Slimming Success: We're the Incredible Shrinking Lovebirds; When Claire Bradbury, 28, Met Malcolm, His Love Helped Her Ditch over 7st 10lb. but Then, Malcolm Was a Secret Fatty Who'd Shed a Whopping 7st Himself
Byline: LISA BROOKMAN
The folds of flab dangling off my arm slapped against my swollen stomach as I pulled down the pint tap. `There you go,' I grinned, setting the pint glass down in front of the bestlooking bloke in the Duke of Dalkeith pub, Kettering.
I stared into the lovely eyes framed by the gelled dark hair and sighed. There was no chance a sexy guy like him would fancy me, heaving my 21st bulk along the bar.
`What you doing when you finish?' he smirked. `Couldn't give me a lift home, could you?'
Cheeky devil, I thought, but I couldn't believe my luck. It turned out Malcolm, now 32, was a plasterer. But there was no way he could be after me in my size 26 elasticated trousers. Still, I drove Malcolm home and he invited me in.
`I've just lost 7st,' Malcolm told me.
`You're kidding!' I gasped.
He showed me a photo of a huge version of himself. `I was 22st and used to get bullied at school. Were you...?' Malcolm said softly.
`I was the school fatso,' I laughed. But somehow I knew Malcolm understood it wasn't that funny.
It was April 1998 and for years I'd put a smile on my face when people had wound me up about being overweight.
At school, the bullies made my life a misery with their cruel jibes. Sometimes I starved myself only to crumble and dash to the nearest McDonalds. Then I'd gorge on choccie bars and chips.
At 17, I weighed a whopping 21st. While my mates wore trendy clothes, I just about squeezed myself into tent-like skirts and tops. To compensate, I always went out with a smile on my face. But inside I was miserable.
But talking to Malcolm I felt like he saw the real me.
`You know it's the person inside that really matters,' he smiled.
After that, Malcolm and I saw more and more of each other. I'd never felt so comfortable with anyone. It was a whirlwind romance, and after just five weeks, in May 1998, Malcolm proposed.
While other brides-to-be dieted, I munched away happily. I loved my cosy nights in on the sofa cuddled up with Malcolm, gobbling takeaway pizzas.
But whenever I caught sight of my reflection, tears pricked my eyes. I wondered how Malcolm could love such a monster.
`I love you just the way you are,' he'd tell me over and over. So I didn't diet. When I got married at Carey Baptist Church, Kettering, in May 1999 I adored my ivory dress - even if it was a size 24. We started trying for a baby straightaway.
But when my doctor warned me my weight could cause problems conceiving I was determined to diet. I tried so hard. I swapped takeaways and chocolate for fruit and veg. So I fell pregnant, and still lost weight. By the end of my pregnancy I was down to 16st 7lb.
When I gave birth to little Illaria on 21 January 2002 she was 7lb 13oz. But within six weeks I'd piled the weight back on and was a hulking 19 stone. I'd cook huge steaming plates of pasta for me and Malcolm. The only exercise I did was reaching for the remote control. And when I walked upstairs to see to Illaria, I was panting for breath.
One night in August 2003 pains tore across my chest. I knew it was due to my weight. I lay awake all night, terrified that something might happen to me and my daughter would be left without a mum. I had to do something.
The next day, I found out about Slimming World and drove to the Barton Seagrove centre. I sat outside in the car for 20 minutes thinking about going to the chip shop instead. Then I glanced down at my huge belly jammed tight behind the steering wheel. Malcolm had managed to do it - why couldn't I lose weight, too?
I sat in on the session and as the leader talked about green days - when you could eat all the carbohydrates you wanted - and red days - which meant all the protein you fancied - I began to like the sound of it. …