We all lost weight together - how a new group of friends in Ipswich helped one another shed the weight and keep it off

Nicky before her weight loss

Nicky before her weight loss - Credit: Archant

Christmas and New Year can be an especially difficult time for those who are feeling they need to do something about their weight.

The new-look Nicky

The new-look Nicky - Credit: Archant

Here, two women talk about how their weight loss has been very much a team effort, thanks to a whole new group of friends. Liz Nice and Natalie Sadler report.

A lot of our clients are unsure about the group sessions at first,” says Katrina Bates, a counsellor with LighterLife in Ipswich. “Opening up to others doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But very quickly they realise how important it is to have the support of other people who are dealing with the same issues as you and that is the key to the change they’ve been looking for.”

Katrina says they work on changing habits and behaviour. “Communication is very important. For example, it’s no good going to a party and when someone asks if you want some food, you say, ‘Erm.’ This sends a confusing message to them and to yourself. You need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve and say ‘No, thank you.’ Things like this come up in group all the time. It might be that your mum doesn’t think you need to go on a diet because she loves you as you are. But other people in the group will have been through that too and will be able to share the ways they dealt with it. It’s a non judgemental environment with people who understand. Nicky and Dale have done so well. Nicky has learnt to set and achieve realistic goals and to occupy her time differently, rather than eating through boredom. She is engaged to be married, so has an exciting time ahead.

Dale says she was 'killing' herself before she joined LighterLife

Dale says she was 'killing' herself before she joined LighterLife - Credit: Archant

“Dale is also amazing. She had last Christmas and a holiday whilst on the plan but she stuck with it. She has developed a self awareness and mindfulness about her eating, has recognised her vulnerable times and is working on the difference between thinking she is hungry and actually being hungry. We’re all so proud of them both.”

Nicky’s story

Nicky Gibbs was away at university in Leeds when her weight began to creep up.

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“I was always a little bit overweight compared to my peers,” she says, “but I used to do a lot of sport, especially netball and swimming and I also did ballroom and Latin dancing, so at school my weight wasn’t really an issue for me.

Dale after her weight loss

Dale after her weight loss - Credit: Archant

“It was only when I went to university that it became a problem, because I stopped all the exercise and started living quite an unhealthy lifestyle: going out drinking, eating this takeaway and that takeaway. Before I knew it, I was a size 20.”

Nicky, 24, decided to do something about her weight at the end of last year.

A nurse at Ipswich Hospital, she felt tired and lacklustre. “I just didn’t feel healthy in myself. I had no energy and didn’t really feel like doing anything.”

She remembered a teacher of hers at Chantry High School (now Suffolk New Academy) had taken part in the LighterLife programme.

“I thought about doing it at university but I didn’t have the money or the motivation,” she says. “But actually, if you commit to the programme, it works out cheaper than you’d normally spend on a food shop.”

The programme starts off with you eating the specially prepared LighterLife packs which you have instead of your usual food. This helps the weight to come off and usually works quite quickly.

Nicky started the programme at the end of September, 2013, at 13 stones 10 pounds and by mid January was down to her target weight: nine stones, 13.

The hard part, however, is maintaining your new weight, so everyone who does LighterLife also becomes part of a “maintenance group” who meet regularly to support each other.

“I wasn’t sure about doing the group at first,” says Nicky, “but it’s been really important to me. I’ve got down to a size 10 now but my friends are all around that weight anyway, so, however much they try, they can’t really understand what it is like. But the people in our group do, because they’ve been through it.”

Keeping the weight off isn’t easy but Nicky says the group are there to remind each other when they are tempted to go back to old habits, like “going to the fridge for chocolate”. They also set goals for the future.

“We will say, what will I be doing in four weeks’ time? Or four months’ time? And you tell yourself, well, I don’t want to be going back to buying size 20 clothes again.”

LighterLife has also helped Nicky understand the reasons why she put the weight on and to find ways to change her habits.

“I was brought up not to waste food,” she says, “but I’ve learned now that it is OK to say ‘no’ when someone offers you something to eat. I was also in a previous relationship which, looking back, was very much based on food. My new relationship, though, is about the things we do together, not what we are eating.”

Nicky is engaged to her new partner, Ty. “Life’s really good,” she says. “And I’ve got so much energy. I used to be tired all the time but now I’m going to the gym every other day.”

And she couldn’t have done it without the support of her group. A while ago, she stopped going to the weekly sessions because she felt she no longer need them, but has since returned.

“I realised how much I relied on the other girls. Sometimes, you’re in group session and you think, I’d like to say something but I’m not sure I can. Then one of the others will say it for you.

“It’s lovely to have people who you know feel exactly as you do. ”

Dale’s story

Christmas has been a healthier, happier event in the Westall household this year after mum-of-two Dale lost a third of her body weight through LighterLife.

“I started on December 1 last year (2013),” said Dale, who weighed in at 16st 5lbs and wore a size 22.

“It was ridiculous starting a weight loss programme at the exact same time everyone else is indulging but I had no choice. My health was deteriorating and I felt like I was killing myself.

“At one point my blood pressure was 190/110, which is dangerously high.

“I had a fatty liver and I was sent to see a specialist who was actually quite rude.

“He told me to go away and lose five stone.”

Realising the doctor was right, Dale, 49, signed up to LighterLife and while her family tucked into turkey and all the trimmings, she spent last Christmas on their low-calorie food packs.

“Within eight weeks of starting LighterLife I had stopped all of my tablets, and my fatty liver has gone.

“My health is amazing and I feel 20 years younger.”

Dale, of Harwich, is now a size 12 and is maintaining a healthy weight of 11st.

“It is unbelievable. I can walk into shops like Oasis and River Island. Places my daughters shop.”

The accountant, who works in Ipswich, added: “A lot of people don’t understand. Thin people don’t understand what you go through.

“For me, eating was an addiction but I have overcome that and turned my life around.”

The counselling offered through LighterLife helped Dale realise that boredom was her trigger.

“When you are watching TV in the evening, it is easy to eat a chocolate bar without even thinking about it, but now I will have a drink or paint my nails, because you can’t eat then.

“To get encouragement and support from the group is the best bit.

“They know what you are going through and are there to help you when you need them.”

A group session held just before Christmas encouraged members to opt for water with a straw, to help avoid questions about why they were not drinking alcohol and also to be mindful about what they are eating, rather than mindlessly picking at treats.

And it worked, says Dale.

Our Ginette

Ginette May, who is an EADT account manager, is also a great advocate of the LighterLife group programme. She says: “I find the group useful to discuss issues I have. Sometimes they are quite personal and I don’t feel I can discuss it but someone else will often talk about the same problem and it helps me to resolve my issue. The ladies in my group are just as supportive as Katrina, my LighterLife counsellor.”