After years of eating double portions, I lost 12 stone. But while I should have been over the moon with my new body I still had a big fat problem…
By Mandy Jarvis, 47, from Southampton
Slumping on the sofa, I reached for the family-sized packet of Doritos next to me.
As a full-time mum of six, I barely had two seconds to myself during the day, and often had to wait until the kids were bathed and in bed before I had a chance to relax.
I was knackered, and I’d reach for the junk food in an attempt to perk up again.
After the crisps, I then scoffed a whole large bar of chocolate – and that was after having a massive pizza takeaway for tea.
But snacking only helped me feel better for about half an hour, and then I was back to feeling my usual lethargic and run-down self.
In my younger days, I was really active and actually trained to be an ice-skating instructor. I worked at the local ice rink and lived to skate.
But I started to pile on the pounds after the birth of my first child, Jody, now 23.
I expected to gain weight during my first pregnancy, but I ate for two long after the birth of my little girl, ordering four takeaways a week and snacking on whatever I could get my hands on in between.
In time, I went on to have another five children, and eventually my weight crept up to a massive 23 stone.
At just 5ft 3in and a size 32, I couldn’t even walk up a few steps without getting out of breath – I was huge.
My joints ached when I walked and I soon gave up trying to play outdoors with the kids, leaving that up to my husband, Kevin, 48.
I knew he loved me for who I was, but I couldn’t help feeling insecure about my appearance. Soon I preferred to stay inside rather than go out.
My eldest Jody loved to shop, and would often nag me to come with her. But for me, clothes shopping was a nightmare.
I only ventured to the shops twice a year to buy myself the overpriced, super-sized clothes that I needed – I just couldn’t face the embarrassment.
Then, in November 2013, I had my wake up call.
I was watching television when all of a sudden a sharp pain shot across my chest.
Over the next few days, the pain only got worse, and when I started getting pains down my arms, I began to panic.
‘I think I’m having a heart attack,’ I gasped to Kevin, clutching my chest.
Terrified, he rushed me to the hospital, where doctors immediately gathered around me, carrying out all sorts of tests.
Thankfully, a doctor soon returned and told me it was just a gastric infection and gave me some antibiotics.
‘But you need to lose some weight – you’re carrying too much for your height and it’s causing quite a bit of damage to your body,’ he warned.
As I lay in the hospital bed, I started to wonder how long it would be before I did have a heart attack.
My weight was causing problems with my health, there was no doubt about that.
I had been burying my head in the sand for years, but I realised if I didn’t do something to change that I may not be around to see my children grow up – something had to be done.
I have to change – for my family’s sake as well as mine, I thought to myself.
I spoke to my GP – who said I was eligible for gastric surgery to help me lose the weight, but after thinking long and hard about it, something inside told me to say no.
I was determined to do this myself.
I had tried every diet going in the past, but I would always end up bigger than before.
But this was different – now I was more sure than ever that I wanted to lose the weight and get healthy again.
So, after losing two stone using a meal replacement plan, I joined Slimming World in February 2014.
I was nervous, but the group was friendly and welcoming, and after learning how the diet plan works, I felt more sure than ever that I could do it.
I swapped the takeaways for home cooked meals such as lean meat and vegetables, and instead of snacking on family-sized bars of chocolate, I started to eat lots of fruit.
I was surprised at how much I could eat, so when I lost 5lbs in my first week, I was thrilled.
I kept at it, and so far I’ve lost a whopping 12 stone and I’m a tiny size 10.
I’m far more active now and I’ve even started ice skating again, and we go as a family at least once a month.
People can’t believe the change in me, and Kevin, who I have been married to for 26 years, often jokes that he’s gone and got himself a new wife!
But what people don’t know is the secret that lies underneath my clothes.
I know I should feel great but the truth is, I feel more insecure about my body than ever.
My dramatic weight loss has left me with a huge apron of saggy skin on my stomach and hideous bingo wings.
I have tried everything to tone up my loose skin. I exercise every day, and do lots of activities including swimming, cycling, walking, zumba, ballroom, Latin and line dancing classes.
But so far nothing has worked – it just seems that no amount of exercise will shift the folds of flab.
Kevin thinks I look amazing, but I feel uglier than ever before and hate looking at myself in the mirror.
I’ve got so much loose skin, I look like a wrinkled puppy and it’s made me incredibly self-conscious in bed.
There’s no denying that I’m much healthier now but sometimes I think I’d be happier if I was fat – at least my skin fitted me when I was bigger!
So I applied for a skin removal operation on the NHS, with my doctor’s support, but unfortunately I was turned down.
When I got the letter through to say that I don’t qualify as it is not a necessity – I cried my eyes out. I just didn’t know what to do.
There is no way I can afford the surgery myself, and I really hate the way I look now.
They say the obese cost the NHS far more than slim people, so where is the help when the obese get slim?
It really doesn’t seem fair. I worked with my doctor to ensure that I fitted the criteria for surgery and yet they still said no.
I worked so hard to lose the weight naturally but now I feel like I’m being punished for it.
So for now, I’m still begging the NHS to fund a tummy tuck. I feel like I deserve it.
Without the operation, all that effort will have been wasted. Some days I wish I hadn’t lost the weight at all, and that’s a very hard thing to accept.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google
Mandy sold her weight loss story to a women’s magazine to show the positive and negative sides to dieting. Have you ever thought about selling a dieting success story to the press? Contact us using the form on the right and we’ll get in touch to explain the process and how to get the highest possible fee.