Cassida lost four stones after transforming her diet by cutting out processed foods, sugar and dairy.

Words: Rachel Tompkins

At just five feet tall, Cassida was always on the go as a child and was a skinny little thing. But when she started secondary school she made unhealthy lunch choices and that, coupled with hormone changes, meant that the weight started to creep on. By the time she was a bridesmaid for her friend in 2009 she weighed 12 stones 7lbs, hated her figure, and suffered from depression. Determined to change her life, she cut out sugar, dairy, gluten and alcohol and fell in love with vegetables. She lost an incredible four stones, beat depression and fell in love with her new healthy lifestyle so much that she became a health mentor…

As a child I was a slim, petite, scrawny little thing. Full of beans and always on the go, there was never a scrap on me. But all that changed when I started secondary school and had to choose my own lunch in the school canteen every day.

Suddenly I was eating French bread pizza every day for lunch, followed by a flapjack and a Caramac bar. I began to make my own breakfast in the mornings too – porridge with so much brown sugar that the porridge turned brown.

The skinny, scrawny little girl began to gain ‘puppy fat’, and when I left school and started working in a pub and in Blockbuster video shop, I got used to grabbing unhealthy convenience food on the run.

The alcohol didn’t help either, I was drinking so much that I was borderline alcoholic. I was constantly trying different diets, but if I ever did lose weight I always put it back on again.

When I met my partner, Chris, in 2002 I was working as a waitress. Running around all day on my feet meant that I was about a size 10-12, but then I started university as a mature student in my mid-twenties and the convenience food and alcohol meant that the weight crept up and up. By the time Chris and I married at St Peter’s Church, Marlow, in 2008 I was wearing a size 14 wedding dress which I had specifically chosen because it laced up at the back so that I could squeeze myself into it.

I felt like a big bride, and was disappointed in myself for not being able to lose weight for my special day. After the wedding Chris and I started trying for a baby and I was unhappy in my job as a social worker. Consequently, I sought comfort in food and put on more and more weight.

I began finding it increasingly harder to see through the fog of depression that plagued my life. A year later I walked down the aisle again, this time as a bridesmaid for a good friend of mine. Dressed in a size 16 pale pink dress and the biggest bridesmaid by far, I felt incredibly self-conscious. And when I looked at the photos I was mortified. I was practically as wide as I was tall!

Over the years, I’d tried nearly every diet going. Whenever I did, I’d manage to lose a few pounds but then I always seemed to quickly put it back on again. It was soul-destroying and I became so low that in 2009 I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with depression, prescribed medication and CBT, as well as being referred to a fertility clinic.

Thankfully the CBT worked wonders and so I wasn’t on the medication for long. At the end of 2010 I was prescribed Clomid to try and help me conceive, and just before Christmas I fell pregnant with our first child.

During the pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, so I stopped eating sugar completely and lost weight during the pregnancy.

By the time our daughter, Eva, was born in August 2011 weighing 6lb 4oz I could fit into size 10 trousers.

Everyone was complimenting me on how good I looked, and I promised myself that I was lucky to have been given this body and I was determined to keep it that way.

The problem was I just didn’t know how to do it. Having a newborn baby meant that I was knackered, then I developed Post Natal Depression. Once again, I reached for the only comfort I knew – food, or rather sugar! I was so tired that I would have black coffee with sweetener and a whole pack of millionaire shortbread in one sitting.

Constantly running on empty, I felt shattered and terrible.

And it was no surprise that all the weight that I had lost during the pregnancy piled back on again.

When I fell pregnant again in the summer of 2013 I tried to be more sensible with my eating. I stopped having sugar again and although I didn’t lose any weight this time, I didn’t put any on either.

But when our son, Leo, was born in May 2014 it wasn’t long before the Post Natal Depression kicked in again. I comfort ate and felt more isolated than ever.

Then, around the time of my birthday in December 2015 I was so low that each day felt like a struggle.

Even just taking the children to a toddler group was tough.

I felt drained and exhausted all the time and I even started self-harming.

Then I connected with an old friend on Facebook. We had been in a panto together as children and had done post-natal yoga together years later. She had lost weight and looked fantastic, so when I read that she had done it by using Juice Plus shakes and following a healthy diet, I contacted her to find out more.

She explained about all the different Juice Plus products and plans. I was tempted to wait until January so that I could have a big blow-out over Christmas first, but she suggested starting there and then so that I didn’t put even more weight on over the festive period and feel even worse about myself afterwards.

To begin with I swapped my usual breakfast of toast, butter, peanut butter and banana for a shake made with plant-protein, dairy-free milk, fruit and cinnamon.

Instead of having a mayonnaise-laden sandwich for lunch followed by crisps, I had a shake too.

And for dinner I made a healthy meal of homemade bolognese sauce with gluten-free pasta and some feta cheese. I found the feta saltier than cheddar so I didn’t need as much of it, and slowly I began trying out variations with different vegetables, such as lettuce or courgetti instead of pasta.

I had healthy snacks too – such as vegetables and hummus, or oat cakes. I stopped having the bottle of wine a night, and within a couple of weeks, I noticed my stomach feeling less bloated, but the biggest shift was with my mood. I started having days where I smiled again.

I cut out alcohol completely and did ‘Dry January’. It was the longest I had been without alcohol for as long as I could remember and it was such a revelation.

After six weeks, I swapped the lunchtime shake for a healthy meal, so I was just having one shake a day.

By the end of February, I had lost a stone and I had swapped my big baggy t-shirts for tighter ones that flattered my new shape.

People began complimenting me on how well I looked, and I felt it too. Inside and out. By the start of June, I had lost two stones. When friends and family said I looked tiny, it didn’t seem real – I had never been described like that!

But the real positives weren’t just my appearance. I started having more and more days when I felt so happy. And gradually the days turned to weeks and to months.

I realised that we have more control over our mindset than I’d ever known, and it felt incredibly empowering. That summer I got down to a tiny size 6-8 and about 7 stones 11. Ironically, I felt like I had got a bit too scrawny, so I increased my healthy snacks and allowed my weight to go back up to a healthier-looking 8 stones 6lbs and that’s the healthy weight I’ve maintained.

I hardly recognise myself from those bridesmaid dress pictures all those years ago. I feel better in myself and my confidence has improved no end.