Receptionist who thought she ‘might die’ at almost 18 stone aged 40 ‘gobsmacked’ after losing 42% of her body weight
A locum dental receptionist who thought she “might just die” around her 40th birthday because she was almost 18 stone said she was “gobsmacked” after losing nearly half her body weight and would encourage anyone who is on a weight loss journey to “just go for it”.
Jo Stapley, 46, who is originally from North Yorkshire but now lives in Bracknell, Berkshire, is 5ft 3in and weighed 17 stone 10lb (112.5kg) when she was at her heaviest after developing “really bad, lazy habits”, such as getting regular takeaways and not exercising.
While Jo said she has always been “fairly confident” and “never actually felt really fat”, she said she could not walk up the stairs or a slope without getting out of breath and, when she would bend down to tie her shoelaces, she would “get a really horrible pain” in her ribs.
Jo, who has two children, Jack, 22, and Harry, 20, and lives with her husband, Roger, 55, an IT software engineer, said she did not realise how unhealthy she was until she reached her 40th birthday and had the realisation she needed to prioritise her health.
“I’m very lucky, I’ve got a very healthy family… and I just thought, I might just die because I’m too big, and that’s something that I can do something about,” she said.
After joining WW (formerly Weight Watchers) in 2016, Jo has lost 42% of her body weight, dropping from a size 22 to a size 10 and reaching 10 stone 3lb (64.9kg) – and her shoe size has even decreased from a size 6 to a size 5.
“It was just the most amazing feeling, I was really gobsmacked,” she said.
“I was like, wow, I’ve actually done it. I just couldn’t believe it.
“I’d seen so many people over the years get to that point, and I suppose I never thought I’d ever get there. It was just amazing, it was the best feeling.”
Jo explained that she was “very fit and healthy as a young person”, practising martial arts, exercising frequently, and eating good-quality food.
But after moving out of home at 18 years old to live with her then-boyfriend, Jo said “that’s when things started getting out of control” – unhealthy habits started to creep in, such as getting takeaways, buying jars of pre-made food and sauces, and not moving her body.
She later separated from her boyfriend but the “lazy habits” continued into her first marriage and, given Jo was an “emotional eater” as well, she said the weight “slowly just crept on” until she reached her heaviest point of nearly 18 stone after the birth of her two children.
“I just got into really bad, lazy habits with food, didn’t do any exercise at all; (I was) very sedentary, and just eating convenience foods,” she said.
“It was quite an emotionally stressful time and, one thing I have worked out is that I’m quite an emotional eater, so if I’m upset or angry, all the different emotions, my answer to that at the time was I’d go and eat a packet of biscuits.
“I would quite happily open a packet of biscuits and I’d eat them all… (and) that was just how I coped, I suppose.
“I was also drinking more than I should have been, and it just spiralled out of control.”
Jo explained that she “never actually felt really fat”, and it was not until she had lost weight that she thought, “oh my God, how did I let that happen?”.
“I never got upset, I never got depressed, I never felt uncomfortable,” Jo continued.
“I wasn’t overly confident, but I wasn’t sat there on a night, thinking, ‘you’re lazy, you’re so out of control’.
“I was actually really happy and I didn’t really care at that point what size clothes I wore.”
But, after being prescribed blood pressure tablets in her mid-30s and then reaching her 40th birthday, Jo had a sudden realisation – she knew she needed to change her lifestyle, as she feared she “might just die because (she’s) too big”.
She said: “I just started thinking, I’ve got a real life to live and I don’t want to die early.
“I thought, right, I’ve got do something now because I don’t want to die.”
In August 2016, Jo joined WW and attended weekly meetings, where she would participate in group discussions and weigh-ins.
Jo said the coaches were “amazing” and everyone who attended the meetings was “really encouraging” and supportive.
“You never felt judged, you never felt like you were the biggest person there,” Jo explained.
“I wasn’t always the biggest person there, there were other people there who were bigger than me or smaller than me.
“I just thought I’m joining this group… I’ve never really looked back to be honest.”
Jo said one thing that helped her was setting “achievable” goals, such as losing one stone at a time, and making small adjustments to her diet and food portions by following WW’s recipes and points system, which takes a food’s specific nutritional value and turns it into a single number.
She gradually started to incorporate exercise as well and, with the support from WW, her friends and family, the weight started to drop off.
Jo said: “I just kept going and kept trying and trying and trying and, it takes a long time, but it does eventually get a little bit easier.”
Nearly seven years later, Jo has lost more than seven stone and her relationship with food has “changed massively”.
But she said she does not “deprive” herself and still has treats, including a glass of Prosecco and her weekly bag of Midget Gems.
“You’ve got to have something that you can make work for the rest of your life,” she added.
The mum-of-two said she feels a “massive sense of achievement”, both physically and mentally, and she will “never go back to (her) old habits”, as she is “really happy with how (she feels)”.
She also no longer takes blood pressure tablets.
Jo said her weight loss journey was never about “what (she) weighed”, and she would encourage anyone who is trying to lose weight or improve their health to “go for it”, as “the feeling is so, so good”.
“Even if my story just helps one other person to start their journey on this, that would just be brilliant because I think it’s understanding that it does work and it is hard, but even if you have a really bad day, and you go off track, don’t worry about it,” she said.
“Start the next day afresh, don’t beat yourself up, don’t write the week off; don’t feel bad about it, move on from it… and just go for it.”