Powering through a night shift at the hospital where I worked as a nurse, I couldn’t stop myself from yawning.
‘Don’t swallow me!’ my colleague, a fellow nurse quipped.
‘Sorry?’ I said. But I knew exactly what she was referring to. My size. At 5ft5, I weighed 18 stone 5Ibs and was a size 22. You don’t get to be as big as I was without having to put up with rude comments and jibes. It was as if people thought the extra flesh would protect my feeling from being hurt.
It didn’t help that I specialised in caring for the elderly and worked on a dementia ward. Some of the patients had lost the ability to censor what came out of their mouths.
‘Oink, oink!’ one female patient said whenever I went to attend to her. Even my own family would make references to my size at times – hey had no idea how much it hurt me, they were just being honest. So at meals, I would never put too much food on my plate, as I feared I’d be judged for it. Instead, I’d offer to do the washing up and sneak an extra portion from the pot when no one was looking.
When Christmas came along, I was so desperate to avoid eating a big dinner in front of everyone that I offered to work. It was a great excuse to get out of the parties too. At my size I wouldn’t even be able to find anything to wear. Everyone else wanted to spend the day with their family and friends, but I preferred to be elsewhere. That way no one could judge me for helping myself to an extra roast potato or snigger at me. I did the same for Boxing Day and New Year too. I lied to everyone and told them I had no choice but to do a shift. They were so disappointed, but the truth was my confidence was so low. I’d rather be at work.
I took to hiding food in the strangest of places, stashing packets of crisps and biscuits in my car boot and even at the bottom of the laundry bin in the bathroom! That way, when I went for a shower I could munch on a biscuit while I washed myself. After a stressful day at work, I liked nothing more than to have a soak in the bath for a couple of hours with an array of snacks lined up along the side of it.
On the outside, my friends appeared supportive and told me how great I looked. But despite knowing how unhappy I was, they would always encourage me to eat more pudding. To them I was the fluffy, fat friend. Trouble was I just didn’t love myself anymore.
My weight began to creep up during my first year at the University of Bedfordshire, where I was studying social work. I split up with my long-term boyfriend and days later suffered the loss of my uncle. Heartbroken and grieving I started comfort eating to deal with my heartbreak and the stress of exams and course work. I used my student grant to order in a nightly Chinese, Indian or pizza instead of cooking for myself. By the time I graduated I was a size 18-20 and was so self-conscious I didn’t even want to go to my own graduation ceremony. In the end, I did attend, but I wasn’t happy when the time came to take off my gown and reveal the oversized, frumpy top and boring trousers underneath. I’ve always loved clothes and fashion but at my size it was impossible to find anything I felt good in.
After leaving uni, I intended to lose the weight, but then I started my career as a nurse and the 12-hour shifts meant it was hard to find the time to cook for myself or start an exercise regime.
As time went on, I developed weight-related health problems. My ankles would swell up hours into a shift and a bad back meant I had to take lots of time off work. I also had high blood pressure as was at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
‘Just try and lose a bit of weight,’ my GP urged.
But it was hard. Diets would fall by the wayside after just a few weeks. My love of food conquered all.
And over the years, I learnt to hide the pain it was causing me. I laughed it off when I broke a boyfriend’s bed.
‘It’s because you went and bought a cheap one!’ I maintained.
I used the same line when the same thing happened with a different boyfriend sometime later.
At the funeral of my uncle, Win, three of the buttons popped on my shirt, exposing my boobs. Luckily, Mum carries safety pins in her handbag as a matter of course and was able to save my modesty. After that, I vowed to carry them wherever I went, too.
On another occasion, one of my neighbours came over for a chat.
‘Are you pregnant with twins?’ she asked.
I didn’t know how to respond. I was used to people thinking I was pregnant, but to presume it was with twins was too much.
Then there was ‘bus gate’. I always hated getting on public transport because the size of my derriere meant I pretty much took up two seats. People often moved to avoid sitting next to me because my bottom would spread onto their seat.
One day, getting on the bus to go shopping in Croydon, I decided to sit on one of the single seats at the back, to avoid having to join anyone. But when the bus reached my stop, I realised I couldn’t get up. There were metal bars either side of it and I was wedged in. Seeing I was struggling, the man opposite tried and failed to pull me out. Eventually, he went to get the driver.
‘We might need to call the fire brigade,’ he said. My heart started to pound at the idea of the emergency services turning up. What if they sent paramedics too ? It would mean my colleagues from the hospital seeing me like this. How humiliating. Fortunately, the bus wasn’t too busy and with their combined strength the men managed to pull me out of the seat.
All that was hurt was my pride.
As Christmas 2016 approached, I decided it was time for a big change. I’d moved to a new hospital, didn’t want to be known as the big nurse there. I was also tired of smiling politely at lame fat jokes and tired of avoiding family gatherings because I was embarrassed about eating in front of others.
The first thing I did was to give up smoking. I puffed my way through 10-15 ciggies a day. If I was going to tackle my weight, I also needed to stop doing the other things that were damaging my body. I also decided to give up booze and going out to clubs and restaurants. This meant ditching the mates who were always encouraging me to eat more. They were as toxic as the cigs.
In January, I tackled my eating and started the Cambridge Weight Plan, which involved replacing normal meals with calorie controlled and nutritionally balanced shakes, bars and soups. Instead of quenching my thirst with cola and other sugary, fizzy drinks, I kept hydrated with water. For the next six months, I lost a steady 14Ibs a month and by the summer I was down to 12 stone, having lost a whopping six-and-a-half stone. My dress size had shrunk from a size 20-22 to a size 12-14. The difference was huge. Not only that, I lost the braces I’d been wearing to straighten my teeth and had them whitened. I looked like a different person!
Throughout my weight-loss journey I logged my progress on Instagram, doubling my followers in the process. I now have over a thousand. I hope I can inspire others to make positive changes to their own lives, too. A lot of other issues go hand-in-hand with being overweight, including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. On the outside my persona was bubbly, outgoing and fun. Friends knew me as ‘Crazy Kim’, but inside I was a broken, sad and anxious individual. Not any more. I finally feel like the person I’ve always wanted to be. I can fit into slinky dresses and wear high heels for more than five minutes without developing swollen ankles.
This Christmas I won’t be signing up to work over the festive season and will enjoy time with my family and friends instead. My mission in life now is to be healthy, happy and confident. I also want to look and feel good and set a good example for others. Now when I go out I aim to stop traffic, just not by getting stuck in a bus seat!