Stephanie Higgins tells how she lost 9.2kg (1.4st) on the NHS weight loss plan without ever going hungry.
From calorie-counting to snacking, Stephanie reveals how she did it and how the plan helped her develop healthier habits in 12 weeks.
How did you hear about the plan?
I’d been going to the gym for about five months, but I hadn’t lost any weight. I was actually putting on weight. I thought my diet might be the problem. I looked up online how many calories I should be eating a day to lose weight and I found the NHS 12-week weight loss plan.
Why did you want to lose weight?
I knew I wasn't a healthy weight. Fashionable clothes just looked wrong on me, even if they fitted correctly. I was having to buy bigger sizes far too often. I’ve been a size 10-12 all my life, but the weight’s been creeping up over the last five years. My last few jobs have been deskbound and my activity levels have gone down.
One day, I just realised how big I’d got and I decided I wanted to get back to my ideal weight. I’ve got a five-week holiday of a lifetime to the US planned this summer. My boyfriend and I will be doing a road trip through California on a Harley Davidson, finishing up in Hawaii. It's given me plenty of motivation.
How much did you lose?
During the 12 weeks, I lost 9.2kg. I started out at 80.5kg, with a body mass index (BMI) of almost 30. By the end of the 12 weeks, I was 71.3kg and my BMI had dropped to 25.6, which is nearly in the healthy weight range.
Ideally, I'd like to get to 60kg. That was my weight about five years ago and the weight I feel comfortable with. I've been at or around this weight for most of my adult life. I'm probably not going to get there before I go away on holiday, but I'd like to lose another stone (6.3kg) before then.
How did you find calorie counting?
It gets easier as you go. I used a couple of calorie-counting websites, such as Weight Loss Resources. At first, I was looking up everything, but as time went on, I became familiar with the calories in certain foods, such as fruit, which were my main snacks. I wrote down every calorie I had during the day in a notepad. In the evening, I’d tot up my calories and update the food and exercise chart. It doesn’t take long and I found it really helpful for keeping track of calories.
Did you find the weight loss forum helpful?
Yes! I found the HealthUnlocked online weight loss forum to be a place for support and guidance from others doing the same thing. People on the forum seem genuinely interested in what you’re saying, as you are all in the same boat. It feels great to be able to share my experience of losing weight with others on the forum who are just starting out.
What exercise did you do?
I was going to the gym about three times a week, for a 30 to 45-minute session. I generally exercised with my boyfriend, which was great for motivation. I did a bit of running on the treadmill and some strength exercises. Initially, I set myself the goal of running a mile without stopping. Now I can do 20 minutes non-stop on the treadmill. I also did sit-ups every morning, and worked my way up to 100 a day. I’ve not done any for a while, as it was taking too long.
How did you plan your meals?
We'd do a weekly shop and try to include a few more healthy options, such as more fruit and vegetables, fish and chicken. I had breakfast every morning. For lunch and dinner, I used kitchen scales to weigh things like rice and pasta. I reduced my portion sizes and always made sure there were at least two or three portions of veg on my plate. Dessert was always fruit. There were a handful of meals that we had every week, like chicken curry and spaghetti bolognese, which kept the calorie-counting work down.
Did following the plan impact on home life?
Initially, it was hard to get the balance right. I live with my boyfriend, who didn’t need to lose weight. I based my meals on starchy foods and vegetables. He was eating the same as me and he started to lose weight too! So he just increased his portions.
How did you manage eating out?
I ate less than usual and made healthier choices. If we were going out for a curry, I’d order less rice and dropped the usual side order of chips. It’s not always easy to keep track of calories when eating out, so I’d just compensate by reducing my calorie intake the following days.
How did you deal with slip-ups?
If I had a cheeky snack, I’d just add the calories to my daily total and adjust my calorie intake for the rest of the day to stay below my 1400 calorie allowance. If that wasn't possible, I'd make sure I didn't go over my allowance any other day of the week, and maybe step up the exercise. Probably the most important thing is to pick yourself up and carry on – a slip-up now and then doesn't really matter too much in the long run.
How did you deal with cravings?
After being on the plan for about a week, I didn't really have any cravings; I'd just eat healthily and often. I never went hungry, which is one reason you sometimes get cravings. Snacks were already built in for the day – usually dried fruit, like raisins, apricots and apple, as well as fresh fruit.
How did you keep yourself motivated?
Thinking about the beach in Hawaii. The first week I lost just under 1kg, which is the weight of a bag of sugar. Handily, we had a full bag of sugar in the cupboard, so I took it out, looked at it and felt the weight. It was heavy, so I’d remind myself of that bag of sugar every so often. Seeing the weight come off and fitting into smaller clothes was perhaps the best motivator.
How has following the plan changed you?
I asked my boyfriend and his answer was: “You're thinner!” I now have breakfast every morning, which I never used to. I eat a lot more veg. I’ve learned to recognise the difference between being hungry and simply feeling peckish. Overall, sticking to the plan for 12 weeks has helped me develop new healthy habits.
Do you still need to lose weight?
I’d like to lose a few more pounds. I’ve stopped counting calories, but I’m sticking to my new routine of eating healthily, having smaller portions and exercising regularly. After doing it for 12 weeks, it kind of feels normal to me.