A young mum who was so heavy she became breathless tying her shoe laces is enjoying a new quality of life after shedding more than six stone.
For years Sarah Brown (35) tried to hide herself in dark baggy clothes and is now thrilled to be stepping out in style after dropping five dress sizes.
The Lisburn retail assistant who is mum to Jacob (12) and Chloe (9) topped the scales at 18 stone when she joined her local Slimming World group in February 2019.
Very quickly she noticed a difference. “Within a few months I was able to run up the stairs, tie my shoelaces without coming up for a breath in between shoes and even my daughter commented on how nice it was to see me not always wearing black.”
Sarah is a mere shadow of her former self having slimmed from a size 22 to a size 12/14, dropping 6st 4lbs from her original 18 stone.
She revealed she had battled her weight from her mid teens and tended to reach for frozen convenience foods rather than cook fresh, healthy meals. "I lived on what I call freezer foods - anything handy like pizza or chicken goujons - things that were easy," she said. "I would have snacked on crisps and nuts and thankfully I never had a sweet tooth or goodness knows what size I would have been.
"My weight really had affected my confidence. I wouldn't look in the mirror and if anyone was taking photographs I got out of the way and hid behind people.
"If I dropped something in the house I nearly left it lying because the effort to pick it up was too much and it's wee things like that which I have really noticed since losing weight. Life just seems to be 10 times easier."
It was a friend who persuaded Sarah to join her local Slimming World class in the Elm Church in Lisburn in February 2019. Although initially very nervous, she was shocked by just how quickly she felt comfortable and by the almost immediate results.
She explained: "I was unhappy with my weight and I knew something needed to be done. My friend talked me into joining Slimming World and the first day I walked into the group I was nervous and excited to see how I could change my life.
"I was very self-conscious and really worried what other people would think of me because of my size.
"I listened to the consultant Christine as she explained how the food optimising plan worked.
"I was made so welcome; the nervousness had gone but the excitement grew as I was told I could still enjoy all my favourite foods and lose weight.
"With the dreaded first weigh-in done I felt motivated and ready for an excellent week.
"The following week at weigh-in I was 8lbs lighter. I was over the moon and wanted to feel the same buzz week after week as the numbers on the scales decreased.
"As time went on I got Slimmer of the Week and Slimmer of the Month certificates and my half stone and stone awards, it kept me really motivated.
"I really enjoyed learning all about food optimising and body magic. Listening to the other members' journeys and ideas helped me so much to stick to the plan and to vary my food choices.
"Taster sessions at our meetings were a brilliant way of trying new meals and ideas that I would not have thought to try myself.
"I have made so many friends at the group who help and encourage me to keep me on track. If I am struggling with what to have for lunch or dinner they are there to share ideas."
Just as she reached her target weight loss of 6st 4lbs after 55 weeks, the pandemic struck and classes were suspended.
As the country went into lockdown, Sarah (below) panicked that she wouldn't be able to continue to keep her weight off without the support of her group.
She said: "I was over the moon to be presented with a Slimming World Target Certificate and Slim for Life book. That week we were told classes were suspended until further notice due to the coronavirus pandemic and naturally for me panic set in. I was so worried about not being able to stick to plan without the class and having the willpower to keep the weight off.
"I am pleased to say I did not need to worry. The classes became virtual and thanks to the support of my consultant Christine I immediately joined the weekly Zoom classes.
"The support from other members was still there. I am so pleased to have been able to keep the weight off."
Sarah now cooks all her meals fresh and plans as many meals as she can a week in advance.
She told me how her children are eating better and family life has also been transformed because of her weight loss. "I have so much more energy now to do things with the children.
"We have just been out on scooters up and down the street and over a year ago I couldn't have done that, I would have just sat on the sofa.
"Jacob is in a local football team and I always felt self-conscious going to watch him, I felt as if I was the fat mum standing on the side of the pitch.
"Now I speak to the other mums and I have much more confidence and don't feel that I need to shrink into the background so much.
"I used to have one or two pair of jeans and a couple of black tops which I wore all the time. Now I have got rid of those and I can dress in any colour I want and definitely not black. I've gone from a minimal wardrobe to having a lovely variety of fashionable clothes."
Sarah believes that anyone can lose weight if they put their mind to it.
She added: "For me it was about changing my mindset. My advice would be to just join your local group and you will soon feel part of it and enjoy it.
"If I can do it anyone can. Looking in the mirror now is not so hard and my parents are so proud of me because I have changed so much and that boosts my ego and makes me feel better."