So fat I ate my children’s presents!
Greedily unwrapping the last chocolate on the tree and popping it into my mouth, my focus turned to the final door on the advent calendar.
‘Come on in!’ it taunted, even though it wasn’t Christmas Day, just a few days into December.
Refusing to think about the disappointment on my children’s faces, I quickly devoured that too before burying the now empty calendars into the bin safely beneath the remnants of that evening’s curry.
Then I crawled into bed, setting my alarm early to get up before my hubby Dave, 48, woke and get to the shops to replace all the chocolate tree decorations and the advent calendars before my children aged eight and 12 realised they were missing.
But it wasn’t just the calendars I knew I’d have to replace. I’d also gorge on all the selection boxes wrapped for the kids to open on Christmas Day, having to buy and wrap more several times before Christmas even arrived.
The Quality Street and Roses never lasted either, having to be replaced several times before December 25th.
Truth was, at 24 stone and a size 26, I was addicted to food and I simply couldn’t resist the lure of the extra chocolate dotted around the house. And it wasn’t just choccy that I gorged on, it was take away meals too. I blamed busy family life but the truth was I sought comfort in food and no time was more stressful than Christmas.
The Christmas works night out was especially a trauma. Not being able to find anything to wear, yet having to squeeze into something sparkly and then force being merry when in reality all I really wanted to do was hide away at home was hard work.
After bingeing over Christmas 2014 I’d vowed to get serious about my diet come January 1st but by February 2015 I’d fallen off the wagon and was bigger than ever.
The battle with my weight began when as a child I’d developed a sweet tooth. Eating sweets in secret meant I was already obese by the time I reached my teens.
I was eating normal meals, but constantly snacking on sweets and chocolate. It became a bad habit I just couldn’t break.
Then, on leaving school, I began to treat myself to takeaway meals and my waistline expanded further. When I married Dave in 2000, I was 30 and size 20.
As I walked down the aisle in a huge blue dress I was so adamant to anyone who’d listen that my weight didn’t bother me at all that eventually, I started to believe it.
After getting pregnant in the following year, I ironically developed cravings for salad and vegetables, rather than my usual sweet treats, so weight fell off. I couldn’t believe I actually lost weight at the time most people put it on.
But it wasn’t to last, and after my daughter Catherine, now 14, was born, I went back to my old routine. Soon, I’d put all the weight back on – and then some.
As busy new mum, I became reliant on quick ready meals and sugar. I felt I needed the energy boost that a bar of chocolate gave me and told myself I didn’t have time to shop and cook from scratch.
Four years on and pregnant with son Daniel, now 10, I was a size 22. As a mum of two, meals were usually pasta drenched in cheese sauce with garlic bread, or pork chops and a pile of chips.
With me and Dave both working full-time, we ate more takeaways than ever, some weeks every night. I’d get home exhausted and want to spend time with the children rather than in the kitchen, so it became easier just to ring for pizzas or curry to be delivered. Pizza Hut’s Bacon Stuffed Crust pizza was a favourite.
Because I had always been in denial about my size, I tried not to think about the health issues, but the truth was my health was at greater risk because of my obesity.
I puffed up the stairs, out of breath by the time I’d reached the landing, and running around the garden was a definite no-no. Every january I tried and failed a new diet and every November and December came the cycle of buying, eating and replacing all the Christmas chocolate.
The turning point came at the end of May 2015 when I attended Daniel’s rugby club sports day. I always loved watching the kids take part in their races, but hated the parents’ race. I always refused point blank to take part.
I’d feel guilty watching the other mums join in, but I knew I simply couldn’t do it. At my size, even walking up the stairs could leave me breathless, let alone running a race.
But Daniel was keen that I took part. I really didn’t want to, but how could I say no with his little eyes pleading with me to do it?
Only, from the moment the whistle blew I knew there was no way I was going to fit through the upturned tractor tyre in the middle of the course. Even as I was struggling through all the other obstacles all I could think about was the tyre, and what the heck I was going to do.
In the end I signalled to Catherine, who was watching, to run alongside me and climb through the tyre on my behalf. I was mortified, but I was too fat to do it myself and there was nothing else I could do. The other parents were too polite to say anything about me having to cheat because it was quite clear that I wasn’t going to fit.
But their support didn’t stop me feeling ashamed and more determined than ever to slim. What hurt more than not being able to complete the course was the feeling I’d let Daniel down again because of my weight.
The next week, weighing 24 stone and a dress size 26, I signed up to the Cambridge Weight Plan. Swapping half my meals for replacement bars and the other half for healthy, home-cooked dishes with salad and vegetables, totalling 1,000 calories a day wasn’t easy but I knew I had no option.
It was tough. But that first week I lost 8lb. It spurred me to keep going.
And as my clothes started to feel loose, I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this time I could do this.
By October, I’d lost over 6 stone.
‘Fantastic!’ my consultant said, replacing another meal with a shake, reducing my daily calorie allowance to 810.
To me a reward was getting more food, not less!
Still, there was no denying that her strategy was working. I also began using an exercise bike at home.
By Christmas 2015 I’d lost eight stone and was down to a size 18.
My consultant was delighted. ‘You’re doing well, Juliet.’ she beamed.
We sat down and decided new target – I had set my mind on losing half my body weight to reach a size 12. It seemed unbelievable yet even I had to admit that I was edging ever closer.
In January 2016 I started Zumba and my consultant then introduced one healthy meal a day back into my plan.
In April I started running too. Soon, other mums were running with me.
‘You’re an inspiration!’ they told me.
I wasn’t sure if I’d have said that, but I had to admit I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. The numbers on the bathroom scales continued to fall. In March 2016, I hit my 10-stone weight loss. It was a huge achievement but I knew I could go further.
And just three months later, after a year of dieting, I’d lost an incredible 12 stone and reached my target of 11st 12lb. It was an amazing feeling. I’d never been so proud of myself in my life.
‘Well done, Mum!’ my kids said.
‘We’re so proud of you,’ Dave winked.
Last June I completed the 5k Race For Life and I also took part in a half marathon at the end of September last year.
Last Christmas I even worse a size 12 dress to my Christmas do. But there wasn’t any chocolates on the tree or piles of selection boxes, or even chocolate advent calendars. Not because I don’t trust myself but because my kids had followed in my healthy footsteps and given up chocolate. It will be the same this year.
And while there will be lots of presents under the tree I’ve already given my family the best present I could: a happy, healthy and active mum.
Finally, I can join in their games in the park and do so much more with them. They love having an active fun mum and they are so proud of me.
Nothing could ever compare to that – not even chocolate!