A former dance teacher who was bullied for being overweight and went on her first diet at the age of eight has shed an incredible 11 stone.
Astrid Longhurst, 61, from Kerry, Southern Ireland, has struggled with body confidence issues since she was a child when cruel teasing about her size left her frightened to go outside.
Her love of ballet as a schoolgirl initially saw her weight drop – but she put the weight back on when she developed an unhealthy relationship with food.
“I would try and not to eat so much and then get so hungry that I ended up sneaking food from the fridge whenever I could,” she said.
“I remember posing in the garden for my mother to take a photo of me in my homemade ballet dress. She kept asking me to smile at the camera and I remember feeling hugely conscious of my size.
“Instead of being happy that I had achieved something positive, I felt ashamed because I felt too fat.”
As a young teen, Astrid suffered from bulimia, which reared its head again when she was in her late teens/early twenties.
When she was 17, at dancing auditions, Astrid claims teachers said she needed to lose more weight – which left her feeling disheartened.
“My family didn’t know what was wrong and at the time there was no support available.
“I would starve myself for days on end and then break out into a food frenzy because I was so hungry.”
Her battles carried on into her adult years. When she was 43 she topped the scales at 23 stone and was a dress size 28-30. The weight gain caused her ankles, knees, fingers and feet to swell up.
A year earlier, she’d also been diagnosed with chronic arthritis which meant she couldn’t even walk without feeling pain.
She said: “At this time, I don’t think I even had a lifestyle. I was just struggling to get through another day.
“I was taking some fairly heavy-duty medication and felt lethargic and exhausted.
“My hair began to fall out and I felt low and depressed. All my previous joy of dancing seemed to have evaporated along with my own sense of body confidence.”
Three years later, Astrid decided enough was enough and decided to upend her lifestyle. She cut down on sugar to lose weight, and hoped it would also reduce inflammation and pain in her joints.
She also learned to love her body and stopped punishing herself for not looking exactly as she wanted to.
Astrid said: “At a size 30, I knew that I had to start really loving me. My body was in pain and I was struggling with my health. Now, more than ever I needed to be there for myself.
“I knew I had to treat myself and my body better.”
As her healthy habits became a way of life, the pounds fell off Astrid and in just over a year, she lost a whopping seven stone. Over the following six months, she dropped another four.
“My focus was on health rather than weight loss. I experimented with what foods made my joints feel easier and what foods seemed to trigger arthritis.
“I dropped my sugar intake, increased healthy oils and fats, and ate more green vegetables and salad.
“I also stopped eating late at night, drank more water and started the day with a cup of hot water infused with lemon, ginger, mint and grapefruit.”
She also weaned herself off the medication she’d been taking.
Now feeling fitter in her 60s than she did in her 30s, Astrid has become a body confidence expert and has written several books about loving yourself.
She can even do the splits – having first learnt how to do them when she was 14 – and no longer weighs herself.
Astrid said: “At 61, my relationship with my body is one of love, appreciation and kindness.
“I think the most transformational thing is that I now enjoy living in my body – before, all I wanted to do was to escape being me.
“My exercise regime is very different from how it was when I was younger. I focus on gentle stretching, mindful movement and slow strength training.
“I plan on still being able to do the splits when I’m 94.”