When I joined a slimming group I expected to lose weight – I never dreamed I’d gain a husband too!
By Sally Jones, 34, from Doncaster
Slouched in front of the television and covered in crumbs, I could hear my hulking hubby shuffling in his chair.
‘Pass the Pringles, love,’ groaned my porky Paul, 38, as he got himself comfortable again. With a smile, I pulled my chubby hand out of the tube and passed it over to my man.
Every evening was the same. We would order a huge takeaway and gorge on snacks until late at night. I loved every second I spent with Paul, but our routine was doing nothing for our waistlines.
My weight had been a struggle since I was a teenager and I tried diet after diet but nothing ever stuck. It wasn’t long before my love of junk food saw me tip the scales at 16 stone.
I was a flabby size 24 and desperate for a new start, when I joined Weight Watchers in January 2008.
Nervous, I walked to a local meeting on a cold dark wintry night and shivered as I shuffled into the room.
But I didn’t need to worry. Everyone was so welcoming – and that’s where I first set my eyes on Paul.
At a massive 26st 9lbs he was battling the bulge too and we hit it off immediately.
Each week we would seek each other out and chat about how our last few days had been, our slimming slips and successes, and our lives in general.
Both married, our friendship was never anything more, but even so, I was very fond of him and when we lost touch a few months later, I was disappointed.
I had ditched the diet and stopped going to the group, it just wasn’t working for me, but I realised I had looked forward to my weekly catch-ups with Paul.
Of course, with no direction the few pounds I had managed to shift went straight back on. And eventually, my husband and I divorced when our marriage broke down. I was at rock bottom.
It took me two years to feel ready for love again, and in January 2010 I signed up to a dating website.
You can do this, Sal, I said to myself.
I scrolled through the profiles and suddenly my heart skipped a beat as I came across a familiar face… Paul!
I froze, grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t believe it was him after all this time. I started typing out a message to him when I heard a ping!
It was an email from Paul. My fingers quivered as I clicked open the message.
Hello stranger! His message read. How are you?
Unable to contain my smile, I quickly typed a message back. Paul! Wow, it’s been forever. I’m good – how are things with you?
It turned out he was divorced too and I couldn’t help but laugh when he confessed he’d fallen off the wagon and hadn’t lost any weight either.
A right pair we are – we’re as useless as each other, I thought, chuckling to myself.
It felt so good to talk to my old friend again and we set up a meeting a few weeks later. It was a cold February day, and I took Paul to a nearby beach.
We were both wrapped up in our winter coats, talking about our lives and drinking my homemade vegetable soup from a thermos flask, looking out at the sea.
‘It’s so great to see you again,’ Paul said gently.
Huddled close together on the sand, I caught my date’s eye and felt butterflies in my stomach.
Was I falling for my fat friend?
Paul was so warm and kind, and I could suddenly see him in a different light. It wasn’t long before our friendship blossomed into romance, and we soon talked about marriage.
Together, we picked out an engagement ring with a beautiful heart-shaped sapphire. ‘I’m going to surprise you with a proposal,’ Paul grinned as he pocketed the jewel.
A few days later we squeezed into my car and drove to have a picnic in the gardens of a stately home.
As I stopped the car, thunder rolled and the heavens opened, rain hammered down on the roof. We looked at each other and burst out laughing.
‘No picnic today then eh?’ I said between chuckles.
‘No,’ said Paul, a twinkle in his eye, ‘but I can still propose to you.’
Paul stuck his podgy fingers in his pocket and pulled out the gorgeous ring. ‘Sally, will you marry me?’ he trembled.
‘Yes! Of course I will,’ I squealed, throwing my arms around his neck. We knew it was fast but it felt so right.
Plans for the big day started almost straight away but I put off buying a dress for months. I dreaded going into a boutique and trying to squeeze my hulking frame into all that fabric.
My mum and mother-in-law to be came with me to buy my perfect wedding dress, but I couldn’t help but be self-conscious.
Most of the gowns on the racks were size 8 – and I was more of a 24! All I wanted was to feel like a princess on my big day.
‘Come on Sally, this is exciting,’ my mum soothed as I plodded through the boutique doors.
Blinking back tears, I pulled on five different dresses, and put on a brave face to show the mums as they cooed over me.
Wanting to leave the shop as soon as possible, I quickly opted for a simple off-white strapless satin number with a handful of diamantes and got out of there.
When Paul and I married in October 2012, I had never been happier. But there was no getting away from the fact I was a big bride.
And after we tied the knot our bad habits only got worse as we settled into married life, devouring a takeaway each night.
‘We can’t keep doing this,’ I turned to Paul. He sighed, ‘I know hun, let’s go on a diet.’
But it never happened. We spiralled into a life that revolved around snacks and junk food. We were getting bigger and bigger.
Neither of us liked to cook and the ease of a McDonalds or a kebab was always too tempting. Plus, there was always a chocolate bar or swiss roll in the cupboard…
Finally, two years after our big, fat wedding, in November 2014, we decided enough was enough.
In military style, Paul and I cleared out the kitchen cupboards and went straight to the supermarket to replace the crisps and snacks with herbs, cooking oils and vegetables.
Determined to finally shift the bulge, we joined Slimming World together and marched down to our first local meeting hand in hand.
We were nervous – you always think you’re going to be the biggest one there – but we had each other and that was all that mattered to us.
With each other’s support, Paul and I found we enjoyed cooking healthy homemade meals.
We worked better as a team. After all, we knew exactly what each other was going through.
A month later, we had our first big weigh-in.I bit my lip as I stepped onto the scales and winced as the flashing numbers went up and down.
‘Are you sure?’ I gasped as the number finally settled.
The leader beamed at me. ‘That’s right,’ she said. ‘9lbs – congratulations!’ I was over the moon and ran straight over to hug my wonderful hubby.
‘Well done babe,’ he said, kissing my forehead, ‘and I’ve lost 1st 8lbs – we’re doing it!’
Months went by, and as our bodies changed, our relationship did too. Instead of scoffing fish and chips on the beach we went for long walks together, slimming down one step at a time.
Paul loves walking and I even took up running. There are challenging times, but we support each other and love the time we spend cooking delicious homemade meals in our kitchen together.
Now, 15 months on, I’ve lost six stone and shrunk to a slinky size 10 while Paul has shed an incredible 13 stone. That’s a whopping 19 stone between us!
Paul was named Slimming World’s Mr Sleek last year and I was crowned Miss Slinky. For being an inspirational duo, we were even named Couple of the Year 2016.
We’ve made our bodies healthier and become an even stronger couple because of it.
I’m so proud of our super-slimming achievement but I don’t regret us being a podgy pair – after all, it’s thanks to our flabby love handles that I found Paul, and found love!