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3 January 2013, 12:01 | Updated: 3 January 2013, 12:15
Two women in their 40s from Hertfordshire, who have lost more than 17 stone between them, have won Slimmer Of The Year awards.
Sharon Farrell and Julie Oliver both received their awards at a reception held at the London Marriott County Hall Hotel on Thursday 3 January 2013.
Sharon Farrell, 45, from St Albans, has been named Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness Magazine Over 40s Slimmer Of The Year 2013 after slimming down from 20st 3lb (dress size 30) to 10st 1lb (dress size 10).
Sharon had been overweight since she was a teenager, but it took an embarrassing incident on a bus when an elderly man announced to the entire bus that he was unable to sit in the spare seat next to her as she was taking up both seats.
Sharon, who was so upset she was almost hyperventilating, fled the bus at the next stop and struggled to walk the rest of her journey to work. “I arrived at work hot, flushed and sweating for half an hour afterwards,” says Sharon, who realised that it was time to start looking after herself.
Below: Sharon before and after
As a child, Sharon was always bigger than her friends and over the years she just got bigger. Her father's sudden death when she was just 19 years old, saw Sharon turn to food for comfort and throughout her 20s and 30s she was a constant yo-yo dieter. “I'd lose a few stones then put it all back on, plus more,” says Sharon.
When her mother became seriously ill in 2004, Sharon struggled with working during the day and caring for her mum overnight and at weekends.
“I was getting out less and less and eating all the wrong foods, like sausage rolls and pastries, crisps, chocolate and biscuits, plus a fat-laden ready meal or takeaway for dinner. If I did go out in the evening, I'd down about five or six pints of real ale,” says Sharon.
In 2006, Sharon was no longer coping and was put on anti-depressants.
She took a career break to look after her mother full time during her final months and after she passed away, her depression increased along with her weight. “I was in such a bad way and was just existing, not living. I was so unfit I couldn't walk anywhere without getting out of breath but until the incident on the bus, I didn't have the impetus to do anything about it,” adds Sharon.
Sharon joined the Rosemary Conley Club in March 2010 and was horrified to discover she weighed so much. It took Sharon five weeks to lose the first stone and after that the weight dropped off at a steady rate.
Sharon soon got hooked on the exercise in class and extended the number of classes she did to three classes a week. “Everything felt so much easier after I had lost about 3st. My depression lifted, I felt happy for the first time in ages and was taken off medication,” says Sharon, who, after increasing her exercise to most days of the week, was 9 stone lighter in less than two years.
Six months later, after deciding to get down to the 10st zone, Sharon weighed in at 10st 3lb, bringing her total weight loss to 10st 1lb. It is the first time in her adult life she can wear a dress size 10.
“Losing weight has had such a positive effect on my life. I feel like a totally different woman now. Last year I walked the Race for Life; now I plan to run it. I want to do the 18-mile Chiltern Peak Walk this year and would love to do a marathon,” says Sharon. “My life has changed completely and I know I will never go back to the way it used to be.”
Julie Oliver, 48, a nurse who lives in Stevenage, has been named Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness Magazine Health Professional Slimmer Of The Year 2013 after slimming from 18st 0.5lb (dress size 22/24) to 10st 4.5lb (dress size 8/10).
Julie is now the slimmest she has been since she was 12 years old and, after recently celebrating her 30th wedding anniversary, is the slimmest her husband has ever known her.
The mother-of-three began putting on weight after her sons were born but it was not pregnancy weight she needed to shift, just excess fat caused by bad eating. “Having three young boys to look after meant I grabbed food whenever I had a free hand. It would either be a block of cheese, half a pack of biscuits, or crisps,” says Julie.
Below: Julie before and after
When Julie started working shifts as a nurse from the age of 28, it was detrimental for her health. “The night shifts were the worse,” says Julie. “All the nurses would bring in biscuits and ready meals and I’d snack constantly through the night. I’d then have breakfast before going home, nibbling on cheese and biscuits. I was eating 24 hours a day.”
By her early forties, Julie’s weight had ballooned to 16st 5lb. She had high blood pressure and in 2000 was put on beta blockers. In 2008 Julie’s world fell apart when she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
Following surgery for a partial mastectomy and to have all of her lymph nodes removed, Julie underwent chemotherapy and was also put on steroids.
She explains: “I ate a lot of comfort food during this time. Because of the side effects of the chemotherapy I suffered a sore painful mouth, so I’d eat soft food such as mashed potato covered in butter and cheese. Friends were also keen to take me out for lunch two or three times a week. We’d have a cup of tea and a slice of cake or calorific cream tea. My weight was soon pushing 17st.”
After chemotherapy, Julie embarked on a course of radiotherapy and a course of Tamoxifen, and was told that one of the side effects was weight gain. All the medication she was taking caused a lot of joint pain. Says Julie: “Basic activities like getting out of the chair and climbing the stairs were very painful and added to my weight problems; I was so depressed.”
So, when Julie found out that the cancer hadn’t spread and the gruelling treatment was over, whilst she was elated at the news, she no longer recognised herself in the mirror.
A holiday to Tenerife in March 2011 saw Julie at her lowest ever. “I had to buy a pair of size 24 shorts, which were the biggest pair I could find, and I felt miserable all holiday. The weather was rubbish, I was 18st ½lb and no longer felt like me,” says Julie.
“I was depressed and had a negative view of my body: I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror but I vowed that having survived breast cancer, and having been through three major operations in my quest to overcome it, I wasn’t going to let the side effects of all the medication, surgery and treatment, rob me of my life."
Instead Julie went along to the Rosemary Conley Diet & Fitness Clubs in Welwyn and St Albans, where she lost just under a stone in the first month.
“Lindsey, the instructor, encouraged and supported me to lose every pound. Especially when in July 2011 I had my final breast surgery. I was unable to exercise for 6 weeks, but was guided and supported by Lindsey to continue losing weight, there is no way I would have achieved it without her.” adds Julie.
Julie started exercising and soon started attending five Rosemary Conley classes a week. By January 2012, Julie’s blood pressure tablets were halved and by May 2012, they were stopped altogether. She reached her goal weight within 14 months of joining the Rosemary Conley Club and has since lost another half stone.
“It’s reassuring to know that I’m a much healthier person. I was at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which runs in my family, but I’ve dramatically reduced my risk. I like knowing that I’ve made an investment in the future, which is why it’s such an honour to win Health Professional Slimmer of the Year,” adds Julie.
“My eldest son has just got engaged and I can’t wait to buy a size 10 outfit for his wedding!”