Kelly Barker, who was a dress size 32, was terrified that she ‘would die on the operating table’ if she went ahead with recommended weight loss surgery, so made simple changes to her diet and routine instead
A primary school teacher who once weighed 28 stone has lost two-thirds of her body weight by drastically overhauling her lifestyle.
Mum-of-one Kelly Barker, 48, has struggled with her weight since she was a child and fell into a vicious cycle of comfort eating as an adult. Five years ago, her GP recommended her weight loss surgery, but she was terrified that she wouldn’t survive the procedure and ‘couldn’t shake the feeling’ that she would die on the operating table. She instead made the decision to focus on her relationship with food and exercise, losing an impressive 18 stone by creating new healthy habits – and has been named Slimming World’s Woman of the Year 2023.
Kelly, from Merseyside, said: “I struggled with my weight my whole life. As a child, I was placed on a special diet and had to be weighed at school. While the other children were eating fish and chips, I would have to eat a separate meal on my own – usually something bland like boiled fish and potatoes. It made me believe that weight loss was miserable, embarrassing and shameful, and it didn’t work – I gained weight every year into my adulthood.”
The mum, who lives with her 15-year-old son Josh, said going away to university made her put on more weight. “As soon as I had control over my own food choices, it was like the floodgates opened. Everything I wasn’t allowed as a child was suddenly available to me,” she explained. “I was in a vicious cycle of comfort eating that wreaked havoc with my weight and continued for years. I would try to lose weight sometimes but the only way I knew how was massively restricting myself with crazy fad diets which, of course, I could never stick to.”
While she loves her job as a teacher, Kelly felt ‘hypocritical’ teaching the children about healthy eating and being active, when she was overweight herself. “I just felt like a fraud,” she admitted. “My big wake-up call came when my GP recommended weight loss surgery. I researched the procedure and knew that my weight made me a huge anaesthetic risk. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would die on the operating table.”
In 2018, Kelly realised that she needed support to change her way of life and enlisted the help of her cousin Fiona, who is a Slimming World Consultant, and went to her first group session. “Fiona had tried to encourage me to join her group for a long time, I had to be ready myself though. Deep down I’d been worried that it would be yet another failed weight loss attempt and that I’d be made to feel the way I’d felt my whole life when it came to food,” she said. “How wrong wrong was I? From the moment I joined the group, I was surrounded by warmth, kindness and compassion.”
Standing on the scales for the first time was ‘daunting’ for Kelly, who was initially terrified that she was too heavy for the scales to work – though they did, recording her weight as 28st 7lbs. “Although that number was frightening, it also felt like the start of something. Fiona told me that she would never give up on me and she has remained true to that promise. She and my group have been there every step of the way,” Kelly said, describing it as the ‘biggest turning point’ in her life.
Kelly began following Slimming World’s eating plan and learned to build healthier habits around food. “Cooking from scratch every night and planning my meals was a big change for me. I started by picking simple recipes with a few ingredients and quickly discovered that I could Food Optimise all my old favourites like curries, pizzas and Chinese dishes,” she explained. “I’d been in a battle with food for most of my life so being shown that I could eat generously, cook the most amazing meals and never go hungry was groundbreaking for me.”
She noticed a ‘big psychological shift’ in her relationship with food and discovered a newfound love for exercise. “My activity levels before I lost weight were basically zero. As my journey progressed, I found I had so much more energy – so when Josh suggests fell walking, rock climbing or kayaking now, I’m excited to get involved rather than worrying I’ll be over the weight limits,” she said. Kelly has gone from a dress size 32 to a size 10 in five years, and has been named Slimming World’s Woman of the Year 2023 after losing 18st.
“Obviously losing 18st has been fantastic for my health and my confidence but by far the best thing to happen is the relationship I now have with my son. I no longer feel like I embarrass him, and he tells me he is proud of what I have achieved,” Kelly, who now weighs 10st 7lbs, said. “We’ve recently been on holiday to the Lake District. As I sat on top of the fell after a tough climb, I looked out to the view of the lake below and tears came to my eyes. I was thinking about how much I had been missing out on, all these beautiful views and experiences. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve saved my life by losing weight – and these days it’s a life worth living.”
Diet before weight loss
Breakfast: Something on-the-go like a pastry from the petrol station on the way to work
Lunch: Sandwiches, crisps and cakes from a bakery
Dinner: A takeaway pizza
Snacks: Crisps, chocolate, biscuits, cake, pies
Diet after weight loss
Breakfast: Overnight oats made with fat-free natural yoghurt and plenty of fruit
Lunch: Homemade soup, pasta salads or a crustless quiche
Dinner: A curry made from scratch with rice or a homemade Slimming World kebab with chips made in the air fryer
Evening: A Slimming World Hi-Fi bar, fruit, yoghurt or a small chocolate bar
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