Now, not only has Jo Collins transformed her body, but she has also embarked on a new career helping other slimmers.
A size 24 mum who was mortified when a waitress mistakenly thought she was pregnant has shed almost six stone – and embarked on a new career, helping hundreds of people to transform their bodies.
Slim growing up, Jo Collins’ waistline expanded as she climbed the corporate ladder, landing the coveted role of hotel general manager 15 years ago, and by the time she married her businessman husband, Mark, 48, in 2008, saying her vows wearing a size 22 bridal gown.
But her turning point came during a 2014 Netherlands holiday at Center Parcs Europe with Mark, who runs his own interiors firm, their sons Luke, now 12, and Finlay, now eight, and some friends, when she broke down beside the swimming pool, feeling too self-conscious to join in.
Now, Jo, 49, of Southampton, Hampshire, has shed almost six stone to become an 11st 7lb size 12, and has ditched hotels to become a weight loss consultant, helping hundreds of people to slim.
She said: “When I was bigger, it was like I had two parts of me. At work, I could hold my head up high and be this professional businesswoman – but behind closed doors, I was shying away, hiding under baggy clothes and feeling self-conscious.
“I remember one occasion when I went out for my birthday, and a waitress mistook me for being pregnant. In the car home, I sobbed and sobbed – but then looked in the mirror and realised I did look it.”
She continued: “My turning point didn’t come until I was on holiday five years ago. I was that big I was struggling to keep up with everyone else, even cycling on the flat roads.
“I remember lying, pretending I didn’t feel well so I wouldn’t have to join everyone swimming. The thought of putting on a swimsuit and walking out there amongst other normal, healthy mums was mortifying.
“I sat by the side of the pool and started crying. I thought to myself, ‘You’re missing out on life – you have to change.’”
Slim as a younger woman, Jo’s bulges started to appear as she became more successful.
She explained: “I stopped running around as much and was, instead, sat behind a desk, having food and coffee shoved in front of me all day as I did admin, answered emails and juggled spreadsheets.
“As I was earning more, too, I would go out to restaurants a lot, rationalising it by saying I had worked long hours and deserved a treat.”
Most days, Jo ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel she was working at, kicking off with a bowl of sugary cereal and a round of toast, followed by a pastry or plate of leftovers from the breakfast buffet.
Lunch would be either pizza or curry from the hotel kitchen, or a takeaway if any of her colleagues were doing a “McDonalds run.”
Then, arriving home late, she would “reward” herself with a huge bowl of pasta, smothered with cheese, plus garlic bread and a glass of wine.
“I’d be having dinner at about 9pm, so I was eating all that food, then not doing anything to burn it off,” she said.
“Pastries were a problem, too. Whenever we were holding meetings, there’d be all these plates of Danishes or croissants put out. But I now know that, though it seems like a treat, it’s not the right fuel for your body.”
In time, Jo met Mark through online dating, and the pair welcomed their first child, Luke, into the world in 2007.
But, by the time they got married the following year on a beach in Perth, Australia, Jo was a size 22.
She explained: “I’d had all these images of getting married on a beach in a long, flowing dress – but my dress was a size 22, and I was huffing and puffing in the heat all day.
“I told myself it was just baby weight, given that I’d recently had Luke, but if I was honest, I had been big before that.”
Habitually grabbing unhealthy food as fuel, while she conducted her busy working life, Jo, who had her second baby, Finlay, in 2011, eventually reached her heaviest weight of 17st 5lb.
This meant that at 5ft 7in tall, she had a body mass index – used to gauge if a person is a healthy weight – of 38.8, compared to the NHS recommended range of 18.5 to 24.9, making her obese.
Being so overweight had a crushing effect on her confidence, with Jo recalling: “Mark and I went out for my birthday once – I can’t actually remember which birthday it was now – but I had done my hair and make-up and put on this purple maxi dress.”
She continued: “I thought I looked nice, but when we got to the restaurant, the waitress mistook me for being pregnant, saying something about how our seats were near the toilets, so I wouldn’t have far to go “with the baby.”
“I fell silent and Mark took my hand. He could see I had tears in my eyes and said, ‘Do you want to go? We can leave quietly and don’t have to cause a fuss, but we don’t have to stay here – it’ll be okay.’
“I did, so I went out to start the car while he politely explained why we were going. On the way home, I sobbed and sobbed. You don’t forget comments like that.”
Then, in 2014, Jo finally knew she had to change when, having already struggled to keep up with the physical activities during a break at Center Parcs Europe, she was actually too self-conscious to swim.
Arriving back in the UK that April, she vowed to overhaul her life, agreeing to help a friend who had recently become a consultant for the 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan with the social media side of her new venture.
Jo explained: “She said to me, ‘I hear you’re a social media whizz, could you help with my page?’ I agreed and, as I sat there, uploading all these posts about the 1:1 diet, I found myself wondering if it could work for me.”
So, in June 2014, Jo attended her first session with Sandra, who went on to become her coach throughout her weight loss journey.
Recalling that first meeting, she said: “Sandra actually lives about 45 minutes away from me, but I was so impressed by her that I carried on making that journey every week.
“On the way, I had this real feeling that I was going to do something important.”
She added: “Sandra and I had a chat about my goals and my lifestyle, so I could choose a plan that was right for me, which was so important.
“Then I had a medical check, was weighed and measured, and we set about putting together a plan of what I would and wouldn’t eat.”
In just six months, Jo lost an incredible six stone, keeping Sandra’s support as she moved into the “maintenance stage” of her weight loss, which she says many people struggle with.
“She explained all the different steps, so I knew she’d be there forever and a day. I didn’t want to lose all that weight only to slowly gain it back, like many of us do,” she explained.
“I wanted to keep it off for good and not just to feel dumped by my consultant the second I’d reached my goal. I still keep in touch with Sandra to this day.”
Jo’s diet has been totally transformed, and she now starts the day with breakfast of porridge and berries, overnight oats or eggs.
Then, both lunch and dinner will be fresh soups and salads or grilled meat and vegetables with jacket potato.
She also hits the gym two to three times a week and, best of all, has the energy to run around with her boys again.
“I go running with them, swimming, play netball – all things I wouldn’t have dreamed of five years ago,” she said.
In fact, Jo was so thrilled by her own success that she decided to become a 1:1 Diet consultant herself in 2017.
To date, she has supported hundreds of clients and even won a number of awards.
She concluded: “My job now is a world away from the cold, corporate world I used to work in. It’s amazing to see how much people’s lives can change. For some, it may just be about losing a few pounds, but often, it’s much more than that.”
“To anybody out there wanting to transform their own lives and bodies, I’d say have a chat with a consultant to find a plan that works for you, as there is no point starting something you know you won’t stick to,” Jo added.
“Then, it’s all about getting into that mindset that food is fuel, and that you have to put the right fuel into your body.
“For me, not only do I look different, but I feel different too. I’m so much more confident, and now I want to help others feel that way too.”
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