A disabled Derby woman, who once weighed in at nearly 24 stone, has shed nearly half her body weight in just 18 months. Before her weight loss, Charlie Eaton says she had “zero confidence” and even avoided appearing in group photos at her brother’s wedding in case she “ruined them”.
Back in 2018, Charlie suffered from “dangerously bad” sleep apnoea due to her weight, and one consultant even told her he was surprised she was still alive. Severe is classed as having between 30 and 50 apnoeas an hour, but she was having more than 100 an hour, with each one lasting up to 30 seconds. Sleep apnoea is when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep.
This was the turning point, as Charlie knew she had to act quickly before it was too late.The 38-year-old remembered some of the struggles she faced while tipping the scales as 23st 8lbs, and recalled the moment she realised her eating habits had to drastically change.
She said: “My weight affected every aspect of my life, I had zero confidence and just wanted to hide, to be invisible. I stopped seeing friends and family as I was ashamed of how I looked. It stopped me from getting jobs in the past.
“I always wore black so I could blend in and hide. Even at my brother’s wedding, I was so incredibly proud and it was the most magical day, but I spent the whole time trying to avoid the cameras as I didn’t want their forever photos being ruined because I was in them.
“Before I mostly ate takeaways, shop-bought sandwiches, processed ‘whack them in the oven’ no-effort kind of meals as cooking for one seemed pointless.
“I had dangerously bad sleep apnoea, and was having over 100 an hour and each one was lasting up to 30 seconds. The consultant told me it was so extreme he was surprised I was still alive, let alone able to string a sentence together.”
Charlie says doctors told her she would be unable to lose enough weight independently and needed to have a gastric sleeve fitted. Despite being offered an operation, she was reluctant to go under the knife because of her hypermobile-type Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS), which causes her to have very flexible joints, as well as stretchy and fragile skin.
Explaining why she turned it down, she said: “Because hEDS comes with surgical complications and poor wound healing I was too scared to have the operation.”
Charlie, who also suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS), instead decided to give slimming one last try, joining Jackie’s Oakwood Slimming World group in April 2018. She lost 7.5lbs in her first week, seven stone in her first seven months, and 10 stone in 18 months, before gradually reaching and maintaining her total 11st 5lbs weight loss over the past year or so.
Detailing some of the biggest alterations she’s made to her eating habits, Charlie said: “I have a big appetite and I’m a huge carb fan so my favourite meals are anything involving pasta like spag bol, lasagne and carbonara.
“With the hEDS and MS, cooking is very painful, but then I’m in pain all the time anyway so I thought I might as well do something productive and give it a try. So I made the decision to make a real effort and started cooking from scratch. I’ve now got lots of gadgets and gismos that make cooking a little easier as well as buying pre-chopped frozen onions and garlic, so there’s less effort and less time spent cooking.
“On a good day I’ll batch cook a lasagne or a Bolognese and freeze individual portions so that even when I’m in agony or my left side is paralysed then I’m still able to stick to my plan and just pop something healthy in the microwave and whack it on the plate with some salad.”
Despite eating much healthier and cutting out the takeaways, Charlie says she still regularly enjoys treats like burgers and chips and a bar of chocolate. She said: “I still eat chocolate most days, sometimes high fibre bars, burger and chips, fish fingers, even homemade KFC toasted twister meals.
“I save most of my syns for my sweet fix. I love a good pudding and have one every evening so I never feel deprived. I ‘slimify’ my favourites like tiramisu, profiteroles, eclairs and even cheesecakes.”
Thanks to her weight loss, Charlie today weighs in at 12st 3lbs and her apnoea has now been cured. But due to her hEDS and MS, she’s not been able to work for five years.
Her confidence has seen a massive boost, and she now loves wearing bright clothes. Charlie is however looking to enlist the help of a TV fashion expert to help her transition from wearing darker clothes more smoothly.
She joked: “This is a shameless public plea for help from Gok Wan. I’m still struggling because I’ve only ever worn black and baggy so I have no idea what colours or styles suit me.
“I always hated clothes because ‘big girl shops’ were never fashionable/cool and I’d only choose clothes on how well they’d hide my belly. Now I can grab anything out of my wardrobe, whatever I fancied rather than whatever hid me the best.
“I’m more confident now, I used to be absolutely silent in the group but now they can’t shut me up, no matter how hard they try.
“Fatigue and pain are a constant in my life, that’ll never change, but I don’t get out of breath anymore. I still have to pace myself, especially with the MS and transverse myelitis (when that flares up my left side becomes paralysed), but I’m now able to do more physio than ever before and that’s really helping.”
She will become a Slimming World consultant early next month, starting two groups in the city suburb of Spondon. She is looking for new members to join her at 4.30pm and 6pm every Thursday at the Old School from October 6 onwards.
Charlie added: “Groups are integral, the other members are always there when things are tough, if you have a gain or maintain they help lift you up and spur you on. We’ve all been there and had the same struggles with weight and food, it really is like a family.
“Not just help with weight loss, the group helped me with the big scary life stuff too, group and especially my consultant Jackie have helped me come to terms with using my mobility aids.
“They were with me when I started using crutches and they were with me when I first needed to use my wheelchair. No judgement or pity, just love and support. My group helped me to accept me for being me – wheels and all.
“I’m so excited that I have the opportunity to become a consultant myself. I can’t wait to help other members achieve their goals – not just to reach their target weight but to overcome those life hurdles and to grow in confidence, just as I have.”