I’m 54 years old and live in Loughton, Essex. I was married at the age of 31 but am now separated and in a long-term relationship with my current partner Michael, a property investor who also works as an actor and professional model.
How has your life changed since you were 50?
After meeting my husband in my late 20s, I got into a much more routine way of life as a lot of women do after they settle down. Cooking meals for myself and my husband, eating out more often and just generally getting complacent led to me gaining an increasing amount of weight in my 30s and 40s to the point where I tipped the scales at an incredible 19 stone by the time I reached my late 40s. At 5’7” tall, my Body Mass Index (BMI) was a morbidly obese 42 and I was wearing size 24 clothes.
What was your approach to losing weight and was there a trigger which made you decide to do it?
Like many women, I’d tried loads of different diets over the years from slimming clubs to the more ridiculous faddy diets such as the Cabbage Soup diet. They all worked to some extent but I always ended up regaining the weight I’d lost – and then some!
At Christmas 2005, my husband and I decided to book a trip to Goa for a winter holiday but even before I got on the plane I was a nervous wreck. I barely managed to squeeze myself into the aeroplane seat and my worst fears were realised when I simply couldn’t manage to make the ends of the seatbelt fit across my ample middle and had to ask the stewardess for a seatbelt extension. I was absolutely mortified!
It was no better when I arrived at the resort as felt like a beached whale in my swimsuit and when the holiday snaps came back I saw that I was easily the largest woman on the beach. Something had to be done. On New Year’s Eve, as I watched the fireworks exploding over the ocean bringing in the year 2006, I knew things had to change when I got back home. I was turning 50 in January 2007 and made myself a promise that I would spend the next year losing weight. I just didn’t know at that time exactly how I was going to do it.
I’d tried so many diets before that I knew I had to find something different. One of my friends had successfully lost weight using the meal replacement program Cambridge Weight Plan, so as soon as I got back I looked up the details on the internet and, before I lost my nerve, made an appointment to see my local Cambridge consultant. I found the first week really difficult as I was having to swop my usual fatty, high-calorie foods for nutritious milkshakes, soups and meal bars and there were moments when my resolve wavered. A number of times in that week I almost gave up but somehow I stuck to it. When I went to get weighed after my first week on the program I was absolutely delighted to discover I’d lost 11 lbs and determined to carry on. My aim to be ‘Fab at Fifty’ was in my sights and becoming more of a reality day by day.
Reaching my target weight before my 50th birthday
By the end of the year – and with one month to go before my 50th birthday – I had reached my target of 11 stone, was a healthy weight for my height and (amazingly!) was wearing size 12 clothes for the first time since my teens.
How did your family and friends react to the changes you made?
My family and friends had seen me tackle so many diets over the years that I expect they doubted whether this one would be any different. They probably thought I’d lose some weight, get complacent, give up and gradually put all the weight back on again – just like I had done numerous times in the past. When I began the diet I was working at a local FE College as Project Manager specialising in employment training. I was retained on a consultancy basis and my contract came to an end three months after I began the Cambridge program so I had no choice but to leave and move on to another job.
I’d lost around 3 stone by this time and some of my colleagues and friends who I’d worked with had already started to notice a change in me by the time I left but, as I was so large to start with, it wasn’t all that obvious how much weight I’d actually lost. 6 months later, when I returned to see my ex-colleagues, everyone in the office just stopped what they were doing and crowded round me in absolute amazement at how different I looked. It was a great feeling and I felt a tremendous sense of pride and personal achievement. It had been a long time since I’d received so many compliments about the way I looked and it felt wonderful!
What difference has losing so much weight made to you, and in what areas of your life?
As I approached my goal weight, I decided that I would like to train to be a Cambridge consultant myself and help other people achieve the same results I had. I now run a business from home which does just that and I absolutely love helping so many other people who are unhappy with their weight become healthier, fitter and looking fantastic.
As for more practical things, I absolutely love going on holidays now. I never have to worry about fitting comfortably into an airplane – or any other – seat, or panic whether the seatbelt will fit around me. I can wear swimming costumes/bikinis or sleeveless summer dresses without embarrassment and don’t suffer in the heat from carrying so much weight around.
I used to avoid meeting new people
I didn’t realise while I was big just how many excuses I made to avoid going to places where I might be meeting new people. I was always thinking that they would judge me on my size first and my personality second. I really hated shopping for clothes which I saw as something to be endured and got over with as quickly as possible. Most times I would end up buying something just because it fitted me rather than because I thought I looked good in it. I’d also suffered with breathing difficulties when I was so big and would struggle even climbing up stairs. Since losing weight this problem has completely disappeared and I now don’t have any difficulty at all climbing, or even running, up stairs.
And, best of all, almost 5 years later I’ve managed to keep the weight off … once and for all!
What new opportunities has losing your weight opened up for you?
As well as having a completely new business to run, I was also dealing with the breakdown of my marriage as my husband and I, sadly but amicably, decided to go our separate ways. Some months later I met my new partner who had enjoyed some success as an TV and film actor as well as being a professional model. It was his suggestion that I should look into the idea of getting into modelling as many agencies also run a ‘classic’ division for older models. I’d already been asked by Cambridge to appear on their 2010 calendar and I really enjoyed the photo-shoot, so I sent my photos off to a number of modelling agencies to see whether or not I had any potential. To my amazement, I received very positive feedback and have since done a number of assignments in newspapers and magazines as well as corporate work such as brochures and company literature. I’ve also appeared on TV and done a couple of commercials and as result gained a lot more experience and confidence just by being in front of a camera.
How do people you meet on your photo shoots react to you when they are aware of your age?
Most of the time when I’m on a photo-shoot the subject of age doesn’t normally arise, but on a recent beauty and fashion shoot for a national newspaper I happened to mention how old I was to the photographer and stylist and they were absolutely amazed I was over 50. I have been been told many times that I don’t look my age, but I can’t help thinking “what on earth is a woman over 50 supposed to look like”?
Do you think perceptions of how a woman over 50 looks and lives is starting to change?
I think that women over 50 nowadays live very different lives to how women of the same age in our mothers’ generation would have lived. These days age is no barrier to looking good and we’re never too old to look the way we want and do the things we’ve always wanted to do even if we somehow never managed to do them when we were younger.
When we’re younger there’s often more pressure on women to either fit in with our peers or maybe have a certain ‘look’ in order to attract a partner. I strongly believe that with age comes increased maturity, experience and independence as we women over 50 gain far more control of our lives and our finances as well as having the confidence to know what we want to get out of life. I think as we get older we become far more individual in our ways of thinking as well as in our personal style and are much less worried about what other people might think of us.
What advice would you give to other women wanting to ‘do something different’ in their 50s?
Age is not a number, it’s a state of mind. So many people kept telling me how much harder it is to lose weight at my age than when I was younger (which, in my view, is a myth as I think it’s tough at any age) that if I’d listened to all the negative comments I’d probably have given up long before I even started. I was determined to be slim on my 50th birthday and I did it. If you have a specific goal in mind – go for it. There really is no better time than now!
Women over 50 can and do look fantastic
What would you most like to see changed in terms of attitudes to women over 50?
I would like to see more representative role models of women over 50 across all elements of the media. I’m 55 next birthday, yet I never see women who look like me in adverts specifically aimed at the over 50s. By and large most of the older models I see in magazines and on TV advertising products targeted at this age group still fit into the mould of what has always been seen to be the stereotypical look of an ‘older person’. T
Women over 50 – and many men too by the way – can and do look fantastic! We still have so much living left to do and I would like all women over 50 to show the younger generation, as well as the world at large, that just because we’re over 50 we’re a very long way from being over the hill!