A year ago I was a size 26 - now I'm a size 12!
Losing weight and getting fit is a new year resolution for many people. For some it stems from a desire to be slimmer and, for others, exercise is a way to feel good and tackle stress.
But for Michelle Bavin, the risk of serious health issues was the trigger she needed to make dramatic changes to her lifestyle.
The 44-year-old had hit 20 stone when she started to lose weight in January last year after being told she had to by her doctor.
She has since lost more than seven-and-a-half stone since starting her amazing weight loss journey.
Michelle, of Havant, now weighs just over 12 stone and wears a size 12.
But just 12 months ago the 5ft 4ins mum-of-one weighed 20 stone 2lbs (128kg) and was a size 26.
Michelle, who is a project accountant for BAE Systems in Hilsea, had difficulty walking far and suffered with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
She had struggled with her weight for most of her life.
‘When I looked at pictures of myself I mostly didn’t see my weight or I chose to ignore it,’ she recalls.
A typical day would see her eating a bacon sandwich when she got to work, a chocolate bar and crisps mid-morning, sandwiches for lunch with chips from the canteen and then a full meal for dinner when she got home.
She often also indulged in desserts such as cheesecakes and tiramisu and described her meals in general as being served in ‘excessive portions’.
Like many people, Michelle had tried a variety of calorie-controlled diets and meal plans, all to no avail.
She says: ‘I did loads of diets, I even tried those meal replacement shakes.
‘I’d done all that, but the weight just came back.’
However, a 12-week referral from her doctor for Slimming World changed her life.
‘You’re never, ever hungry,’ says Michelle.
‘You have restrictions to follow but you can have anything as long as you only have a certain number of sins (indulgences) a day.’
Michelle joined a Slimming World group in Bedhampton run by Dani Houghton.
She says: ‘I was really nervous about walking into that group for the first time.
‘Now I find it funny that I was so scared because I got such a warm welcome and I soon realised there was nothing to be worried about.’
Michelle now looks forward to going to the group every week and hasn’t looked back since.
‘It’s been amazing for my self-esteem and my confidence,’ she says.
‘I never used to challenge anything, I’d just think, “someone else can do it”, but now I’m so much more active and do things myself.’
Michelle’s weight loss has also transformed her relationship with husband Steve, 41.
They live together in Barncroft Way with daughter Jemma Morris, 20.
Since starting Slimming World, Michelle now enjoys walking and running, activities which the couple also frequently do together.
‘We’re a lot happier now and we do a lot more together,’ she says.
‘We even had a couple of nights sleeping in a hammock at a campsite. Before I never would have thought it would have held my weight.’
There are also many simple, everyday things that Michelle can do much more easily now she has lost all that weight.
She explains: ‘Even putting on my socks became uncomfortable and just walking in general – I couldn’t walk very far before I’d have to take a break.
‘I’ve gone from never running to being able to do 5k in just under 40 minutes.
‘It’s like I’ve just discovered running is this amazing thing.’
Michelle has built up her confidence so much that she will be taking part in the Great South Run this year to raise money for Hampshire Search And Rescue, a charity that is close to her heart.
‘I’m a little bit nervous,’ she adds.
‘I’m running the Eastleigh 10k in March but I’m sure another 5k on top of that will be fine.’
Both Michelle and Steve are members of Hampshire Search And Rescue, where they volunteer as search managers.
They work alongside the police to search for vulnerable missing people in Hampshire.
Michelle, who studied criminology and accounting at South Downs College in Waterlooville, says the biggest challenge to start losing weight is believing that it’s going to work – especially if, like her, you’ve tried other diets.
She says: ‘You’ve just got to follow the plan’.
And her advice to people who are trying to lose weight as a new year resolution is to join a group.
‘Go make friends, go on this journey together,’ she says.
‘I don’t think I would have been so successful without the support of my Slimming World consultant Dani and the support I received from my group.’
She adds: ‘I feel happier, healthier and have loads more confidence. I can’t believe the difference in me in just 12 months.’