A SOUTHAMPTON woman is half the size she used to be and has a new lease of life after losing six stone to avoid being confined to a wheelchair.

José Barker went from 15 stone 11lbs and a size 24 clothes to a svelte size 10-12 in less than a year.

“I knew I was big, but I didn’t think I was that big,” says the 39-year-old.

“I have a degenerative knee condition for which there is no cure. My specialist told me it was just a matter of time as to when I would be in a wheelchair. The bigger I am, the more strain on my knees and the quicker that time would come – and I am not ready for that just yet.

“I also had weight induced asthma, so I knew I had to do something.”

As a single mum-of-three with a dog and a horse, José has always been active, but her health was starting to become more of a concern.

“My knees were beginning to hurt all the time. As a carer, I was on my feet all day anyway, and if I walked the dog then the following day I could hardly move.

But the push I needed came just before Christmas, 2012.

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“I was in the New Forest riding my horse when a car pulled alongside me and slowed down. A man wound down the window and shouted ‘get off you are too fat for that’.

“I cried all the way home.

I don’t understand why he said it – I can understand why he thought it, but not why he said it. My horse is a weight carrier. She didn’t struggle with me at all, but I did look a bit of a wide load on her.”

José joined Slimming World in January 2013, after seeing adverts for a new group and the photographs of the consultant, Krystal Paterson’s journey with her weight loss.

“I was amazed by the transformation. Although the group was not local to me, it had to be that group. It had to be Krystal, and she inspired me. My journey began with her,” she says.

“I lost six-and-a-half pounds in my first week. The food plan was easy, but overcoming the mindset of comfort eating when upset or bored has been very difficult. I have had a few gains along the way, when my willpower has not been strong enough. But, it is important not to let the small gains allow you to blow it completely.

“For the first few months I couldn’t see the weight loss myself, so I kept taking pictures and comparing them to keep me motivated.”

On her return from an annual holiday to Crete with her mother, José realised just how far she had come when she returned to the Winchester Road group.

“I was away for ten days and still managed to lose more than half a stone by staying on plan. The week I got back, I was voted my group’s Woman of the Year.

Amazingly, at that point I fitted in one leg of the shorts I had worn on my holiday the year before!”

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Since starting her journey, José’s weight has dropped to 9 stone 13lb, her health has improved, she has a new career and is enjoying life more than ever before.

“My life is different now,” she says.

“I haven’t needed my inhalers for more than six months and my specialist has said that I have bought years, if not decades, of not needing a wheelchair and hopefully in that time, medical science may evolve so that I may never need one.

“Now, I don’t just walk with the dog but we can go for a run, just a mile or so, but I no longer have to worry about being able to walk the next day.

“I am smaller now than before I had my children. My whole family have been amazing, and really supportive, as they always are. I am not sure I could have done this without them.

“I can’t believe I put off losing weight for all those years. It was daunting because I thought it would take forever. I am chuffed to bits that it has only taken a year to turn my life around.”