The sky’s the limit for super-slimmer Alison Bell in 2021, who’s preparing to jump 13,000ft out of a plane for charity after losing half her bodyweight in a year, when most of us were stress-eating crisps.
The daredevil feat would have been impossible for the mum of one when she was at her heaviest – 23st 4lbs and wearing a dress size 30.
But after shedding more than 12st with Slimming World, dropping to 10st 10lbs and a trim size 10, she’s embracing her adventurous streak.
She says: “I feel like I could take on the world since losing weight. Being heavy and unfit had held me back and got me down for so many years. I’m not just lighter and slimmer, it’s like there’s been a weight taken off my shoulders too.
“I’m more confident, I smile more and I feel like I can do anything – bring on the skydive!”
Alison, 37, head of Norfolk County Council’s Music Service, walked through the doors of her local Slimming World group in June 2019.
With an appointment booked to have drastic gastric bypass surgery at a Harley Street clinic two weeks later, she was following her mum Fiona’s pleas to try one last alternative to the op.
Although nervous, Alison, says she immediately felt a kindred spirit in her Slimming World Consultant Steve Little, who had himself lost 10st following the organisation’s Food Optimising plan.
With his encouragement and her determination, in just one week, she lost 15lbs and that was enough to make her cancel her surgery slot.
Alison, from Holt in Norfolk, said: “For the first time, it really felt like I might have found something that worked for me. I’d dieted for years and always piled the weight back on, plus extra on top, but this was different.
It felt like a new way of life, and the food was delicious. Nothing was off limits and I could eat to suit my appetite. The difference was, I was eating meals cooked from scratch, not junk.
“I hated diets that involved counting absolutely everything you put into your mouth.
“With Slimming World’s ‘Free Food’ – a long list of foods you can eat without weighing or measuring, like pasta, rice, potatoes and lots of veg – it was so much easier.”
Alison saw her weight soar in her 20s after she moved out of her parents’ house in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, in Scotland.
An emotional eater, she’d turn to food for comfort at times of stress at work. But it was when her marriage ended in 2016 that her habit really spiralled out of control.
She said: “I was extremely unhappy and found food to be the only thing that gave me comfort. I’d think nothing of having a bag of chocolate bites for breakfast, a tube of Pringles plus two sandwiches and a pasta salad for lunch and dinner was usually a Chinese takeaway or a curry. I also guzzled litres and litres of full-sugar fizzy drinks and snacked all day.
“By the time I joined Slimming World, I had a BMI of 55 and was classed as morbidly obese.
“I dressed in clothes I felt were really ugly and I hated the way I looked. One of the worst moments of my life was when my little boy Angus and I were told to get off a ride at Alton Towers because I couldn’t fit the safety harness over my stomach.
“It was a ride where the child had to be accompanied and he was crying his little heart out – he was only five at the time and didn’t understand. I knew something had to change.”
These days it’s a different story. For breakfast Alison enjoys a homemade breakfast wrap, for lunch she’ll have a low-fat pasta salad and her favourite dish to cook in the evening is bunless tower burgers with salad and jumbo king prawns.
She enjoys fresh fruit, home-made hummus or roasted chickpeas as snacks.
The weight continued to come off steadily as she went for her weekly weigh-ins and she also discovered a new passion for exercise.
Alison and Angus got a cute sausage dog they named Mr Darcy and began going on long walks together. She also joined the gym and before long was doing five exercise classes a week.
By the beginning of March last year, she was delighted to be down to 12st, nearly at her goal.
And then the world went into meltdown as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
She recalls: “Like many people who have a problem with their weight, I panicked when we went into lockdown.
“I knew that it could be dangerous for me to spend so much time at home with the constant temptation to overeat.
“All Slimming World groups were forced to temporarily close and I was so worried I was going to lose my support network. The encouragement from other members is a huge part of the process, and one of the big reasons why I’d stuck with the plan.
“Thankfully my Consultant was amazing. Our group went online and we’d all meet on a Thursday night on Zoom. It was my lifesaver.
“I was so worried I’d undo all the good work I’d done, but my friends from my group were there on a screen in front of me in the same boat and we kept each other going.”
Alison decided to shop locally more often rather than buying in a big weekly shop so there wasn’t much food at home to tempt her.
She continued to get her daily exercise with Mr Darcy and, despite her worst fears, the pounds continued to drop off.
She’s now at her target weight of 10st 10lbs, but considering losing a little more. As well as feeling fantastic, there was another unexpected benefit to Alison’s weight loss.
She’s found love with the man she describes as her soulmate – and it turns out he had been right under her nose for years.
She smiles: “We had been colleagues for 10 years and I’d always really liked this man, but never thought he could be interested in me.
“At a conference in November 2019, when I was a few months into my weight-loss journey, however, I finally plucked up the courage to tell him how I felt and I’m so glad I did.
“It turned out he felt the same and we’ve been together ever since. Even at that stage, having lost a few stone, I could feel I was becoming a more confident, happier person.”
The health problems Alison had due to her weight have also all disappeared. Unable to walk any distance, she suffered from breathlessness and difficulty sleeping. She was also pre-diabetic with an irregular heartbeat and had extremely high blood pressure.
“I had fairly serious health concerns and some less serious, but pretty horrible ones too. I had awful skin sores, eczema, hair loss, edema in my legs and ankles.
“Since losing weight I can honestly say I have never felt better and have absolutely no health concerns at all.
“Finding Slimming World not only gave me a life, it’s saved my life. I’m happier, healthier and the best mum I can be to a son who is now so proud of me.
“I think we’re all due a better year in 2021 and I’m going to be embracing every single opportunity with open arms.”
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