With the season of over-indulgence approaching, it’s harder than ever to keep in shape. Katie Wright and Rebecca Martindale meet three inspirational super slimmers from Tyneside who’ve lost over 20 stones between them and will be looking fantastic in their Christmas party dresses this year.
For someone who admits she “never committed to anything”, Melanie Reynolds can be very proud to have lost a staggering eight-and-a-half-stone.
Having battled with her weight since she was a child, eating the wrong foods whenever she wanted led Melanie to become an unhappy 22st 8lbs and a size 26.
The 42-year-old resource manager from Washington says she’s always been big and suffered from yo-yo dieting. Apart from getting from A to B, Melanie never did any exercise to counterbalance the large portions she ate.
“I would make tea for the family and eat portions the same size as my husband who is a fit man,” she says. “My weight certainly affected my life. I am bright, confident and bubbly but I couldn’t show it.”
Going out as a couple was never fun for Melanie. She felt the need to shy away quietly and blend in with the background. “I didn’t like what I was wearing, nothing looked right, so I stuck to black,” she says.
Despite feeling uncomfortable about her weight, it never affected her relationship with her family. “We still went on family holidays but we couldn’t exercise together. My life was good before but I didn’t realise how much it could improve.”
A family holiday in Majorca was the vital turning point for Melanie. “It was really hot and I was so uncomfortable,” she says. A letter from her GP recommending her for a health check was the final reality check she needed to finally change her habits. “At 41, I realised I needed to do something about my weight,” she says.
Melanie may have passed the health check but she certainly wasn’t pleased. Going to WeightWatchers was the first step on the right path. “I need the strictness and regimen of WeightWatchers so much,” she admits. “The support you get absolutely helped. I still get it 15 months down the line. I like to be supportive to others as well.”
Now Melanie is a size 16, but she isn’t stopping there and hopes to reach a healthy BMI of less than 25. As she’s 5ft 8in, her ideal weight would be 11st 10lb. “If I reach my goal and think I can go further then I will,” she says. “But if I can maintain my weight once I reach my goal, I can be referred to surgery for my skin.”
Melanie was ecstatic to explain how her life has changed since the weight loss. “My wardrobe has completely changed. Instead of black suits, I can wear knee-length dresses,” she says. “People I haven’t seen in a while have to take a triple look at me. I feel so confident.”
Her family life with husband George, 46, and her children Ben, 10, and Katie, 13, has certainly improved too. “Its nice to feel so fit and active again. I can now go out for bike rides with my family and walks with the dog.”
Melanie is holding back on the big celebration until the target goal has been reached, but her newfound confidence encourages her to continue every day. “I am confident I will never go back to the way I was before,” she says. “Never.”
Amanda Halliday has always been a victim of yo-yo diets. “I’ve suffered from depression, so if I’m having a good couple of years the weight drops, if I’m having a bad couple of years, the weight increases,” says the single 39-year-old from Pelaw, Gateshead who works for Gala Bingo at the Metrocentre.
Overeating and seeking comfort from food was Amanda’s downfall. “I would want chocolate, and not just a bar of chocolate,” she says. “If I couldn’t decide which bar I’d want, I’d get all three. I’d eat everything wrong, whatever was bad for me, I wanted. It was my way of handling what I was going through at the time.”
The situation, spiralling out of control, took hold of Amanda’s life. “I would be really embarrassed to go out with friends, drinking and socialising,” she says. “I would make excuses so that I couldn’t go out. I would feel embarrassed for them to see how big I was.”
After starting to notice the daily struggle of basic activities such as walking and playing with her friends’ children, Amanda decided enough was enough.
“We’d go to the park but I just couldn’t do anything,” she says. “I had to do something about it. I knew the following year I was going on holiday with my family, I also had two friends that were getting married and I thought; I’m not being the fat chick in the photos. That was a changing point for me.”
Facing the scales at her heaviest Amanda weighed 17st 12lb and was a size 22 when she turned to WeightWatchers.
“It’s totally changed,” she laughs. “I’ve done both exercise and dieting. At first it was just WeightWatchers and the weight was coming off slowly. When I lost about a stone and a half, I thought ‘wow this is working.’ A friend mentioned Zumba and I thought I’d go and have a laugh. I absolutely loved it, even thought I couldn’t follow it. I was always going the wrong way but it’s funny, it’s exercising but you feel like you’re going out with friends dancing.”
Amanda has completely changed her eating habits. No longer giving in to chocolate cravings, she follows a diet of three meals a day. “I always try and have one light meal and then a big and filling meal,” she says. “I’m also into fruit and vegetables now which I never used to be.”
The combination of healthy eating and exercise has made the weight drop off. Now Amanda is 13st 13lb and a size 16. Although she’d still like to lose another two stone, she now receives compliments regularly.
“People say I’ve got a waist now,” she says. “My friends have been so supportive. Every Thursday when I get weighed, that is my treat day for losing weight.”
Amanda is thrilled with the success of her exercise and diet regime. “I’m a lot more confident, a lot bubblier,” she says. “I’m wearing things I’d have never worn before. I wouldn’t change it, there’s no way I’m going back to the way I was. I’m just so happy and it’s a great feeling.”
Mum-of-four Sharon Holden can’t ever remember being slim. The 37-year-old special needs teaching assistant from Wardley in Gateshead, says it was a matter of “gradually getting bigger and bigger, having kids and just comfort eating” that led to her eventually becoming 22st 10lb.
Sharon has tried plenty of diets including food combining, generally cutting down and doctors’ diets from the dietician, but nothing worked. Portion size was always a problem. “It wouldn’t just be a couple of slices of toast for breakfast, it would be four slices with a meat paste on top because I don’t like jam or butter,” she explains. “It would be bigger portions and snacks of crisps and things in between.”
“I’d just had enough. I think I was just tired and feeling uncomfortable of not being able to go to the cinema without thinking about what size the seats are going to be, whether I can fit in them.”
Sharon’s size 26 to 28 body affected her life on a daily basis. Playing with her four children, Cody, five, Lara, nine, Jake, 10 and Chloe, 13, became particularly difficult.
“When we went to the theme park, I would say I didn’t want to go on the rides but it was because I didn’t think I would fit in the seats,” says Sharon, who’s married to Jonathan, a logistics co-ordinator.
Fed up of being too big for life’s pleasures Sharon has lost nearly nine stone after joining WeightWatchers and taking her diet seriously. “I’m two pounds away from that,” she says. “It’s taken me three and a half years to lose that, which for me is longer than I’d have liked. But now I’ve changed my whole life.”
Now Sharon has mastered those portion sizes. “If I want something, I’ll have it, either as a smaller portion or I’ll rework my points for the day in order to have what I really want,” she says. “It’s just those little changes that work. I think if I had said, I can’t have this and can’t have that, I would have given up very easily.”
Sharon doesn’t have a set goal. “I looked at what I should be and it meant losing a full ten stone,” she says. “Sometimes I’m disappointed that I haven’t lost that weight, but that’s life. I haven’t put limits on it.”
Sharon is currently a size 14. Having shed seven dress sizes and now using the gym to get fitter and toned, she’s currently weighing in at 14 stones. “You’ve got to change your diet to fit your life,” she says. “You can’t change your life to fit your diet.”