Two friends who bonded over their weight loss struggles at work have shed over 14st (89kg) between them by swapping takeaways and chocolate for zip-wires, rollercoasters and mountain climbing.
Unable to walk upstairs without getting out of breath and weighing 19st 6lbs (123kg) at her heaviest, senior analyst Gaynor Hayes, 53, from Watford lost an incredible five stone just before the pandemic hit in March 2020.
But, having turned back to the crisps and biscuits in lockdown, it was the support of her colleague, 62-year-old team leader Gill Beckford from Enfield, who had just dropped from 13st 12lbs (88kg) to 10st 13lbs (69kg), that helped them both stay on track.
Sharing recipes and enjoying 20-mile country walks, the friends then tried new adrenaline-pumping activities to help them continue on their weight loss journey – with Beckford reaching her 8st (51kg) target goal in March this year and Hayes dropping to 11st 7lbs (73kg) in May.
Two years before the women joined forces in June 2020, Hayes first pledged to lose weight.
“I used to be miserable at over 19st (121kg) and a dress size 26," she explains.
“I was on heart tablets, blood pressure tablets and sat in the corner of the room trying to hide.
“I had been a yo-yo dieter for most of my life and would always put the weight back on,” she continues.
“But I was turning 50 in 2019 and I was getting out of breath walking up the stairs and I wanted to do something about it."
Joining Weight Watchers (WW) proved to be pivotal in kickstarting the mum-of-two's weight loss.
“I managed to drop to about 14st (89kg), which was amazing,” she adds.
But when lockdown hit, Hayes fell back on old habits.
“As we went into lockdown, it all went downhill because I couldn’t get weighed,” she explains.
"I started buying biscuits and chocolate again.”
But a friendly message from Beckford one day at work helped Gaynor get back on track.
“Gill messaged me one day asking how I was and how the weight loss was going and I said I was really struggling," she explains.
“She said she had managed to lose 5st (32kg) and would help me.”
Also describing herself as a yo-yo dieter, Beckford’s main weakness then had been takeaways, enjoying them up four times a week with her husband.
But having also joined WW in January 2020 to lose weight for her 60th that March, Beckford managed to hit 12st 6lbs (79kg) and drop from a dress size 18 to 16 within those first few months.
Watch: British mum embarrassed to take photos with daughter sheds seven stone in incredible transformation
Speaking about teaming up with her friend Hayes says: “It made such a difference to have someone to talk to about it all and say when you were having a wobble and get that support.
“We started sharing recipes and pictures of the things we would make to compare.”
Beckford adds: “If we ever saw something that looked good at the supermarket we would always buy two so we could both try it.”
At first, the friends started walking together to lose weight, but they soon started to branch out into other activities.
“It started off with a sponsored 20K walk for work for the NSPCC in September 2021, which we trained for together and then we started to look for more things to do,” Hayes explains.
As well as further sponsored charity walks, the pair took on the Race for Life, the Tottenham Dare Skywalk, the O2 Climb and in June this year they climbed Mount Snowden.
"It was really fun because we booked loads of different activities while we were there,” Hayes says.
“We did a zip wire, a big swing and a forest rollercoaster.”
"We love the adrenaline kicks doing scary things gives us – the more challenging the better.”
Also in line with their new youthful take on life, the pair recently had their noses pierced together.
"We just thought, ‘Why not?' It’s not the sort of thing you’d see a 53 or 62-year-old do but we are relieving our youth.
"I felt exhilarated.”
By May this year, Hayes could not believe she had dropped to 11st (70kg) and was wearing a dress size 14.
“When I first started, I just thought, ‘Let’s chip away at it until I get to 13st’, and then I got to 12st and then to get to 11st in the summer was a huge milestone,” she explains.
“It has been life-changing. I'm the happiest I have ever been and I am determined to keep going and lose those extra few pounds to get to my goal weight of 10st 6lb (66kg)."
Hayes credits her friend for helping her achieve her weight loss goals.
“If it wasn’t for Gill, I would be back at 19st. She rescued me," she says.
“It feels like we have gone back into our late teens and are reliving what we couldn’t do then because we were overweight.”
Beckford, now a size six, said she also feels better than ever.
“I don’t think I would have ever tried doing these activities if it wasn’t for Gaynor,” she adds
“I have changed in so many ways since we started doing this. I look completely different and I have gained so much confidence.
“I went away last week to Cape Verde with my husband and I wore all new colourful bikinis.
“I kept stopping to check myself and ask my husband if I looked OK and he said, ‘Yes, you look amazing.’
“I know that I am never going back to where I came from. This is the new me now.”
Hayes' diet before
Breakfast – Crumpets with butter, jam and a can of Coke
Lunch – Deli baguette, crisps, chocolate bar and can of Coke
Dinner – Whole pizza, chocolate, crisps and a can of Coke
Hayes' diet after
Breakfast – Baked oats with fat-free yoghurt and skinny syrup
Lunch – Air-fried chicken wrap and low-fat crisps with diet Coke
Dinner – Chicken or salmon with vegetables and an Alpen bar for dessert and a Diet Coke
Beckford's diet before
Breakfast – Four slices of toast with lots of butter and jam
Lunch – Cheese and mayonnaise baguette with crisps and bar of chocolate
Dinner – Chinese or Indian takeaway, fish and chips or a ready meal
Snacks – Sausage roll, biscuits, chocolate and crisps
Beckford's diet after
Breakfast – Baked oats with fat-free yoghurt and fruit
Lunch – Cheese or chicken low-carb roll with a big salad
Dinner – Salmon, vegetables and cauliflower rice
Snacks – Fresh fruit
Additional reporting PA Real Life.