"I’m fit, healthy and reinvigorated"*

Struggling with her weight growing up, Laura McCusker couldn’t help being compared to her slim twin. Now she’s four dress sizes smaller, 84½lbs* lighter and matches her sister in confidence as well as looks.       

"Until recently, I couldn’t have looked more different from my twin sister, Michelle. I was the big one in baggy tops and stretchy leggings; she was the slim and gorgeous one. We’re polar opposites in every way—appearance, character, interests—although we’re best friends. Everyone used to say that she and my older sister, Louise, should have been the twins instead: They have the same small and athletic build. I’m a completely different body type, though. I was always curvier and, growing up, I felt like I didn’t fit in. It wasn’t my sisters’ fault—they’ve never been anything other than supportive and encouraging—but my weight was a touchy subject. I was born with severe fallen arches in my feet and couldn’t do high-impact sports, whereas my sisters were both amazing at gymnastics. While I was happy for them, it did affect my self-esteem; there were so many times when I’d well up with tears and think, “Why can’t I be like them?”

Searching for weight loss success

I never felt comfortable with my body and as I got older, I began to hide myself away, avoiding family gatherings and nights out on the town. Seeing all my attractive and glamorous friends dressed up and ready to party only made me want to stay at home even more. During my teens and early 20s, my weight hovered between 180 and 200lbs. I tried every fad diet around, even following a strict no-carb plan while I was in high school. My classmates would see me picking my burger out of its bun and think I was crazy. Another time, I spent $300 on meal-replacement shakes. I was living on just three shakes a day, plus two pieces of fruit. I couldn’t keep it up, so I put all the weight—and more—back on. Through it all, my mom gently tried to support me. She encouraged me to try a weight-loss group, but when I stepped on the scale, I was horrified and far too embarrassed to go back.

In 2012, I moved for a new job and put on 35lbs in 10 months. My boyfriend, Danny, came to live with me. We were both working really hard from Monday to Friday, and we’d eat out two or three times a week so we didn’t have to cook. Most days, I’d skip breakfast altogether, then eat a grilled cheese or mayo-filled sandwich for lunch. If we did cook at home, I’d make pasta with a creamy sauce, a rich stew or a risotto loaded with cheese—often with store-bought garlic bread on the side. The weekends were even worse for my waistline: On a Friday night, we’d make a three-hour drive home to see our families, then leave at 4 a.m. on Monday to get back in time for work. We’d stop at gas stations on the way and snack on candy and chips. No wonder my weight shot up so quickly.

I began to suffer from swollen feet and pain in my shins and lower back, and walking became so painful I was referred to a podiatrist. I’d thought they were simply side effects of my fallen arches, so when the podiatrist told me the cause was my weight, I was shocked—and upset. I went home and cried, telling myself he was wrong and that it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with my weight. Up until that point, I’d been in denial about just how heavy and inactive I’d become. Now I had to face the fact that, at only 24, my size was already affecting my health and well-being.                    

I was seriously beginning to consider medical weight-loss procedures, believing only drastic action would get me to the size I wanted to be. Fortunately, Danny and my family convinced me to take a step back and simply try healthy eating; throughout all my diets and food plans, it was the one approach I hadn’t tried. My mom, aunt and I all joined Slimming World together in January 2014. I was at my biggest ever: 214lbs and a tight size 14. (I only recently admitted this to Danny; I was too embarrassed to tell him before.) Although my Consultant helped me set a target of 140lbs, I couldn’t really believe that I would ever get close to it! Still, I decided to follow the plan for two weeks and see what happened.

Changing habits with Slimming World

After 14 days as a Slimming World member, I’d lost 7½lbs, and in six weeks, I was 14lbs slimmer. I was stunned, because I was eating as much as ever! The difference was that instead of having boxed meals, canned soups and jarred pasta sauces, Danny and I were cooking everything from scratch.

I had never been a breakfast person—now I start my day with fresh fruit and plain fat-free yogurt, and follow it with lean meats and salad or healthy sushi options for lunch. In the evenings, I fill my plate with homemade spaghetti, grilled meat or fish with vegetables, or a Food Optimized version of my favorite Italian takeout meal: cheesy chicken and broccoli pasta (I use fat-free cream cheese for the sauce). I actually prefer it to the original dish now, and I use any leftover sauce to make a lighter lasagna, which is a great way of saving money, too. I’ve stopped buying soda and instead I have plenty of water and sugar-free lemonade on my desk at work to keep me hydrated.

Life sometimes gets in the way and hiccups happen...the next day, though, I’m 100 percent back on the plan and off to a fresh start.

Like everyone, I have ups and downs, and during setbacks I’ve found keeping a food diary helps me stick with the plan. So does logging my latest stats on the Slimming World website, so I can see my progress. I also write weekly and monthly goals on sticky notes and put them on my computer at work; that way, they’re always there to inspire me if my motivation slips. Sometimes I’d only lose a 1/2lb or 1lb a week, and while that can be frustrating, I’ve accepted that you can’t always have a perfect week. In fact, I’ve found that rather than getting demotivated, I become even more determined! Before Christmas, when I really wanted to be losing, I maintained for six weeks in a row; so I looked back through my old food diaries and replicated the weeks when I’d had good results. It helped kick-start my weight loss again.         

Slimming World has helped me break bad habits I didn’t even know I had. I used to snack on food without realizing it, and I usually chose the richest or greasiest dish on the restaurant menu. Now, I make time on the weekends to plan all my meals for the week ahead, then go shopping. That way, I’m never caught off guard. My cupboards are always stocked with herbs, seasonings and healthy ingredients, so I can make tasty alternatives to my favorite dishes. If I know I have to travel for work, I get up earlier to prepare a cooler full of healthy meals and fruit to snack on. And when I eat out, I choose tomato-based sauces, grilled meats instead of fried, and swap fries for a side salad. While they’re only simple adjustments, they felt natural really quickly and have had an incredible impact on my weight loss.

The new, slim, healthy me

The slimmer I’ve become, the more active I’ve wanted to be, and that’s a shock because I was the girl who never did any exercise! I remember before I joined Slimming World, I went to a gym class with Michelle and she had to slow down to a crawl to help me get around the circuit. Then there was the time when Danny, Michelle and I went hiking: I was lagging behind so much they had to stop every few yards, and I was really embarrassed. These days, I go to a spin class three times a week and I’ve built up from walking three miles to running the same distance. My feet are almost pain-free now that I’m not carrying so much weight.

It was only when Michelle loaned me a miniskirt that I felt slim for the first time. It was Christmas and I was with my family. The zipper on my skirt was broken, so Michelle went to get me one of hers. When she came downstairs, she was holding this tiny thing! I looked at it, my family looked at me, I went and put it on—and it fit perfectly. I had never been able to fit into any of her clothes before. Moments like that remind me how far I’ve come.

I reached my 140lb target in June last year, then reset it because I was determined to lose 10 more pounds. And thanks to the fantastic support from my group and my Consultant, I’ve done it! As a target member, I know it’s hugely important for me to keep in touch with my group; it keeps me focused and gives me the motivation and support I need for the week ahead. Danny has been wonderfully supportive, too, keeping me positive and reminding me how much I’ve already achieved whenever I’ve had setbacks along the way. He loves to try out new Slimming World recipes with me; dinnertime has become real quality time for us, when we get together to cook, eat and catch up on each other’s day. And if it’s a nice evening, instead of sitting in front of the TV, we head out for a long walk, which I love.

I'm a size 4 and 130lbs, which is amazing when you think that not so long ago I was firmly stuck in a comfort-eating rut. I don’t recognize that person now. I’m fit, healthy and reinvigorated. I used to get headaches all the time, which was such a burden; now I can’t even remember the last time I had one. My BMI has moved from the obese range to the healthy range; I no longer suffer from pain in my feet, legs or back; and my social life is jam-packed. Getting dressed up for a night out with friends is something I actually look forward to, and shopping for clothes—which I used to hate—is a favorite hobby of mine. It’s just as well, because I have to share my wardrobe now. Just last week, my twin sister asked if she could borrow one of my tops!

*Your weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much you have to lose.

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*Your weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much you have to lose.