Ryan, 35, is a specialist builder. He lives in Wimborne Minster, Dorset, with his girlfriend, Emmie
A voice in the distance was calling my name. “Ryan… Ryan”. I woke with a jump and spun my head around, desperately trying to get my bearings. My dad, Ian, was peering at me. We were sitting in our work van and my empty lunch box was still perched on my lap where it had been before I’d fallen sound asleep. Dad sighed.
“I think it might be better if you went to bed a little earlier – I know you get tired, but we can’t let it affect our work,” he said, patiently. Dad and I are specialist builders who are called in to do lime mortar repairs on Dorset’s historic listed buildings. It would be hard physical labour for anyone, but at that point in 2019, I knew my weight was making it much tougher.
When we got home that night, I told dad and my mum Suzie what the problem was. “I get to bed in time to get a good eight hours,” I said, “but I wake up every hour, and sometimes I feel as though I can’t catch my breath.” I’d done some research and was pretty sure it was sleep apnoea – a condition where you temporarily stop breathing while asleep and that can also cause very loud snoring. My parents suggested I see the doctor, but I stubbornly refused.
It seemed to me every time I’d been to a doctor over the last 20 years, whatever the ailment, the advice was the same: “You need to lose weight.”
I’d grumble to mum, saying “surely not everything that happens to me is down to my weight”. It had given me a serious aversion to seeking any medical opinion and I convinced myself that other than being tired from lack of sleep, I was doing just fine.
Then something else happened that forced me to admit things were far from fine.
I went camping with some friends, and I woke up on the first morning to find my mates already up and deep in discussion. Apparently, I’d been snoring so loudly they’d been kept awake by shouts of complaint from other campers. I was mortified, and for the next two warm and humid nights, I abandoned the tent and slept in my car with the windows closed for soundproofing.
A couple of weeks later, dad and I were facing each other over a half-completed wall and as usual I was only half awake. I was in a constant state of exhaustion, and it was becoming dangerous as well as difficult. Something had to be done.
In the past I’d tried eating a few Slimming World frozen meals a friend had given me, and found I lost a bit of weight. It had been a half-hearted attempt, though – I didn’t join a group and soon slipped back into having my usual takeaway pizzas or oily fry-ups for dinner.
Now, I decided I was going to give it a proper go. When I walked through the doors of Tracey’s group in September 2019, I had two major fears. The first was I’d be the only man, and the second was she’d announce my weight to the whole group.
I needn’t have worried – I immediately spotted two other men and gave them a nod as I took my seat. Then later, it was time to privately step on the scales.
For years, I’d been under the impression I weighed around 24st.
My bathroom scales didn’t go high enough, so this was based on the last time I’d weighed myself around a decade earlier.
So 24st was the number I expected to see. I was too shocked to speak. I was 34st 3½lbs – a full 10st heavier than I’d thought.
I went home after the group in a slight daze. Armed with my new Food Optimising knowledge, I made a slimming-friendly fry-up, including potatoes and mushrooms (cooked in low-calorie cooking spray) and baked beans. It was a meal that symbolised the start of a change in me.
All the same, when I went back to the group the following week, I wasn’t feeling confident at all. I’d never once felt hungry and had been filling my plate with lots of vegetables, as well as lean ham, skinless chicken and hard-boiled eggs. I couldn’t help doubting whether it was really going to work. Then I found I’d lost 16½lbs. I felt a thrill of excitement as I realised I could actually do this. As the weeks went on, I started to look back at the way I’d been eating before and, for the first time, I saw how self-destructive it was.
Sharing experiences in the group helped me to understand that, in effect, I’d been lying to myself for years, using my active job as justification for overeating, and telling myself it didn’t matter because I’d burn it all off just by going to work. The reality was that my calorie intake had been off the scale. I’d become reliant on pies, crisps, takeaways, anything I could lay my hands on while I was on the go.
Food Optimising changed the way I thought about food completely, and I found myself naturally reaching for fruit and veg instead of high-calorie snacks. It motivated me to know each day I stuck to the plan, I was a day closer to winning another weight-loss trophy. Incredibly, I achieved my target of 19st in 17 months.
It was a goal I’d had in mind when I still thought I was 24st, so after I’d discovered I was actually 10st heavier, it had seemed a long way off.
I couldn’t quite believe I’d managed it, and I knew I had Tracey and my fellow group members to thank for their support in helping me stick to the plan. In February 2021, encouraged by my success, I set a new target of 17st. I was feeling fitter and healthier than I could ever remember, and my French bulldog, Chester, was about to enjoy a new lease of life, too. I was already getting around building sites more nimbly and I knew fitting more activity into my life outside work would support my weight loss.
By the summer, I was down to 17st 2½lbs. I’d effectively halved my body weight in less than two years, and while my dad didn’t say much, I could tell he was quietly thrilled. It meant a lot when one day on the building site, after watching me dashing back and forth carrying bricks, he took me aside and said, “Me and your mum are really proud of what you’ve done, son. You’ve turned yourself into a new man.”
Dad was right about me transforming into a new man. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, full of energy and I sleep like a log. I’ve discovered a new love of clothes, too – especially rugby shirts. I’ve been a huge fan of Bath rugby club for years, but was never able to show it.
Even the biggest shirts were far too small and I couldn’t go to matches because I didn’t fit into the stadium seats. These days, I wear their colours with pride and can’t wait to watch them play.
I’m ready to take on the world.
Ryan’s fact file
Height: 6ft 3ins
Starting weight: 34st 3½lbs
Weight now: 17st 2½lbs
Total weight loss: 17st 1lb
- Ryan is a member of Tracey Oldfield’s Slimming World group in Blandford Forum, Dorset
Interview: Kevin Donald
Pictures: Slimming World/Paul Buller