My sister Esme and I had always enjoyed a healthy level of competition, but when our combined weight reached 47 stone our sibling rivalry changed our lives…
By Ira Isak, 30, from London
I cheered and clapped as I listened to Esme singing and she hit the high note that she had been struggling with for weeks.
“I knew you would catch me up eventually!” I winked at her.
My sister and I were both studying music at university and we loved having little competitions.
Esme was just a year younger than me and we were best friends as well as sisters.
We had moved with our family to the UK from Azerbaijan, near Iran, when I was eight years old and adjusting to the change had made us grow even closer.
The pair of us did everything together.
Our entire family were really close, and we had an especially special bond with our grandad.
He was our biggest supporter with our singing and was always asking us to sing for him.
So it was really hard on us when he fell ill with kidney failure in 2001 when I was 16.
We were told he wouldn’t make it and it was a stressful few days as he battled to survive in hospital.
Luckily he pulled through, but the next five years were a series of health scares and hospital visits.
When he was also diagnosed with cancer in 2006 he decided to return to Azerbaijan, where he sadly passed away after a month.
“What are we going to do without him?” I whispered as Esme and I held each other and sobbed.
He had been a massive figure in our lives and I just couldn’t imagine life without him.
His loss hit us both hard, so we turned to food for comfort.
We had already used sweet treats as a crutch to ease the pain during grandad’s illness, but after his death we really began to gorge.
Living together meant that Esme and I shared the same bad eating habits, and we never exercised.
We would think nothing of scoffing several chocolate bars and cakes after a big pasta meal topped with a mountain of cheese.
Within three years I had eaten my way from a size 16 to a size 24, tipping the scales at a massive 22st 8lbs, whereas Esme had reached a whopping 25st 2lbs.
I had always been curvy growing up but things had got out of control.
I hated the way I looked and I knew Esme was miserable about it too, but I couldn’t muster up the energy to change.
We had lost all of our zest for life and had even stopped singing since it just brought back painful memories of grandad.
Our little competitions were a thing of the past – I just didn’t care anymore.
But then one night, we both had the same dream, that grandad was disappointed in how we had given up on our musical passions and completely let ourselves go.
I realised it was time to take control of my life – it was now or never.
“We need to change, I’m going to join the gym,” I told Esme.
“Well if you’re going then I’m coming too!” she replied.
True to form, Esme couldn’t let me hog all the success, so we signed up together.
The race was on!
But our progress was slow going at first.
We worked out several times a week but the flab just would not budge.
“I don’t understand why it isn’t working,” I said in frustration to Esme as we shared a packet of biscuits.
Then finally, months later, we started counting calories and realised exercise alone wouldn’t be enough – we needed to change our diet drastically.
So we cut down on the sugary snacks and dramatically reduced our portion sizes, and the weight soon started to fall off.
Instead of snacking on fatty cakes and chocolate bars, we switched to fruit and vegetables.
We weighed ourselves every week and it was always such a great feeling to see the scales coming up with lower figures each time.
But it wasn’t always easy.
About a year after we started our weight loss mission, in 2011, my progress really slowed down and Esme’s weight dropped below mine.
I was happy for her, but it was bittersweet – I wanted that success for myself!
I found it really hard to keep going but, as always, my sister was there to pull me through.
“Don’t give up, if we keep at it you’ll catch me up in no time,” Esme promised me.
We were always there to support each other and our old sibling rivalry really helped to spur us on.
If one of us couldn’t fit into a dress and the other could, it only gave us that extra motivation to shed the pounds – there was no way either of us was going to be outdone!
As we slimmed down and got fitter we were able to really enjoy our exercise, so we started signing up to six weekly diet and workout challenges.
Each one would focus on a different area of the body, sometimes it was legs and other times it was arms.
But there was one thing that would always stay the same – we both wanted to win!
We would compete each time and record our results to see who had done best.
We even spied on each other by sneaking out to see what the other was eating if we heard the fridge door open!
But it was all healthy competition and we never put each other down for losing – it was just a great way of encouraging each other.
As much as I always wanted to win, it was also an amazing feeling to see my little sister doing so well.
Seeing her lose weight just made me even more determined to keep fighting my own flab!
And even when I did falter and reach for a cake, Esme was right there handing me a healthier alternative, and equally I was there to keep her on the straight and narrow.
“Just think of the calories!” she teased every time she caught me snacking.
Now, six years on, I am glad we were both so honest and tough on each other.
We have both completely transformed both our bodies and our lives.
Our healthy competition means that we both weigh the same – nine-and-a-half-stone – and we’ve both shrunk down to a sexy size 10.
We’ve always shared our wardrobes, but now it’s exciting to try on Esme’s slinky dresses rather than the frumpy, baggy T-shirts we used to sport.
After a combined weight loss of 28 stone, we’ve both qualified as personal trainers and are even pursuing modelling careers.
I know that I could never have got here without the support – and rivalry – of my sister.
There were so many times that we nearly gave up but kept each other going, and I’m so grateful that we were able to be there for each other.
We still keep up our six week contests, but I don’t mind our sibling rivalry – after all, it gave us our dream bodies.
Together, we’re the perfect sister act!
Esme says: “I know that I would never have been able to lose all this weight without Ira doing it alongside me. There were lots of times when we struggled even doing it together so I couldn’t have done it without her support. When we first started out Ira was losing weight a lot faster than me and it was really difficult to keep going. I didn’t like being the sister that wasn’t doing as well, especially when people made comments at the gym that our figures were so different. But she helped to motivate me and helped me believe that I could do it too. So I stuck at it, and then I was able to support her when the situation reversed. We love doing our competitions – the rivalry makes it more fun and it lets us actually enjoy what we’re doing. It’s a friendly rivalry, we don’t put each other down. If Ira is working hard then I want to work hard too, and if anything this journey has brought us even closer together. I feel so much better in myself now, not just physically but emotionally too. I am a much happier and energetic person and it’s great to see the same change in my sister too. Our bond is a lot stronger now that we’ve been through this together – we’re the perfect team.”
As told to Helen O’Brien Google