21st dieter who shed half her body weight balloons after suddenly losing her sight – then learns to cook while blind and dramatically slims all over again

·5-min read

A 21st court volunteer who shed half her body weight after seeing her plus sized reflection in an airplane window ballooned once more when sudden sight loss stopped her cooking – only to be liberated from junk food by learning to use a kitchen appliances and slimming all over again.

Struck by just how big she had become when she saw her size 28 silhouette as she boarded a plane to Tenerife with a friend in 2005, 5ft 3in East Londoner Sonia Dawswell, 54, was determined to change.

Joining slimming club Weight Watchers, now WW, Sonia, whose body mass index BMI, used to gauge a healthy weight, was 52 compared to the NHS healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9 said: “I was getting on the plane with a friend and caught sight of myself in the glass.”

Sonia pictured here in 2004. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sonia pictured here in 2004. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I just thought, ‘Oh my God!’ I hadn’t realised how big I really was.

“I said to my friend there and then that I’d have a great holiday, eat what I wanted, come back and make some changes.”

Amazingly, Sonia slimmed down to a 10st 7lb size 12/14 with a BMI of 26.

Sonia pictured here after she lost 10st 7lbs. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sonia pictured here after she lost 10st 7lbs. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Suffering with sight issues all her life – with her mum first noticing her vision difficulties as a toddler – Sonia needed stronger and stronger glasses, leaving her registered partially sighted due to cataracts and glaucoma.

Then, overnight, in 2018, she completely lost the sight in her left eye, leaving her registered blind and unable to cook.

Single Sonia explained: “I went to bed with sight, woke up completely blind in my left eye. As I only have a small amount of sight in my right eye, it made everyday tasks impossible.”

Sonia before her weight loss. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sonia before her weight loss. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Living alone, she had to rely on pre-packed or takeaway food and found herself tucking into “endless snacks all day long”.

She said: “There was no end to it. I’d just be picking from morning to night. Crisps, biscuits, sandwiches. Anything I could just buy and eat. I couldn’t even see the calories on the back of the pack.

“On my way home from work, I’d stop off at the chip shop, get chips and eat them at home with a cheese and onion pasty.”

Sonia in 2005. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sonia in 2005. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I’ve been to lots of support groups for people with sight loss and a lot of us are overweight. I believe we’re dying sooner because of it.”

Still, Sonia never let her blindness hold her back.

She said: “It doesn’t prevent me from socialising, or working and I wasn’t going to let it stop me going to WW.”

She also found a way, even at her biggest, to fulfil her love for fashion, taking friends along shopping with her or asking shop assistants to guide her to clothes in her favourite colours.

Sonia said: “Back then, I was always the biggest woman in the room. But I’d always be a well-dressed big woman!”

It was during lockdown when, unable to exercise at the gym and living off snacks, pre-packaged and fried food, Sonia noticed her weight creeping back on.

Sonia pictured here in April 2022. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sonia pictured here in April 2022. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “I never got back to that 21st, but I did gain a lot of weight back. There was nothing to do but sit and eat. No way to exercise.”

Coming out of lockdown, Sonia discovered she had reached 15st 7lb and a size 18 again, giving her a BMI of 38.4, which meant she was once more classed as obese.

Knowing the WW diet had worked for her before, she recommitted to the plan.

Sonia after her weight loss. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sonia after her weight loss. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She also began walking six miles a day, stopped eating after 7pm and took on the difficult and rewarding task of learning to use some appliances, including a blender and a frying pan.

This allowed Sonia to make herself omelettes and healthy breakfast smoothies.

Her friends and family also stepped up to support her efforts, dropping off food and giving invaluable words of encouragement.

In 2018, Sonia completely lost the sight in her left eye, leaving her registered blind and unable to cook. (Collect/PA Real Life)
In 2018, Sonia completely lost the sight in her left eye, leaving her registered blind and unable to cook. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “I learnt tricks like using appliances with big, simple buttons.

“I’d go to the supermarket, take pictures of the back of packets and enlarge them on my phone, so I could work out the points.”

She now has three healthy meals a day, walks 10,000 steps six days a week and snacks on fruit instead of crisps.

Sonia now has three healthy meals a day, walks 10,000 steps six days a week and snacks on fruit instead of crisps. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sonia now has three healthy meals a day, walks 10,000 steps six days a week and snacks on fruit instead of crisps. (Collect/PA Real Life)

As a result, she has now lost another 4st and is down to 11st 6lb and a size 14 – just half a stone from her goal weight.

Sonia, who loves wearing bright and beautiful colours, can now buy a wider range of stylish clothing again and feels happier and healthier.

She said: “I hope my story can encourage other people. I’m a woman of a certain age and menopausal, but that hasn’t stopped me. I have visual impairment but that hasn’t stopped me either.”

Sonia now wears a size 14. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Sonia now wears a size 14. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Sonia added: “I want people to realise you can have a life with a disability and still watch your weight.

“It’s not easy but keep knocking on those doors until they open for you.”

* To find out more about WW’s PersonalPoints programme, visit ww.com/uk

SONIA’S DIET BEFORE

Breakfast – Nothing

Lunch – Cheese sandwich, crisps and a fizzy drink

Dinner – Chip shop chips, pasties and bread and butter

Snacks – Crisps and biscuits

SONIA’S DIET NOW

Breakfast – Fruit or porridge

Lunch – Butternut squash salad from Pret a Manger

Dinner – Omelettes with salad

Snacks – Fruit

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