In the hunt for slimming title after 20 stone loss

Michelle Walker, one of two Edinburgh women in the running for the Scottish Slimmer of the Year title. Pic: comp

Michelle Walker, one of two Edinburgh women in the running for the Scottish Slimmer of the Year title. Pic: comp

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IT’S the weighty issue that has most of us in turmoil.

Forget the referendum. What most of us really want to know is how to shed the post-holiday blubber – and keep it off.

With the countdown to Christmas under way – 100 days to go, or 14 weeks if you want to be really frightened – thoughts are already turning to party nights and shaping up for the calorie carnival.

But losing weight isn’t just for Christmas. Last week, it emerged that P1 pupils at Craigour Primary School are taking part in high-intensity workouts aimed at raising fitness levels and fighting obesity.

And two new reports last week attempted to figure out why so many of us are piling on the pounds. Edinburgh University researchers revealed results of a new study which showed eating can be addictive and the positive feelings our brains associate with eating could, for some, lead to a psychological compulsion to consume.

The result, they said, is a behavioural disorder similar to gambling addiction.

Meanwhile, researchers from University College London said ‘fat shaming’ – actively telling someone they need to lose weight – is counterproductive and usually leads to them piling on the pounds instead.

With the marketplace crammed with slimming products, fat-busting pills, meal replacement shakes, diet foods, and phone apps that track your calories, steps and exercise, losing weight should be easier, yet with two-thirds of Scots classed as overweight, it seems we still can’t seem to nail it.

Two Edinburgh women, however, seem to have found the magic formula – and between them shed almost 20 stones, putting them in the running for the title Scottish Slimmers Slimmer of the Year 2014. So how did they do it?

‘I sat down and the chair broke. I was mortified’

MICHELLE WALKER

Age: 31

Height: 5ft 3in

Was: 22st 4lbs

Now: 12st 9.5lbs

Dress size: was 26, now 14-16

RED-faced and humiliated, Michelle Walker picked herself up off the floor and knew the time had come for drastic action.

Her chair was in bits. And as people around her stared, she could guess what they were all thinking.

“I was round,” she recalls. “Five foot three and 22 stones. I sat down and the chair just broke under me. I was mortified.”

Michelle’s weight had piled on since she was a teenager. But even the cruel words of school bullies who taunted her about her size, or the physical effort it took to trek up the stairs at the Playhouse where she works part-time, hadn’t been enough to push her into taking control.

The embarrassing incident with the chair, however, was exactly the spur she needed.

Now, four years on, accounts assistant Michelle has shed nearly ten stone – the equivalent of another person.

Instead of fighting to fit into her giant size 26 clothes and hiding behind her baggy outfits, she’s fresh from showing off her new slimline figure in a swimsuit, on her first beach holiday.

“I’d never been on a sunshine holiday before, I don’t think I’d have coped with the heat and would just have ended up sitting inside all the time trying to stay cool.

“Now I’ve been sitting by the pool in my swimsuit and loving it, ” she says.

Michelle, 31, from Corstorphine, is now waiting to hear if she’s made the final of Scottish Slimmers’ Slimmer of the Year 2014 competition, a world away from just four years ago when all eyes were on her figure for all the wrong reasons.

“In August 2010, I went on holiday to Kirriemuir,” she recalls. “While we were away I broke a chair just sitting on it. It was like something out of a bad dream. Everyone was looking at me.

“I was always overweight – even as a child I was chubby, I never lost my puppy fat. As a teenager the weight just crept on and on.

“I lost some weight in my last year of high school, but at university I didn’t take weight loss seriously at all, the numbers on the scales didn’t mean that much to me.”

By the time she arrived at Scottish Slimmers leader Susan Shaw’s Carrick Knowe class, she was 22st 4lbs – roughly the same as two average women’s weight combined and more than a typical baby elephant.

Yet she quickly got into the routine of checking her portion sizes and swapping her previous unhealthy choices for better options.

And as the weight fell away, she got active at her local gym.

“My downfall was carbs,” she says. “I love toast and crisps but wasn’t one for eating sweets and takeaways. I love salad and vegetables, but I was having too much of the wrong things.”

She swapped her breakfast toast and butter for cereal or a healthy muffin. Lunchtime sandwiches were ditched for salad which left room for a tasty evening meal of meat or fish and vegetables.

“Little things made the difference,” she adds. “Swapping mayonnaise for balsamic vinegar dressing, for example. And the support from the classes was good for keeping me focused.”

When Michelle, who’s single, moved into her own flat and took control of what food was in the cupboards, it became easier to stick to her new healthy eating plan.

“Friends and family would joke, saying, look what happens when you buy your first flat, you can’t afford food any more so the weight drops off!” she laughs.

“After being overweight through childhood and being bullied at school, I am now a completely different person.

“I’ve lost a whole person in weight but I’ve replaced it with a whole new personality with the confidence I’ve gained!”

‘I feared being looked at’

ALISON PARKIN

Age: 64

Height: 5ft 6in

Weight before: 21st, 9.5lbs

Weight now: 12st

Dress size: was 30-32, now 14-16

Alison Parkin battled all her life to become the slimline person she longed to be.

“I was a yo-yo dieter since I was 14 or 15,” she says. “It affected my confidence and I’d try to do something about it but it never seemed to work.”

It was only when she retired, and started to plan an exciting holiday to the US, that she finally focused on losing the weight for good.

Now she has waved goodbye to almost ten stones – paving the way for her dream trip.

“I was thinking about the flight, and how embarrassing it would be if I turned up and the airline staff said I’d need to take two seats on the plane because I was so big. What if the seatbelt didn’t fit around me? I thought how hard it would be to go sightseeing because I’d have to walk a lot – I could hardly run for a bus never mind traipse around for hours on end.

“I had quite a sedentary job as a Scottish Government secretary, then when I got home I just couldn’t be bothered to cook proper meals, so I’d have a microwave meal or toast.

“I was at the stage where I couldn’t get clothes big enough.

“I was embarrassed,” adds Alison, of Sighthill. “I always insisted on meeting friends outside a pub or a cafe as I feared people would look at me and make nasty comments if I went in on my own.”

Once she retired, Alison, who lives alone, had time to focus on her health. She joined Scottish Slimmers at Gorgie Memorial Hall and just a year later is in line for the Slimmer of the Year title.

She now tucks into porridge in the morning, oatcakes for lunch, fruit and homemade soup to fill her up, and a healthy meal at night.

She swims, walks for miles in her role as a volunteer at the Royal Infirmary and spends hours tidying her garden. She is also busy organising her American adventure without having to worry.

“I feel and look so different now and my life has changed beyond recognition,” she adds. “I can’t thank my leader, Lynsey Jackson, enough. I’m so much happier and more confident. If I can do it, anyone can.”