Irish mum of three: 'I lost 11 stone to stop my little girl getting bullied...'
Mother-of-three Emma Dunne dropped seven dress sizes after her daughter was teased for having a "fat mum". Now the former takeaway queen is a powerlifting princess
When Emma Dunne's eldest daughter came home from school in tears after playground bullies teased her for having a 'fat mum', her heart ached. At just 29, the part-time waitress and single mum-of-three weighed 24 stone and struggled to squeeze into a size 28.
Her self-esteem at rock bottom, she was too embarrassed even to go to the school gates to collect her children, Stephanie now 11, Siobhan, 8, and Seamus, 7. "I was ashamed because I was the biggest mum there and was convinced the other parents would be looking in disgust at my big bum or my belly sticking out. I would send someone else to collect the kids when I could," says Emma. "When I did have to go, I kept my head down and wouldn't talk to anyone."
At home, Emma would eat a huge dinner, usually lasagne loaded with cheese, with the children, then order a takeaway for herself in the evening, eating her favourite Chinese food at least three times a week. "I was the takeaway queen," says Emma, who also binged on crisps, chocolate and coke."
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But as Stephanie stood crying in her arms over the 'fat mum' jibes, Emma knew something had to change. "It was a wake-up call for me. I couldn't live my life like that. I had three young children and I knew if I carried on, my weight was going to send me to an early grave," says Emma. "I could barely make it up the stairs without getting out of breath. I didn't want being fat to be the reason that I die."
So in April 2011, Emma ditched her junk-food diet and signed up for Unislim, adopting a calorie-controlled eating plan. "I went from eating over 3,000 calories a day to eating low-fat meals and counting points," she says. In six months, she had lost four and a half stone, and was keen to lose more. The initial weight loss triggered her passion for cooking. "In the beginning, I was still eating a lot of pre-packaged low-fat convenience foods, but I wanted to learn more about healthy eating. Instead of eating low-fat ready meals, I started eating lots more fresh foods, such as lean meat, fruit and vegetables, and I began cooking more meals, like chilli con carne and steamed fish, from scratch."
Emma also began walking regularly, starting off slowly with five minutes, then 10, until she could walk for a full hour. A year and a half into her weight-loss journey, weighing 15 stone, an incident with her son spurred her on to her next challenge. "I was out walking with my son and daughter who were on their bikes. We came to a hill and my son started rolling down," says Emma. "I went to run after him but I couldn't. That was a tough moment for me. As far as I'd come, I realised I still had a long way to go. I was able to walk, but now I wanted to learn to run."
In March 2013, Emma downloaded the Couch to 5K app and began running regularly. She could only manage short bursts at first but within six weeks she could run the full distance. "I couldn't believe it. I've never been into sport in my life, but I loved challenging myself."
Like everyone, she has had her low days when she was tempted to throw in the towel, but she developed a unique habit to spur her on. "I would visit the plus-size shop and try on a pair of size 28 jeans to remind myself that I was never going to go back to that size."
And on days when she felt like giving up, Emma created a mantra to keep her going: "There's no such thing as can't. I can and I will."
With her go-getter attitude, the weight continued to drop off, until Emma weighed just under 12 stone and fitted into a dress size 10-12. By September 2013, she was ready for her next challenge, so a friend suggested she try the gym, where she discovered a love of weightlifting.
"At that point, I'd dropped 12 stone and was curious to see what it felt like to lift that amount of weight. The instructor put 12 stone of weights on a long weight," says Emma. "I discovered I had a lot of power in my legs as my lower body was used to carrying excess weight, so I could lift heavy weights quite easily."
Emma began weightlifting regularly and even started taking part in competitions. Last summer, she completed the Tipperary Mini Marathon, and in June she qualified to represent Ireland in the World Powerlifting Championships in Germany - though an injury on the day prevented her from competing.
For a woman once cripplingly embarrassed by her body, her mindset has changed completely. A year on, she has settled at her 'happy weight' of 13 stone, a dress size 14, and she couldn't be prouder of her new body. "Running and weightlifting has had a big impact on me. For a long time, I couldn't even walk up the stairs. Now I can run 10k. I feel strong and powerful."
At the school gates, she walks with her head held high, smiling and chatting with the other mums. "I blend in now and I've made a lot of new friends," says Emma.
And Stephanie is just as proud of what her mum has accomplished. "She loves how active I am now, and we cycle together a lot. When I was losing weight, she would check my progress by doing a 'hug test' to see how far she can fit her arms around me. She can wrap her arms right around me when she hugs me now."
Emma adds: "It's such a good feeling and I want to inspire that attitude in my kids as well. You can do anything that you want to do. All you have to do is set your mind to it. If you decide you want to do it, you can do it."