A young woman who began comfort eating at university and found herself in a ‘vicious cycle’ of anxiety and overeating after dropping out of her course is ready to start living again after losing 7 stone and regaining her confidence.
Emma Mckay, 25, had never struggled with her weight while she was growing up in Dalgety Bay in Fife, Scotland but when at university her battles with depression and anxiety meant she ate to feel better.
After she left her Philosophy and English course two and a half years into her degree and returned home, her weight continued to spiral until, in June 2021, she reached 17st 1lb, was a size 18, and decided to take control.
Overhauling her diet and exercising regularly, Emma slimmed back down to a 9st 9lb size 10 – smaller than the size 12/14 she’d been when she started uni – and is now ready to find her first job.
Explaining how her weight affected her confidence, she said: “It was a vicious cycle. The anxiety made me eat and put on weight. I’d then feel worse as I was bigger than I wanted to be and would hide away.
“It stopped me going for jobs. I have never been employed but watched all my friends find jobs and live their lives.
“I’m so much more confident now and ready to do a job I love.”
Emma, who currently runs an Instagram page @_mylittlebookshelf where she reviews books, said she ate fairly healthily when she was growing up, but everything changed when she began to experience anxiety and depression.
She said: “I barely left my uni room except to go to the kitchen or the bathroom.
“I’d just hide away and eat all the wrong things like crisps and biscuits to make myself feel better.”
Recognising she had a problem, she left university in December 2016, during the third year of her degree.
With her dreams in tatters, she returned to live with her parents Moira Mckay, 62, and dad Colin Mckay, 66, in Fife – where she has stayed ever since – and continued to comfort eat.
She would start her day with toast and butter, lunch would be a roll with butter, ham and crisps, then dinner might be pizza with onion rings and mozzarella sticks.
Emma would also snack between meals on crisps and biscuits.
Realising she was uncomfortable with her size, Emma took up walking and lost 3st in late 2019. However, the lockdowns limited her exercise regime.
She said: “I gained all the weight back that I’d lost and some more.”
She added: “My weight got steadily out of control, and I ended up at my heaviest ever at 17st 1lb.”
At 5ft 5in, Emma had a body mass index (BMI), used to gauge a healthy weight, of 39, far above the NHS’s healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9, making her obese.
She said: “I knew I had to do something about this, not only for my weight and health, but for my confidence as well.
“I struggled to walk very far without getting out of breath and I found it very tiring. I had little to no energy and felt very sluggish a lot of the day.”
She continued: “Physically, I was just very drained and found my knees and feet were sore from all the extra weight I was putting on them.
“My mental health was also affected as I was so unhappy in my own skin.”
In June 2021, Emma’s mum suggested her daughter go along to a WW group her friend was attending in Dunfermline.
Having never attended a slimming group before, Emma was apprehensive and very quiet and shy during her first session.
However, she said: “Everyone was so friendly and the coach, Gill, made me feel so at home.
“I started to really enjoy getting to know everyone and looked forward to the meetings. My confidence just grew and grew – then I started losing weight!
“Gill was a great support. She really put my anxiety at ease.
“At the beginning, I cut my diet right back to basics, cutting out a lot of fatty foods.”
She added: “Instead, I started off eating the Heinz WW range, the chicken supreme being my favourite, and slowly transitioned to the Marks and Spencer’s Count on Us range so I could get some variety.
“I also love the variety of snacks on the WW shop – the crisps are delicious, and all the chocolate treats are a lovely little pick me up as an afternoon snack.”
As time went on, Emma was able to reintroduce some of her old favourites.
She said: “My favourite dish I make sounds a bit random but it’s something I always look forward to – tuna pasta with peppers mixed with Greek yoghurt.”
Emma also began walking regularly, saying: “Every day I try to increase my number of steps, even if it means taking more trips up and down the stairs to put laundry away.
“Every little counts and I try to get to 3,000 steps a day now.
“I also have my Nintendo Switch, with Ring Fit Adventure, which gives you a workout as you game, and I can customise workouts on this to target areas I want to improve. At the moment, I am working on my stomach.”
Emma admits she didn’t find it easy to begin with, saying: “Before my journey, I used to avoid exercise as much as possible because I just felt worse after doing it.”
She continued: “However, as soon as I combined that with healthier eating and the weight started coming off, I found I had more energy and being active was easier and more enjoyable.”
Emma reached her weight loss goal just two weeks ago, reaching a size 10 and bringing her BMI down to a healthy 22.
Feeling so much more confident, she is now applying for her first job and can’t wait to begin her life afresh.
She said: “I’m just so glad I took control of my life back.”
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