‘I was fat­ter than Santa... ‘

CHRIST­MAS IS THE MOST WON­DER­FUL TIME OF THE YEAR – BUT FOR JO, IT WAS THE MOST HOR­RI­FY­ING

New Idea - - Contents - By Kelly Strange

When Jo Parkes’ daugh­ters tear open their many presents on Christ­mas morn­ing, she knows she’s al­ready given them the best gift pos­si­ble – a happy and healthy mum.

‘This year I plan to take as many pic­tures as pos­si­ble to make up for all the years I’ve spent try­ing to dodge the cam­era at Christ­mas,’ Jo, 32, tells New Idea. ‘I’ve just a hand­ful of pic­tures with my kids at Christ­mas, and each one leaves me mor­ti­fied.’

Jo, from Le­ices­ter­shire, UK, re­calls the time she built a snow­man with six-yearold daugh­ter Faye. The mum looked at the snap of that time and was hor­ri­fied to see she was twice the snow­man’s size.

‘My whop­ping frame had even made Santa’s belly look small when I’d taken Faye to meet him at a party,’ Jo re­calls.

‘I’d burned with shame when I’d seen the pic­ture. But there was worse to come when I posed next to a bal­loon snow­man at the same party, only to dwarf that too.’

Ev­ery Christ­mas the mu­mof-two would vow to slim down from a size 30, but af­ter just a few weeks of di­et­ing she’d fall back to her old ways.

That was un­til last year, when some­thing changed...

Then weigh­ing 140kg at 160cm tall, sim­ply read­ing to her young daugh­ters left Jo breath­less.

And that day, as she opened a care­worn copy of The Gruf­falo and be­gan to read the story to Faye and her sis­ter Alice, three, Jo sim­ply couldn’t get the words out.

‘I’d ex­pelled all my en­ergy just get­ting up the stairs and help­ing the kids into their PJS,’ Jo ex­plains.

Her hus­band Guy, 37, had to take over read­ing the story – and Jo found tears welling in her eyes.

She’d al­ways strug­gled with her weight.

‘By the time I left school at 17, I weighed 120 ki­los,’ Jo ad­mits. ‘Over the years I’d set­tled at a size 26 – de­cided that was just how I was made.

‘I’d piled on more weight when I got preg­nant with Alice and hadn’t been able to shift it. It didn’t help that I con­stantly made the wrong food choices.’

Jo had a love of takeaways, would cook her­self two chicken kievs in­stead of one, and her serves of chilli con carne came with a heap of gar­lic bread.

‘Even when I made meals for the girls, I’d cook an ex­tra fish finger or two just for me,’ she re­veals.

While her hus­band made her feel loved no mat­ter what, Jo still felt in­cred­i­bly in­se­cure as time went on.

‘I couldn’t buy the clothes I wanted, and shied away from go­ing on nights out with [Guy] and his friends,’ she says.

‘Christ­mas was al­ways the hard­est – they just didn’t make party dresses in my size and all the joys of Christ­mas just seemed to bring me fresh hu­mil­i­a­tion.’

And af­ter that dis­as­trous read­ing ses­sion with the girls, Jo vowed to take ac­tion.

‘My brother Richard’s long-term girl­friend Sam had re­cently be­come a Cam­bridge con­sul­tant, so I plucked up my courage and texted her about sign­ing up to a weight­loss plan,’ Jo says.

‘The hard­est part was re­veal­ing my weight to her, but she was so sup­port­ive and lovely that I be­came de­ter­mined this was go­ing to be the diet that worked.

‘I started the plan in May 2016, re­plac­ing all my meals with diet bars and shakes.’

In the first week, Jo lost al­most 6kg.

‘My dress size dropped and peo­ple soon started notic­ing the dif­fer­ence,’ she says.

‘This spurred me on to stick to the plan, and even when we were in­vited to sum­mer bar­be­cues, I’d sit there with my shake and a glass of wa­ter, watch­ing ev­ery­one else eat­ing burg­ers and drink­ing cider.’

Grad­u­ally, Jo in­tro­duced proper meals into her diet again – mak­ing sure she picked healthy choices when eat­ing out with friends.

‘By Christ­mas last year, I’d lost 51 ki­los. But I wasn’t at target and de­ter­mined to keep go­ing, so I stuck to my plan...’

A year af­ter she be­gan, Jo reached her 70kg target.

‘I’m now a size 12 to 14 and love go­ing shop­ping,’ she says.

‘Peo­ple no longer recog­nise me when I pass them in the street and I have to tell them they know me!

‘Best of all, though, I can now read Alice and Faye a bed­time story all the way through to the end. Not only that, I have the en­ergy to do the ac­tions and voices too. The girls love it!’

This year, Jo says she’ll be mak­ing a whole heap of new Christ­mas memories – and tak­ing ‘hun­dreds’ of pho­tos to re­place those past snaps that left her feel­ing em­bar­rassed.

‘But I’m not ashamed of the woman in the pic­tures any­more. [She] found the de­ter­mi­na­tion to change,’ Jo re­flects.

‘Just like in one of the chil­dren’s books I didn’t used to be able to read, I’ve found my happy end­ing.’

Jo says see­ing pho­tos of her­self at Christ­mas time with her young daugh­ters Faye and Alice used to leave her feel­ing mor­ti­fied. Now the in­spi­ra­tional mum is show­ing off a brand new look!

Now a size 12 to 14, Jo loves shop­ping – but most im­por­tantly she has the en­ergy to read to her kids again.

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