'At my heaviest I couldn't close the airplane seatbelt around me' - Irish granny Valerie (41) on shedding 10st
At her lowest point, mum-of-five Valerie (41) from Tallaght, Dublin, weighed 22 stone and was so overweight, she couldn’t close an aeroplane seatbelt around her. Today, she’s a slender size 10-12.
"As I was growing up, it had gradually dawned on me that, at 5ft 9ins and a size 14, I was a bit taller and heavier than my friends. By cutting out my favourite foods, like bread, ice cream, crisps and cheese, I stayed around a size 14-16 throughout my early 20s, and lost weight fairly easily after each of my first three pregnancies.
"Then, in 2001, I gave birth to twin boys two months early. My partner, Vincent, and I practically lived at the hospital’s special care baby unit: it took more than a month for the babies to be strong enough to come home from hospital.
"With all the stress, plus looking after five children under the age of nine, my own needs went out of the window. I just ate whatever was handy and quick. The more weight I gained, the more my fragile self-esteem took a battering."
By the time the twins were three years old, the devoted mum was a size 16-18, three years on, she was wearing a size 18.
"I tried losing weight — I started with my old trick of cutting out certain foods, yet got so hungry, I ate more than ever. Then there was a raw juice diet, followed by a complicated plan that involved lots of weighing and measuring. It seems that whatever I tried, I couldn’t sustain my enthusiasm for longer than a fortnight."
Turning to comfort food and failing to exercise, Valerie continued to gain weight and by the time a family holiday to Ibiza rolled around in 2012, she had gained another five stone.
"I was wearing a size 22-24. Part of the problem was my hectic lifestyle. I was working four days a week at a big department store, and as the hours were irregular, I often arrived home after dinner time. Exhausted from being on the shop floor all day, I made bad food choices.”
Suffering with frequent heartburn, indigestion, migraines and sore knees, Valerie decided to make the life-changing decision to join Slimming World in June 2013.
"As soon as I stepped through the door, I knew I had made the right choice. My consultant, Tanya, explained everything really well. I began to learn about food optimising and really understood what I was putting into my body and began going to the gym four days a week. As the months went by, I steadily lost the pounds, and before I knew it I had lost more than 10 stone.
"I’ve been at or around my new target weight of 12 stone for more than a year now, and it still feels wonderful. My husband is pleased, too, as he no longer has to bear the brunt of my emotional outbursts. He, and the boys have been incredibly supportive.
"Food optimising has become a way of life for me. I no longer use chocolate to fight fatigue or deal with stress — I exercise or go for a drive instead — and I can enjoy it as a treat. Though to be honest, I usually prefer to use my ‘syns’ for a vodka and diet coke.
"Before, I’d fill up on fried meat or fish with a big helping of chips — and a sugary dessert every time. Now, I still fill my plate, just with lots of grilled fish and veg, followed by fruit or an occasional dessert.
"I had an all-or-nothing attitude to food. I reckoned if I couldn’t stick to my diet 100pc, I may as well give up and eat anything I liked. While I food optimise most of the time, I’m only human, and I do sometimes veer off track a little. If it results in a gain, it’s no problem — I just get straight back on plan.
"I still go to group every week — Tanya and the women in my Slimming World group at Crumlin Bowling Club truly are a special lot. I learn so much from them. From recipe swaps to constant advice, having their support has kept me motivated."