HEARING the applause erupting all around me, I felt panic begin to take hold.
All I wanted was to run away, but after I’d stepped on the scales, which revealed I had shed almost 2st, the rest of my diet club were eager to congratulate me. Little did they know how miserable the weight loss had left me.
My self-esteem, like lots of women’s, is tied up in the size of my clothes – but not in the way you’d think.
At 5ft 6in, I’m at my happiest as a curvy size 16, but it took me a long time to figure that out.
After I had my daughter Amy in 2005, I shrank back down to my pre-pregnancy weight of 10st 12lb, a size 10, fairly quickly, without even trying.
The same thing happened when I had my son Finlay two years later. But 12 months after my daughter Holly was born in 2011, I was stuck at a size 14 and 12st 10lb.
I didn’t mind, as I’d realised I liked having more boobs and bum. However, my mum Katie, 54, and sister Donna, 37, were constantly talking about their desire to lose weight, and I wondered if I was lying to myself about preferring my larger figure.
After all, everyone I knew was happier when they were slimmer, so maybe I would be, too.
So in January 2013, I joined my local Weight Watchers group. In my first week I lost 6lb by making simple diet swaps, having fruit and Greek yoghurt for breakfast instead of butter and marmalade on toast, and ditching loaded sandwiches for big salads at lunch.
The biggest change I made was cutting out treats, such as chocolate and crisps.
The compliments came thick and fast, and I knew they should have brought a smile to my face, but they didn’t – and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Perhaps I needed to lose more weight before I started to feel good.
Within a month I’d slimmed down to a size 12, but whenever I caught sight of my reflection I wanted to look away. My skin seemed to hang off my body, and without my boobs and bum, my waist seemed bigger.
Everything appeared out of proportion. Donna confessed she was envious of my success, but the joy I’d anticipated never materialised.
Instead, everything began to upset me, from adverts on TV to stories in the paper, and I had trouble sleeping.
My husband Neil, 34, a scaffolder, kept asking me if I was OK as he could see I wasn’t my usual bubbly self.
While I assured him I was fine, I had begun to hate the way I looked and didn’t feel attractive at all. In fact, the more weight that dropped off, the worse I felt.
I just kept telling myself it would get better when I finally hit my goal weight of 10st 11lb.
One morning that May, when I’d lost just over 1st, I remember looking at myself in the mirror in my bra and knickers and feeling really low.
My body had lost the voluptuous shape I loved, and no longer looked symmetrical. The belly I hadn’t shifted after Holly was born seemed to have become more pronounced. My hair had lost its sheen and my face had gotten thinner, which I felt certain had left me with more wrinkles.
On top of everything, I was fed up of my restrictive eating plan. I’d never been greedy, but I missed sharing a bag of crisps on the sofa with Neil in the evening, or enjoying some biscuits with a cup of tea.
Everything came to a head one night in June 2013, when I weighed around 11st. I’d just put the kids to bed, and the minute I walked into the lounge to sit down with Neil, I burst into tears. I felt so depressed. After a long chat, Neil suggested I make an appointment with our GP.
During my consultation, the doctor enquired about my day-to-day life and I mentioned that I’d been dieting. She then asked if I thought it might be affecting me emotionally.
The question shocked me at first, but after giving it some thought, I realised the answer was yes – losing weight was making me depressed.
The GP prescribed me some antidepressants, which I was initially reluctant to take, but she assured me they would help in the short term.
One week later, the day for my final Weight Watchers weigh-in arrived. I considered not showing up, however I thought of all the other members who had been so supportive, and I didn’t want to let them down.
But while everyone was overjoyed for me as 10st 11lb flashed up on the scales, I knew I would never diet again. I’d lost just under 2st, but had never been so unhappy in my life and had zero confidence.
Back home I vowed to keep eating lots of nutritious foods, but swiftly reintroduced the treats I loved.
Within three months I had gained around 8lb. I came off the antidepressants and started to feel like myself again. Even though I was putting on pounds, it was like a huge weight had been lifted.
Neil noticed the difference immediately. The cheerful, self-assured, resilient Heather he’d married was back. I was sleeping better, feeling attractive for the first time in months and regaining control of my life. When I looked in the mirror, I loved seeing the softness of my curves and the way I was getting back into proportion. My skin began to look plumper and my hair got its shine back.
By June 2014, I was a size 16 and 13st, and I’ve stayed the same ever since. I ride horses, go running, have an active job and I eat the chocolate and crisps I’ve always loved. Everyone can see how much more content I am, and Neil thinks I’m sexier than ever.
Friends admit they’d love to have my attitude, but they think they can only be happy if they’re slim. It breaks my heart that we put so much pressure on ourselves rather than accepting the skin we’re in.
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Holly, now six, is still too young to understand body confidence, but Amy, 13, is following my example and doesn’t stress about trying to fit anyone else’s idea of beauty, which I’m extremely proud of.
Recently she told me she’d read about some girls her age who were on meal replacement diet plans. It’s scary to think we could be raising a whole generation of women who’ll only feel good about themselves if they’re a size 8.
Who cares if I don’t have the body of Kendall Jenner? I’m really happy and healthy.
Life is so much better when you define beauty on your own terms – I just wish more women realised it.