Between them these ladies have shed a mighty 16 stone, so what’s their secret?

Brenda Smith shed six stone
Nicky Nesbitt

Scoffed too many mince pies? Kerry McKittrick finds out how three women won their lifelong battle to be slim

The turkey dinner with all the trimmings followed by some Christmas pud may seem like ages ago now, but for most of us shedding those unwanted pounds after the festive feasting is an uphill struggle.

For many the beginning of 2013 has been heralded in with a host of New Year’s resolutions from quitting smoking to getting family finances in order. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, the single most popular New Year's resolution is to take on the battle of the bulge by hitting the treadmill and trying to eat more healthy food, according to Which? magazine.

Regardless if it's a resolution or not, losing weight is never an easy thing. Sadly, piling on the pounds is much easier than taking them off. We talk to several inspirational women, who not only shifted some stones, but have maintained their new, slimmer figures with the tried and tested formula of Unislim.

‘I piled on so much weight during my cancer battle’

Nicky Nesbitt (42) lives near Ballymena and is a book-keeper for her husband's farrier business. She says:

My story is the same as many others — I've always been quite big. I was tall too so I thought I could carry a big of weight. I remember my mum always used to tell me I wasn't fat, I was just big boned.

I was always active, though. Right up until 2008 I was riding horses more or less professionally so I didn't really think about my weight that much. I just accepted it as part of who I was.

However, in 2008 I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

I underwent treatment for the next year — I call it my year of hell.

A week after my first round of chemotherapy I was out riding and I thought I would have no trouble. A week after that I couldn't get out of bed and it stayed like that.

The weight piled on during that year — they don't want you to lose weight because it can mean you're getting sicker.

The doctors say that with non-Hodgkin’s they either stop it or they don't, and with me they seem to have stopped it. I've been in remission since March last year.

I would say, though, it took me three years to get back to myself again and get back on my feet since that year of treatment. That was when I started looking at myself again. I remember the final straw came when I was standing in Debenhams and everything I tried on looked awful, even the size 20 clothes didn't fit me properly. I was in tears in the middle of the fitting rooms.

A friend of mine went to Unislim quite regularly and I asked her about it. She told me to come down and see for myself, but she did warn me I would have to cut down my drinking if I was going to follow the plan. I was a big social drinker at the time and that really didn't appeal to me at all.

At my first meeting, I sat in the car park for 20-minutes working up the courage to go inside. I was so scared and I didn't even know what weight I was.

Everyone made me feel so at home and were so welcoming. The first weigh-in was horrible, I stood on the scales and cried — my weight was 16 stone.

My leader was very good, though. She told me that this was the last time I would have to see that number. She was actually right. Bar one week, the whole way through my weight loss I didn't put any weight on.

But it hasn't all been easy. I've lost four and a half stone and for the last stone and a half I had to do a total revamp to get my metabolism going again. The wonderful day was when I found I had lost four stone — it was around the same time as I found out I was in remission.

In the past I've done lots of faddy diets, but nothing worked. For me it was sensible eating and exercise. I also gave up drinking entirely while I was losing weight, I just knew it was what I had to do because I enjoyed it too much.

Last week I went to a ball wearing a cocktail dress and I didn't have to wear any control underwear underneath. I still see a fat person when I walk past a shop window but I have more confidence now than I used to.

I still don't drink very much, when I go out I have a tonic water with ice and a slice of lime in a wine glass and that works for me. Otherwise I have maybe two or three glasses of wine a week.

The meetings really helped me. I still go, although I don't get weighed every week as I don't want to obsess about it. It's more like a social gathering and I've made some really good friends. They even sent me down to the Unislim Slimmer of the Year in Dublin.

It's now an all Ireland event and they don't do a separate Northern Ireland award. I was the only one from Northern Ireland who made it down, though, so you could sort of say I'm the Northern Ireland slimmer of the year.”

‘I was bullied about my size in school’

Brenda Smith (29) lives in Newry and runs her family's butcher and deli business. She says:

I've always struggled with my weight. My mum had me on a diet when I was in primary school but the school paid no notice at all. By the time I moved from primary school to secondary school I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. I was bullied in primary school and that didn't stop when I moved to secondary school. I would get comments like, ‘it'll be hard for you to fit through that door', and so on.

I can remember my high school formal. I had to get a dress made for me and there just seemed to be metres and metres of material involved. I could only shop at Evans or Etam, none of the high street sizes were big enough for me.

At my biggest I was a size 24 and weighed 17 and a half stone. I stopped going out because I could never find anything to wear and the clothes that I did find were old-fashioned and shapeless. Of course I did do diets, but I was always sneaking biscuits here and there so it never worked.

It was my mum that introduced me to Unislim. She lost 10 stone on the programme by going to the meetings. She would bring home all of the books and materials and I started to read them. I started to realise there were low fat choices of foods and different ways of eating — I honestly don't think it had occurred to me before.

I started following the plan at home by myself and then my dad bought me a boxer dog. The idea was that I would start walking the dog and get out and get a bit of exercise myself. I walked all the time. It got to the point where someone said to me, ‘you're like cow's manure because you're never off the roads'.

I knew I had a long way to go, but once I started to lose a little bit of weight I realised that I could actually do it.

I did most of it myself — in fact, I only started going to the meetings about a year ago. It was the final stone that I needed help with and I used the Maximizing plan for that. It's a low GI diet that's all about portion control but there are a number of different plans to follow. I've now lost six stone and I'm a Unislim leader myself. I wanted to help others to lose weight and I don't want other people to feel the way I did. It's still difficult for me to maintain, but I'll never go back to the way things were. The meetings are wonderful, people are so friendly and supportive of each other. I think it would have been easier for me if I had gone to them in the first place, but I didn't have the courage. I would recommend anyone to start that way.

I can now shop anywhere I like, but I still walk the roads. As well as following the plan I make sure that there's a half hour every morning or afternoon where I go for a walk or do aerobics in the house.

As for my blood pressure, both it and my cholesterol are down to totally normal levels.”

‘I wanted to slim down for my wedding day’

Colleen Quinn (31) is a nurse for people with special needs. She lives in Newry with her husband Graham. She says:

For me it started in 2010 when I was asked to be a bridesmaid for my friend. At the time I was 14 stone 10, a size 18 and the two other girls who were also being bridesmaids were a lot thinner than me. I've always been on the bigger side and it got worse when I met Graham and fell into that relationship rut of glasses of wine, meals out or takeaways in.

It was at that point in September 2010 when I decided that I would lose weight for the wedding in a year's time, and it was compounded that November when Graham asked me to marry him — that meant I had two goals.

I joined Unislim for the first time that September. They showed me how to make different choices and live a healthier lifestyle. It seemed simple enough and it was for me. I would lose two to three pounds a week and before I knew it, three stone was gone. I can remember going to a dress fitting for my bridesmaid dress in March 2011 and wearing a size 14. The woman said it would fit perfectly if I lost another half stone but I knew I wanted to lose more than that. The week before my friend's wedding I had the dress taken in from a size 14 to a size 10. In total I've lost five stone and I did it using the Maximizing plan.

It does get harder the further you go. I had to give myself a final push toward the end and started cycling as well as walking.

I've maintained my weight for the last year. Of course, you put on a pound here and lose one there, but I'm still a size 10 and I'm really proud of it. I had a setback last Christmas, as at work there were big tins of sweets lying around. I let myself have one when I walked past it as a reward. But I ended up putting on two pounds. It doesn't sound a lot, but it was the biggest gain I had. This year I stayed away from the sweets altogether.

I would rather have a treat that is a nice dessert or a glass of wine — I appreciate it more.”

How Unislim can help you

  • Unislim has launched its Forever Free plan this month, a weightloss programme that doesn't involve calorie counting. Existing plans also include those suitable for vegetarians and those suffering from diabetes.
  • Unislim can be followed online or at meetings which include confidential weigh-ins with support and encouragement from the trained leaders at Unislim.
  • It's currently free to join this month\[n.wolsey\] (January), and for eight weeks membership the cost is only £29.90. This includes weekly online diet plans, countless recipes and weightloss tips. Slimmers can chat and swap tips with other members on the online community forums. For more information go to www.unislimonline.com

Celebs we are seeing less of ...

  • American model Crystal Renn (above) hit her career high as a plus-size model, but since then slimmed down from a size 14 to a size 10. She lost weight through yoga and hiking and wrote Hungry, a book about the body-size culture in modelling.
  • Yo-yo dieter Kirsty Alley has famously battled with her weight for years. Taking part in the US's Dancing With The Stars last year the Cheers star shed around seven stone and now vows to keep it off.
  • Sophie Dahl became one of the world's most successful plus-sized supermodels when she was discovered in London by fashion guru Isabella Blow in 1995. She then stunned the world by dropping several dress sizes a few years ago.

Her weight loss secrets were green tea and eating child-sized portions.

  • Dawn French has |always been known for being a larger lady.

She created a plus-size fashion label and even titled her biography Dear Fattie.

Two years ago she lost a whopping seven and a half stone simply by eating less and exercising more.

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Horoscopes

Your Horoscopes by Russell Grant

Scorpio:

You should be justifiably proud of your progress. It isn't easy to break a bad habit, but you've managed to do so. A perverse side of your personality may tempt you to fall back on the old ways, just to give yourself another challenge. Ignore these impulses. Channel your energy in a positive direction instead. Learning to make clothes, furniture or jewellery will be a great use of your creative ability. You'll be especially successful if you use old, discarded materials in your work.More