I lost four stone in six months – even though I’ve always hated exercise

After almost a year of discussion, Fiona Dawson has stepped down from her senior role at a luxury fashion retailer to focus on her health.

I spent years working in marketing. I loved the job but long hours and a very stressful environment made me lose sight of all my priorities, especially my health. The pounds rose. Suddenly I was 13st 13lbs, a size 18 and my confidence was at an all time low. I felt self-conscious when I had to make a presentation in front of colleagues. So, after almost a year of umming and ahhing, I quit my senior role at a luxury fashion retailer.

During the free time my partner and I decided to get married. When we were on our honeymoon in Canada I asked him to take some “before” photos of me in my clothes. I knew I was a little big but it wasn’t until I saw the photos that it really sunk in. When I came back to the UK I decided that I was going to spend my time really exercising with a personal trainer and getting my food on track.

In six months I lost 4st. That sounds like a lot but I was so in the zone and totally focused on being healthy.

Dawson pictured before her four stone weight lossDawson pictured before her four stone weight loss

Dawson pictured before her four stone weight loss

It started with exercise. I learned some very basic strength exercises at home using dumbbells and barbells. I also started walking more, which gradually progressed to running 5k three times a week. I could not believe that I was starting to exercise love.

Exercise was never something I enjoyed or enjoyed. Even at school I hated physical education and would do anything to get out of it.

I was able to find this place where I was free and my mind was clearing. Then I started to see the changes in my shape. I dropped a few sizes and was able to fit into some of my old clothes.

Fiona Dawson says exercise is the most valuable support mechanism for keeping her health and mental health in checkFiona Dawson says exercise is the most valuable support mechanism for keeping her health and mental health in check

‘Exercise has become the most valuable support mechanism for keeping my health and mental health in check,’ says Dawson

Unfortunately, I can no longer run because I had to have a hip replacement due to arthritis. That was a big knock when I was 50, but at 53 I still walk between 12,000 and 14,000 steps a day and usually do three strength training sessions a week.

In terms of food, I have never eaten badly. My fridge was always stocked with healthy food and “low fat” options like semi-skimmed milk. My problem was portion control. I would eat the same amount of dinner as my husband every night, but he is much fitter and bigger than me and can eat much more.

My success was because of Weight Watchers. He educated me on nutrition and fitness. Simple things like the foods that keep you full the longest. I was counting calories and tracking what I ate throughout the day, as well as weighing myself at home. I started eating meals that were protein based and high in fibre, for example meals that contained chicken rather than lamb.

Fiona DawsonFiona Dawson

Post-weight loss journey: Fiona has worn two dresses and is able to fit in some of her old clothes – Fiona Dawson

The best thing was that at no point did they encourage me to shave myself. A lot of people take the view that you can’t have takeaway or ice cream and chocolate but that’s wrong. It’s about a little more self-control and not always going for all the beige food. It’s also about planning. I’ve always been an organized person and it’s much easier to maintain that calorie deficit when I know exactly what I’m eating. So, nine times out of 10 where I’m going I’ll take a packed lunch, even if it’s to the hairdressers. Of course, every now and then I’ll buy pre-made pizzas because they’re so convenient, or your social plans get in the way.

This enthusiasm for healthy food and nutrition has translated into what I do for work. I now work part-time for a supermarket as a healthy food specialist. It couldn’t be further from the corporate grind I once knew, and while the paycheck might not match it, I couldn’t be happier. I have more time to exercise and prioritize myself.

One of Fiona's new healthy lunches, a multi-seeded bagel with avocadoOne of Fiona's new healthy lunches, a multi-seeded bagel with avocado

One of Fiona’s new healthy lunches, a multi-seeded bagel with avocado

Just as menopause was taking hold, my mother died and life became very challenging. I had anxiety and muscle and joint pain as well as the grief of losing my mother. I started hormone replacement therapy and slowly started to see improvements. After a small weight gain of one stone I managed to get back on track with the help of my personal trainer and calorie counting. I have now managed to lose the gain and am managing my menopause symptoms through HRT, healthy eating and strength training. Exercise is my most valuable support mechanism for not only my physical health but also my mental health.

the lifestyle changes I made to lose four stone

What I ate before

Breakfast: A bowl of crunchy nut corn flakes and semi-skimmed milk.

Snacks: bacon and egg croissant, banana and a large skinny latte.

Lunch: Brie, bacon and cranberry baguette, crisps and chocolate.

Snack: Victoria sponge cake and chocolate raisins.

Dinner: Lasagne ready meal.

Pudding: Ice cream.

Snack: Hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows and lots of biscuits.

What do I eat now

Breakfast: three-egg omelette with three slices of bacon, 25g feta cheese, two sun-dried tomatoes and a handful of spinach.

Fiona usually enjoys a healthy omelette breakfastFiona usually enjoys a healthy omelette breakfast

Fiona usually enjoys a healthy omelette breakfast – Fiona Dawson

Snacks: A chocolate protein bar, one banana, a portion of weighed nuts, a small homemade almond milk latte.

Lunch: multi-seeded bagel with slices of chicken breast, 30g avocado and salad leaves, lentil crisps, Babybel light, a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Snacks: Satsuma, apple.

Dinner: Peanut butter chicken and whole grain rice with a mini chocolate ice cream stick for pudding.

Snacks: Mini bag party rings or a pack of four mini jammie sandwiches.

Practice Before

Next to nothing. I would walk from the car park to work and back and sit there at my desk all day. Socializing with friends meant a lot of walking around the shops – if that matters.

Practice After

Strength training exercise routine, four times a week

12,000-14,000 steps every day in the countryside or sometimes by following steps indoors – motivational videos on YouTube.

Three Best Tips

1. Plan your weekly meals. On Sunday morning I spent an hour sitting and thinking about what is in the fridge, freezer and cupboards and what I can do from there and what extra things I need to buy.

2. Schedule your workouts. I journal and set reminders for my daily steps and exercise routines in my calendar.

3. Track your body measurements. Instead of relying entirely on the scales, take regular body measurements. Anyone who has started strength training will tell you that scales never tell the whole story.

As told by Delphi Hayes


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