As I helped my daughters Anna and Lyla, now eight and six, with the jigsaw puzzle, a little girl stood beside me and gently placed her hand on my leg: ‘Your bottom is very big, isn’t it? So are your legs.’
The heat rising in my cheeks, I nervously looked around to see if any of the other mums I’d met for coffee had heard.
I was embarrassed, humiliated. But what could I do? She was a young girl innocently saying what she saw. Only trouble was in my case, the truth hurt.
At just 5ft tall and weighing almost 21-and-a-half stone, I didn’t need anyone to tell me I was morbidly obese. But while I was a size 22 on top, it was my bottom that really stole the show. A whopping size 26-28, it stuck out a mile.
I was used to seeing strangers taking a not-to-subtle second glance, the sly nudges and sniggers. As I walked down the street it was like my giant behind had a life of its own, attracting unwanted attention wherever I went.
Once my nanna caught two women pointing at my bottom in a shop. She placed her arm around me and shook her head at them, as if to tell them they should know better.
I tried to ignore them and tell myself that I was the bigger person – even though ironically, I literally was – but it was hard. Harder still was having to tell my daughters that Mummy couldn’t play on the swings or slides with them at the park because, well, they just weren’t built for people like me. I was literally carrying around more than the combined weight of my girls.
I’d been overweight ever since the age of seven, when I began secretly eating in my bedroom. At school I was known as ‘Fat Kath’ and bullied terribly. Mum and Dad tried to help but despite their efforts – one Christmas they even bought me an exercise bike – I continued to grow.
I tried every diet going but always reverted back to secret eating and binge eating for comfort. By the time I left school I weighed 21-and-a-half stone.
Desperate, in my late teens I even contacted an eating disorder clinic for help.
But like the diets, that too failed. I felt like my obesity wasn’t taken as seriously as other eating disorders. I was just told to eat less and move more. The problem was I couldn’t. That was like telling an anorexic to eat more. How could I exercise at my size ? What I really needed was help to break the cycle.
Every time I was stressed or unhappy, I’d turn to food. Just the act of eating seemed to calm me down. I could get through six bags of crisps in a sitting, as well as giant portions of unhealthy meals and constant fatty snacks. Trouble was, afterwards I felt disgusted with myself and again turned to food for comfort.
In November 2002 I met my husband BK ( correct name) through mutual friends. Although I was happier than ever I still ate to excess if I was having a bad day, or if we went out for dinner. It was a habit I simply didn’t know how to break.
Only when I fell pregnant with Lyla in 2007, healthy cravings for salad and vegetables meant I actually lost weight.
I kept it off for my wedding so when we married in 2009 I could fit into a size 24 dress at around 18 stone.
Only then my weight slowly crept up again and I put it all back on with the arrival of my second daughter, Anna, two years late.
BK, a marketing manager, didn’t seem phased by my growing girth. He loved to cook and we enjoyed eating good food together. But as the years passed I was eating more and more.
‘I love you whatever size your dress is,’ he told me.
But I hated being so overweight. Holidays were especially hard. Every year we went back to the same place in the South of France and I spent some of the week in tears.
‘Next year’s going to be different,’ I told myself every time. Except it never was.
Things started badly when Anna wanted to sit on my knee but even with the extender the belt wouldn’t fit around the two of us.
Once we arrived, the heat floored me. I’m sure I came across as lazy but truth was, I was just exhausted. It was so hot, just getting through the day was a challenge.
One day, I summoned all my willpower to go on a family trip to the local market. But it was horrendous. Everywhere I went I could see people pointing at my bottom. I just wanted to go home and curl up on the settee. Instead, I spent the remainder of the fortnight laid out on a sunbed in the shade, trying to move around as little as possible.
As I watched BK and the girls splashing in the pool, them laughing and squealing with delight as their Dad chased them around in the water, it suddenly hit me that unless I did something about my size, I might not be around to see them grow up.
Even after we returned home I couldn’t shake the fear. Then do something about it, a little voice urged.
And finally, I listened.
But I knew starting another slow-and-steady weight loss diet wouldn’t cut it. I needed drastic measures. So a week after we returned, in desperation to banish my bottom for good, I signed up to a meal replacement diet called with The Cambridge Plan with weekly counselling sessions.
It was hard, really hard. But to my shock I lost a staggering 13 pounds in the first week.
‘I don’t believe it!’ I cried as the needle dropped lower, and lower.
It gave me the impetus to carry on. For the first time in my live, I believed that I could really do this.
Within weeks I could see a difference, and by Christmas I was four stone down.
‘You look great,’ friends commented.
The weekly one-on-one time with my personal Cambridge consultant was invaluable. She finally made me realise that I could cope with everything that life threw at me without turning to food and that I wasn’t having a failure if I had a bad week.
I took things one day at a time. In the first year, I lost an incredible eight stone, taking me down to 13 stone and a size 14-16.
And even though we went back to the South of France again, our next Summer holiday was completely different. For a start, I could get my holiday wardrobe from a normal shop. I picked out a bright, colourful swimming costume and felt like I’d left the old me behind. Before, I’d have hidden away behind dark shades, a sarong and several beach towels.
This time, I didn’t have to ask for a seatbelt extender on the plane; the normal belt went round me with room to spare. And once there, I had so much energy. I spent my days taking walks on the beach, playing with the kids in the pool, and shopping for souvenirs at the market without anyone giving me a second look. It felt lovely.
Friends I’d not seen for a year hardly recognised me. ‘No way!’ they cried when I told them how much weight I’d lost. ‘Well, you look incredible!’
And when I looked at the holiday snaps – the first I’d really smiled in for I don’t know how long – I remembered what a great time we’d had, not how miserable I’d felt. It was a wonderful feeling.
‘I’m really proud of you,’ BK told me. ‘But then I always have been. I’m just happy you’re happy.’
And I really was. Because as daft as it sounds, I’d no idea how big my bottom had really been – until I found a photo last year. I’d never seen it before – and I soon understood why. I found it on my Nana’s iPad and it had been taken about four years earlier.
‘Oh my God!’ I gasped in horror.
It could have been lovely; it showed the whole family clearing snow and building snowmen, a two-year-old Anna playing happily. Only then there was me…taken from behind.
It sounds ridiculous, but though I knew my bottom was big, I was shocked to see just how big. Too large to fit in the mirror I’d never seen it in its fully glory…until now. And now I could see why people were always pointing and staring. It was absolutely, breathtakingly enormous. I felt sick.
I didn’t have to ask my Nana why she hadn’t shown it to me before, it was obvious she just didn’t want to hurt me.
That’s the reason my family never took any photos of me from that angle, or if they had kept them hidden.
And back when it had been taken I’d been so defensive about my weight that I wouldn’t have taken it on board anyway. Now, however, it’s a different story. I’ve lost a staggering ten stone!
My bottom is now a size 12 and still a work in progress, but it’s much more manageable. I’ll never let it get out of control again. I’ve bought a bike, go to Zumba classes and have even started running, all which would have been unimaginable to me a couple of years ago.
I’ve lost half of my body weight and my bottom is more than half the size it was – I can even see it in the mirror, something I could never do before.
I thought being obese was just my lot in life but I now I know that with determination, I can achieve anything.