Irish Mum on her 7 stone weight-loss: 'Fitting into my wedding dress was better than I ever could have expected'
Caoimhe O'Neill used to be a size 20, but shortly after the birth of her son she realised she needed to take control and lose a lot of weight, says Joy Orpen. Now she is thrilled she has achieved her goal - with a little help.
When Caoimhe O'Neill (26) was planning her wedding, she bought what she describes as a "big, white tent of a dress" on the internet. After all, she reasoned, it would be impossible to find a ready-made gown large enough to fit her substantial frame. But she did hope to lose some weight before the big day, and if that happened, she would have the "tent" taken in.
From quite an early age, Caoimhe, who grew up in Killiney, Co Dublin, experienced weight problems. "In photographs that were taken when I was about seven years old, it is clear I was carrying more weight than the average child that age," she says. "But I'm a strong character, so bullying was never an issue."
However, when she became a teenager, things began to change. "That's when I became more aware that the other girls in my school were more slender than me," she recalls. "There were times I couldn't do up my skirt, and I couldn't wear the same sort of clothes as the other girls. Instead, it was tracksuits and big jumpers. I was always fond of comfort food and craved Mars bars, ice cream, and starchy foods like chips and bread. I didn't play any sport - I was more interested in music and drama. So I just kept going with that lifestyle, probably because I was in a rut."
About 10 years ago, Caoimhe was invited to a wedding and decided to trim down. "I did a special programme and lost a stone," she says. "But on the day of the wedding I was straight back into the old routine of stuffing myself for comfort."
When she left school, Caoimhe studied accountancy and human resources management and ended up in a bank. She would start her day with coffee and a Danish pastry; thereafter, it was a series of sugary snacks and starchy takeaway meals until bedtime.
In the meantime, she met Derek Jenkins and the pair fell in love. He personified the maxim, "love is blind". "Derek is tall, slim and mad about football and running," says Caoimhe. "But my weight was never an issue for him."
The pair are avid travellers and went abroad frequently; but that also meant swimming pools, beaches, bikinis and the preying eyes of other holidaymakers.
"It would really distress me thinking about how I was going to get into the pool with everyone watching," says Caoimhe. "By then, I was a size 20." However, this still wasn't sufficient reason for her to tackle the problem. "I was in a good relationship and I have a terrific family who never put me under pressure. They might say, 'wouldn't it be great if you did lose some weight' but no more than that," she says. "Excess weight, like mental illness, is still a taboo subject. I think people are afraid to tip you over the edge."
Caoimhe says that, looking back, she realises that she just didn't believe there was a solution to her excessive weight. "I didn't think I had control of the situation," she says. "I was in a rut and couldn't see a way out. I'd look at slim people and think, 'well, that's the way they are, but I'm not like that'. And I had no obvious health problems, so I thought my body could cope with the extra weight."
However, in 2012, things came to a head when Caoimhe and Derek's son, Callum, was born. "I had a very bad pregnancy," says Caoimhe. "I had terrible morning sickness, migraines, pelvic-girdle pain and, because of my weight, I ended up on crutches." During scans, medical staff struggled to get a decent image of the baby's organs because of Caoimhe's layers of fat.
"That's when I started to realise I would have to change the way I was living my life," she admits. "I could now see a correlation between the excessive weight and my baby. The day he was born, I weighed 17 stone, and when I saw that written down on my chart, it gave me an awful fright."
Following Callum's birth, Caoimhe began to suffer from post-natal depression, so anti-depressants and counselling were prescribed. But when, 10 months later, she still felt dispirited, she decided she need to take control.
"I began to worry about how I would function when Callum began to run around," she says. "And about what would happen to him if I got a chronic illness like diabetes or heart problems because of my obesity."
Around this time, Caoimhe and Derek decided to get married, and the wedding became her goal. So one day she went to Unislim in Killiney and made some enquiries.
Soon, she was attending weekly group sessions. "They make a note of your initial weight, and then the plan is explained to the group," says Caoimhe.
"I have three meals and two snacks a day. Nothing is forbidden - but everything is in moderation. I still have the odd treat, but not five times a day. I've switched to light beers and wine, and I never touch white bread, which is full of sugar. I now eat brown bread and brown pasta, and I have smaller portions of everything."
Caoimhe never missed a group session. "The meetings are paramount. I'd go back and get weighed every week, and then there'd be a class talk and I found this very beneficial," she says. "It was helpful realising you're not alone, and sharing thoughts and tips with others."
Caoimhe says it took her about eight months to figure out that she had an emotional addiction to food. If she was down, she overindulged, and if she had something to celebrate, she did so with food. But all that has now changed.
"I do have treats, but it's not an everyday thing," she says.
On February 28, last year Caoimhe and Derek got married in the picturesque Dominican Republic. "It was better than I ever could have expected," she says. Finally, she was able to bin the "tent" and replace it with a beautiful, ready-to-wear, lace wedding gown in a size 12.
It was a truly magical, fairy-tale wedding. And being slim was a wonderful bonus. "That was the first time I could wear a bathing suit and not feel embarrassed," she recalls. "It was also very nice to feel comfortable, and not be sticking to the chair because of my weight in the heat."
Since then, Caoimhe has lost some more weight and is now an absolutely ideal 9st 3lbs. She says the crucial thing for her now is to learn to trust herself to maintain that weight by following a healthy-eating plan and checking in with Unislim regularly.
With that, she rushes home to spend some quality time with her little boy, confident she is doing all she can to ensure a happy life for both of them.
Unislim has branches nationwide, tel: (1850) 603-020, or see unislim.com