An office administrator lost nearly half her bodyweight after gaining weight because of a health condition so painful she needed help to fasten her bra.
Yvonne Stark, who is less than five feet tall, weighed 16 stone at her heaviest and had a body mass index (BMI) used to gauge a healthy weight of over 45 – making her clinically obese.
Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an incurable condition causing pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, in her mid-40s, she soon became trapped in a vicious spiral of eating as she was fed up with being immobile and then not being able to move to shed the pounds.
The 55-year-old’s eureka moment came on a train home from visiting her daughter in Redcar, North Yorkshire, in April 2019, when she realised she had a great family and needed to lose weight for their sake as much as her own.
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Yvonne, who lives in Kirriemuir, east of Dundee in Scotland, with her husband – driving school owner Ronnie, 60 – was determined to get down to the healthy BMI of between 19.5 and 24.9 recommended by the NHS, saying: “I knew I was already obese.
”My big fear was that I was going to become morbidly obese.”
She said: “I’d been down to visit my daughter, Cara, in April 2019, and, on the long train ride back, I started to think about how I owed it to her and to Ronnie to lose the weight and get healthy.
“I was very happy in my marriage, but it was obvious to everyone I wasn’t happy with myself.”
With her son and daughter at school, Yvonne was working part-time in a community project office when she experienced the first symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition.
She said: “I felt very tired and my feet hurt a lot.
“Then it got to the point where if someone just shook my hand it was painful.”
While there is pain medication for the condition, sufferers are advised to rest the affected joints.
But, in Yvonne’s case, that led to her piling on more and more weight.
When her pain was at its worst, she became so dependent on daughter, Cara, 25, for help that she had to hook her mum’s bra together when she got dressed.
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Recalling the train ride when everything changed, Yvonne said: “I sat on that long journey and thought about how much Cara had shouldered the burden of my illness.”
She added: ”I also felt my husband deserved better than me being so unhappy with myself because of my weight.
“When we got home from the station I looked up WW, which used to be known as Weight Watchers, and signed up before I could change my mind.
“I thought, ‘I’m doing this before I can come up with any excuses not to.’”
Yvonne had lost a little weight ready for her wedding to Ronnie in July 2018, so was not at her heaviest when she joined WW, but at 14st 7oz, she still wore a size 20.
At her biggest, Yvonne would overindulge in chocolate, with Lindt Lindor being her favourite. She said: ”It was a combination of comfort eating because of the way I felt about myself, and my condition meant I couldn’t move so I was less mobile than I should have been.“
Now weighing 8st 7lb and size six to eight, she has a BMI of 23.2 and says one of the most gratifying parts of losing weight is seeing the dial on her doctor’s obesity chart drop down into the ‘green’ normal and healthy range.
“That was all I wanted really, to get into the green standard zone on the BMI chart,” she said.
“From the start, when I decided to lose the weight for good, I changed the way I thought about my goal. I didn’t focus on the numbers but on getting out of the obesity range.”
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By the time the March Lockdown started, Yvonne had already achieved that goal – weighing 9st 2oz – but, because she and Ronnie were then able to spend more time walking together, she carried on losing weight and dropped another half a stone.
Praising Ronnie for his support, she said he encouraged her when she tracked their meals with the WW app and, while he had never made her feel bad about her size, he has backed her weight loss every step of the way.
“My wardrobe has changed from elasticated waist jeans and oversized tops to leather skirts and pretty blouses,” she said.
“I genuinely couldn’t have done it without Ronnie and he can’t believe the difference in me – not just in my appearance, but in my self-belief and confidence. He’s very happy with the new me.”
While Yvonne used to need sticks to walk, now she manages very well without them and, while her rheumatoid arthritis has not disappeared, she says she has more good days than bad and is in less pain when it does flare up.
“I’d love to be able to say there’s been a miracle and the pain has gone, but it hasn’t, and I still have some health issues with it,” she said.
“It hasn’t been eradicated by my weight loss, but it is less debilitating.”
She added: “I want other people with weight issues to see that, with the right support, you can lose it and get to the place you want to be.
“I’ve gone from feeling like a burden and a nuisance to my family to thinking I’ve changed my life for good.
“I feel on top of the world and I want to take a coaching course next year, so that I can help and encourage other people, whatever their struggle, to believe they can make the changes they want to make and feel this way too.”