A PRIMARY school teacher who has lost an incredible 18st has been named Slimming World’s Woman of the Year 2023.

Kelly Barker, 43, who teaches at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Blackbrook, joined her local Slimming World group when she was in a 32 dress size weighing more than 28 stone because she feared she would die on the operating table if she went ahead with the weight-loss surgery recommended by her GP.

She says: “I struggled with my weight my whole life. As a child I was placed on a special diet and had to be weighed at school.

St Helens Star: Kelly Barker before Kelly Barker before (Image: Slimming World)

“While the other children were eating fish and chips, I would have to eat a separate meal on my own – usually something bland like boiled fish and potatoes. It made me believe that weight loss was miserable, embarrassing and shameful, and it didn’t work – I gained weight every year into my adulthood.”

Kelly, who lives with her 15-year-old son, Josh, in St Helens, says going away to university made her weight increase further: “As soon as I had control over my own food choices, it was like the floodgates opened.

“Everything I wasn’t allowed as a child was suddenly available to me. I was in a vicious cycle of comfort eating that wreaked havoc with my weight and continued for years.

St Helens Star: Kelly Barker before Kelly Barker before (Image: Slimming World)

"I would try to lose weight sometimes but the only way I knew how was massively restricting myself with crazy fad diets which, of course, I could never stick to.”

Kelly’s weight also began to affect the way she felt at work.

She says: “I’ve always loved my job as a teacher, yet I often felt like a hypocrite – especially when teaching the children about healthy eating and being active.

“My joints and back would be in agony after a day of teaching and although I’d plaster a smile onto my face, I just felt like a fraud.

“My big wakeup call came when my GP recommended weight-loss surgery. I researched the procedure and knew that my weight made me a huge anaesthetic risk. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would die on the operating table.”

St Helens Star: Kelly Barker - Slimming World's Woman of the Year 2023 Kelly Barker - Slimming World's Woman of the Year 2023 (Image: Slimming World)

Kelly, who now weighs 10st 7lbs after losing 18st enlisted the help of her cousin Fiona, who is a Slimming World Consultant, adding: “Fiona had tried to encourage me to join her group for a long time, I had to be ready myself though.

“Deep down I’d been worried that it would be yet another failed weight loss attempt and that I’d be made to feel the way I’d felt my whole life when it came to food. How wrong was I? From the moment I joined the group I was surrounded by warmth, kindness and compassion.

“I can’t lie, standing on the scales for the first time was daunting – not least because I was terrified I’d be too heavy for them to weigh me (they could, thankfully). Although that number was frightening – it also felt like the start of something.

St Helens Star: Kelly Barker nowKelly Barker now (Image: Slimming World)

“Fiona told me that she would never give up on me and she has remained true to that promise. She and my group have been there every step of the way. They helped me discover in myself the belief that I could do it and I now look at that moment as the biggest turning point in my life.

“Obviously losing 18st has been fantastic for my health and my confidence but by far the best thing to happen is the relationship I now have with my son.

“I no longer feel like I embarrass him, and he tells me he is proud of what I have achieved. He is a county and regional level swimmer so being more in tune with my own activity levels and nutrition has brought us so much closer together.”

St Helens Star: Kelly Barker nowKelly Barker now (Image: Slimming World)

Kelly began to get active herself with the help of Slimming World’s physical activity support programme, said: “My activity levels before I lost weight were basically zero. As my journey progressed, I found I had so much more energy – so when Josh suggests fell walking, rock climbing or kayaking now, I’m excited to get involved rather than worrying I’ll be over the weight limits.

“We’ve recently been on holiday to the Lake District. As I sat on top of the fell after a tough climb, I looked out to the view of the lake below and tears came to my eyes. I was thinking about how much I had been missing out on, all these beautiful views and experiences. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve saved my life by losing weight – and these days it’s a life worth living.”

Kelly attends Fiona Foulder’s Marshside Slimming World group in Southport, Merseyside