'I dropped four dress sizes and now you can do it too with the help of my fantastic new guides'
Ahead of her two Health, Fitness and Recipe supplements in tomorrow and Saturday’s Belfast Telegraph, trainer Tara Grimes tells Una Brankin how she cut down to a very trim size 12 by devising her own plan to lose stubborn post-pregnancy weight.
It's hard to imagine the radiant Tara Grimes weighing 16 and a half stone, and looking dull-eyed and sluggish.
The picture of vitality, she's now a trim size 12, with an enviably toned 5ft 8in frame and a glowing complexion. But the 43-year-old health and fitness trainer from Donaghmore, Co Tyrone - who's currently in talks for a BBC documentary - once was a "shapeless" size 18, and plagued by low moods and lethargy.
Tara, who is now a picture of health, will share her plan for losing weight and getting fit in two special 24-page Belfast Telegraph Health and Fitness supplements in the paper tomorrow, to mark World Health Day, and Saturday.
Like many women, Tara's weight had crept up following the birth of her four children, Tom (14), Alice (13), Isabella, (eight), and Olivia (six), who were all born by elective Caesarean section in her 30s.
"I'd had two surgeries within 11 months and it's very hard to go back to your pre-pregnancy shape," Tara recalls. "I felt sick; really bad, when I was pregnant, I'd eat all the wrong things. I lived on sugar, I wasn't worried at all about nutrition.
"It was anything to give me energy. I'd eat anything just to make myself feel better when I was pregnant."
Originally from a sporty family in Strabane, Tara (formerly Curran) moved to her husband Damien's hometown of Donaghmore and started her family at 29. Damien works as a PE teacher as well as helping Tara with her personal training business. His physical fitness, when she was overweight, did nothing for her poor self-regard.
"I ate badly and I felt bad," she admits. "I had a sweet tooth, so it was lots of chocolate, biscuits and cake, rather than burgers and chips.
"I was in terrible shape and trying to hold down a part-time job in a construction company, and travelling back and forth every day.
"I had very low self-esteem and low energy because I was eating the wrong foods. None of my clothes fitted me. I went up to a size 18, weighing 16 and a half stone, from 11 stone, so I was carrying around all that excess weight.
But, with a new baby, Tara felt too drained to get fit.
"I was breast-feeding and I was exhausted, not inclined to exercise at all," she adds. "I put myself at the bottom of the list of priorities. And the guilt I'd feel after breaking a diet and eating too much rubbish was awful, on top of everything."
For someone who had been involved in sport from the age of eight, the lack of energy she was experiencing was particularly dispiriting for Tara. The Curran family lived beside a running track and Tara was rarely off it, growing up.
"My mother had no problems with weight and my father was involved in the GAA most of his life. He was always a huge influence and support," she says. "I was very fit and healthy but after the babies, it all went pear-shaped - literally."
The initial turning point for Tara came after the birth of her youngest child, Alice. She began to look into healthy eating and enrolled for a Master's degree in nutrition from Queen's University, Belfast.
She also started going to the gym - only to gain weight.
"I finally realised you only have one body and you have to take care of it, so I did a course in Cookstown and began to take control over what I ate," she explains. "Then, I began a strict training regime of five to six cardio sessions a week and decided to take part in a marathon.
"I began a so-called 'healthy' eating plan but I seemed to be constantly hungry and couldn't stop thinking about what I was going to eat next. The end result was disastrous - I was actually getting fatter instead of slimmer, despite my full-on regime."
After almost a decade of yo-yo dieting, Tara was back to square one and caught in a vicious circle of binge-eating.
"I ended up butchering my metabolism, my body and my mind," she remembers. "I felt depressed, inadequate and ashamed of my body, because it was one area of my life I couldn't get the better of. As a result, I would end up bingeing on junk food because I wasn't adequately nourishing my body or my mind.
"As the saying goes 'insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results'. That was me, for a while."
Realising, eventually, that the regimes she was following were doomed to failure, Tara went back to basics and gave herself realistic time-frames based on bringing up a young family.
She says: "I set big goals, ditched the diet food and ate real food, created a plan and followed through. I fell a few times along the route, but I jumped straight back up and made my way to the finish line," she says.
"The key, for me, is to eat well most of the time, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. That can be hard with young kids - you have to have an early start and be very organised.
"I took up running again - you can throw your trainers on when the kids are asleep and you can do it anywhere, even when you're away from home. I also train with weights which has changed my body dramatically."
Her weight dropped to 11 stone and her BMI became compatible with her height and muscle. But, refreshingly, she's no fanatically 'clean-eating' Gwynnie.
"I don't crave sugar now, but I'll have a Mars bar or a cupcake when I want one - just not every day," she laughs. "If you deprive yourself of something completely, you'll only crave it. I'll have a couple of glasses of wine, too, occasionally.
"I'm consistently good rather than inconsistently perfect. I no longer obsess about food, I've got the balance right. It really is about mind over matter, that's the most important thing. The mind controls the body."
Following her weight loss and regained fitness, Tara got into the personal training business by fluke, when a friend asked her for tips to help get into shape before her wedding. One of her bridesmaids came on board and the pair lost three stones each for the big day.
Through word-of-mouth Tara suddenly had a growing list of local clients on her hands, so she decided to draw up a business plan and started part-time. Two years on, she also has a thriving online business, with clients from all over the world - mostly Irish women living in Australia, America, Canada and the Middle East.
"For years, I'd been encouraging friends and family to get involved in regular exercise and after transforming my own body, I had the experience of being able to tweak and create personalised nutrition and training plans to help them drop their body fat," she says.
"When I dropped several dress sizes, friends of friends were amazed at their results and requesting my services. I found myself studying again for my gym and nutrition qualifications. It only takes a few days or weeks to become a qualified trainer but I think that my decades of sporting experience, coupled with my personal ups and downs of my own fat loss journey, helps me connect on a very real level with others in the same boat.
"It's really important to understand and empathise with women when their bodies change and no longer responds to certain training stimulus the way they used to," she adds. "What motivates me every day is helping women feel amazing, confident and content in their own body."
Tara went on to write on health and fitness for Sunday Life and has been chosen by Spar NI as their new health and fitness ambassador, which involves writing dedicated blogs on its website, with nutritious recipes and fitness tips alongside training and recipe videos.
On Facebook alone she has 13,000-and-counting followers. A prominent celebrity has been in touch for advice (she's too discreet to disclose their identity) and there's a potential BBC documentary, featuring her story, in the pipeline.
Her happy clients include a man who lost nine stones and gained a six-pack, and a diabetic woman who lost four and a half stone and dramatically improved her condition.
"Having that real-life experience has definitely contributed to the success stories that my business has produced," she says. "It's a privilege to help thousands of women makeover their bodies in a fairly short space of time, get in control of food, instead of it controlling them, and ultimately leading happier, more contented lives."
Tara's tips for a healthier, slimmer body
Ahead of her first Health and Fitness supplement in tomorrow's Belfast Telegraph to mark World Health Day, trainer Tara Grimes tells Una Brankin how she cut down to a very trim size 12 by devising her own plan to lose stubborn post-pregnancy weight
- Eat wholefoods. I eat carbs and fruit on the days I exercise, to work off the sugar content. A banana won't make you fat if you're active.
- Don't look for a quick fix; take a long-term approach and make small changes gradually.
- Start your fitness regime with walking and join a Couch-To-Five-Metres club.
- Use your phone to do a lap.
- Never use excuses to put off starting a new healthy lifestyle. Incorporate the regime into your life.
- Build up your fitness gradually - do not crash and burn. And, remember, it's important to be patient.
Follow Tara Grimes - Fitness, Nutrition Life on Facebook and taragrimesfitnesscom
To celebrate Walk to Work Day, Centra supermarkets is offering every reader a free apple to enjoy on your lunch break
Get fit with Tara Grimes
Belfast Telegraph readers can enjoy 20% off Tara's Online Better Bodies programme. Details will be in the supplement with a code BELTEL20 on Tara's website check out