The moment I realised how much my weight was affecting my life – and my family’s – is one I’ll never forget. I’d just got back from work and collapsed onto the sofa, exhausted and aching. While I wanted a hot shower, I couldn’t bring myself to climb the stairs, knowing how much effort it would take. I looked over at my mum, Rosemary, who was sitting across from me and said: ‘I’m going to join Slimming World.’
Mum was quiet for a moment, then it all came pouring out. ‘Thank goodness,’ she said. ‘Amy has been so worried – she told me she’s frightened you might die and that she would be left alone.’ Her words floored me. As a single mum, the precious bond I had with my daughter, my only child, meant everything to me. The thought of her being so scared about my health broke my heart. I wasn’t convinced going to a slimming group would work for me, but I decided, for Amy’s sake, that I had to give it my best shot.
In my teens, I’d been fit and healthy, enjoying nothing more than a long hike in the countryside. Then, after Amy came along, my lifestyle changed. My daughter became the centre of my world, and somewhere between working full-time and looking after her, I’d slipped out of the healthy habits that had always kept me slim. The long walks had fallen by the wayside and I’d stopped cooking balanced meals, relying on microwave lasagne or sweet and sour chicken instead, with chocolates and biscuits as snacks.
By the time Amy started school, I weighed around 15st and was the biggest mum in the playground. Worried about what the other parents would think of me, I was relieved that I could rush straight off to work and avoid the small talk.
I remember once, a small boy pointed at me in the street and said, ‘Look at that fat lady’ to his mother. She tried to hush him, but the damage was done. I’d never felt so embarrassed; I just wanted the ground to swallow me up.
With each year that passed, I tried yet another crash diet, each time losing a stone or so and then putting it all back on, plus a bit more. Deep down, I started to believe there was no hope I’d ever be slim again. And whenever I had that thought, I sought comfort in food.
A doubly difficult time
Amy and I lived with my parents, and every now and again Mum would pull me to one side. ‘It’s not good for you carrying so much weight. You need to think about Amy, too,’ she’d say as kindly as possible. I would always agree to make a change, but the reality was it felt like too steep a mountain to climb.
In 2009, I met Dave through mutual friends. He never once mentioned my size and loved me just as I was. Then two years later, Mum and I got a phone call that turned our world on its head. Dad had gone to play golf that morning, and his friend called to tell us he’d had a heart attack. By the time we arrived at the hospital, Dad had died. He was 71, and it came as a huge shock. He had always been my rock, by my side whenever I needed him.
Again I turned to food for comfort, ringing up for takeaways most evenings, convincing myself nobody would expect any different. Of course, there was the niggling feeling at the back of my mind that my weight could put me at risk of having a heart attack, too, but every time that thought came to the surface, I did my best to shrug it away.
Then, three months after we lost Dad, Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. I couldn’t face the thought of losing her, too. Feeling low, I’d nip to the sandwich shop for lunch and order two chicken-and-cheese bagels, telling the shop assistant that one was for my partner, too ashamed to admit that both were for me. Then, on the way home from work, I’d pick up a takeaway burger meal and an extra cheeseburger, which I’d eat secretly in the car before going home to put a ready meal in the microwave.
Wendy’s daughter, Amy, was her inspiration to get healthy
Not long after Mum’s diagnosis, Dave’s sister, Siobhan, got married in Portugal. I squeezed myself into my seat on the plane, but no matter which way I positioned myself, I couldn’t get the seat belt to fasten. Eventually, I gave up and asked a cabin crew member for an extender. Even though the flight was relatively short, the humiliation stayed with me, and on the day of the wedding, feeling out of place in my size-26 dress, I vowed never to go abroad again.
Back home, a year after her diagnosis and following an intense course of radiotherapy, Mum went into remission. Instead of focusing on my own health, I continued to eat in secret. My weight crept up to 19st, but I felt powerless to stop. Every part of me ached now, and walking up the stairs to my office made me wince in pain as my knees would lock after just a few steps. Then, in December 2015, after Dave and I had spent a wonderful day in the countryside, he asked me to marry him. Delighted, I shared my news with Mum and Amy, but I avoided any talk of setting a wedding date. I knew I’d never find a dress I’d feel glamorous in.
In the summer of 2016, unable to cope with the pain any longer, I went to see my GP. Blood tests revealed I had prediabetes, and that wasn’t all. ‘I’m concerned I’m at risk of a heart attack,’ I told the doctor. She looked straight at me, her face serious. ‘I’d be more worried about a stroke,’ she replied, leaving me completely lost for words. I drove home in a daze, terrified and desperate – my weight was endangering my life, but I had no idea what to do about it. A few months later, a friend mentioned she was about to join Slimming World and asked if I’d like to go with her. ‘Oh no,’ I gasped. ‘I can’t go on a diet just before Christmas!’ Of course, after the festive season, I found another reason not to join – it was my birthday, and then Amy’s...
The seed had been planted, though, and as soon as all the celebrations were over, I told Mum I was going to join Slimming World. ‘I’ll come with you,’ she said. ‘I need to lose a bit of weight myself.’
I was so grateful to her – I knew Mum was only a few pounds heavier than she wanted to be and was really doing it to support me. Dave and Amy were delighted when I told them, too. ‘The very best of luck, Mum,’ Amy said, smiling.
A few days later, I drove to group, convinced I’d be the biggest person there, just as I had been at the school gates. And, worse still, I had a nagging doubt – what if the plan didn’t work for me? After putting myself through this, what if I ended up back at square one?
As we walked through the doors, Mum and I were greeted with the biggest smile by our Consultant, Barbara, and it instantly calmed the butterflies in my stomach. But when I stood on the scales, I was shocked to see I weighed 22st 4½lbs. I felt so overwhelmed, I didn’t want to set a target – it seemed too insurmountable. So instead I chose to take small, tentative steps, aiming for my first half stone, and deciding if I managed that, then I’d aim to lose another.
A leap of faith
The truth was, I was struggling to believe I’d be able to lose weight, and to put my faith in something that seemed so impossible to me. Every time I’d tried to lose weight before, the diets had meant restricting myself to tiny portions, cutting out carbs or depriving myself in some other way. How would I be able to eat pasta and potatoes and still lose weight? Unconvinced, but reasoning I had nothing to lose, I went shopping, stocking up on lean meat, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and, yes, pasta.
I started eating breakfast for the first time in years, choosing a cereal from the list in my Food Optimising book, and topping it with fresh fruit and fat-free natural yogurt. I had a filling home-made salad for lunch, with lean ham, beetroot and hard-boiled eggs. Then for dinner, I cooked a bolognese using lean mince, canned tomatoes, peppers, onions, mushrooms, celery and herbs, and served it over a bowlful of spaghetti. ‘This is gorgeous,’ Dave said as he began to eat. ‘Are you sure it’s healthy?’
When I stood on the scales after a week, I’d lost 5lbs. That’s when I knew for the first time that it was possible – I could lose weight.
As soon as I got home, I told Amy my news, and she hugged me as though she’d never let go. Her excitement was just the incentive I needed. It was as if I was getting a second chance at life, and I was determined not to waste it.
After weeks of building my confidence in the kitchen – learning to cook a mean chicken kiev from scratch, or throwing together a delicious stir-fry packed with Speed Food veg – I was steadily losing weight. And because my meals were so satisfying, instead of eating a whole packet of biscuits, I’d have a treat-size chocolate bar using my Syns. After seven months, I’d lost 5st, and that’s when I felt I was ready to support my weight loss with Body Magic, Slimming World’s activity programme.
I started by going for regular walks again, and after gradually building up my fitness, I plucked up the courage to go to an aqua aerobics class. To my surprise, I enjoyed it so much that I changed Slimming World groups to avoid any clashes with the class timetable, and Pippa became my new Consultant. I was on a roll, and after around 18 months, I joined my local gym to add in some muscle-strengthening exercise, too.
The difference in how I felt was incredible. All the aches and pains I’d been burdened with for years began to ease as my weight fell, and my GP was delighted when a new set of blood tests revealed I was no longer considered to have prediabetes. I’d turned my health around, and for the first time in years, Amy and I went shopping together. She ushered me from one high-street store to another, dressing me up in vibrant colours and pretty dresses that I’d never thought would look good on me. Each time I tried on a new outfit, I couldn’t help but smile at my reflection, and I laughed and said: ‘I feel like your dress-up doll!’
In 2018, six years after saying I’d never go abroad again, I asked Dave if he’d like to go on holiday to Majorca. On the plane, I was so amazed at how much spare seat belt I had left, I took a photo! On the beach, I happily wore shorts and T-shirts, no longer desperate to hide under a shapeless dress or floaty top.
Since then, it’s been one magical experience after another. I climbed Great Sugar Loaf mountain, the highest peak in Ireland, with Dave and Siobhan – and I was the first to get to the top! Not long afterwards, I had to pinch myself when I reached my target weight of 9st 11lbs. Being slim felt like such an achievement, I didn’t think it could get any better. Then in November, I became Slimming World’s Woman of the Year 2019.
There seem to be so many reasons to smile again since I lost weight. At my 50th birthday celebrations, I felt more fabulous than I had in decades. And Dave and I have started planning our wedding, talking about sunny locations abroad – it’s safe to say that holidays hold no fear for me now. I’ve got my future back – and I’m determined to enjoy every precious moment of it.
Wendy’s day on a plate
Lunch: Hot chicken roll with crisps.
Mid-afternoon: A couple of chocolate bars.
Dinner: A takeaway.
Evening: More chocolate.
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with grilled tomatoes, or yogurt and fruit.
Lunch: A big home-made salad with turkey or ham.
Dinner: Chicken stir-fry or spaghetti bolognese.
Evening: Fruit or a Hi-fi bar.
Watch Wendy’s story here
*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.