A woman who began comfort eating at university and fell into a "vicious cycle" of anxiety and overeating has revealed how she regained her confidence after seeing a seven stone (44kg) weight loss.
Emma Mckay, 25, from Dalgety Bay in Fife, had never struggled with her weight, but when she started her further education studies her battle with depression and anxiety led her into 'emotional eating'.
After leaving her Philosophy and English course two and a half years into her degree and returning home, her weight continued to spiral.
By June 2021, after reaching 17st 1lb (108kg), and seeing her dress size creep up to a size 18, she decided to take back control.
Through overhauling her diet and taking up regular exercise, Mckay slimmed back down to a 9st 9lb (57kg), and a size 10 – smaller than the size 12/14 she’d been when she started university and has now rediscovered her body confidence.
“It was a vicious cycle," she explains of her weight gain. "The anxiety made me eat and put on weight. I’d then feel worse as I was bigger than I wanted to be and would hide away."
While Mckay ate fairly healthily when she was growing up, she says everything changed when she began to experience anxiety and depression at university.
“I barely left my uni room except to go to the kitchen or the bathroom," she explains.
“I’d just hide away and eat all the wrong things to make myself feel better.”
Recognising she had a problem, she left university in December 2016, during the third year of her degree, returning to live with her parents Moira Mckay, 62, and dad Colin Mckay, 66, in Fife.
But she continued to comfort eat, with her typical food diary consisting of breakfast of toast and butter, lunch of a roll with butter, ham and crisps, and a dinner of pizza with onion rings and mozzarella sticks.
Between meals, Mckay says she also snacked on crisps and biscuits.
Realising she was uncomfortable with her size, Mckay took up walking and lost three stone in late 2019. However, the lockdowns limited her exercise regime.
“I gained all the weight back that I’d lost and some more,” she says.
“My weight got steadily out of control, and I ended up at my heaviest at 17st 1lb.”
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At 5ft 5in, Mckay had a body mass index (BMI) of 39 (the BMI measurement is used to gauge a healthy weight), which is far above the NHS’s healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9, making her obese.
“I knew I had to do something, not only for my weight and health, but for my confidence as well," she says.
“I struggled to walk very far without getting out of breath, had little to no energy and felt very sluggish a lot of the day.”
Physically, her weight gain took its toll too.
"I found my knees and feet were sore from all the extra weight I was putting on them," she adds.
“My mental health was also affected as I was so unhappy in my own skin.”
In June 2021, Mckay’s mum suggested her daughter go along to a WW (formerly Weight Watchers) group her friend was attending nearby.
Having never attended a slimming group before, Mackay was apprehensive about her first session, but says she was quickly made to feel welcome.
“I started to really enjoy getting to know everyone and looked forward to the meetings," she explains. "My confidence just grew and grew – then I started losing weight!"
She began by stripping her diet back to basics and cutting out lots of fatty foods. Mckay says she also opted for low calorie options of some of her favourite meals.
She also began walking regularly, trying to increase her daily steps.
“Every day I try to increase the number of steps I make, even if it means taking more trips up and down the stairs to put laundry away," she explains.
“Every little counts and I try to get to 3,000 steps a day now.
“I also have a Nintendo Switch, with Ring Fit Adventure, which gives you a workout as you game, and I can customise workouts on this to target areas I want to improve.
"At the moment, I am working on my stomach.”
Although she admits she didn’t find it easy to begin with, Mckay is now embracing her overhauled lifestyle.
“Before my journey, I used to avoid exercise as much as possible because I just felt worse after doing it,” she says.
“However, as soon as I combined that with healthier eating and the weight started coming off, I found I had more energy and being active was easier and more enjoyable.”
Mckay celebrated reaching her weight loss goal just two weeks ago. She now wears a size 10 and has brought her BMI down to a healthy 22.
While she currently runs an Instagram page @_mylittlebookshelf where she reviews books, Mckay now has the confidence to look for her dream job.
"It [her weight] stopped me going for jobs," she explains.
“I’m so much more confident now and ready to do a job I love.”
She adds: “I’m just so glad I took control of my life back.”
Additional reporting PA Real Life.