Diet and fitness secrets that helped these Northern Ireland people lose 40 stone between them
With January finally here, many of us are thinking about improving our lifestyle — and one of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight. Here, Leona O’Neill talks to four local people who turned their lives around by shedding stones.
'I saw a photo of my ex with his new girl and it inspired me to get my life back in gear'
Elaine Gormley (30) is from Belleek, Co Fermanagh. At her heaviest she was 22 and a half stone and a size 28. She lost nearly 10 stone, twice, and now works as a consultant for Slimming World. She says:
I had always suffered with my weight, even from childhood. I remember even in primary school looking at my clothes, which were sized according to age. I was always a few ages higher than I actually was.
I suffered an awful lot of bullying throughout my school years. I got called slow coach, fatso and was left out of games. Teenage years were hard. I never really wanted to go out to nightclubs. I never had trendy clothes because there was none for my size. Boys pretended to like me, but it was to make me a joke in front of their friends. My confidence was so, so low.
My age tended to match my weight. When I was 13 I was 13 stone, and at the age of 16 I was 16 stone. Doctors had referred me to dieticians, and my parents tried their best, but looking back I think that it had to be something that I wanted to do myself. To the outside world I would have appeared very outgoing, but I really wasn't. I was making the jokes so that no one else would.
I remember when my sister got engaged. I knew that being a bridesmaid would be on the cards. I saw that there was a Slimming World group in Belleek, where I'm from. But I didn't want to go local because I was very conscious that I was over 20 stone. So I went to a group in Irvinestown. To be honest, for the first three weeks I went and sat in my car in the car park. I was too nervous to go in. My parents thought that I was going.
But, in the third week I mustered up the courage and went in. I sat and listened. I am a country girl - and when I heard that I could eat as much spuds and beans as I wanted and still lose weight, I decided to give it a shot.
And, within about 16 months I had lost 10 and a half stone. I went from a size 26 to roughly about a size 8-10.
I had done so well that I was asked to relaunch the group in Belleek. I met my partner and started a new job. Life was good but, as is often the case in life, things didn't go exactly to plan.
My long term relationship broke down. Automatically, my confidence levels plummeted as did my motivation for keeping the weight off. I changed jobs and started working in a luxury hotel. There was luxurious food, and a bowl of toffees at reception where I worked. Within eight months all the weight went back on. I gained 10st and six pounds. The only clothes I really lived in were my pyjamas and my work uniform.
Then I turned to diet pills. I was in such a dark place and ordered them online. They almost killed me. They sped up my metabolism, and my heart rate. On the first day taking them I was sweating profusely, my hands were shaking and I was getting huge adrenaline surges. On the third day I took a pill and immediately started having really severe chest pains. I thought I was having a heart attack, I thought I was dying. I had to make myself sick to get them out of my system. That was a wake-up call. I knew diet pills were not the way for me to go.
On New Year's Eve 2014 I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a picture of my ex with his new girlfriend. That was a real inspiration to me to get my life back in gear. I went back to Slimming World and I've lost eight stone and three pounds. I'm now a consultant with Slimming World, helping others on their journey."
‘I can play with my daughter and take her to the park... I’m no longer tired all the time’
Personal trainer Sarah Eachus (37) was once 23 stone. The Belfast woman, who is married to Ian and has one daughter, Maia (11), plucked up the courage to go to the gym to get help and lost 11 stone. Now she helps others on the same journey achieve their dreams and get their lives back through her business SE:FIT. She says:
At my heaviest, I was a size 28 and about 23 stone. I was an emotional eater — I reacted to stress, like most people. I told myself I was happy, and it was fine.
The weight gain was gradual. I never really noticed it going on. I’d just buy a bigger size until it reached a point when there were no other sizes.
My mum was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 and sadly she has since died. Her diagnosis was a wake-up call for me, with my child and my own health. It was New Year’s Eve in 2014 and I just decided I needed to change.
I wouldn’t go to the gym myself, it was always with a friend. From doing that I started watching the personal trainers, what they do and finally found a little confidence to actually go and ask someone.
My personal trainer showed me a whole new way of managing calories... and it worked. Nothing was restricted.
What was a chore became enjoyable and I lost 10 stone in my first year and another stone subsequently. I’m 11-and-a-half stone now.
Going to the gym was a time for switching off, time for me. With my mum being sick, there were a lot of demands and pressure.
My time in the gym meant I could switch off for an hour, and it was something I was able to focus on.
When you lose weight it takes a long time for your brain to catch up with your body. It got to a point when someone said to me that I needed to bin all my clothes, because they were far too big on me.
One day I binned every single article of clothing, bar what I was standing up in, and had to go and replace everything. But even then I was still lifting a size 22 off the rails, when I was comfortably fitting into a size 10 and 12.
I am proud of myself. I can keep up with my daughter — I can play with her, take her to the park.
I’m not tired all the time. I have achieved my goal of having that better family life.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected to become a personal trainer and be able to help others.
Losing weight has been totally life changing.”
‘I was on anti-depressants as well as heartburn medication, but now I am off everything’
Castledawson woman Kelley McElroy (40) lost weight due to stress last year, and vowed to get healthy and lose more weight after her mum’s brush with death. The dental nurse was 16-and-a-half stone and size 22 at her heaviest. She says:
My mum became seriously ill last March and I lost three stone with stress worrying about her. When I worry, I can’t eat. Then I joined Slimming World, not wanting to put it all back on and lost a further three stone.
I think my weight issues started in my teens. When I was 16 I went to America to look after children one summer and gained a lot of weight. Then, over the years, I got into bad eating habits, grabbing a sausage roll on the way to work and eating convenience foods. When I weighed myself last year I was shocked to see my weight had crept up to 16 stone and six pounds.
When my mum and I went to Dubai last year I was a size 22 in shorts. I vowed to lose it when we got home. But nine days later my mum took ill with sepsis and meningitis — she was in intensive care and was even given the Last Rites. I was so stressed I couldn’t eat.
Thank goodness, she recovered. But I realised that if what happened to mummy had happened to me, it would have killed me because I was so unhealthy. I joined Slimming World after she came home and it has been fantastic. I am now 10 stone and a size 10.
When I was overweight, I had a lot of health issues. I was on anti-depressants, I was clinically depressed and I was on heartburn medication. And now I am off everything.
Losing weight has completely changed my life. I am more outgoing and much more confident. I am very, very proud of myself.”
‘At one point I told the doctor I was suicidal because of my weight but now I’m so happy’
Moville man Ciaran Keogh (31) is an actor and singer based in Londonderry. His weight had ballooned to 32 stone and his doctor had told him he wouldn’t live to see his 40th birthday. Two years ago he had gastric sleeve surgery which removed 80% of his stomach. He has since lost 14 and a half stone. He says:
I was 32 stone and five pounds. From I was about five or six years old I was prone to putting on weight very easily. Over time I was trying everything and the more crash diets I embarked on, the more it affected my metabolism and the weight just went right back on. It was tough.
At my heaviest I had several health issues. I got very bad sleep apnoea. I had type 2 diabetes and I was always breathless. My doctor told me if I didn’t lose weight I would be dead by the time I was 40 years old. I went back to my doctor and told him I was borderline suicidal about my weight.
I just felt like there was no end to it, that there was no hope. He referred me for the stomach sleeve surgery, where they take away a section of your stomach. I was on the waiting list for three years.
Two years ago I got the surgery. They removed 80 per cent of my stomach and stapled up the rest of it. The first three months were pretty hard. I was sick a lot of the time. Now I can only eat a side plate of food every few hours, but I try to make it three meals a day.
I am now just under 18 stone. I would like to lose another stone at least. It’s only the first six months that the sleeve helps you lose weight. After that it’s up to you to do the rest. I go to the gym now and I walk a lot. I am a lot more active, it’s made a huge difference to my life. I have a good, healthy, happy life now.”