Emma Sealey, 41, from Redditch, won Cambridge Weight Plan’s Meritorious Award in 2012.
“Walking down the catwalk, I beamed with pride. There were 1,300 people in the audience, all cheering my weight loss. I’d slimmed to 8½st – 19st 9lb lighter than I’d been 19 months earlier.
In my size 8 dress, I felt like a celebrity. When the crowd gave me a standing ovation, I knew this was life-changing.
Turns out, losing all that weight did change my life – but not in the way I imagined.
Since that event in 2012, when I won the 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan’s Meritorious Award, I’ve had serious mental health issues.
I’ve had an eating disorder, depression and a drinking problem. I lived like a recluse and felt like a prisoner in my own body. My self-esteem suffered to the point where I self-harmed and even attempted suicide.
I don’t blame the Cambridge diet for my problems. At first, slimming made me happy.
I’d been miserable in my 28st body, the result of comfort eating as a way to deal with childhood trauma. I was scared I wouldn’t live to see my 40th birthday.
When a friend mentioned her success with Cambridge, I plucked up the courage to try it. I lost 12lb in the first week. The weight kept falling off and I was thrilled.
But what I wasn’t expecting was the excess skin. It was everywhere. I exercised like mad but nothing stopped my skin sagging.
My anxiety was awful. I was terrified people would laugh at me. In 2015, I saw my GP and asked about surgery.
He could see how much the loose skin was affecting my mental health and referred me. But the NHS turned me down because it was ‘cosmetic’. I tried again and was declined a second time.
That’s when my depression became severe. I started drinking and bulimia took hold. Every day for two years, I’d binge then make myself sick.
I’d weigh myself compulsively. My boyfriend at the time confronted me and I confessed. He begged me to get help but I deluded myself I was OK.
The self-harm started then too. ‘If no one’s going to help me get the skin off, I’ll do it myself,’ I told my boyfriend, holding a breadknife over my stomach. He stopped me but there were plenty of other times I cut myself.
It came to a head one night when I’d been drinking. Sitting on the windowsill in my bedroom ready to jump, I kept muttering, ‘Nobody loves me.’
My boyfriend woke up and tried to pull me in but as he grabbed my arm I fell out and fractured my spine in two places.
That was my lowest point and forced me to get help. A psychologist helped with my anxiety. Eventually, I beat my eating disorder, accepted the loose skin and realised my life’s worth living.
It can still be a struggle and I’m on antidepressants and sleeping pills. The fall left me with back pain and less mobility.
Since my injury, I’ve turned to comfort eating again, gaining 6st since my lightest. I’m determined not to go back to where I was. I’ve started dieting my way and I haven’t ruled out rejoining Cambridge when the time’s right.
What I’d say to anyone wanting to lose a lot of weight is be realistic. When you shrink from the size I was, your skin won’t bounce back.
And if you struggle to accept your new body, get help. Don’t suffer in silence, like I did.”
‘I ditched my partner and have my own successful business now’
Sophie Jude, 26, won Slimming World’s national title of Miss Slinky in 2018. The lifestyle blogger lives in Nottingham.
“Losing weight and being crowned Slimming World’s Miss Slinky has been life-changing.
I went from overweight and feeling miserable in a relationship that wasn’t right to being slim, empowered and happily single.
The experience made me feel invincible! And while I may have put some of the weight back on since winning my title in 2018, I’m 100% more confident in my own skin.
Before joining Slimming World, I’d always struggled with my weight. I was a large size 16 when I met my ex. On my 5ft 3in frame, that wasn’t healthy.
After I had our daughter, Vogue, I was shocked to see the scales tipping at 13st. My confidence was shattered. I loved being a new mum but felt horrible in myself.
I’d duck out of photos, question my relationship and feel breathless walking up stairs.
All of that changed when I won Miss Slinky. The Slimming World plan was the first that had ever worked for me.
I started cooking from scratch, stuck to the food rules and lost 5lb in the first week, despite not restricting myself.
The weight gradually came off until I lost a total of 4st 4lb and reached a size 6-8.
I gained a newfound confidence from my weekly group, but at home it was different. Somehow, I wasn’t made to feel supported by my partner.
When I got the phone call to say I’d won the title, I burst into tears of happiness.
The whole experience – including a press launch at The Ritz and a glitzy awards ceremony – was surreal and empowering.
Any negativity I felt disappeared. That award was the last push I needed to get out of my relationship.
I didn’t want to waste any more time. I owed it to my daughter to be happy and strong. A month after the awards ceremony, I was single and loving life.
While Vogue was with her dad, I’d go shopping, clubbing and on dates. I used to be self-conscious on the dance floor but now I hit it with pride.
At last, I was happy and carefree. Of course, all that eating and drinking meant my new figure didn’t stay tiny for long.
After a couple of months, the pounds crept back on – but for once my confidence wasn’t affected.
I decided that to stay happy I needed balance and if that meant a few drinks with mates or an ice cream with Vogue, so be it.
I’m now a size 12 and I’ve gained 1½st since my lightest weight, but I don’t beat myself up about it.
Ideally, I’d like to lose half a stone, but I’m happy and healthy where I am.
I’ve been single almost three years now and while I’m not desperate to settle down, I’m ready to meet someone.
What the award and losing weight taught me is I deserve someone special. I’d rather wait than settle
for second best.
Life’s great – I’m a successful blogger, I have a good relationship with my ex and I enjoy being a single mum. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for that award.”
‘My diet U-turn left me heavier than ever and forced me to eat Bovril and sugar-free jelly’
Nicky Pengelly, 54, won Rosemary Conley’s Slimmer Of The Year in 2014. The retired nurse and supermarket cashier lives in Sudbury, Suffolk.
“My husband David said, ‘I’m worried about you. You’ve lost the sparkle in your smile.’ He said I was starting to look gaunt but I brushed it off.
Since losing 11st, all I cared about was the number on the scales.
Looking back at photos from when I won, I admit the cheeky smile I was known for had gone. I’d gone from 21st to 10st and with it I seemed to have lost some of my bubbly personality.
David was so frustrated with my weight fixation he threw out the scales. Thankfully, I never reached my official ideal healthy weight of 8½st.
If David and my daughter Morwenna had had their way, I’d have stopped when I was 11st.
But despite their concerns, they had to admit I was healthier. They had seen all my previous failed goes at dieting. Rosemary Conley was the only diet that seemed to work.
I loved the accountability of the meetings and stuck religiously to the low-fat recipes and portion rules.
I was in the last cohort of Slimmer Of The Year award-winners – months later the brand went into liquidation. With the classes gone, I lost my motivation.
I got a new role delivering nursing training up and down the country, so I relied on late-night hotel meals.
Before I knew it, I was 26st – my heaviest yet. I’d ballooned to a size 22 and developed sleep apnoea and osteoarthritis.
Eventually, my health got so bad I was referred to Addenbrookes Hospital, where I was put on an eight-week diet of milk, sugar-free jelly, Bovril and Diet Coke.
It was brutal but got me down to where I am now – 15st.
These days, with the help of an amazing personal trainer, I’m feeling fit at last. My main psychological hurdle is coming to terms with the stretched skin.
It’s an ongoing process, but I’ve educated myself about healthy eating and feel positive about the future.
The other day, David told me I’m back to the lovable person he first met. That made me smile.
We’ve agreed I’ll aim to lose a little more weight but I won’t go below a size 14.
‘Don’t get paranoid again,’ he keeps telling me. This time, I won’t. I’m finally at peace with myself.”
‘The pounds are creeping back on but I’ve found love and I’m happy’
Matt Briggs, 38, a slimming consultant and part-time supermarket cashier, lives in York. He won Slimming World’s Greatest Loser award in 2012.
“When a work colleague asked why there was a photo of a fat man on my Facebook profile, I had to laugh.
Since losing half my body weight eight years ago, it’s happened a lot. My old school friends walk past me in the street, work contacts ask where the ‘big bloke’ is and no one can believe my ‘before’ photos.
I went from over 31st with a 56in waist to 13st 8lb – which was tiny on my 6ft 2in frame. Winning Slimming World’s Greatest Loser award in 2012 was the start of a whirlwind.
While I may not have kept all the weight off – especially in lockdown – I’ve been given opportunities I’d never have dreamed of.
Before joining Slimming World, I was working in an unfulfilling management job at a mobile phone store.
I’d neglected my health since childhood. I had easy access to sweets at my parents’ gift shop, then my mum passing away from MS led to comfort eating. I struggled to stick to any of the fad diets I tried.
Seeing a photo of myself on Christmas Day 2009, where I looked twice the size of my dad, both horrified and motivated me.
Dad paid for me to join Slimming World on the condition I’d refund him if I hadn’t lost 2st in the first two months.
My money was safe – I lost my first stone in the first fortnight and 10st had gone by the following Christmas. I lost 17½st in total.
Winning Greatest Loser and being whisked away to a glamorous launch was the cherry on top. My new way of life brought me out of my shell.
Becoming a Slimming World consultant was the obvious next step. As my groups expanded, I dropped my hours at work and the cash from consulting paid off debts.
Then, on my 10-year anniversary of working at the phone store, I quit and went self-employed as a Slimming World consultant. It was liberating.
The scales have gone up a bit. Some, but not all, of that’s down to gaining muscle at the gym. My target weight is 15½st and these days I’m about 17½st.
Two years ago I met my partner James and started to get comfortable. He’s an excellent cook.
Like a lot of people, I put on half a stone in the first lockdown, mostly through stress about my business and having to get a part-time supermarket job.
The weight has crept up again lately but I’m honest with my group members and social media followers. I know what to do to get back on track.
Overall, I’m thrilled with how my life’s turned out since winning that award. People tell me I’ve inspired them on their weight-loss journey and that makes me proud.”
- If you have been affected by this story, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit samaritans.org