'I ate to cope' - mum of special needs kids' joy at shedding three stone
The mother of two children with special needs said she comfort ate whenever she felt down because of the challenges her son and daughter were facing.
However, Valerie Donovan (36), who would love to hear her son say "I love you", has succeeded in losing three stone and said she knows now that she does not need chocolate to help her get through what life throws at her.
"I know that parents of children with additional needs can comfort eat if they feel down or low. I know I did," she said.
Valerie and husband Matt (40) have Sarah (7), who has Asperger's, and four-year-old Matthew, who is non-verbal and has autism.
"I live for my family and one day I would love to hear Matthew tell me he loves me or to ask me to do something with him," she said.
"Being the parent of a child with special needs is difficult and challenging and I found comfort in food."
Valerie, who has always been conscious of her weight, added: "After my daughter was born in 2009, I lost most of my pregnancy weight and went back to work.
"Then, while renting, we moved houses three times in the space of four years due to landlords increasing the rent and because we wanted to stay in the Clontarf area.
"I noticed over the years that stress made me eat and I would comfort eat. I was happy when I ate, but then the downward spiral of looking in the mirror would make me feel horrible and I would eat again to feel better. It was a terrible cycle."
After several attempts, the couple got a mortgage and they moved to Laytown in Co Meath. Sarah and then Matthew were both diagnosed with life-long conditions.
Sarah, who is also coeliac, is now doing well in first class and has resource hours, while Matthew is attending an early intervention service in Co Meath. Valerie, who suffers from Crohn's disease, said: "With all the appointments for the children and feeling under pressure and nervous, I ate and I ate and I ate."
She lost two stone before her wedding, but it all went back on.
"In 2012 and 2013 I applied for Operation Transformation but didn't make the cut," said Valerie. "In December 2015, I looked in the mirror and didn't know who I had become. I was huge.
"I knew I needed to do something, so I decided once the Christmas festivities were over I would join Slimming World in Bettystown.
"On January 7 last year I walked through the doors weighing my heaviest. I was 13 stone 13lb. The words I received from the consultant, Janice, at the time were the words I needed to hear: 'This is the last time you will ever see these numbers'. She was right."
Valerie's current consultant, Sarah McCallion, has been "a great source of encouragement to me, which helped me stay motivated".
"I now weigh 10 stone 10lb. My goal is to be 10 stone 7lb, but I haven't seen these weights since being in school at 17," she said.
"I encourage my daughter to say every day, 'I am beautiful inside and out'.
"It's funny because the way I'm eating now is the way my parents fed me in the days when homemade chips were a treat. We eat lots of vegetables, potatoes and meat.
"Homemade is healthier as you know what goes into it. My children love the shepherd's pie I make, spaghetti bolognese, meatballs and pasta, the slow cooker meals and the home-made chips in the air fryer.
"My clothes were a size 18 and 20, now I'm a size 10 or 12."