I was overweight and miserable but then the motivation to shed the pounds came unexpectedly from beyond the grave…
By Rachel Crowder, 20, from Liverpool
As I grabbed the TV remote and settled in for another night on the sofa, my mobile phone kept buzzing with text messages from friends, asking me to join them in the pub.
Rifling through my wardrobe, I sighed. As much as I fancied a girls night out I didn’t have a thing to wear.
Tipping the scales at 22 stone, my confidence was at an all time low and nothing fashionable fitted me.
‘Sorry, I can’t make it tonight,’ I typed out my response, throwing another drab, shapeless outfit on my bedroom floor in despair.
I was always a bigger girl growing up, and as I got older, my weight problem only got worse. I’d start each day with four pieces of toast and a bowl of sugary cereal for breakfast, followed by a sandwich, crisps and a chocolate bar for lunch.
I was a typical ‘secret eater’ and even though my mum would cook healthy meals in the evening, I’d spend all my pocket money on more chocolate and crisps on the way home from school and devour them in my bedroom.
I loved takeaways too – especially Chinese – and would gorge on mountains of noodles, egg fried rice, chips and spring rolls at least twice a week.
I washed it all down with a litre of full fat coke and another chocolate bar for dessert.
The diet starts tomorrow… I told myself guiltily afterwards.
By the time I was 18, I squeezed my hulking frame into size 28 clothes. While my friends shopped in Topshop, I had to browse round stores like Evans, and often opted for frumpy black tops to hide my flabby figure.
When I did go out I would feel self-conscious all night. I was jealous of my friends – who could dress up in gorgeous dresses, while I did my best to hide away in the corner out of sight.
One night, we were in a bar when a drunk guy pointed at me and laughed.
‘Fat cow!’ he jeered.
Tears filled my eyes as I pushed my way out of the club. ‘I’m ok, I just want to go home,’ I told my friends.
After that, I didn’t bother going out much at all – and I certainly didn’t have any long-term relationships, I was just too insecure.
The worse I felt about my weight, the more I ate to try to make myself feel better – it was a vicious circle.
But as much as I loved my food, my size was making me unhappy. I tried dieting over and over again, but I always fell at the first hurdle, despite support from my family.
My biggest supporter was my gran, Margaret, 72 – a straight talker who always encouraged me to aim high.
She was more like a second mum to me than a nan – I saw her every week for Sunday dinner and we always went on holiday together.
In May 2012, I decided to give my weight loss another go. This time, Nan made me promise I’d do it for good.
‘Please, I just want you to be healthy. I know you can do it,’ she pleaded.
‘I know losing the weight will be the first step to the life you want – you’ll be happy and healthy – then comes getting a degree and a nice boyfriend.’ she grinned.
When I realised just how much it meant to her, I vowed to shape up. I promised to study and get a degree too, just like Nan wanted.
‘Ok Nan, you’ve got yourself a deal,’ I smiled.
Newly motivated, I swapped the stacks of toast at breakfast for porridge, and my lunch became a healthy salad.
I even managed to ditch my favourite takeaways for fish and plenty of vegetables. I cut out all the chocolate bars, too. To my surprise, I lost a stone in just a month.
‘See, I told you you could do it!’ Nan beamed when I excitedly told her the good news.
She was thrilled – and so was I. Her support spurred me on to keep losing the pounds, and I felt more motivated than ever to slim down.
But then, a few months later, in September 2012, tragedy struck.
My family and I hadn’t heard from Nan in a few days which was unusual, so we went to her house to check if she was ok.
To our absolute horror, we found her collapsed on the floor… and she wasn’t breathing.
My lovely, supportive Nan had died suddenly from cardiovascular thrombosis. We were all shocked – Nan had always been so fit and healthy for her age.
I lost myself in grief for a few months following her death, but whenever I felt down I kept hearing Nan’s voice in my head, telling me to reach for my goals.
I knew she would still want me to give everything my best shot, so I picked myself up again and kept on trying to lose weight.
I was devastated at losing my nan – but I didn’t lose the sense of determination she’d instilled in me.
In fact, it was the promise I had made to her just a few months earlier which echoed in my head, louder than ever.
I resolved to keep my promise and I tried harder than ever to be healthy and slim. I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app on my phone and started keeping a diary of the calories I was eating.
At first, I couldn’t even climb the stairs without getting out of breath, but I bought a Zumba dance DVD.
After the first five minutes I was knackered, but I kept going and soon I had worked my way up to doing a full hour of exercise.
The best thing was, as I carried on losing weight, the more I enjoyed my new diet and exercise routine. After a few months, I joined a gym and started walking everywhere too.
Everytime I felt like giving up I thought about my amazing nan, and that was all I needed to keep on track.
18 months later, in February 2014, I’d lost an incredible 10-and-a-half stone. I shrunk down to a healthy 11st 5lbs and became a slinky size 12.
Clothes shopping became a completely different experience – instead of being confined to Evans to buy my clothes, I started to try on pretty, trendy clothes just like my friends, and to my surprise, I looked great.
Suddenly, people started to do a double take in the street when they saw me, and my confidence started coming on leaps and bounds.
These days, I have tons of energy and I’ve even started studying for a philosophy degree. I hope to then become a primary school teacher – Nan would have been incredibly proud of me.
I have been with my boyfriend Daniel, 21, for 18 months and he has been very supportive of my ever shrinking figure.
We started seeing each other halfway though my weight loss and he often jokes that he’s got a completely different girlfriend now – he thinks I look great.
Nan was always my biggest supporter, my only regret is that she didn’t live to see me flaunting my fab new figure.
But I’m so glad I kept my promise to her – I know she’ll be looking down on me with a proud smile on her face.