Fionnuala Cook (60) is chair of Southern Health and Social Services Board, chair of the board of governors at Bridge Integrated Primary School, Banbridge, and a member of the Consumer Council. Here, she tells Chrissie Russell why - and how - she shed the pounds
I made my decision to lose weight last New Year. I'd hit a very high number of stone (a number I don't want to mention!) and it frightened me. I realised I was just too heavy and eating too many sweets. Somehow, I'd gone from being overweight, to being obese.
I'm surrounded by healthy people in work and I felt it was important as part of my job that I lost weight. I felt it gave out the wrong message for me to be chair of the board and have put on so much weight since taking up the position. In recent years there has been such a big drive from the Government to counter obesity and inform people of the problems associated with it, like diabetes and an increased risk of kidney failure. I was very conscious that I should be listening to the messages that were being produced by the board where I worked.
Also knowing that I was going to turn 60 in May of this year was a big galvanising factor in my decision to lose weight. I really just couldn't face myself turning 60 looking like a pudding.
I decided against joining a specific slimming class. Instead, I bought a book in Eason's and followed it to the letter. It was The Food Doctor Everyday Diet by Ian Marber and it's based around the glycemic index of different foods. My sweet tooth is definitely my biggest sin so a diet that controls blood sugar levels was ideal.
The idea is that your meal sizes should always fit into two cupped hands and really cut down on the sugar. But because you get to eat at regular intervals, your blood sugar levels aren't up and down and your body feels comfortably full. I got used to having goats cheese on oatcakes as a snack as they filled me up and also gave me that sense of 'I've had a biscuit'. That's not to say I didn't miss things! I missed chocolate and sweets and I've always loved biscuits. Somehow an oatcake just isn't the same ... But the great thing with the diet is that, if you're good 80% of the time, it's not the end of the world if you have the odd slip-up.
In the first month a stone fell off and over the year, I eventually lost two and a half stone. As well as following the book I also started trying to do some exercise. I joined Curves, but fell off the bandwagon a bit, although recently I've tried to get going again by doing exercise videos in my front room. I work four days a week, so if I'm honest it's not time pressures that stop me exercising, it's just laziness. In the new year I'd really like to start swimming - I think it's maybe the best way to counter middle aged spread.
I'm definitely the fat person in our family. I have four slim brothers, but my grandfather was a large man so I think the 'fat genes' are there to be battled against. Like many children, my sweet habit started at a young age. My parents both shared a love of sweet things and would have given all of us money to buy sweets on the way to school as well as having a bar of chocolate waiting for us at night.
I think the packaging of sweets is geared towards enticing children and programming them to have a sweet tooth. I'd like to see children develop a different attitude to food.
Again, in my role on Bridge Integrated Primary School's board of governors - I felt I should be following the advice being delivered in schools. Staff at the primary school have worked hard at introducing healthy meals to the canteen and encouraging healthy break-times and I know the benefits are being seen in the classroom.
Personally, I feel I've much more energy since I lost weight. The biggest realisation is when I lift a heavy bag and realise that it's the equivalent of what I used to be carrying around in weight and the strain it must have been putting on my body.
I've had lots of support and compliments from friends and family. Having people notice you've lost weight is great for boasting your confidence and prompts you to keep going.
As chair on the health board there are often publicity photos taken and it was horrible to sit and look at these awful photos of me but now in the pictures I can see that I look slimmer.
A big thing has been getting new clothes. I didn't want to have my old bigger sizes around because then there would be the temptation to fall back into them so it was a good excuse for a shopping spree. I had to buy some things anyway for going away in summer, although the swimsuits are still not too revealing - I don't feel like I've anything to flaunt!
I'll be starting 2007 wanting another stone off. The diet will definitely be an ongoing thing - I've set myself a goal and I still haven't reached it. I've two and a half stone off this year and I want to get another stone and a half off next year. And if it takes a whole second year to get that weight off, then that's what it is going to take.
Before this diet I had tried everything to lose weight. A few years ago I wanted to lose weight for getting my OBE and I went on a general calorie control diet.
But, really, I was eating too little and when I stopped, the weight went straight back on. I'd tried Atkins as well with little success; this diet is much more sensible.
Christmas will be difficult to get through. I was making the Christmas puddings and cakes the other day and salivating as I did it. I didn't taste them, but it was a sign of difficult things to come. In the average run of a week it doesn't matter to me if I have a drink or not, but alcohol will be difficult to avoid at Christmas with so much celebrating going on.
I would like to tell anyone in the same position as me that "you can do it!" It's hard sometimes, but I feel the benefits and I think I look better than I used to. Of course there were gains along the way, but I always worked on the premise that I would never put on more than I could lose in a week.
That way I could justify the odd slip-up. I bought new scales and weighed myself every day, morning and evening.
I know you're often advised not to do that, but I found that I needed to get on and know where I was and where I was going.
It was good that my husband was also really supportive and he has even managed to lose a bit of weight himself, although not as much as me! He and my son are both diabetic so the recipes fitted in well with their requirements and some new dishes have become firm favourites. The biggest thing is not to starve yourself.
Trying to keep the weight off is hard work (I'm not going to lie!) but I'm going to keep trying. If I can get out of this year with the weight still off I'll be happy. I feel I've seen the rewards of healthy living and I feel better for it.
The Food Doctor Everday Diet by Ian Marber, Dorling Kindersley (£12.99)