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Maxine Wren was born with a condition called Blount’s disease, which caused her to be bowlegged. She struggled to walk and underwent several surgeries that led to long recoveries in bed. While her sister and friends spent their days outside playing, Wren stayed inside and soothed herself with sweets.
“Food has always been a comfort,” the now 39-year-old woman from Durham, England, told TODAY. “It was always something around for when I was sad or happy.”
But so much inactivity and eating caused Wren to gain weight. By the time she was 16 years old, at 5 feet 3 inches tall, she weighed 280 pounds.
“I have never ever been what people would consider a healthy weight,” she explained.
Her classmates and strangers teased Wren.
“There is one incident that sticks in my mind. I was on a bus going to college and a little boy said to his mom, ‘We can’t sit there because there is a big fat lady siting there,’” she said.
As the weight piled on, Wren’s health became worse. She walked with crutches, experienced polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, constant pain in her legs, alopecia and an intermittent sharp pain in her ribs. That pain made her doctor think that the 30-something was experiencing angina, chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. At the time she weighed 390 pounds. She had tried dieting in the past and it never worked. She knew she had to lose weight but had no idea where to start.
“I thought ‘If you don’t try something you’re not going to be here much longer,’” she said.
She decided to join the U.K.-based Slimming World, a weight-management plan focused on healthier eating habits, where people enjoy a wide variety of foods and don't have to cut things, such as pasta and rice from their diets (the company recently launched in the U.S.) But fear stalled her. For three weeks in a row, she took a taxi to meetings, but never got out of the car.
“I was so frightened of failure,” she said. “One morning I got up with a really bad pain in my ribs and I thought ‘You got to go.’”
After first, she was skeptical about the plan. But she followed it and after a week she received a shock at a Slimming World meeting when she weighed in.
“The consultant gasped. And I cried and I said, ‘I gained.’ And she said, ‘No, you lost 12 pounds,’” Wren said.
In a year, she lost 140 pounds and no longer needs crutches. Many of her aches and pains diminished. She followed the eating plan and started walking more, reaching 10,000 steps a day. And she kept losing weight. Over five years, she lost a total of 245 pounds. Her success made her Slimming World’s Woman of the Year for 2018.
“This whole experience has proved to myself that I need to have faith in me,” Wren said. “I am worthy.”
While she enjoys her new confidence, she also loves that she can now walk into stores and buy clothes. When she got married, she was excited to buy a dress off the rack.
“I felt like a princess,” she said.
Wren shares advice for others hoping to lose weight.
1. ‘Dig deep and find the courage.’
Wren was so scared to fail that she almost didn’t try to lose weight. But when she summoned the courage to start, it became natural.
“Dig deep and find the courage,” she said. “Believe in yourself, believe in the plan and you will be where I am.”
2. Plan ahead when dining out.
When Wren goes out to eat, she researches the menu before she gets to the restaurant. That way she knows what to order and doesn’t get distracted by unhealthy choices. She also asks for modifications, such as salads with the dressing on the side or a baked potato without butter or sour cream.
“I never feel like I am missing out. I am never hungry,” she said.
3. Find support
For Wren, being a part of a group had given her the support and motivation she needed.
“I got friends now like I never had. It is like family. I look forward to (meetings),” she said.