Tina Cushnie, 40, is now a part-time model and is married to Brian, 41. They live in Lisburn and run a tennis coaching business. They have two children, Kristen, five, and Sophie, four
Tina is a target member of the Slimming World group in Lisburn run by Catherine Heyes and she is featured in the current edition of Slimming World Magazine, on sale now.
Since losing 3st, Tina has found a happier family life and a glamorous career she adores:
“I always assumed that I was meant to be big. From an early age I had size-8 feet and although I was incredibly sporty at school, I never went below 12 stones. People would tell me I had ‘a pretty face’, which felt like such a backhanded compliment – they might as well have added, ‘It’s a shame you’re not slimmer!’ I hated clothes shopping, as I could never find anything fashionable.
“Instead, I used to focus on making my hair and nails look nice – anything that I thought would distract from my size.
I tried hard not to let my weight get me down. Inevitably, though, as I got older I became increasingly interested in dating and going out with my mates. I began to feel more insecure, especially as all my girlfriends were slim. I managed to hide behind my bubbly personality, so no one would realise just how low I really felt.
“When I left home at 23 to live by myself, more weight crept on. I started eating out a lot, socialising and ordering takeaways. When I did cook for myself at home, I relied on jars and packet sauces.
“I met Brian when I was 30 and married him three years later, wearing a size-16 dress. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t join Slimming World before my wedding. Although we had the greatest day, I know I would have felt so much better about myself if I’d been slimmer.
“Two pregnancies followed; the girls were born only 17 months apart. Brian is 6ft 5ins tall so it was no surprise they were both big babies – Kristen was 9lbs 8oz and Sophie 9lbs 11oz! Having two young children to take care of was exhausting and looking after myself properly just wasn’t a priority. When my energy levels flagged I’d simply reach for buns, cakes and chocolate, and, not surprisingly, the extra pounds I’d put on during my pregnancies refused to budge.
The tipping point
“It was when Kristen was nearly two that a friend of a friend who’d recently slimmed down offered to give me her ‘big’ clothes. While she meant well, it made me realise it was time to do something about my weight for good.
“I’d tried all sorts of diets and nothing had worked. Just after Sophie was born, when I was at my heaviest at 13st 10lbs, I’d also gone along to a slimming club. I found it too difficult and left feeling very disheartened. I knew I needed proper support and that without it I was destined to be overweight and lethargic for the rest of my life.
The fresh start
“I heard about my local Slimming World group through members of my church who had lost loads of weight. So in January 2011 I decided to give it a go. On that first visit, I remember walking through the doors and keeping my head down – I didn’t want anyone to notice me. Right from the word go, my Consultant Catherine and the other members in the group were very welcoming. I loved the fact that when I stepped on the scales and discovered I was 13st 6lbs, I wasn’t told how much weight I should lose.
“Instead, Catherine said I should take baby steps if necessary and lose a pound at a time. Rather than setting a particular target weight, I decided to focus on getting my BMI down from over 30 to a healthy level. I was going to take it really slowly and not give myself an unnecessarily hard time.
“When I learned about everything I could eat with Food Optimising, I was amazed. The recipes were so varied and it opened my eyes to how many of my usual choices had hidden fat and sugar. I went home and cleared my cupboards of shop-bought jars and packets. It was time to go back to basics.
The family-friendly plan
“The following week I returned to group 4lbs lighter. I could already feel a difference in my energy levels thanks to all the healthy choices I was making – I hadn’t felt nearly as tired looking after the children.
“My daily diet had changed dramatically. Before, breakfast was a bowl of sugary cereal with full-fat milk, followed by a huge shop-bought chicken and mayonnaise sandwich for lunch. By pm I’d have an energy slump so would reach for a chocolate bar or crisps. At home in the evening, I’d order a Chinese.
“All that changed once I joined Slimming World. Now, breakfast is fruit and yogurt, lunch is something filling like an omelette with a huge salad, and in the evening, the whole family enjoys a big bowl of home-made low-Syn chilli or spaghetti bolognese. I make Slimming World soups and freeze them for when I need to grab something quick and nutritious, and I snack on fruit all the time.
“The fridge is now full of Syn-free yogurts that we can all tuck into, and I buy Hi-fi bars practically in bulk from my Slimming World group because we like them so much! Not long after I started going to group, Kristen had a birthday party and every bit of food I served – from the sausages to the crisps – was low-Syn. Not one person seemed to notice..
The new me
“As soon as the weight started coming off pound by pound, I began feeling better about myself. And as my figure started changing, my confidence began to soar. I’d always bought clothes that would cover me up and even though I was only in my 30s, I looked and felt mumsy.
“Soon, I was able to fit into size 14s, then it was size 12s and I was buying myself snug body-con dresses and skinny jeans. I remember once getting into a pair of denims and joking to Brian that I wanted to leave the label hanging out so people knew they were a size 10!
“Although I had always been a fun, cheerful person on the outside, in reality I’d been really quite unhappy before I joined Slimming World. No matter how hard you try to hide your mood from your family, they can’t help but pick up on it and there’s no question it had been affecting them, too. Now Brian says he has a completely new wife and he’s thrilled about it. During the summer of 2012, he bought me a size-10 tennis dress, which I was too shy to wear. I finally put it on a few months ago and felt amazing.
“I’m enjoying the reaction I get from people I haven’t seen for a while, too. One lady at church came up to me recently and said, ‘Hello, you look very much like Tina, a lady I used to know here – are you her sister?’ I laughed and said, ‘It’s me, it is Tina.’ She nearly fell over!”
“Last April, a photographer friend asked me to send him some pictures of myself because he thought I should try modelling. For a long time I’d secretly harboured a dream to be a model, although I was far too embarrassed to say it out loud to anyone. Who would have taken me seriously? I didn’t have any professional shots, so I sent him some family photos. A few days later he got in touch to say that a major advertising agency had seen the pictures and out of the hundreds of people who had applied for this particular modelling job, I’d been chosen. Well, I nearly fainted when he told me. I just couldn’t believe it! My first modelling assignment was for Newry and Mourne District Council. The shoot took three days and a male model and I had to pretend to be a couple going away for a weekend break.
“It was such good fun to do and the advertising campaign ran over the summer. My face was on billboards across Northern Ireland. One day, I was driving down the road and my daughter shouted, ‘Mummy! You’re on the bus!’ – she’d spotted the advert on the side of one of the buses.
“It’s been the most surreal – and wonderful – experience and I absolutely love it. Although I still help run the tennis coaching business with my husband, I’ve had lots more modelling offers and it could soon be my full-time job. I’m doing another TV commercial soon and have taken part in several fashion shows, and of course this photoshoot for Slimming World magazine. Never in a million years did I think I’d have so many exciting opportunities in my life. I’m absolutely overjoyed to be living my dream.”
INTERVIEW BY: JILL FOSTER. PHOTOGRAPHS: PAUL BULLER.