Johanna Jewell has an amazing knowledge of the south’s service stations and can give plenty of advice on their relative merits.
Tothill Services on the A34, for example, has a McDonald’s and that means a Sausage and Egg McMuffin for breakfast.
But a few miles up the road is Chieveley, which has a Costa and Burger King – a must for anyone with a taste for full-fat lattes and fast food.
If you’re on the M3, Fleet is your last stop before the traffic jams of the M25 and, therefore, a good chance to stock up on goodies from Waitrose or Burger King.
As someone on the road a lot with her job, 36-year-old Jo used to laugh with colleagues about her extensive knowledge of the area’s fast food restaurants.
In fact she would boast that she knew the location of just about every drive-thru and service station coffee shop across 100 square miles.
But having lost an amazing six stone in six months, she also cringes that convenience food formed her entire diet.
‘I laugh about it but I have to say that I find it repulsive now,’ says the Fareham mum.
‘Thinking about the way I ate does make me feel pretty awful and I’d never want to go back to that. I think I went for years without cooking a proper meal.’
A classic example of today’s convenience food culture, Jo would be behind the wheel of her car for a good portion of the day and feast on McDonald’s breakfasts and dinners before having a microwave meal in the evening.
On the days when she wasn’t dining on drive-thru food she would have sandwiches, chocolate and crisps before fish and chips or a kebab in the evening.
Add to that her fondness for Costa’s lattes and caramel slices and she ended up weighing 16 stone and wearing a size 22.
But an amazing lifestyle change was sparked by a comment at Jo’s favourite rest-stop Tothill Services.
‘I was working in Oxford a lot and started stopping there regularly for breakfast,’ says Jo, an area manager for a catering training company.
‘I liked the Sausage and Egg McMuffin but the egg was a bit messy so I started asking for just a sausage one.
‘One day the guy asked if I wanted my usual. It was great that he remembered but I was mortally embarrassed. I haven’t been back since.’
Jo’s life has had a complete overhaul. She cooks nutritious meals every day, rarely eats chocolate and drives past rather than ‘thru’ those tempting fast food outlets.
She spends most of the weekend outdoors with her three-year-old daughter Ella and is planning a trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise money for Southampton General Hospital (where Ella has received heart treatment).
Jo says the weight crept on over the years and the fact she was spending four hours a day behind the wheel of a car didn’t help.
When she was pregnant with Ella she ate even more. Then mum and daughter went through a tough time afterwards.
Ella has heart problems and needed an operation. She’s fine and lives a happy, healthy life but may need another operation when she’s a little older.
Jo spent a lot of time with her daughter at Southampton General and says she was prone to comfort eating when she returned home.
But it was in hospital that she had a moment of realisation.
‘They gave me some meals and I couldn’t believe how small the portion sizes were. It made me think about the size of my meals. Unfortunately, they also had a Costa.’
Jo had received a few wake-up calls but it was during a holiday in Spain with her mum Jane and Ella that she really found the motivation to change her eating habits.
‘We had the iPad and took the usual pictures. And I just thought they were awful. There were all these pictures of me looking like a beached whale in the pool with Ella.’
Jo also noticed how much she was struggling to keep up with her daughter, regularly experiencing shortness of breath and sciatica pains.
‘I was always puffed out and I knew that my face was bright red. Just walking from my house to the park used to tire me out. I’d be trundling after Ella and I didn’t like that picture – trundling after my daughter in my joggers.’
She was also conscious of Ella’s diet and didn’t want her little girl growing up to follow mum’s unhealthy example.
So Jo went on an eating plan with Diet Chef and lost six stone.
The company provides calorie-counted portion-controlled meals.
It’s not the cheapest way to diet but as a busy mum with a demanding job, Jo decided it was the best way for her.
‘I knew exactly what I should be eating, but I needed that discipline and I needed it to be easy,’ she says.
‘As far as the money was concerned, I think I was spending about £15 to £20 a day on fast food. With Diet Chef, it worked out about £6 a day, so for me it was a saving.’
She now cooks her own meals and says ‘the steamer is my best friend’.
Jo believes Diet Chef, although ready prepared, provided a good lesson because it taught her portion control.
She now has porridge for breakfast, a low-calorie milkshake, fruit and snacks like carrot sticks in the day and cooks a meal like spaghetti Bolognese in the evening. She also eats more fruit in the evening and has a snack like low fat popcorn.
Jo allows herself the occasional treat but is incredibly strict as she’s been a yo-yo dieter in the past.
Having now kept the weight off for over a year, she hopes to inspire others and believes many of us are too dependent on unhealthy fast foods.
‘You can even buy packets of mashed potato, which is usually loaded with butter. You might just as well put a few potatoes in the pan,’ she comments.
The hard-working mum says she now has far more confidence.
‘I was bubbly, up-for-anything Jo but actually I lacked confidence. I was self-conscious and wouldn’t wear a dress.’
These days Jo has 10 work frocks and loves dressing up in high heels and smart suits. She spends weekends in the park, playing with Ella, and has her bought her first bike in 20 years.
She’s excited about the Kilimanjaro challenge, which involves six hours of uphill trekking a day, although admits she and her friend needed a glass of wine to go ahead and book it.
She also wants to do the gruelling Three Peaks Challenge – climbing Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis.
And now she usually drives straight past service stations.
‘It has taken a lot of willpower, it hasn’t been easy,’ admits Jo.
‘I could have stopped sometimes but for me that’s a slippery slope. If I do, I usually have a black coffee and some fruit. And if I go past, I give myself a mental high five.’
Diet Chef provides breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack for each day of the week. Everything is calorie-counted and portion-controlled and customers just add fruit and vegetables. A 12-week plan is about £165 a month.
Visit dietchef.co.uk or call 0845 302 8303.