Healthy New Year

Penny BirtwellPenny managed her weight through diet and exercise and has benefitted from her healthier lifestyle

Former special needs teacher, Penny Birtwell lives in the pretty village of Shevington near Wigan.

With a blended family of five children and three grand children she has plenty to keep her busy, as well as visiting her widowed mum in London as much as she can.

Like many beneficiaries, Penny has found that wear and tear has made her affected limbs sore (she has one longer arm, and one shorter one with no elbow and a curved shape; and no thumbs) but this doesn’t stop her enjoying family get-togethers and walks with husband Graham.

Like the majority of us over 50, Penny found herself putting on the pounds, but has found a way to manage her weight  through diet and exercise, as her story shows: -

Penny attended Slimming World sessions to get help to lose weight

“I went to the doctors with high blood pressure,” Penny explains. “She weighed me, as part of the visit and found that I was a couple of stone overweight for my height, advising me to get rid of the extra pounds.

’Can you do this on your own?’ she asked and I was pretty indignant ‘Of course I can,’ I said – and then promptly burst into tears and said ‘No, I can’t’!”

Her GP gave Penny a free, 12-week pass to Slimming World and suggested she attend their exercise class, at the end of each meeting, as well as using their weight loss programme.

“I hated it at first” says Penny, “but then it became a kind of challenge, and almost an obsession. I had time on my hands as I was retired and started cooking Slimming World recipes. There were some interesting combinations and my family weren’t impressed at first, but we’ve found a lot of them really delicious.”

Healthy eating doesn't mean you have to give up things you like

Penny has discovered the delights of Mediterranean vegetables, the boost you get from barley and the scrumptiousness of the sweet potato, alongside the unexpected virtues of instant mash and a healthier option to KFC (which involves coating chicken with your own blend of herbs and spices)– the possibilities are endless.

For those who haven’t joined a slimming club before, Slimming World might be an option: -

“I didn’t realise that you could still eat the things you like – and thought I’d have to eat a lot less” says Penny “but you can even have things you might not normally expect to be part of a diet, which Slimming World calls ‘syns’[1].

My syn is a gin and tonic in the evening. Eating healthily and having a daily syn makes you feel virtuous, rather than beating yourself up for having something ‘naughty’.”

Exercise has become part of Penny's life

“Those first 12 weeks of Slimming World were full on, and I found it tough doing an hour of exercise to music after each weigh in. Then I realised that it was good, slimming and exercising as part of a group – everyone’s in the same boat and you develop a kind of camaraderie.

Penny Birtwell with her husbandMy husband and I joined a gym that had a big swimming pool. Swimming hurts my neck so I used to run up and down the length of the pool, doing 40 lengths at a time. We’ve just joined another gym and I’ve been using the walking machine to build up my exercise again.”

Along with half the nation, Penny has eased off on the exercise and put on weight over Christmas but she’s getting back on track with the added incentive of looking good for her daughter’s wedding in June;

“My goal is to lose the half stone I’ve put on, plus another half stone, so I’ve got to get going” she says determinedly. “I’m sure I can do it – and may join Slimming World again.”

Penny has really benefitted from her new, healthier life style

“I have more energy, I feel happier and I feel I’ve got a purpose” she says “It took me a couple of weeks to walk into that exercise class - and it was like I was dragging myself kicking and screaming. It can be hard putting yourself in front of new people, especially when they stare – but we’re used to that. I’ve got a very supportive family who took on the healthy eating challenge with me – but if you don’t have that you can still do it, maybe a friend or neighbour can join you?”

Penny’s got a lot of time for Slimming World; “I like the cheers you get when you’ve lost some weight – and even the (gentle) tutting from the leader when you haven’t. It keeps you on track.

I’d encourage anyone to give it a go, and put their fears aside. Everyone is supportive because they’re all there for the same reason as you; it’s just getting over that first hurdle of taking part that’s tricky – then it gets easier.

Remember though, losing weight doesn’t happen overnight; you’ll need to give it a few weeks – just persevere. You’ll be so glad you did.”

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[1] Taken from Slimming World’s previous ‘sin-a-day’ philosophy but recently changed to syn (short for synergy) to denote the role of foods and drinks which are not ‘free foods’ or healthy extras, in a healthy diet.