A woman who lost half her body weight and then put much of it back on due to the debilitating affects of losing her sight and not being able to cook has managed to shed the pounds once again.
Sonia Dawswell, 54, who stands at 5ft 3, was 21st and a UK size 28 when she decided to make a change before a holiday to Tenerife in 2005. "I was getting on a plane with a friend and caught sight of myself in the glass," she says.
"I just thought, 'Oh my god!' I hadn't realised how big I really was.
"I said to my friend there and then that I'd have a great holiday, eat what I wanted, come back and make some changes."
Upon joining WW (previously Weight Watchers), Dawswell had a BMI of 52, compared to the NHS' suggested healthy range of 18.5-24.9.
Dawswell, a court volunteer from East London, then slimmed down to 10st 7lb and a size 12/14 with a BMI of 26.
Dawswell, who has suffered with sight issues all her life (her mum first noticed problems with her vision when she was just a toddler), gradually began needing stronger and stronger glasses as she grew older, which eventually led her to being registered partially sighted due to cataracts (when the lens in your eye develops cloudy patches) and glaucoma (a common eye condition where the optic nerve becomes damaged).
Then, one night in 2018, she completely lost sight in her left eye. The scary turn of events meant she was now registered as blind, a disability that affected her every aspect of her life, including not being able to cook.
"I went to bed with sight, woke up completely blind in my left eye," recalls Dawswell, who lives alone.
"As I only have a small amount of sight in my right eye, it made everyday tasks impossible."
She had to rely on pre-packaged or takeaway food and found herself having "endless snacks all day long".
"There was no end to it," she says. "I’d just be picking from morning to night. Crisps, biscuits, sandwiches. Anything I could just buy and eat. I couldn’t even see the calories on the back of the pack.
“On my way home from work, I’d stop off at the chip shop, get chips and eat them at home with a cheese and onion pasty.”
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Dawswell candidly added, "I’ve been to lots of support groups for people with sight loss and a lot of us are overweight. I believe we’re dying sooner because of it.”
Nevertheless, Dawswell has never let her visual impairment hold her back. "It doesn't prevent me from socialising, or working, and I wasn't going to let it stop me going to WW." It also never stopped her from enjoying her love of fashion, taking friends shopping with her or asking shop assistants to guide her to clothes in favourite colours.
"Back then, I was always the biggest women in the room," she says. "But I'd always be a well-dressed big woman!"
It was during lockdown, when she was also unable to exercise and eating as described, that Dawswell noticed herself putting on weight again.
“I never got back to that 21st, but I did gain a lot of weight back. There was nothing to do but sit and eat. No way to exercise.”
Coming out of lockdown, she was 15st 7lb and a size 18, giving her a BMI of 38.4. Having confidence in the WW diet which had helped her so well before, Dawswell recommitted to losing the weight again.
Dawswell also began walking six miles a day, stopped eating after 7pm and cleverly figured out ways to learn to use some appliances in the kitchen again, like a blender and frying pan, despite the difficulty she faced due to her impaired eyesight. This helped her make herself omelettes and healthy breakfast smoothies, with her diet now also including fruit or porridge, or a butternut squash salad.
Her friends also stepped up to support her determination, dropping off food and giving words of encouragement as she not only set out to lose weight, but look after herself day to day.
"I learnt tricks like using appliances with big, simple buttons," she explained. "I'd go to the supermarket, take pictures of the back of packets and enlarge them on my phone, so I could work out the points."
Dawswell has lost 4st and is 11st 6lb and a size 14 – just half a stone from her goal weight – since rejoining WW and committing to exercise every day.
As a lover of bright and beautiful colours, she can now buy a wider range of stylish clothing and again and feels healthier and happier – though of course 'stylish' clothing should accommodate all sizes.
"I hope my story can encourage other people," she emphasised. "I'm a woman of a certain age and menopausal, but that hasn't stopped me. I have visual impairment but that hasn't stopped me either."
"I want people to realise you can have a life with a disability and still watch your weight. It's not easy but keep knocking on those doors until they open for you."
Additional reporting PA.