Cooking has always been my passion.
Whenever I have a get-together with friends or family, I’m the first one to suggest we have a home-cooked meal, and that it be me that make it.
Yet although I love the thought of making everyone happy with a nice dish, I can’t remember the last time I actually cooked for myself.
Living alone at my home in Derwent Heights, Derby, and working odd hours at Rolls Royce, I never had time to plan a meal.
Spending hours in the kitchen chopping veg, and cooking meat was just never in my routine.
“You’re unbelievable, Andrea,” my brother, Martin, 50, says. “I’m blind, and I cook for myself every day.”
I just didn’t have the time.
My diet consisted of bread, bread, and more bread.
I’d have toast loaded with butter for my breakfast; a sandwich at work, and when I got back home after a night shift I’d have eggs on toast, beans on toast or cheese on toast.
I was going through four or five loaves of bread a week. Every week.
As a result, and largely without me noticing it, my weight had crept up, to the point where it was getting difficult to climb the stairs without stopping for breath – though I blamed this on the cigs.
On top of that, I wasn’t adverse to a pint of lager and a bag of fish and chips.
I’d always struggled with my weight – ever since I was a child I’d had difficulties.
When I was seven years old, my mum took me to the doctors who suggested hospitalising me and putting me on an all-orange diet.
But that was in the sixties. Fat children were scarcer back then; as scarce as good doctors.
Of course my mum refused, and I carried on eating.
“It’s lucky you’ve got a good metabolism,” Mum would say. “Otherwise your skin would be bright orange!”
It was true. I was always so active, right up until I had a freak accident in Tenerife where a piece of steel thudded into my back.
The details are still hazy, but it knocked the discs out and compressed my spinal cord and left me paralysed from the waist down until I had the operation to remove them.
This caused a huge problem with my foot due to nerve damage and meant that doing exercise effectively went out of the window.
And from then on, the weight crept on. And on.
I was oblivious. Not even having an extra wide ironing board hit home.
Thankfully, I’d never suffered from obesity-related problems like diabetes or high blood pressure, but in January last year, jumping on the ‘New Year, New Me’ bandwagon, I decided to face the music and weigh myself.
I’d recently looked at some pictures of when I went to Canada with my friend Howard, 50, and I looked gigantic.
Standing in front of the colossal Niagara Falls, I almost eclipsed the cascading waters with my huge frame.
The coat I was wearing, a size 32, made me shudder. I remembered then that I couldn’t even do it up.
In other pictures when I was in Alicante, Spain, I was wearing awful dresses, the size of tents that were clinging to my body showing off every lump and bump.
How on earth did you ever think it was OK to go outdoors looking like that? I asked myself.
Tentatively I stepped on the scales. When I saw that my weight began with a two I was mortified. I knew I was big, but no one’s weight should begin with a two! And mine was 22st 3lbs.
I immediately began searching online for a diet. Something desperately had to change.
I’d tried every diet you can think of, and perhaps a few more, and although I’d lost a few pounds here and there, nothing had ever done the job in terms of lasting change.
I clicked on the cheapest low calorie diet I could find: Exante Diet, and took the plunge, signing up for their Total Solution package.
I thought to myself: this was the last diet would try and if I didn’t stick to it, I would stay fat forever!
Exante Diet offers a range of weight loss plans that use meal replacement products that replace your daily conventional food with calorie controlled products.
You can use it on its own, or in combination with other low calorie meals
It seemed so easy to follow. You get 100 per cent of your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals spread across a huge range of delicious flavours, and all in only 600 calories!
I tend to just have the shakes, which are so tasty.
Everyone at work knows I’m having my lunch because my hand blender is so noisy.
“The only thing I have to decide on is which plate or glass to use,” I bragged to Howard after a few weeks on the Exante Diet programme.
“It must be working,” he said. “Because you look wonderful!”
I threw out my stale bread and tins of beans, scrubbed the cheese off my grill, never to be used again, and settled in to my new life.
And since then I’ve lost over 11 stone, and eight dress sizes. I feel like a new woman with a new lease of life. I now weigh 11st 10lbs, and plan to lose another stone.
It took a while for my head to catch up to my body, and every now and then I do a double-take when I see myself in the mirror.
And when I’m ironing sometimes I think: ‘whose jeans are they?’ and then I realise they’re mine.
But the strange this is, I can’t actually remember being that big anymore.
When I look back on those photos of me in Spain, or in Canada in front of the falls, I don’t recognise myself.
It’s like I’m looking at a different person.
I feel marvellous now and I’m really glad I did it. It has made me a lot more active, I can walk a lot quicker and I rarely get out of breath.
The pounds have just washed away.To find out more about Exante, visit Exantediet.com