Meet Ulster's super slimmers

Tanya Rainey
Tanya Rainey

When it comes to losing weight it can be an emotive subject, both before and after goals are achieved.

For some people weight gain has been the result of a medical problem, physical, mental or emotional, and for others their lack of self love and self care has contributed to gaining weight.

Hilary Gore

Hilary Gore

Regardless of the reasons for weight gain one thing is true for most slimmers, losing the weight is a tough journey that requires a lot of dedication, strong willpower and a desire to change.

This week our four slimmers Tanya Rainey, Sonya McAllister, Hilary Gore and Sarah Lavery have a combined weight loss of nearly 30 stone, the equivalent of over 190 bags of sugar.

Tanya Rainey

When dealing with personal tragedy Tanya Rainey, 41, from Ballymena turned to food as her comfort.

Sonya McAllister

Sonya McAllister

At age 21 she had her first miscarriage, which was to be the first of four. By the age of 32 her husband died suddenly in bed beside her.

“My kids were the reason I began trying to lose weight. They had already lost their dad and I knew they needed me” explained Tanya.

“After my miscarriages my depression got to the stage where I would spend most of my days ordering take aways and staying in bed watching kids’ TV with my daughter.

“By the time I had my son at 24 I would say I had put on nearly nine stone.”

Sarah Lavery

Sarah Lavery

Eventually Tanya accepted her weight making herself the butt of jokes with her self-deprecating humour.

“I knew I had gone too far but I could see no way out. Over eating became a daily thing.

“I would even make jokes about my weight, before anyone else could,” she said.

“It got so bad that I couldn’t even get up the stairs without being out of breath and the cramps in my legs became almost unbearable, I looked unhealthy and was constantly sweating, I wasn’t taking care of myself.”

At her heaviest Tanya was nearly 21.5st.

Throughout her 30s Tanya tried to lose weight and on her own managed to shift seven stone.

But it wasn’t enough, she was still hugely unhappy with her life.

A photograph taken on Christmas 2013 of her aged 38 shocked her into taking more drastic action.

She revealed: “There was a picture taken of me on Christmas day 2013 at my aunt’s house and after I saw it I went home and cried. I just looked like I was going to burst.”

There and then Tanya made the decision that she wouldn’t reach her 40th birthday at the same weight.

In January 2014 she joined her local Slimming World class and since then has lost a further seven and a half stone before settling at her current weight of 12st 5lb.

“I decided that for my 40th I would shift some weight and walked through the doors at Slimming World to start what I would call a new me, I knew I would stick to it because I had no other choice, it was either that or die at a young age.”

Sonya McAllister

For years Sonya McAllister, 40, from Randalstown was a “prisoner” inside her own body. But now, after losing 7.5st, she’s turned her inspirational journey into a business.

At her heaviest Sonya was nearly 21.5st, the weight had piled on following her struggle with severe post-natal depression after the birth of her second child which left her unwell for around four years.

“There was a point when I realised my life needed to change. I was a prisoner inside my own body,” said Sonya, adding: “The day I had to lift my leg as the fat on my thigh was nipping as I sat in the car and the seat belt was stretched to full extent was a trigger that made me ask myself what I would do if my body kept growing.”

As a result of her weight gain Sonya suffered from depression, low self-esteem and felt worthless. She describes it as a “vicious circle, the lower I felt the more I ate - all the wrong things at the wrong times”.

Shortly before having to leave the house Sonya would suffer from panic attacks, eventually pulling out her usual black trousers and dark tunic in the hope of blending into the background.

A family wedding consolidated Sonya’s belief that changes had to be made.

“When I arrived at the wedding I saw a lot of guests standing outside in pretty dresses, all in bright colours, I arrived looking like I was in mourning. I suppose I was mourning for myself,” she revealed.

Despite having a supportive husband who told her he loved her just the way she was Sonya was desperately unhappy with her body. However, many of her friends and family didn’t know because she became “good at covering up” how she really felt.

At the beginning of her journey Sonya joined a local weight loss group for the weekly weigh in to keep her on the straight and narrow.

Within a few weeks she was researching everything she could about diet and nutrition and learning about food combinations and more.

Eventually the weight began dropping off and Sonya started sharing her journey on social media.

“Local people began to notice my results and asked me how I had done it so I began posting pictures on Facebook,” she said.

Eventually her business We Slim Together was born from people following Sonya’s personal journey.

And the day she looked in the mirror and “liked what was looking back” was the point at which Sonya realised she’d turned her life around and there was no turning back.

Hilary Gore

At her heaviest Hilary Gore, 46, from Portglenone was 16st 12lbs. She was living on anti-depressants, pain killers, inhalers and admits she was desperately unhealthy.

On the outside she seemed happy with her life but inside it was a different story.

“I was big bubbly Hilary who secretly inside was dying a slow death,” she revealed.

“I worked in a shop running the hot food department and I ate all the time, no, I gorged all the time and I smiled at everyone but I was so unhappy. Some days I wanted to scream ‘help’.”

At family gatherings Hilary would hide in the background of the photographs, her confidence and self esteem were at an all-time low whilst her weight was at an all-time high.

“I knew I was overweight, I knew I looked a state but I didn’t believe I would ever be anything else. I hid behind a smile,” said Hilary.

“I sank into a corner during family gatherings, I was fat and frumpy and I tried to become invisible.

“I had to use inhalers every day because I didn’t have a breath in me, I was constantly tired and constantly wishing things would change.”

At times Hilary felt like giving up she says some days were harder than others. But becoming part of the We Slim Together support group online meant she could keep in touch with others in the same position and she embraced her new life and new challenges no matter how hard they were.

She said: “I had tried other weight loss groups and failed. Now I take weight loss groups for We Slim Together myself, I can’t believe it.

“I’ve changed, I love life, I’m confident, happy and most of all healthy.”

For Hilary, her weight loss journey is more than getting rid of excess weight, she’s made a life change.

“My journey will never end. It’s a healthy lifestyle, why would I want to ever stop healthy eating” she said.

“Yes, I’m human and I put on a few pounds over Christmas and when I go on holiday but the beauty is now that I know my healthy eating will always get rid of that.”

Four years ago Hilary shied away from enjoying activities such as pampering herself, now it’s a different story.

“I would never have dreamt of doing things like wee girlie treats such as getting my hair or nails done. I wouldn’t say I love myself now but I do like myself a lot more and enjoy these things now” she said.

Sarah Lavery

As a mother of two in her early 30s, the effects of Sarah Lavery’s weight gain was beginning to impact on her children.

Sarah, 33, from Antrim says she had “practically become a hermit” and began to feel that her resistance to go out was denying her children social interaction due to her own insecurities.

“The turning point came when I attended a wedding of a close friend” explained Sarah, adding: “I was literally affronted at how I looked so I positioned myself as close to the toilets as I could for the evening for fear of anyone looking at me if I had to get up to use it.

“I should have been enjoying catching up with friends but instead I hid in a corner out of shame.

“My husband begged me to dance on numerous occasions and I just couldn’t.”

At her heaviest Sarah was 16st 2.5lbs and had hit rock bottom and began avoiding social events where she could.

“I was absolutely miserable. I threw myself into being a mother because it was the only area within my life that I felt any worth. I began to cease to exist as Sarah” she revealed.

“I dreaded any type of social invite and constantly used the kids as an excuse to not be involved when it was actually nothing more than how I felt about myself.”

Sarah began comparing herself with every other woman she met, wishing her life away.

“Every outing becomes a challenge because of the fear of judgement” she said.

Eventually Sarah joined We Slim Together and while she believes she’s nowhere near the end of her own weight loss journey she accepts her achievement so far.

Sarah is now a facilitator for We Slim Together and uses her story to inspire others.

“There will always be times in my life when I wobble in how I feel about myself, but I honestly think that as a woman that is something we all contend with at times” she said.

“My journey is definitely not complete, I don’t know if it ever will be 100%. But it’s ok because it’s actually a nice journey to be on.

“I don’t need to be at the end of my journey to help others on theirs The first step is the scariest.

“People shouldn’t strive for perfection but rather strive to be better because we can always be better.”