A retail sales worker who reached a size 22 and hated shopping burst into tears of happiness in a shop changing room when she fitted into a slinky pair of 30in waist Levi’s jeans after losing 7st 8lb.
Helen Houghton, 50, who lives in Stoke-on-Trent with fellow retail sales worker husband Ben Houghton, 44, wanted to shed some weight before she hit the menopause – but has amazed herself by slimming so she can fit into an 8/10 top and 10/12 on the bottom.
And Helen, who works in a furniture shop, now loves heading to the high street.
She said: “It still takes a lot of getting your head around being this new size. Shopping used to be my biggest dread. Now I love it! I’m crying happy tears instead of frustrated ones.”
Helen was 20st 10lb and at 5ft 7in had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 45, compared to the healthy range of between 18.5 and 24.9, classifying her as obese, when she started the Exante meal replacement diet in May 2021.
The weight came on slowly over the years, she explained: “You go on nights out, have relationships and slowly the weight just creeps on.
“Nobody ever tells you you’re looking a bit porky. No one ever mentions the pounds going on.”
She added: “I went through life thinking I was happy enough. I didn’t much notice I was getting bigger until one day I looked in the mirror and was shocked.”
Starting a series of diets in her 30s, Helen says she would lose some weight, feel confident and give up the slimming club. She would then regain everything she has lost and more.
It was only in spring 2021, with her 50th birthday approaching that October, that Helen felt she had to take dieting seriously.
She explained: “I was approaching 50 and hitting the menopause. You see all this stuff about it causing weight gain. I just knew I couldn’t add anything else to the extra weight I was already carrying.
“I didn’t want to be unfit in my later years.”
Helen, who has been happily married to Ben since 2008 and has no children, loved long walks with the couple’s four-year-old Shih-Poo dog Izzy and felt she ate healthily enough.
However, she admits that while she would have a breakfast of Weetabix, lunch of a meal deal and a dinner of anything from a full roast to simple beans on toast, she would then spend her evening knocking back a couple of beers or vodka and Cokes with a side of crisps.
This late-night snacking, alcohol intake and the couple’s love of UK breaks, where they would enjoy meals outs and treats, had left Helen uncomfortable in her body.
She said: “I was forever planning to start the new diet on Monday. I was so miserable and self-conscious.”
She continued: “It took me ages to get ready to go out as I could never find anything to wear. There were often tears and tantrums as I tried to find something.”
It was Ben who first mentioned the Exante diet, a meal replacement range that arrives by post.
Helen said: “Ben had never said anything about my weight. He loved me regardless.”
She continued: “But he came home one day and mentioned his colleague’s wife was doing this diet plan. He knew I was unhappy and just left it with me.”
Helen bought her first box of products in May 2021 and began consuming four calorie controlled items a day – from milkshakes to bars and soups – with a calorific intake of just 800.
She said: “I was sceptical at first. It’s just that I’m a very competitive person so once I started, there was no stopping me.”
Helen, who also cut out alcohol on all but special occasions, lost 7lb in her first week. This settled to an average loss of around 2lb a week.
Now 13st 2lb with a far healthier BMI of 28.8, she continues to eat Exante products for breakfast, lunch and snacks, alongside a healthy evening meal of salad with fish or chicken.
Throughout her weight loss, Helen has also kept a weekly diary of ‘non scale victories’ such as easily tying her laces, popping into a portable toilet cubicle without struggling to close the door, husband Ben being able to get his arms around her, and climbing Mount Snowdon in Wales.
During a recent day out with Ben in York, Helen was moved to tears in a Levi’s changing room when she could fit into a 30in pair of jeans (around a size 10) saying: “I had never even been inside the shop before as they never had anything in my size.
“But Ben wears Levi’s and wanted to go in. I had no idea what size I was so the lovely lady gave me three different ones to try.
“As I tried them on, I could hear two ladies in the changing room chatting to each other.”
She added: “One of them looked so lovely and slim in her jeans. She mentioned to her friend they were the same size as the smallest ones I’d been given to try.
“I never in a million years thought they would fit me. But they did! I couldn’t believe I was the same size as she was.
“I just welled up. It was the most amazing feeling. Of course, I bought them.”
Helen, who is going to continue dieting with the aim of reaching her target weight of 12st 7lb, added: “I have a new lease on life. I feel so, so much better and going forward my life is going to be so different.”