Not long ago Rebecca was 16 stone and a size 22... now she's happy to pose for a fun photoshoot
Overweight Belfast nurse Rebecca McClelland's life was transformed when she started to work out, got back into shape and recovered her self-confidence.
Looking at 30-year-old Rebecca McClelland now, it's hard to imagine that seven years ago, her life was very different.
Then, she was tipping the scales at over 16 stones and unhappy in her marriage. Since shedding more than four stone in weight, though, she is happier and healthier than ever.
The confident young nurse, whose friend bought her a rather racy photoshoot to mark her recent 30th birthday, says she would never have stripped down to her undies in front of a photographer before her weight loss.
The past few years have seen the Belfast woman re-emerge from a challenging period of her life, thanks to a new fitness routine which she says is now part of her weekly routine.
"I would never have done a photoshoot in my underwear before I lost weight," says Rebecca. "It was a present from my friend Lindsay, as she thought it would be a good idea since I had lost so much weight.
"I went along to the studio in Dunmurry and brought some of my own outfits with me to wear - the theme was 'boudoir'.
"The photographer spent about an hour with me - there is a lot of posing and pouting.
"At first I was embarrassed, but then when I started to relax I really enjoyed it."
The saucy but tasteful pictures now hang on the wall of the dressing room in Rebecca's home. She says: "This room is my boudoir, so I have the framed pictures in there. It reminds me how far I've come, compared to what I was before."
And she is not finished yet, so determined is Rebecca to keep up the good work. She says: "I still have a long way to go."
While hitting the big 3-0 marked a new chapter for her, life was less than content when she was in her early twenties. Rebecca suffered a debilitating bout of pneumonia at this time and the medication she was prescribed to treat the illness resulted in her weight ballooning to over 16 stones.
"I went from a size 12-14 to a size 22," she says. "I lost all my confidence and became a recluse - I just didn't want to go anywhere."
During this time Rebecca had just got married, but she says the relationship started to flounder early on.
The combination of her weight gain and marital strife compounded Rebecca's unhappiness, to the point where she only ventured out to go to work at the Electoral Office, where she was an administrative assistant.
And the bubbly 20-something, who had previously loved socialising with her friends, stayed indoors most weekends.
"I wasn't behaving like my old self and my family were very worried about me. They knew I wasn't happy," she adds. "I was always active and loved playing sport such as hockey and football, and was on the athletics team at school. Anything sporty, I did it."
Her weight problem began when Rebecca got pneumonia. "I was ill seven years ago and the medication I had to take made the pounds pile on. It was at this time I stopped playing sport - I had a full-time job and had got married. My weight just went up."
She also suffered a crisis of confidence. "I lost all my drive - I had no get-up-and-go. I went from being a very sociable person, always out with a large group of friends, to someone completely different."
She knew her life had deteriorated to the point of despair, but she simply didn't have the strength to leave her marriage.
"I went to work, but that was all. I didn't feel confident enough to go out - at that time I just wanted to stay in."
It was on a rare outing that Rebecca met Josephine McAllister from PreCore Studios - they were introduced by mutual friends. Little did Rebecca know that a suggestion from Josephine would help turn everything around.
"Josephine told me about PreCore Studios, which is aimed at women like me who may not have trained in a while," she explains. "Prior to becoming ill I had been a regular at the Shankill Leisure Centre, but that all stopped when I put on weight.
"But Josephine encouraged me to start exercising again, saying 'why not give it a go?' I said no, initially, as I thought everyone would just laugh at me - she persevered, though, and I decided to go."
Rebecca found the gym to be a welcoming place without the judgmental stares of others. She enjoyed the session - and for the first time in a long time felt her confidence coming back.
"It was amazing. Going to the gym has changed my whole attitude," she says. "The other members are too busy doing their own thing to stop and look at anyone else."
Rather than a traditional gym workout, though, Rebecca uses a Power Plate three times a week - and the 20-minute sessions, combined with a healthy diet, have helped her to shed more than four stones in weight. Now, she feels like a new person, is a size 14, and loving her life.
"The trainers work with you on a one-to-one basis or small groups - the largest would be three people. It is a high intensity workout using the Power Plate, kettle bells and weights to build up strength and stamina," she says.
While Rebecca was enjoying her training at PreCore, Josephine, who was a champion weightlifter, took her along to try out some power lifting. Much to Rebecca's surprise, she was a lot stronger than she realised.
"Josephine noticed during a kettle bells session that I had a very strong squat position, and suggested I tried something more challenging.
"The first weight I was able to lift was 100kg. She kept racking the bar up with weights, and my strength has increased from there. I still do the plates (Power Plate) three to four times a week, and every time I go it is a different routine to keep boosting my fitness levels. The trainer has a variety of classes, which focus on legs, abs or whole body, to keep building you up."
Now, all Rebecca's hard work has paid off, having dropped five dress sizes.
"I'm not perfect yet," she jokes."I've still got a long way to go, but I'm a different person to the one I was seven years ago. It is a lifestyle change and I have improved myself, both mentally and physically." Another unexpected development during Rebecca's transformation was finding the strength to leave her marriage. She said: "If I was still the same person, I probably would not have left my marriage. I just wouldn't have had the strength or confidence to do it."
Now the orthopaedic nurse is a regular at the gym and takes healthy living very seriously.
"I take a protein shake to work with me and I will always train at this level - I won't stop going. My life is completely different now and it is all down to Josephine - she has been my saviour."
Rebecca has changed her diet, too, replacing stodgy meals and snacks with healthy alternatives. "I think about what I eat, before I eat it. I used to skip breakfast, as I start work most days about 7am and may not get a break until 10am, so it can be challenging to eat well, which is why I prepare my meals a few days in advance. I will have a bowl of porridge in the morning rather than eating two rounds of toast."
And when it comes to evening meals, leafy greens are always on the menu. "A chicken dinner is my favourite, but sometimes I will put extra vegetables like kale or broccoli on my plate rather than potatoes. I also drink three litres of water everyday."
She says the pictures from the photoshoot, as well as being a lot of fun, remind her of how much she has changed. "I look at those photos and compare them to old pictures of myself and think 'how could I have let things go so far?' I still have a lot of work to do and sometimes it is hard to stick at it, especially if I am busy with work, but I love my new lifestyle."
Josephine, from PreCore Studios, says the concept behind her gym was to encourage women just like Rebecca, as well as those who may never have taken part in sport or trained before, to learn how to get fitter and healthier in an environment where they would feel comfortable.
"Some of the women who come here have never trained a day in their lives," she says.
"A lot of women do find it difficult to walk into a gym which is full of people - some of whom are very slim and fit."
The gym costs £5 a session and is pay-as-you-go, so there are no gym fees. Josephine adds: "This gym is for women who cannot afford to pay fees and a personal trainer on top of that cost. We provide personal training here as part of the service. We want women to be comfortable here, rather than walking into a gym where they may not know how to work the equipment."
- PreCore Studios have three locations across Belfast and specialise in Powerplate technology
Stepping up to the plate
- The vibrations make the body work harder in every direction as you balance to control your movements
- Hundreds of different exercises can be performed on the powerplate, which is more effective than static bending and stretching
- Good results are achieved in a shorter amount of time than conventional exercise
- The maximum number in each class is four people
- Less impact means less pain
- Benefits include intensified stimulation and improvement of the neurological system
- Improved balance and co-ordination
- Powerplate training dates back as far as ancient Greece
- Nineteen century physicians developed machines to treat disorders as diverse as neuralgia, atrophy, emaciation and constipation
- Astronauts use vibration training to help mimic gravity and prevent muscle wasteage in space
- PreCore Studios are supported by NI Supplements, which gives advice on nutrition and supplements required to help maximise training