‘Weight Watchers helped me get back in shape after I had three children...since then I have helped thousands of people slim successfully too’
Banbridge mum Anne Marie Monaghan turned to the organisation to help lose the weight she put on through illness after having her third child. Here, she tells Leona O’Neill how that decision gave her more confidence and a new career as a slimming group leader.
Twenty years ago, Co Down woman Anne Marie Monaghan found herself overweight and unhappy after piling on the pounds due to illness following the birth of her third child.
After trying all the usual fad diets on the market to no avail and desperate to lose weight, gain confidence and feel comfortable in her own skin again, she joined Weight Watchers in her home town of Banbridge.
Just three months later she was celebrating Christmas in real style, having lost two and a half stone and getting her figure, confidence and sparkle back.
So amazed was she at the power of Weight Watchers, Anne Marie signed up to be a group leader and for the last 18 years has helped tens of thousands of members across Northern Ireland lose weight and change their lives for the better.
“Twenty years ago I lost two and a half stone with Weight Watchers,” she says. “Over the years, after having my three children I had definitely put on some weight. I was uncomfortable with myself.
“I was lucky in that I was always quite slim. After I had my third child I was very ill and I put on quite a bit of weight. Two and a half stone to some people doesn’t seem like very much, but to me it was a lot of weight compared to what I was used to.
“I joined Weight Watchers in the September and really stuck to it. By the December I had reached my goal weight. That Christmas I was out celebrating, looking and feeling great about myself. I was wearing my little party dress and actually being really delighted with myself at what I had achieved.
“I was back to where I should have been and I was very comfortable in my own skin. I just loved going into shops and being able to take a size off the rail, taking it to the changing room and knowing that it would fit me perfectly. I haven’t looked back since.
“Walking in to my first Weight Watchers meeting in Banbridge, I suppose I was quite apprehensive. I didn’t know what to expect. Someone I knew had lost a considerable amount of weight with Weight Watchers and was telling me about the great experience they had. I thought, why not? I’ll give it a go too.
“I had tried all sorts of diets in the past, as you do when you’re younger. I had tried the soup diet, the egg diet, even the banana diet, and I had never really heard of Weight Watchers at that stage. So I joined up and was amazed that I lost two and half stone in three months.
“I was very focused, I followed the plan. I found it all very easy and very do-able. Some people think losing weight is about starving yourself. With Weight Watchers I saw that it was about eating right, not eating less, and it really worked.
“I always had a keen interest in nutrition and food. I had studied hotel management at college. And when I heard that Weight Watchers were looking for new leaders in my area I put myself forward for a role and got it. I was delighted to be able to inspire other members.”
Anne Marie has been a Weight Watchers leader for 18 years. In that time she has met many inspirational individuals and changed the lives of tens of thousands of people.
She says her clients help motivate her to stay on track and that Weight Watchers to her ‘feels like a big family’.
“I have held classes all over the country,” she adds. “I’ve had classes everywhere from Carryduff to Ballynahinch, from Crumlin to Banbridge. I’ve held my own classes and covered for leaders who were off on maternity leave.
“I’d say I’d have helped tens of thousands of people lose weight. The success is phenomenal. If I were to think in mathematical terms I’d say the weight loss would be about 100 stone per class per year. I wouldn’t even begin to try to put a figure on the total amount of weight that has been lost by members in all my years as a leader.
“It’s just amazing when you see people transforming into different people. When you see people nearly losing a whole person in weight — I’ve had people with weight losses of 11 stone, 10 stone and the like — it is very motivating to see that happening and to feel that you are part of that process.
“It changes people’s lives and I see people changing. I have seen people who have been on a lot of medication for diabetes, for high blood pressure, for arthritis, and I see them when they lose a considerable amount of weight, how they are able to come off that medication. I see them feeling great. It is just amazing. And I feel like a big part of that person’s life.
“I have a lady out in Crumlin who has lost 11 stone. I have had a husband and wife in another class who both have lost over seven stone each. But I always say that it’s not always the amount of weight someone loses that matters. If someone has 10lb to lose, it can be as hard for them as it is for someone with 10 stone to lose. Weight creeps on and it can be difficult for people to lose it, even small amounts, and they do need help and encouragement and motivation from the classes.”
Anne Marie says Weight Watchers is there for members all the way, from the first initial nervous and tentative steps into their first meeting and classes, to celebrating the success of their weight loss ‘as a family’.
“One of the pillars of the Weight Watchers programme is people attending meetings and classes,” she says. “That is where they connect and bond with a leader who will help and support them through that process.
“If someone tries to lose weight by themselves, they have no one to hold them to account. Attending a meeting and coming to face a leader makes them accountable for what they have eaten that week and it just helps to make them feel focused and motivated.
“The power of meetings and the classes and the learning from each other is so important — group support would be a main feature of Weight Watchers. It is all about encouragement, positive thinking and helping each other, and that all comes together to make the process a success.
“People become friends in these classes. We have many members who have become lifelong friends. We even have members who lost weight, fell in love and got married to each other.
“Every couple of years we take a charity partner. We have worked with Marie Curie, we have worked with diabetes and stroke associations over the years.
“And we would run charity events such as fashion shows. All our members would come together at these and showcase their successes at the fashion shows.
“It helps us to raise money for charity and it also brings us all together. We are like a community — it feels like a big family, always supporting each other.”
Anne Marie says it’s her members who drive her forward and keep her on the right path with regards healthy weight and eating properly.
“The members motivate me,” she says. “They help to keep me where I am because I am their role model. I like to make sure that I keep myself right for them. Once I go into a class I switch off from everything in the outside world. It is me and my members and they push me forward.”
And Anne Marie has these words of advice for anyone thinking of ‘taking the first steps towards changing their lives’.
“For those pondering joining a Weight Watchers class, and maybe unsure about it, I would say to them, go for it,” she says.
“I would say everyone can do it, it’s really about changing your mindset. It’s about thinking positively and following a healthy eating plan. It is not a diet.
“We all make mistakes, we all eat things we shouldn’t, it’s just about facing facts and getting back on track as soon as possible.
“It’s about healthy eating. It’s about having a bad day and starting again at the next mealtime. It’s not about eating less, it’s about eating better. It’s about living. ‘Be real, not perfect’ is one of our main mottos.
“Weight Watchers can and has changed people’s lives and it can change yours. Join a class and you’re halfway there.”
To find your local Weight Watchers group, log on to weightwatchers.ie