Despite tipping the scales at 17st 10lbs, I thought I was comfortable in my own skin. But then I found the motivation to shed the pounds, as a tribute to my big brother.
By Jinitta Ablewhite, 29, from Liverpool
I’ve always been a big girl. By the time I was nine I was already a flabby nine stone and as I grew older, the problem only got worse.
I often gorged on pizza, kebabs, cake and crisps and would treat myself to my favourite – fish and chips – at least three times a week.
My brother Nico, who was four years younger than me, was also a chubby child. We came from a big family where there was always a meal being prepared.
Sometimes I would eat the meal my mum prepared for me and eat another which my uncle had made a few hours later.
Every Sunday, the family would gather around the table and eat massive roast dinners, piled high with yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes.
And I loved my snacks – it wasn’t unusual for me to eat five packets of crisps at once, and each day I would drink several cans of fizzy pop.
But Nico and I were happy, and as we grew older we remained best friends – seeing each other at least once a day.
When I hit my adult years, my weight had ballooned to a hefty 17st 10lbs and I was a hulking dress size 26.
But as unhealthy as I was, I didn’t care about my weight – I had always been confident in my own skin and I knew my husband Andrew, 30, loved me for who I was.
Andrew and I had been together since we were both 15, and in time, we had three beautiful children together – Joseph, 11, Andy, six and Olivia, five.
And although I managed to lose two stone and cram my curves into a size 18 dress for our wedding in May 2011, I’d piled it all back on within six weeks.
‘Don’t worry about it babe,’ Andy would reassure me. ‘I love you just the way you are – you’re my beautiful wife.’
Meanwhile, Nico was following a new healthy diet and hitting the gym. In time, he lost an incredible six stone, and he looked great.
He would meet me every afternoon for a walk with the kids, and he started urging me to walk faster to lose the pounds.
‘Come on sis, if I can lose the weight then you can too,’ he told me. ‘Just speed up a bit.’
But I would always shrug him off.
‘I’m happy the way I am,’ I argued back, struggling to keep up with his fast pace. ‘I’ve got everything I want and I’m happy.’
But Nico wouldn’t give up. As he started to learn more about nutrition and exercise, he would try harder and harder to coax me into losing weight too.
‘You’d feel so much better Jinitta,’ he’d pester. ‘I feel far better now I’m eating the right things and I’m exercising. Just come to the gym with me and we’ll start slow.’
But the more Nico tried to convince me to change my ways, the more I dug my heels in.
I loved my food and I hated the idea of having to give up my favourite treats. And the gym petrified me – I was so unfit even walking up the stairs made me feel out of breath. I was worried people would stare and laugh at me.
I didn’t even mind the fact that I had to get all of my clothes from catalogues or from Evans – I was so deep in denial about my weight problem that I never felt like tackling it.
Whenever I went shopping with my size 10 friends, I would deliberately stay away from the clothes rail and would instead pick out some nice jewellery or shoes to splash out on instead.
And even though I was confident with who I was, I sometimes avoided night out with the girls because I struggled to find something suitable to wear. I much preferred staying in and watching a film instead.
But then, tragedy struck. Nico had been complaining of feeling unwell for a while, but despite repeated visits to his doctor, the reason behind it was a mystery.
‘It’s probably because you hit the gym too much,’ I joked. ‘You may want to take it easy.’
But as time went on, Nico looked more and more unwell – his skin even started to change colour too, turning a more yellow shade.
In October 2012, we were given a devastating bombshell – Nico had liver cancer. And because he was diagnosed too late, he died three weeks later. He was just 22 years old.
I was absolutely heartbroken and went into complete meltdown. My brother and my true best friend was gone.
Andrew had to pick up the slack for me at home while I became completely lost in my grief. I was so angry that my handsome, intelligent and funny brother was dead – it didn’t seem fair.
I was sorting through some of Nico’s things the following June, when I came across all his healthy recipes and training plans.
Nico had been trying to turn his life around when it was cruelly snatched from him. Something inside me clicked then.
I remembered how many times he had pestered me to lose the weight – he did it because he loved me and wanted to help me. This felt like he was sending me a message from beyond the grave.
I made a silent vow there and then do finally lose the weight and get myself healthy. I wanted to do it for Nico. He had always wanted me to be healthy – it was all the motivation I needed.
Determined to make my little brother proud, I swapped my daily fry-ups for porridge and fruit, my chippy lunches for soup, and dinner changed from a takeaway to chicken and noodles.
I even started doing mini workouts at home. At first I couldn’t do five minutes before I collapsed onto the sofa, but soon I was built myself up to do a full kettlebell workout.
I also started walking faster wherever I went – remembering how Nico used to drag me around the block.
I had a mountain to climb, but I grit my teeth and got on with the challenge. Every time I wanted to quit, I thought of Nico, and how much he wanted me to be fit and healthy.
He would have been right by my side throughout all of it, and I was sure he was looking down on me and sending success my way.
Within three weeks I had lost a stone. I was delighted, and a year later, in June 2014, I had lost a staggering eight stone. I also shrunk down to a tiny size 8.
Soon, people stopped recognising me in the street, and I started making more of an effort with my appearance. I loved being able to wear figure hugging dresses and jeans and my confidence started soaring.
Instead of staying in, I made much more of an effort to go out more with my friends and I enjoyed shopping with them a lot more, too – suddenly I could shop in the high street with my friends rather than rely on the frumpy bigger sizes. My pile of catalogues went in the bin.
The kids have noticed the change in me too – I have tons more energy to mess about with them and I believe I’m a far better mum for it. When I show them pictures of me when I was bigger, they stare at them in disbelief.
‘Look, that’s mummy when she was humpty dumpty!’ squeals Andy. ‘Mummy are you wearing a fat suit in those pictures?’
Although I knew Andrew loved me before, I know he’s happier that I have more confidence in how I look now.
He loves the change in me and often tells me how proud he is of me and my transformation. In fact, he now brags to his friends that he has a sexy new wife!
I’m so glad I transformed my life – and my body. My only regret is that Nico didn’t live to see me flaunt my fab new figure, but I know he’ll be proud of me.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google