‘I was fatter than Mickey Mouse!’
When Clare Ship visited Disneyland Paris, she was so shocked she was bigger than the star attraction that she went on a magical weight-loss journey…
It’s meant to be a place where dreams comes true, but as I stood next to Mickey Mouse in Disneyland, I felt like I was in a living nightmare.
‘Get a bit nearer,’ my friend urged, gesturing me closer.
Suppressing a sigh, I forced a smile and pressed myself up against the cuddly character. As a huge Disney fan on my third trip to the Paris theme park, a snap with the main man should have been my idea of heaven. But I felt nothing but dread.
Examining the photo, it was as bad as I’d feared. Although Mickey was in an oversized costume, my size 26, 5ft 5in frame dwarfed him.
Growing up, I had always been a slim child. My mum made healthy, home-cooked meals and I enjoyed running around outside.
But things changed in my teens. I suffered with anxiety during my A-levels and, whenever the exam stress got too much for me, I’d tuck into chocolate bars for their sweet, sugary support.
By the time I left for university, I was a size 16. And I was hardly going to lose weight there. In my catered halls, breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with a mountain of snacks, were available all day, every day.
‘ What will I have today?’ I’d muse excitedly over the menu.
And whenever I felt groggy after a night out, pizza was my go-to meal. Or Pot Noodles. Or chips. And, of course, crisps. Basically, anything carb-heavy to soak up the alcohol.
Because my degree was in languages, I was lucky enough to study abroad during my third year – Germany for a term, then France. The latter was definitely my favourite leg of the trip, as I fell in love with the culture, the landscape, and, most importantly, the food.
My classmates and I would head out for breakfast every morning, trying everything the Parisian bakeries had to offer. ‘Bonjour, monsieur. Un croissant et un pain au chocolat, merci,’ I’d say cheerfully.
During that trip, I visited Disneyland Paris for the first time, but I avoided cameras the way I was avoiding the scales. At a size 22, I didn’t want the magic to be ruined by reality.
After university, I moved back in with my parents in Enfield, north London, and started my first job, in media monitoring. It involved a lot of admin work and I spent the majority of my day tucked away in the back office.
Because I didn’t have to deal with clients, I didn’t need to make much effort with my appearance, which suited me perfectly. When I did venture out, it was only as far as the local McDonald’s or Chinese takeaway for lunch.
Stuck in terrible eating habits, I wouldn’t dream of cooking from scratch and, most evenings, I would eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. Although I’d finished with education, I was still living a student lifestyle.
In 2015, a friend of mine suggested we revisit our youth and head back for a nostalgic trip to Disneyland Paris. We went in December and we had so much fun that we booked again for February 2016.
But now I’d been caught on camera, all my enjoyment instantly evaporated. I’d known for a long time I wasn’t the fairest of them all, but it was clear I had to start looking in mirrors again.
So I signed up to my local Slimming World. The first meeting was terrifying, but I forced myself through the doors and onto the scales.
When they finally settled at 20st 11lb, I was horrified. How had I let things get so out of control?
At home, I vowed to cut out my takeaways and, following basic recipes, I began teaching myself to cook. I’d even weigh out my pasta and cereal. ‘If I’m doing this, I’m doing it properly,’ I told myself.
It worked. In my first week, I was 10lb lighter and the weight loss that had seemed so daunting suddenly seemed achievable.
And the more I lost, the better I felt. I had more energy, my knees were aching less… It was as if I’d been sprinkled with Tinker Bell’s fairy dust.
I even decided to join a gym, where I discovered a new passion for running. I’d pull on my trainers and go three or four times a week. The old me would never have thought it possible, but here I was, doing it!
That’s when a friend of mine suggested that I take part in Disneyland Paris Run Weekend, which had 5km, 10km and halfmarathon races.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to return and take some pictures I was proud of so, in September 2017, I completed the 5km race. Then, this year, I did the 10k. One day, I aim to do the half-marathon, too.
Now, at 41, 10st 10lb and a size 10, I feel as beautiful as a Disney princess.
Cinderella famously said that a dream is a wish your heart makes – and I’ve worked hard to make my dream a reality.
‘Now, at 10st 10lb, I feel as beautiful as a Disney princess’
I knew things had to change when I saw this snap of me with Mickey
I didn’t ‘duck’ the challenge and completed the 10k race this year at Disneyland Paris!
Slim and fit: I’m proof that dreams can come true