guess the habit never left me.

Now, I was upset most of the time, and my normal routine went out of the window. I didn’t have the time or energy to exercise any more, and I lost all my motivation to cook healthy food, too, picking up quick ready meals or takeaways instead. I’d always loved an Indian – poppadoms and pickles, followed by a creamy curry – and I’d gone from having them as an occasional treat to ordering one every weekend without fail. 

Just over a year after Mum had been diagnosed, she passed away. My grief was still raw when there was more devastating news: my dad had been diagnosed with cancer. 

Life was turned upside down again, and again I turned to sweet treats, takeaways and ready meals.

In 2014, my husband, Peter, and I moved to Cheshire. By now, I’d gone up two dress sizes and although we started walking more in the Peak District, my weight stayed the same. It was frustrating that I was doing all that exercise and not getting any slimmer. It didn’t dawn on me that even a long hike wouldn’t cancel out the creamy ready-meal pasta dishes and chocolate, and the four or five pints at the weekend in our local, followed by an Indian takeaway.

Another thing I found frustrating was that despite the exercise I was doing, my fitness was getting worse. If we hiked up a steep hill I’d be red-faced, puffing and panting by the time I reached the top.

Confidence knock

Despite my outward always-smiley persona, my self-esteem was non-existent. In June 2019, I went on a horse-riding minibreak with a few friends. We’d been doing lots of an exercise where we had to stand in the stirrups rather than sit in the saddle. Despite how much my muscles ached, I was determined not to give in and sit down. 

By the end of the trip I was in agony and knew I’d really hurt myself. I had to be taken to A&E where a doctor explained that as well as having inflamed tendons, I’d trapped several nerves in both of my feet and would need an injection to ease the burning pain. I felt so guilty that I’d ruined the end of the break for my friends. I was sure that if I’d been slimmer and fitter, this wouldn’t have happened. 

I made myself a promise there and then: I was going to lose weight.

My friend Cath was a Slimming World member. I remembered chatting with her about Food Optimising and her telling me how she could still eat lots of tasty, filling food, which sounded like exactly what I needed. As soon as I got home, I found my nearest Slimming World group and rang the Consultant, Ali. She oozed positivity, immediately putting me at ease.

Ready for change

On my first visit to group a few days later, Ali explained how much delicious food I could eat, going through the huge list of Free Food, Healthy Extras and Syns. What I was hearing was a revelation to me. I could still enjoy food and satisfy my hunger – it was just about finding a healthier balance.

Fired up by Ali’s talk, I was adamant I was going to give it my best shot. Even when I stood on the scales and found out I weighed 14st 6½lbs, it only added to my determination to change. As soon as I got home I went through my cupboards, labelling packets and tins with a black marker pen, so I knew which were Free and which I’d have to count as Syns. There was a moment of horror when I worked out our favourite Indian takeaways clocked up around 40 Syns.

Suddenly dawned on me why I’d never lost weight, despite how much walking and riding I did.

From then on, I swapped my breakfast of sweet cereal for Weetabix with fat-free natural yogurt and berries, and began making chunky home-made soups for lunch instead of having my usual shop-bought cheese and pickle sandwiches. Keeping Free Food veg and seafood sticks to hand, and Mini Babybel Lights for 2 Syns each, meant I didn’t crave chocolate as often – and when I did, I’d plan it in using my Syns. At dinner time, Peter and I tried out recipes from Slimming World cookbooks and soon had a list of favourites, including citrus salmon and chicken risotto.

Each week, the number on the scales came down, helping to keep me motivated. Initially, I’d worried I’d have to miss out on going to the pub for a few ales with friends.

Now I realised I could still enjoy a social occasion and stay within my Syns.

I began feeling lighter in myself and my energy levels were soaring. I started lengthening my running routes with every week that passed. Soon, I could run 10km, and the hilly terrain was feeling easier and easier. 

A time to celebrate

By February 2020, I’d reached my target of 10st 12lbs. As a special treat, Peter took me clothes shopping during a trip away to Liverpool. As we walked around the shops, I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman – out of my comfort zone, but very excited! I wasn’t sure what would suit me, so I filled my arms with whatever caught my eye. I tried on fitted floral dresses, and tailored trousers and tops, and as I looked at the person staring back at me in the mirror, tears rolled down my cheeks. ‘Is that really me?’ I asked Peter. For the first time in 30 years my outfits were shouting ‘look at me’, rather than the opposite. ‘It is,’ came my husband’s proud reply. ‘You’ve worked so hard for this.’

But honestly, I didn’t feel like I had worked hard – with my group’s support, Food Optimising had felt easy.

A month later, I celebrated my milestone birthday and genuinely felt fab at 50, in skinny jeans and a fitted top, with red streaks in my hair – something I’d never had the confidence to do before. I’d started my new decade feeling better than ever. Now when I go running I’m covering much greater distances, sometimes up to 17km, and when Peter comes with me, it’s me who beats him to the top of the hill! And I feel so much better on horseback that I’m training as a riding instructor at my school, where I’ve also taken on a job as stable groom. I’m the fittest and happiest I’ve ever been, and I know just how precious life is… so it feels great to be able to live every moment to the maximum! 

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