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A simple holiday snap was what forced Stuart Ash to take stock.
A combination of stopping smoking and neglecting his diet through working shifts as a police officer led Stuart to pile on the pounds, but he says that photograph was a wake-up call.
“I thought enough was enough,” says Stuart.
A keen swimmer, he tried losing weight through his favourite sport. When his 14-month-old son, Zachary, was born prematurely, he took part in the British Gas Great North Swim on Lake Windermere, raising £1,700 for the baby charity, Bliss.
“The first thing I thought about was doing more swimming, but working shifts it is difficult to swim all the time. I needed some way of losing some weight as well as swimming. I needed educating as to where I was going wrong,” he says.
Stuart decided to join Slimming World. “I sat outside for a long time. I nearly drove away, but I have a photo of my children (Stuart has an eight-year-old daughter Amelia from a previous relationship) and thought ‘I’ve got to go in there and bite the bullet’.”
Stuart weighed 20 stone when he joined last November, but with perseverance and learning how to eat more healthily, he has since dropped to 17st 9.
Being 6ft 2, he doesn’t want to lose too much weight, but he has already lost ten per cent of his body weight, earning him a Man of the Year award at the session, run by Slimming World consultant Ros Tonks at St Aidan’s church hall, Crossflatts .
Stuart says being able to get into a triathlete wetsuit was one of his greatest slimming achievements. He also loves shopping for slimmer fitting clothes.
“It’s unbelievable running around after the children rather than sauntering and it’s wearing proper clothes again.”
Stuart, who has been a police officer for 16 years, says he’s taken some friendly teasing from colleagues. “I kept it quiet for long enough,” he adds.
His advice to anyone contemplating joining a slimming class is to follow his lead. “Don’t be scared. There is nothing to be ashamed of and once you walk in, everyone is in the same boat, everyone is there to lose weight and will welcome you,” he says. “You will make new friends.”
Says Ros: “Stuart is a very active member of my group and we’re all really proud to have him as a member.”
Of the 70 members in Ros’s class, seven are men and she says they’re all progressing well.
“They all join thinking it’s the end of the world to have to give up beer and curries, then find out it can still be done on the plan,” he says.
Laura Brennan says that losing weight is helping her reach the top of her game.
The 29-year-old’s weight battle began after she secured a hairdressing apprenticeship. Laura soon became absorbed into a new lifestyle, working hard and spending her evenings socialising with friends.
From being five years old, she had played Pool after being introduced to it through her family’s involvement in the licensing trade, but even her game went to pot as Laura’s confidence issues grew along with her weight.
“When I was five, I lived in an area where there was no playground or anything and there weren’t many others living around because we lived on a main road. The pool table became my playground,” says Laura.
“I had three years out when I discovered a social life and alcohol, and that is when I gained weight.”
Laura ate healthily when she was younger, but after starting work, her eating habits changed.
Drinking with friends after work, Laura saw her size ten frame slowly expand to the point where her mother was becoming concerned about her unhealthy lifestyle.
Laura was forced to admit she was putting weight on when she saw a photograph of herself. “I thought I have to nip this in the bud,” she says.
At her first weigh-in at Slimming World she was nearly 16st Laura’s determination to slim paid off as she saw the weight dropping off. She says her weight loss also helped with her endometriosis, a condition causing painful or heavy periods. It often causes pain in the lower abdomen, pelvis or lower back and may also lead to lack of energy, depression and fertility problems.
“I had always wanted children. I lost a stone with Slimming World and fell pregnant!” says Laura, whose son Jack is now three. She also has two-year-old George. For Laura, healthy eating has become very much a family affair.
She has instilled healthy eating in her sons and has also helped her fiance Tony, a fellow pool player she’s due to marry next month, to lose weight. “He has lost 4st,” says Laura, who is now in her third year playing pool for West Yorkshire County Pool.
“When I was asked to play for West Yorkshire, I never had the confidence to go for the trial, but now I could shout from the rooftops!”
Laura, who has also played for Ireland, previously suffered bouts of depression which she believes was brought on by her lack of confidence. “I didn’t like what I looked like,” she says.
Since switching to Kirby Barker’s Slimming World session at Horton Bank Methodist Church in Great Horton , Laura has continued her slimming success.
Kirkby became a Slimming World consultant two years ago after losing 7st.
She recalls Laura was “quiet and reserved” when she first came to class. “Now she is the person everybody speaks to for mid-week support. She is a special part of the group,” says Kirby.
Laura has lost more than 4st and is now down to a size ten. “I never thought I would be able to be as slim as I am,” she says.
“I thought I’d lose a stone and I lost half a stone in the first week. When it came off I thought I could lose another stone and I realised I could be slim again.
“It brings a tear to my eye now to say I am the best I have felt in eight years. My confidence is so high now.”