When it comes to New Year's resolutions one of the all-time classics is to get more exercise and lose weight. But for many, getting into shape is about more than just shedding those Christmas pounds, it's more to do with making a serious lifestyle change that not only takes account of the way you eat and live, but of your mental attitude as well.
A study of the most popular resolutions people will be trying to keep over the coming year, commissioned by gym chain LA Fitness, includes some surprising choices – such as wanting to take better photos, go travelling or read more books.
But it's no surprise that third on that list of 40 resolutions is to lose weight. With the choice of gym memberships, exercise regimes and diets out there truly mind-boggling, the question is finding which particular weight loss regime is best for you. Should you hit the gym and cut out the carbs? Some might try counselling and a strict diet plan, while others will spend hundreds of pounds on special diet supplements or meal replacement plans.
As the new year gets under way, we spoke to three woman who have tackled their weight issues in different ways – and with truly impressive results.
Feeling great: Amanda Mawhinny has dropped six dress sizes
Amanda Mawhinny (26) is a nanny and lives in Dromore. She says:
I've always struggled with my weight over the years. I think if there's a diet out there then I've probably tried it. I've tried the gym, but I went once and was so traumatised I never went back.
I tried groups like Weight Watchers and Slimming World and they would work for maybe six months but then I put the weight back on again. I felt that you were starving yourself and couldn't eat what you wanted to eat. Even when you did lose weight you couldn't reward yourself and have something nice. I don't like vegetables and Weight Watchers emphasises filling yourself up with vegetables which I couldn't do.
Then, someone told my mum about the hypnotist Alan Gilchrist, who is based on the Lisburn Road in Belfast. I was very sceptical but I thought I would give it a try. To me a hypnotist is someone you see on stage getting people to do strange things.
I went to see Alan in July of last year and I didn't even know what was going to happen until I actually got there.
You lie on a big chair and Alan puts goggles and earphones on you so that he can speak to you through a microphone. You're conscious the whole time but the idea is that he relaxes you so much that he speaks to your subconscious.
The session lasted for about half an hour and I ended up seeing all these coloured lights. Alan tells you simple things like 'don't go for bad food'. He also told me to eat vegetables.
I don't know how he did it but I left that place wanting to eat vegetables – which I have never done – and wanting to be more active. It's like mental motivation that turns weight loss into something fun. Since then I've never felt that I had to lose weight. I'm still able to eat junk food and foods that have higher fat content, I just don't do it as much. I'll have a Chinese meal once at the weekend and that satisfies me. I've never felt deprived of anything.
I started to exercise too, but I didn't go to the gym; instead I played Zumba games on the Wii with my brother in the house. Then I took up figure skating. It's one of those things I've always wanted to do. In fact, I'd bought skates three years before I actually took it up. I've been doing that regularly for about a year now at the ice rink at Dundonald.
I've lost three and a half stone – I was a size 18-20 and I'm now 12-14. It feels great. I don't actually see the big transformation that everyone else sees unless I look at old pictures of myself. Then it's a shock how big I'd got.
All I had was one session with Alan and that cost £90 for about half an hour. It was all about positivity and motivation and when you consider how much money people spend in the gym I think it was a bargain. He does another kind of session which makes you believe that you have a gastric band but that wouldn't work for me – I like my food too much!"
Angela Willis (41), lives in Lisburn with her partner Fergal. She has one daughter, Emma (21), and runs a daycare creche for dogs. She says:
At my heaviest I was 21 stone and 11lb. I have always struggled with my weight and then in December 2011 I dislocated my knee – I was walking dogs in a field and whatever way they ran past me they gave me a nudge and my knee just went. I was in plaster for six weeks and essentially I just couldn't move.
Next, in March 2012, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It happened very quickly and I was brought in almost straight away to have a radical hysterectomy. After my diagnosis I just ate – with something like that you don't know if you'll be here in a year or not so I turned to food for comfort. It can take some time to come to terms with being told that you have cancer. After I got the all clear I decided I wanted to put years on to my life, not take years off it, and I decided it was time to do something about my weight. I felt that I had been given a second chance in life.
So I found a personal trainer, Stefan Rodgers. He has a private gym in Hillsborough which means when you train in there you're the only person in the room. I don't think I could have done it otherwise.
Stefan did everything with me. He gave me a diet plan – when to eat, what to eat and what not to eat. It was hard to do at the beginning, but I wanted to change my life and this was the way to do it.
Before I ate nothing but junk food. I never cooked so everything was takeaway. I started seeing Stefan twice a week – that was enough until I could get the weight down. He also didn't want me to put too much weight on my dislocated knee. Seeing Stefan was a whole new way of life, I started cooking at home and there was a lot of emphasis of getting protein and vegetables.
My partner and daughter would still have their Chinese takeaways but I'd tell myself that if I ate what they were eating then I would need to spend about three hours in the gym to work it off.
I started drinking lots more water and snacked on fruit. The more I went to the gym the less often I felt hungry – it's something to do with the endorphins released by exercise. I lost about two to three pounds a week and I've now lost eight stone, with one more to go. I still go to Stefan for two hours of personal training but I also do around five spin classes a week. I don't even think about the cost. I don't smoke or drink or buy takeaways so this is my hobby now.
I'm really enjoying my weight loss. I know I'm going to live longer and everything is easier now, even just walking. I'm able to do so much more. I love spinning. It was tough when I first started but it has become much easier.
Stefan seems to know which areas on a woman's body need worked so I don't even have much loose skin. I owe everything to him, he's the one who's pushed me and I couldn't have done it without a trainer to motivate me. I tried Unislim and WeightWatchers but losing weight through fitness has been the thing that worked for me."
Freda Cagney (52) is a social worker originally from Belfast. She is married to Connor and they have two children, Hannah and Siobhan. She says:
I've lost seven stone altogether – it took two years to lose six and a half of it then the last stone went gradually over the last year.
I've been on a few diets. The first one I went on I found in a magazine and I thought was wonderful until I realised the recipes I was eating were for four people, not just one.
I would look at diets from time to time and feel that they wouldn't fit into my lifestyle or that they were too complicated for a family.
Weight creeps on gradually and one day you wake up very overweight. You wonder how on earth did I get here and it seems too difficult to do anything about it so for many years I didn't do anything about it at all.
It all changed one day when my niece gave me a ring. I was standing in my allotment thinking that by growing vegetables I would eat healthily, forgetting that when you eat potatoes and butter and cream alongside those vegetables it's not so good.
My niece wanted to go to Weight Watchers and wanted me to come with her. Two weeks later on a Monday evening I found myself standing outside a meeting absolutely terrified and hoping she wouldn't turn up so I could go away and not come back.
She did show up, though, and we went in together and it wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be. I did find it a bit awkward, though, and wondered why all these thin people were there. After I went back a second and third time and discovered I was losing a couple of pounds each week I got what it was about. Through Weight Watchers I learned to eat differently and change my food habits so the weight came off gradually. For the first while I didn't want to exercise because when you carry so much extra weight you need so much more energy to do so than when you're slimmer.
Then my daughter started going to the gym and I went with her. I discovered that even 15 or 20 minutes of low-level activity made a difference to how I felt and how I moved so I got more into the gym and fitness classes. I'm not a fanatic but I now exercise regularly, I enjoy it and it makes all the difference. In the first year five stone came off then I lost nearly two stone the next year so now I'm pretty much where I want to be.
When you lose a lot of weight people tell you that you look great which is nice to hear. What really makes a difference is how you feel. I feel like I've taken 20 years off myself. I feel better at 52 than I did at 32, and when I was 45 I felt like I was 75. People that I know well have walked straight past me in the street because they don't recognise me.
There are a couple of downsides to losing weight. One is that I've had rumours come back to me that I've been very ill which is why I lost weight. The other is that I'm cold all the time but I can live with it – thick jumpers and sheepskin gloves do the trick.
It feels amazing. Food is always around you and will always be a temptation. The trick is to have just the one mince pie and not go for the second or third.
I keep a picture of myself from three Christmases ago on the wall of my kitchen as well as a picture from last Christmas which is when I lost my goal weight. It's just to remind me when I go to the fridge where I was and where I am and why I want to stay there."