Fran Drake had a wake-up call after she reached a size 24 and realised she was classed as suffering from morbid obesity. But she then became obsessed with losing weight and plummeted to a dangerous size four with anorexia. Here she shares how she finally learned to develop a healthy attitude to food and exercise.
I was always a big kid. I just loved food. Children would be horrible to me at school and I fell into that vicious cycle of feeling unhappy and seeking comfort in eating – if I had a bad day, I’d get sweets on the way home.
I really ballooned from the age of 16, around the time I got the contraceptive implant, and by the time I was 21, I was wearing a size 24 in clothes. At my heaviest, I was around 22 stone (140kg), and felt so uncomfortable in myself.
At my heaviest, I was around 22 stone (around 140kg), and felt so uncomfortable in myself.
I never felt like I fit in. I always felt like an outsider, so I learned to build a persona around that body. I became your typical ‘fat girl’ personality, the jolly funny one – never the one anyone wanted to date. I had a big personality to match my big body, but it was all just armour. Underneath it, I was really unhappy.
I hated holidays. My summer clothes would always dig in, so I was constantly uncomfortable, and I would try not to be in photos because I didn't like the way my arms were flabby or my legs were puffy and swollen.
I’d always be the person sitting in the shade. I had terrible knees and my back hurt from carrying so much weight, so I struggled with walking anywhere. I even got into a bad habit of parking in disabled spaces, in the back of my mind always thinking, ‘I'm young. I shouldn’t be doing this.’
When you're that big, everything is hard, and I found myself constantly worried. If you’re going on a plane, you think, ‘Am I going to fit in the seat or do I need the belt extender?’ Or if you go to a theme park, you wonder ‘Am I going to be that person who gets told to get off because they're too big?’
Life was like this until, in 2016, I saw a holiday photo that was a real wake-up call. I remember thinking, ‘My legs! They look so stretched, how is the skin not breaking yet?’ I thought, ‘I don't want to get leg ulcers and I'm probably only one or two visits away from the doctor telling me I have diabetes. This can't go on.’
I found myself constantly worried. If you’re going on a plane, you think, ‘Am I going to fit in the seat or do I need the belt extender?’
Enough was enough. It was a lightbulb moment and I knew I had to do something drastic. I’d tried every diet under the sun before but nothing had worked and it needed to be a long-lasting sustainable change, so I Googled my local Slimming World group and I went along that very same night.
I never set a precise goal. I was never like, ‘Oh, I want to get X amount and I'll be happy’, but I followed the eating plan, making little changes each week, and the weight came off quickly – in six months, I’d lost six stone (38kg).
I’d go to the meetings each week and get a round of applause for how much the scales had gone down until, one day, I put on a pound. And that’s when I started getting obsessed.
I was getting married the following May and, by now, I was a size 16. I went to try on my dress – one that I’d bought smaller than my size to motivate me to lose weight – and the fitters said that if I dropped my weight any lower than a size 12, it would be too big.
I thought, ‘But I don’t want to be a 12, I want to be smaller’ and it all became an internal battle. I made a cardinal rule that I wouldn't eat or drink on my Slimming World weighing day and, then, that morphed into skipping more meals and silly things like taking fat-burning tablets I bought on the internet.
I started running and, at my worst point, I was working out five times a day, running half marathons daily. I went down a rabbit hole and I really lost my way.
By the time of the wedding, I was underweight and my dress was too big, and, after that, I went head first into full blown anorexia. Within a couple of months, I went down to a dangerously unhealthy size four.
My friends and family were worried and the first year of marriage was tough, it wasn’t easy for my husband. Eating disorders are so far-reaching, they affect everything you do.
Your world becomes so small. All you're thinking about is food because you're so hungry, you can't concentrate at work and you don't want to socialise because, if you socialise, there might be food involved.
I remember being at work one day when I thought, ‘I just can't do this anymore. I'm exhausted. I'm just so burnt out, I'm so thin, I need help.’
I got in contact with Steps to Wellbeing, an NHS talking therapy service in Dorset, who were really good and, through that, they put me in touch with the eating disorders team, who helped me rebuild myself and work through my issues with food through counselling.
I never weigh myself now but I’m a size 8-10, and I’m very muscular and toned.
I also started to use exercise as meditation and found it restorative when CrossFit came into my life. At first I didn’t really know if I was strong enough for it, but I went along and I fell in love with it straight away. It's so inclusive and everybody's so supportive, it’s a real community.
Slowly I started to feel okay and I became stronger and stronger. I never weigh myself now but I’m a size 8-10, and I’m very muscular and toned.
I had to really address my relationship with food. I realised that, in a roundabout way, I've always had an eating disorder, whether it was eating myself stupid or starving myself.
I had to address my relationship with food. I realised that I've always had some form of eating disorder, whether it was eating myself stupid or starving myself.
Now, I eat a lot of protein, I take BioSynergy supplements and I don't restrict my diet – there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food, I just don't eat fast food because I don’t want to put that into my body, and I take time to prepare my food from scratch.
I've gone from morbidly obese to painfully thin to competing in CrossFit, weight-lifting and even doing aerial circus skills. I found the confidence to start a new career, too, in the fire service and I’ve now been a firefighter for four years.
The old me was holding myself back and I missed out on a lot of life. Now, I've been everywhere from the Bahamas to Mexico and Egypt. I look forward to buying new bikinis and taking active holidays, cycling along the coast and meeting new people. And I take loads of photos of myself – I’ll even be found standing on my head in most of them! Life is one big adventure and nothing will stop me.