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'I was over 18 stones and a size 22, now I wear a size 8... losing weight has made me so confident my family don't notice my Tourette's

After years struggling with her weight Laura Jarvis, a childcare assistant from Belfast, has shed almost eight stone. She tells Karen Ireland how being slimmer has made her feel better - and helped her find love.

Laura Jarvis (31) is a nursery school childcare assistant who lives in Belfast. She says:

Looking back, I have struggled with my weight all my life. For as long as I can remember I was always the biggest person in my group of friends.

While inside it did always bother me, I just put on a smile as the big happy, jolly person, so no one would know how I was feeling.

I hated the way I looked, but I always pretended on the outside that I was okay with it. One of my biggest problems was getting clothes I liked, as at my heaviest I was over 18 stones and a size 22.

There was no choice in the shops when it came to clothes and I just had to take what fitted me. At school people would have picked on me because of my weight, but again, I tried to just laugh it off and pretend it didn't bother me.

Over the years I tried various ways of losing weight. I have done everything, from juicing to low calorie diets and even just trying to do it by cutting down myself, but nothing worked.

My eating habits were terrible. At school I was always snacking on sweets and then when I got a job and got paid I would always get takeaways.

I live on my own, so I never wanted to be bothered cooking for just me and I ended up eating rubbish. I know now my body was really unhealthy and I was in danger of becoming seriously ill.

To make matters worse, I suffer from Tourette's and that made me very depressed and so I hid myself away from the world.

I stayed in the house watching movies and munching on junk food. It was a vicious circle and I hated it.

My Tourette's manifests itself in the form of a tick and twitching, it's not the verbal one where people shout out. But, nonetheless, I was always very conscious of it and didn't want people to see me the way I was.

The more I hid from the world, the more depressed I would get and the more I would eat. I went to the doctors and they put me on anti-depressants, but I didn't like taking them so I came off the medication by myself.

I had tried and failed to lose weight so many times that I honestly thought I was destined to be overweight forever.

I always found myself being deprived, hungry and miserable when I tried to lose weight.

My mum Berdi joined Slimming World two years ago and she had great success with it and she kept asking me to go with her.

It was just before my 30th birthday - I didn't have a boyfriend and felt as though I was never going to meet anyone the way things were for me, so I decided to give it ago.

And thank goodness I did, as I loved it from the beginning.

Perhaps I was just in the right place in my life and very determined to change things. It was very much a case of now or never for me.

When I went along to Slimming World everything just clicked into place - it made complete sense to me. The changes I made were so easy I hardly noticed them - like switching white bread for wholemeal and low-calorie spray instead of cooking oil.

In my first week at Slimming World I lost 4.5lb - that gave me the encouragement to stick at it.

I started cooking simple but healthy recipes such as spaghetti bolognese and chicken tikka masala. I even learnt how to make healthy chips!

At the beginning I didn't do any exercise, it was just all about healthy eating choices and I would walk the odd time, and the weight just started to come off. Friends and family started to notice and my confidence rose and I felt great.

My mum was very encouraging and we went along to the Fortwilliam Slimming World group together every week.

I loved meeting up with the group regularly and everyone shared their stories and inspired one another.

I started in January 2015 and to date I have lost 7st 13.5lb and I am down from a size 22 to a size eight or 10.

This has made all the difference in the world to me. I am now much more confident and outgoing and finally I love shopping. I can't wait for Christmas, to be able to get into that little black dress.

I even had the confidence to go on dating site, where I met my partner Matthew Baird. We have been together for eight months now.

He has only seen me at this size and when we met I was the confident person I am now. I'd never have been able to do this before losing the weight. It took me a year and two months to get to my target weight and that was just by eating properly.

My mum has been doing Parkruns and encouraged me to take it up with her. I wasn't very enthusiastic at the start as I don't like exercise, but I found I loved the freedom of running.

I started off slowly, walking a bit and running a bit and five weeks ago I took part in my first 5K Parkrun and finished it in 39 minutes, which I was really proud of. I've also taken part in fitness bootcamps and have started walking to and from work with friends. Now at age 31, I'm a completely different person to the girl who just stayed in the house all the time watching TV. I am full of energy and love getting out and about and doing things. Everyone is really proud of me and what I have achieved - but most of all, I am proud of myself. I tell everyone who joins the group now to never to give up. You will have good weeks and bad weeks, but you need to stick at it and if I can do this anyone can.

I try not to worry about my Tourette's as much now. While I'm still conscious of the tick and the twitch, my friends, family and Matthew all say they don't notice it any more.

So I won't let that hold me back, either.

Last month I was one of just 54 women in the UK to win a place at the semi-finals of Slimming World's Woman of the Year 2016 competition, where I met Olympic swimmer Mark Foster, who is the UK's most decorated male swimmer and six-time world champion. The members of my group at Fortwilliam voted for me to go to the semi-finals as their representative, which was a huge honour for me.

Slimming World has completely changed my life.

While I didn't make the finals of the competition it was wonderful to be there and meet Mark, who said what I had achieved was incredible.

Fortwilliam Slimming World group meets at Fortwilliam Golf Club. Call Julie Lightowler tel: 07779 176338 for more details or visit slimming or tel 0344 897 8000

Laura’s daily menu

Breakfast: Oats and fruit, or yogurt and fruit

Lunch: Slimming World Ready Meal with vegetables, milk shots or low fat noodles

Dinner: Pasta with vegetables or baby boiled potatoes, ham or turkey, chicken and loads of vegetables

Snacks: Fruit, or low fat cereal bars

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