Waiting naked on the floor for a supersize stretcher after I slipped in the shower was the wake-up call I needed.
By Claire Parsons, 39, from Swindon
As I finished another 16-hour shift in the busy kitchen where I worked, I could feel my stomach rumbling.
I had been snacking on biscuits, crisps and leftovers all day, but being around all that food was torture.
I was exhausted, and I couldn’t face cooking myself something for dinner. Again. I just wanted the quickest thing I could grab, like usual.
It was always a big greasy pizza, a massive portion of curry or a bag of Chinese food.
Plodding through the door of my local Chinese take-away, the owner greeted me with open arms.
‘Claire! What will it be tonight?’ he said, smiling from behind the counter.
‘The usual, please,’ I muttered, shuffling on my feet.
I knew it was bad for me but I couldn’t stop myself from gorging on huge takeaways most nights – and it was really taking its toll.
Ever since I was a teenager, I had really struggled with my weight. I tried all the fad diets over the years but nothing ever stuck. I would always slip back into my old bad habits.
Then when I started working as a chef, the pounds really started to pile on.
The extra weight got too much and one of my knees, already weak from a skiing accident, couldn’t take it.
After my fourth fall in the kitchen, I had to leave. Not only was I being a nuisance, I was a hazard. I was too fat to work.
And because of my size, I had to move into assisted living and use a mobility scooter to get around. I was only 37!
I couldn’t even fit behind the wheel of a car. With no job, times really were hard. So I would ride over the road to the corner shop in my scooter and raid the ‘reduced’ section for food.
I bought anything I could afford and none of it was healthy – it was all pies, pasties, garlic bread and tins of beans.
Before long, I tipped the scales at a massive 27-and-a-half stone.
As I was getting heavier my knee was getting weaker – I could barely stand as my leg would just crumble under my weight.
Then one day as I was trying to step out of the shower, I skidded on the slippery tiles and crashed down onto the solid floor.
I screamed out in agony and reached towards the panic button on my bathroom wall but my fingers, still slippery from the shower, couldn’t quite reach.
My leg had twisted behind me and excruciating pain shot through it when I tried to move. I was stuck, helpless and naked on the floor.
This has got to change, I thought, tears filling my eyes.
I gritted my teeth and reached for the panic button again, this time managing to push it to call for help.
I tried to roll over and curl into a ball to preserve some of my dignity before the wardens arrived but it was no use, it hurt too much to move. I was stuck, a real-life beached whale, and absolutely mortified.
After about twenty minutes, I heard the front door slam open.
‘Hello? Are you ok?’ a warden shouted.
‘In here,’ I groaned, cringing at the thought of them seeing me where I was.
The two wardens ran to the bathroom to see me splayed out naked on the floor and quickly covered me up with a towel.
‘Everything’s going to be fine,’ one comforted, while the other phoned for an ambulance.
The wardens strained as they slowly eased me off the floor and put me into a chair in the next room to wait for more help.
When the paramedic arrived, he looked at my leg and said I needed to go to hospital.
‘But,’ he said carefully, ‘I’m afraid you’re too heavy for the stretcher we’ve brought with us. We’re going to have to request another one.’
I dropped my head into my hands and burst into tears. I was so embarrassed. Too fat for a stretcher!
I promised myself there and then that I would lose the extra weight. Enough was enough.
A super-size stretcher was ordered and, what felt like hours later, it arrived and I was carted off to hospital.
My injuries weren’t serious, but the horror of that day left me scarred. I will never forget how humiliated I felt.
Six weeks later, when I was feeling better, I marched off to see my doctor, full of determination, and asked for help to shift the bulge.
I was referred to a weight loss management clinic and told that if I lost two stone we could talk about the gastric surgery I wanted.
I agreed and went along to the meetings but they weren’t really for me, I didn’t like the format and felt uncomfortable.
But I couldn’t give up so soon into my journey, it had barely begun, so I decided to join Slimming World.
It took me three attempts to actually walk through the door and get into a meeting, I was so nervous.
The first time I tried, I wheeled out of my front door in my mobility scooter.. and wheeled straight back inside again.
The next week I made it to the meeting hall and sat outside for 15 minutes before I chickened out and headed home again.
But the week after that, I gave myself a kick and braved it through the front door.
‘Hello! A new face,’ said Lisa, the group leader, smiling at me as I ambled into the hall. I bashfully smiled back, relief washing over me.
‘Hi,’ I said back, ‘I’m Claire.’
My nerves had evaporated and I quickly started chatting to others in the group. Everyone was so welcoming and it was great to speak to other people with the same struggles and aspirations.
I stuck to the Slimming World plan religiously, even over Christmas, and after two months, in January 2014, I had already lost two-and-a-half stone. I was over the moon.
I went back to see my doctor, who said we could talk about gastric surgery now, but I had already made up my mind.
‘Do you know what? No thank you.’ I said defiantly. My doctor beamed at me from across her desk.
I was making healthy choices, losing weight and feeling fantastic. My group consultant at Slimming World believed in me and now I did too.
I had swapped white bread for brown, switched butter and oil to low-calorie spray, and replaced my biscuit and crisp snacks for a piece of fruit or a fat-free yoghurt.
I had even found the joy cooking for myself again.
It wasn’t always easy but I stuck to the plan, kept going to the groups, and the pounds kept falling off. And by the end of 2014, I had lost ten stone.
When I started to struggle a couple of months later, I bought a life-size cardboard cut-out of me at my heaviest and put it in my living room.
That should scare me away from that old unhealthy lifestyle, I thought, stubbornly.
The cut-out made me more determined than ever, and when I felt like I was getting nowhere it would remind me how far I had come.
But still I stuck to the plan. I swapped recipes with others at the Slimming World meetings and we shared a strong support network.
Then in the summer of 2015, I hit my target weight: 9st 13lbs.
People don’t recognise me now. I have so much confidence and so many friends.
I have come off a lot of the medication I was taking while I was fat and it is like my eyes have been opened for the first time in years.
I can fit behind the wheel of a car again, so I can drive to see my father more often – and I have talked in a Slimming World group near where he lives!
I even made the final for Slimming World’s Woman of the Year 2015 and went to the glitzy awards ceremony where I was on stage with Jason Donovan.
I’m full of energy and confidence and am so proud of my super-size achievement.
Getting squashed in the wash was mortifying but it was the wake-up call I needed to lose weight in a sensible, healthy way. That takes real shower power!