Michelle, 39, lives in Essex with her husband Paul and children, Alice, 13, Violet, nine, Edith, two, and Ivan, one
My weight problems stemmed back to my teenage years. During my school days I remember wearing size 14 clothes, self-consciously hiding the labels in my uniform in case anyone caught a glimpse.
I never really got my weight under control, and when I became pregnant with my first daughter at the age of 26, everything just spiralled. I gained around 3st during the pregnancy and felt miserable about my weight.
It took the shine off the precious time I should have been enjoying with my newborn baby.
To add to that, soon after Alice was born, my mum became ill and was diagnosed with cancer.
She fought a tough and very personal battle for five years, during which time I also had Violet, so it was a turbulent time for me.
My mum was my best friend so to watch her fade away before my eyes was torturous.
When she died, I was heartbroken. I had already started to withdraw from social situations and mum’s passing just exacerbated this even more.
I hit an all-time low and quite literally hid at home. With two young daughters to care for, I spent most of my day keeping busy looking after them, rarely thinking about myself. I felt intimidated by life and would dread something as simple as the school run in case anybody saw me or wanted to speak to me.
The grief led me to comfort-eat in a big way. When the world felt daunting and scary, food was my friend. I’d indulge in fried bread, pastries, crisps and chocolate – anything that might make me feel better. And after a long day looking after two little ones, the easiest option in the evening always seemed to be a takeaway.
A few years later, Edith joined the family, and although I loved being a mum, I still had that nagging feeling that I’d lost myself. I was now a size 22/24 and lived in big, baggy clothes. It slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t just hiding in my clothes, I was hiding from life.
My mum was the life and soul of the party – and I felt I owed it to her to live twice as hard – once for her, and once for me. I had three young daughters who hadn’t seen the best of me, and that made me sad. I’d heard about Slimming World and thought it’d be a good fit because the meals were family-friendly, so we could all eat the same thing. With three children, I knew I wouldn’t have time to make something separate each day.
So last January, I plucked up the courage to join my local group. It was daunting at first and I was very nervous, especially when I realised I weighed more than 19st, which was much more than I imagined.
After learning about the about the Food Optimising plan in group, I soon got to grips with things and started whipping up Slimming World versions of family favourites such as spaghetti bolognese and roast dinners. I loved that if I was hungry, there was always something I could eat, so I never felt deprived.
Even though I was losing weight, I was still quite shy in the group and didn’t say much at first. After a few weeks though, my confidence grew, and I felt more comfortable about sharing hints and tips, or asking for advice when things got tough.
By March 2020, my group became virtual as we went into a national lockdown, but I attended the online sessions and continued to lose weight. In fact, even though I couldn’t physically leave the house to attend the group, I still relished the hour to myself – somewhere I could just be Michelle.
A few months later, and around 4st down, I was feeling great. Then I had a bit of a surprise – I was pregnant again. The news threw me. Of course, I was happy, but I was just starting to find myself. I was so worried that I’d be overwhelmed by motherhood and undo all the progress I’d made – both with my weight and my confidence.
My Consultant was fantastic though, and explained that because Slimming World works with the Royal College of Midwives, I could safely follow the plan throughout my pregnancy with a few tweaks to make sure I was getting enough of the extra nutrients I needed.
I realised I didn’t have to undo everything just because I was pregnant, I could still do this.
In fact, I think my experience of being part of a Slimming World group really helped me handle that situation. It kept me focused on my goals, even when the curveball of the pregnancy was thrown in, and I felt determined and in control. After finding the world overwhelming for so long, I now felt I could handle whatever life had to throw at me.
In December 2020, we welcomed our lovely boy Ivan, and this time, I was in such a better place mentally. It wasn’t until he was born that I realised I had hardly any photographs of me with the girls because I was always hiding behind the camera.
I continued with my healthy eating after Ivan was born, and at 8st lighter, I’ve never felt better. It doesn’t feel like I’m living half a life any more, I’m living it to the full. I’ve gone from a mum who would dread having to do the school run to being the kind of person who clocks up miles with the double buggy. I wish my pram had a pedometer because I’d love to know how far we’ve walked.
We recently celebrated Ivan’s first birthday and it made me reflect on just how far I’ve come. I felt great on the day and didn’t worry about what clothes would hide me the most. I was just in the moment with my family, and it was wonderful.
I know my mum would be proud of the life I’m living now – a life I’m living for both of us.
Michelle’s fact file
Height: 5ft 8½ins
Weight before: 19st 4lbs
Weight after: 11st 4lbs
Total weight loss: 8st
Michelle’s menu before
Breakfast: Fried bread with bacon or pastries from a bakery.
Lunch: A large sandwich with crisps and cake.
Dinner: A takeaway or oil-laden pasta dish.
Snacks: Chocolate, cake, crisps.
Breakfast: Fruit and fat-free yoghurt.
Lunch: A pitta bread stuffed with cooked chicken, ham or prawns and salad.
Dinner: Homemade spaghetti bolognese with added veg, or a Slimming World roast dinner.