Real life weight loss: ‘I lost 90lbs and eight dress sizes - here’s exactly how I did it’

Aged 51 and a US size 18, mum-of-four Sarah Blackwell joined a gym and dropped an incredible eight dress sizes - here's how

Sarah Blackman
(Image credit: Future)

As the runners around me surge forward, I begin to move. My body feels fit and strong and I’m buzzing with excitement at the challenge of the 5km run ahead. It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago I was over 85lb (6st) heavier. 

During my teens my weight fluctuated. I went from suffering with an eating disorder at 13 to having a strong, lean body a few years later after working at a circus. My body changed again in my early twenties when, after meeting my then husband John, I had three children in quick succession – Joe, now 34, Aaron, 32, and Elly, 28 – and piled on the pounds. 

Hitting the scales at 182lb (13st) after my daughter was born, I knew I needed to change. I cut down on carbohydrates and kept fit by practising my past circus skills, such as juggling. Aged 25, I became an outdoor instructor, running a programme for disadvantaged women, which helped keep me trim. 

In the early 90s, John and I sadly split. But embracing the change, I gained qualifications in mountaineering, climbing, caving and canoeing, as well as a degree in Countryside Recreation Management. My love life picked up, too – in 1995 I met someone new and in 1998 we had a son, who’s now 21. 

Feeling happy, fit and healthy, my weight was a stable 133lb (9st 7lb). I even fulfilled a childhood dream, opening Forest Schools Kindergarten, a nursery in Sheffield where 80% of the children’s time is spent outdoors. 

Relationship difficulties saw me turn to food for comfort. With business going well, I should have been on top of the world, but my busy schedule began to impact on my home life. Bringing up four children was stressful and our relationship hit a bump in the road. 

I gorged on carbs and knocked back a bottle of wine every night. My weight crept up and by 2014 I was (210lb) 15 stone. 

Sarah Blackwell

(Image credit: Future)

Splitting from my partner in 2015 was a frightening step. Aged 50, I was single and overweight. I hardly recognised myself. I hated going out – even avoiding an old friend when she flew over from the US. I convinced myself I was too old to change my ways. 

My daughter Elly disagreed. To show me what I was missing, she persuaded me to go and watch her compete in a triathlon. Although I felt unfit and lethargic, the energy and enthusiasm of the participants was contagious. I knew then that I wanted to change, but I didn’t know where to start. 

To get me going, Elly bought me some personal training sessions. I was delighted but daunted and dreaded my first one. But Alex, my PT, was so kind and encouraging, and with his help I began running and completing HIIT workouts, training with dumbbells and barbells. It was intensive but I loved it. 

As well as stepping up my exercise, I improved my diet. I cut my portion sizes in half, cut out refined sugar and cut down on grains, following a Paleo regime. I even quit smoking – a habit I’d taken up over 40 years ago. After about six months I’d dropped to 168lb (12st). Then, in February 2016, Elly encouraged me to try a 5K Parkrun. Embarrassingly, I only managed 50 metres before I was completely out of breath. This only made me more determined. I stuck to my diet, worked harder in my PT sessions, started to swim regularly and also took up spinning. 

Sarah Blackwell

(Image credit: Future)

Spinning helped me boost my strength and stamina. At first, the classes were exhausting – everyone else was speeding up and adding gears, while I was sweating and almost crying! But listening carefully to the instructor, I learned to pace myself, engage the correct muscles and increase my speed. Spinning three to five times a week, I felt fitter and stronger and the pounds kept dropping off. 

In the September I signed up to another 5K run and completed it in 25 minutes. I was ecstatic. 

A year and a half on from Elly’s thoughtful gift, I couldn’t believe it when I signed up to do the Edinburgh half-marathon, and also a triathlon! It’s incredible to think how far I’ve come. I feel fit and healthy and I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved. 

Excitingly, I’ve even become an inspiration to others. A friend I met on holiday towards the start of my journey has a picture of me on her fridge to motivate her own weight loss. I truly believe that if I can get myself back from the state I was in in 2015, then anyone can do it. You just have to take that first step.’