This time two years ago, Mary Downs was a very different woman. Weighing 21st 2.5lbs and wearing a size 26, she feared a catalogue of health problems including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol could send her to an early grave.
Today, the 55-year-old music instructor of Bathgate, West Lothian, sees a brand new woman staring back at her from the mirror. Now 9st 7.5lbs and a trim size 10 after shedding 11st 9lbs – more than half of her bodyweight – she’s confident, happy, and, most importantly, healthy.
Although feeling much happier about her image following her massive weight loss with Slimming World, it was yearning for change on the inside that motivated Mary to shed the pounds. She knew her old eating habits were punishing her body and desperately wanted to turn her life around.
Mary said: “Losing the weight and making these changes has saved my life. It’s also given me a different and better life. I lost both my parents and my maternal grandparents to strokes and I was so worried I was heading for the same fate if I didn’t change my habits. My family was really worried about me too.
“I’d gotten to the stage where my knees and ankles were so swollen that I was walking with a stick, I was on medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol and, alarmingly, I’d been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when I was 40.
“I was monitored every six months and knew that I’d need to go on insulin if the condition worsened. It was a real worry – I know the condition can cause blindness and I know someone who lost a limb through diabetes-related circulatory problems. I didn’t want that to be me.
“After losing about 7st, I went for my routine blood glucose test and the doctor was so shocked by the result that she had to do it again. My levels were normal and there were no signs of Type 2 diabetes at all. It was just the news I needed to motivate me to keep going with my weight loss.”
In the same month as World Diabetes Day, Mary’s inspirational story supports research revealing that following a Slimming World diet helps patients who have Type 2 diabetes to lose weight and manage their glucose control.
Mary, married to husband Owen, 58, and mum to grown-up daughters Susannah, 27, and Rachael, 22, knows her health problems were impacting her family and says she got momentous support from her brood.
She added: “They knew how important it was to me. Time with my husband and daughters now is always fun. I have the energy to go out with them, whereas before I made excuses to stay at home or, if we went out, I would stay in the background. I was so tired I would fall asleep as soon as I sat in a chair.
“Now I enjoy spending girly time shopping and being pampered. I have even borrowed a pair of jeans and sweatshirt from one of my daughters now that we’re the same size. I never thought in a million years that would be possible.”
Mary says she’d always struggled with her weight. She was a size 18-20 when she married Owen in 1987 when she was 23, and hovered there for most of her adult life. Yo-yo dieting before holidays could see her drop a few stones, but she’d always gain the weight again, and often more on top.
Her daily diet often involved skipping breakfast, but then over-indulging on shop-bought sandwiches, crisps and chocolate at lunch. Dinner would be a cheese-laden lasagne ready-meal with garlic bread, followed by a cake or biscuit. For supper there would be several slices of toast with butter and snacks of sweets, crisps and biscuits.
Shaken by the death of her mum in 2015, it took two years of contemplation for Mary to work up the courage to join her local Slimming World group in Bathgate in May 2017. She explained: “I’d not been near scales in so long and I got the shock of my life when I saw I’d hit 21st 2.5lbs. I felt numb. That’s the only way to describe it.”
With support from her doctor, taking advice on her diabetes, and from her Slimming World Consultant, Mary followed the food optimising eating plan and started cooking healthy meals from scratch. Ready meals were scrapped in favour of home-made soups and salads and “fakeaway” meals of home-cooked Szechuan beef or home-made chicken pizza.
It took her just over two years to reach her final target of 9st 10lbs on August 10 this year. At 5ft 3.5ins she’d reduced her BMI from 52.4, dangerously morbidly obese, to 24.1, in the perfectly healthy weight range for her height.
She added: “People think slimming means going hungry, but I never felt like I was on a diet – in fact, people are always surprised at how much food I have on my plate. I absolutely love cooking now and I enjoy experimenting with spices and new ingredients.
“I’ve just learned how to make small changes like eating lots of vegetables, using lean meat and fish or cooking with low-calorie cooking spray instead of oil or butter.
“I’ve also stopped the snacking on crisps and chocolate. I eat loads more fruit now and feel far better for it – my energy levels are through the roof compared to before.
“I found I got so much support from going to my group every week and it really helped to hear other members’ ideas and tips. It helps you feel like you’re not doing this alone.”
Doctors had suspected Mary had arthritis before her weight loss, but her joint problems have now gone completely and she no longer requires a walking stick.
She smiled: “I’ve just changed my way of thinking towards food entirely. I still indulge and enjoy every second of my holiday but I eat the right things. My only regret is that I never did this while my mum was alive to see it. She knows how much my size bothered me and I know she’d be so proud to see that I finally tackled it.”