'When two separate customers asked me if I was pregnant, I knew I had to lose weight' - Woman (24) who went from size 16 to size 8 in six months
Anita McGurgan, who works with her beauty expert brother Paddy McGurgan, tells Stephanie Bell about the moment she realised she'd have to tackle her unhealthy lifestyle
Anita McGurgan has gone from buying baggy oversized clothes to her first ever tiny trendy bikinis after a dramatic weight loss journey not only transformed her figure but the quality of her life.
The 24-year-old from Armagh was shocked into embarking on a new fitness and diet programme after two clients at her work inquired if she was pregnant.
The remarks were the final straw for Anita who had seen her self-esteem plummet as her weight ballooned during her university years.
By changing her eating habits and embarking on an intensive exercise programme, she has gone from a size 16 to a slender size 8/10, shedding almost three stone in six months.
Anita, who is in charge of marketing for her beauty expert brother Paddy McGurgan's Make-up Pro Shop chain, was used to seeing models every day being made up for photo shoots.
Self-conscious about her own weight, she coped by avoiding mirrors and hiding her body under loose clothing.
But when two customers inside two weeks enquired if she was pregnant, she realised she needed to do something about her size.
She says: "My weight always went up and down through school but at university I had a bad lifestyle and it just got out of control.
"However, within a fortnight two clients in the shop asked me if I was expecting a baby. I was so shocked I told Paddy - and he told me to stop wearing maternity clothes. And it's true - I had been wearing bigger and bigger clothes for comfort."
Anita stepped on the scales, found that she was about 13 1/2 stone - and resolved that night to do something about her weight.
Anita, who lives in Middletown close to Armagh, has an early morning commute every day to work in her brother's shop in Belfast.
The only time she could fit in her sessions with her personal trainer was at 6am, before work.
She started in January and, as well as meeting her personal trainer Gary Hyde for early morning gym sessions three days a week, she worked on cardio exercises six times a week in the evenings.
Combining the exercise with a new healthy eating plan saw the weight drop off.
Not only is she now delighted with her new figure, but she says her energy levels, her skin and her overall wellbeing has benefited from her new healthier lifestyle.
It is obvious to Anita now how her old habits were contributing to her weight gain: "I have a very savoury tooth and I was starving myself during the day and then overeating at night.
"I was living on convenience food - Marks & Spencer kept me alive for about a year with their ready meals which were so easy after a long day at work and travelling home from Belfast.
"I also skipped breakfast and drank coffee all day to keep me ticking over. Gary changed that straight away for me."
Indeed, Gary overhauled Anita's typical daily diet.
"Now breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I would have porridge or eggs," she says. "I would snack during the day on nuts and fruit. Lunch, which I also skipped before, is now usually a baked potato.
"And I have started to enjoy cooking dinner which is grilled chicken or fish with loads of green vegetables and low carbs."
Anita has also enjoyed discovering new foods and says: "I now know how bland my food was before. I am eating things like spinach, asparagus, broccoli and sweet potatoes which I never would have eaten and which I now couldn't do without.
"I find sweet potatoes give me lots of energy. Eating better actually makes you hungrier but when you are eating the right foods you really do see the benefits."
She admits that she still gets moments when temptation looms and her resolve weakens but, she says: "I find that if I was tempted to binge in the evenings I would exercise or eat some nuts or yoghurt which takes the cravings away.
"Gary also got me to drink more water. I have been drinking three litres a day and that has made a huge difference as well.
"My skin has been completely reborn. Before, I would have had dark circles under my eyes and was prone to breakouts. My skin just looked tired and dehydrated all the time."
During three one-to-one sessions a week, Gary worked on building up Anita's fitness levels and used weight resistance exercises and abs workouts to help tone her body.
Six times a week she hit the gym on her own to work on cardio exercises to raise her heart rate and increase her body's metabolism.
She says: "When I started in January it was during the heavy snow and I was getting up at 6am to drive into Armagh. I felt like some sort of crazy person out there at that time of the morning, battling the elements.
"I then came home and showered and changed and would have been back on the road for work at 7.30am. Yet in some ways the challenge of the snow made me even more determined to keep it up and I can't believe how much I now enjoy it."
Anita says her confidence has soared while her bank balance has taken a bit of a dip since she lost weight.
From being used to buying clothes that hid her body she now enjoys shopping for fashion and recently splashed out on a new wardrobe for her holiday last week.
She says: "I would have watched all the models coming into Paddy's shop and they'd have been wearing lovely clothes. I loved seeing them but I was very self-conscious and coped by avoiding mirrors.
"I could never buy anything that was so fitted or fashionable or showed off my figure.
"Now, my confidence is 100% better and I can't get over the variety of clothes I can choose from.
"I can shop online without fear of not being able to fit into whatever I order and just being able to go into a boutique and pick dresses and shorts, and my first ever bikini for my holidays was fantastic.
"It has also made a huge difference to me in my work. We would go to a lot of glamorous events such as Miss Northern Ireland, Fashionweek and a lot of gala balls and now, instead of hiding in the corner, I can feel a lot more confident."
Anita says the support of having a personal trainer who checked in with her daily and provided encouragement and advice on cooking and eating was crucial to the success of her new lifestyle.
She has also made new friends at the gym and has been delighted to follow their weight loss journeys with them.
She explains: "If anyone else is reading this and feeling defeated about their own weight, then I would say to them that it's never too late to make a change.
"For too long I said to myself 'What's the point? I'm too far gone to do anything about it' and that couldn't have been more wrong.
"I feel fitter and more confident. I've met people of all ages at the gym and really enjoyed watching their transformations as well as my own.
"I think people should realise that they are totally in control of their own bodies, and if they give it a go they will be surprised at how their bodies will react positively to change."
She adds: "I think finding the right personal trainer is so important if you can afford it. I would advise people to do their research.
"I was so lucky to find Gary and he was there for me every single day and helped me change things to suit me, and made sure I was getting enough of everything I needed in my diet.
"It is a bit expensive but it is totally worth it."