Sunday 4 December 2016

Irish Tom (19) who once weighed 27 stone wins top Slimming World award: 'I didn't think about the future because I worried I'd be unhappy forever'

Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 22/06/2016 | 12:51

Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland is named Slimming World's Young Slimmer of the Year 2016
Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland is named Slimming World's Young Slimmer of the Year 2016

A teenager who shed more than 14 stone has said he is finally happy in his own skin.

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At his heaviest, Tom Johnston, 19, from Belfast, who tipped the scales at 27st 5lb, suffered anxiety and depression and was forced to drop out of school.

Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland, is named Slimming World's Young Slimmer of the Year 2016 at the Ritz Hotel in London.
Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland, is named Slimming World's Young Slimmer of the Year 2016 at the Ritz Hotel in London.

But after losing almost half his body weight, 14st 5lb, in 13 months he has dropped from a 54in (137cm) waist to 36in (91cm), returned to college and feels like he has a new lease of life.

"My weight robbed me of having the same experiences as other people my age.

"Now I'm like any other 19-year-old and that feels great," said Tom, who has been crowned Slimming World's Young Slimmer of the Year.

Read more: Irishman Paul (26) shifts more than seven stone after ‘fat-shaming’ festival photo goes viral

The student's weight increased dramatically after he broke his leg playing football aged 15 and was confined to a wheelchair.

But as Tom's waistline expanded, his confidence ebbed.

Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland before he shed 14st 5lbs to become Slimming World's Young Slimmer of the Year 2016.
Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland before he shed 14st 5lbs to become Slimming World's Young Slimmer of the Year 2016.

He added: "I suffered from anxiety and low mood and my weight was a big contributor to that.

"I couldn't enjoy things like my friends did and I was scared to go out because I worried what people might think or say about me because of my size."

Repeated attempts to lose weight failed and he found it difficult to stick to diets.

Read more: Couple lose 15 stone between them to fit in their seats and embark on dream holiday

It was not until he joined his mother Brenda, 51, and sister Claire, 23, at Slimming World that the weight stayed off.

"In all honesty, I worried their group would be like an episode of the Golden Girls - I thought I'd be the only guy and wouldn't fit in - so I didn't really want to go with them," said Tom.

Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland before he shed 14st 5lbs to become Slimming World;s Young Slimmer of the Year 2016.
Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland before he shed 14st 5lbs to become Slimming World;s Young Slimmer of the Year 2016.

"Then one day I realised how sick I was of looking in the mirror and seeing someone who I wasn't happy with, so I bit the bullet."

"The group really motivated me and, as I lost weight, my mental well-being started to get better. I had the confidence to go back to college and I've just finished my AS exams.

"For years I didn't like to think about the future because I worried I'd be overweight and unhappy for the rest of my life. Now I'd like to go to university and I know I'll be able to get a better job because I'm in a better place.

"I'm comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life so I feel like I've got a chance to start again and I want to grab every opportunity - even those things other people my age might take for granted, like riding a bike or going out to a club with my friends - with both hands.

"I feel like these rites of passage eluded me in life and now, thanks to Slimming World, I'm ready to go out and seize the day."

Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland, wears a pair of old trousers as he is named Slimming World’s Young Slimmer of the Year 2016
Tom Johnston from Northern Ireland, wears a pair of old trousers as he is named Slimming World’s Young Slimmer of the Year 2016

Read more: ‘All the GAA Mammies were talking about me’- Irish woman who lost seven stone in nine months

Slimming World Consultant Ashleigh Shaw, who runs the Braniel group that Tom attends in east Belfast, said: "I've watched Tom's life change dramatically over the past 15 months and there have been so many firsts for him - he's joined a gym, started riding a bike, been out clubbing and started his studies again.

"He's a young man with a very bright future now and I feel honoured to have played a part in his journey."

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