It's almost a year since I joined Slimming World and I still struggle to find my way through the maze that is 'target'

It's almost a year since I made one of the best decisions ever and joined Slimming World, and I can't begin to describe how it has changed my life for the better.

This time last year I remember feeling so incredibly fed up with how I looked.  We'd just celebrated my birthday and I felt disgusting in everything I wanted to wear.

Tom had taken me to Harrogate for a night away and booked a table at a restaurant nearby.  I'd taken a variety of outfits to wear - dresses, skirts etc. - but felt awful in them all.  I'd bought some jeans, hoping to wear them instead, but they didn't fit me when I got back to try them on.  I was so gutted.  I ended up wearing my work trousers (which when I originally bought I needed a belt, and by then were a snug fit) and a baggy top.

On my birthday itself, we had some friends round for drinks and nibbles.  Again, I had nothing to wear that I felt nice in and opted for leggings and a really big, floaty top.

When I look at the pictures from last year's birthday I feel sad.  Not because I look horrible, I think I dressed quite well to 'flatter' my figure rather than accentuate the bad parts.  That was one thing people always said to me when I first started Slimming World - "Ooh you don't need to go there, you're not fat."  Well, I maybe didn't look fat covered up in my baggy clothes but I certainly didn't look good in more fitting things.  And I certainly didn't feel great.

I digress.

I feel sad looking at last year's pictures because I was sad.  I felt sad in myself.  I didn't feel happy or confident about my body shape and size.  I had so many gorgeous clothes which didn't fit me anymore.  And so many lovely outfits that I no longer felt comfortable wearing.

Fast forward 12 months and I am like a new person.

Last year's birthday

This year's birthday

I know it's impossible to compare these two photos properly because I am wearing a coat in one, which isn't all too flattering, but coat aside I can still see a huge difference.  (That's probably just because I am overly critical of myself..!)

I reached my target at Slimming World in March, so over seven months ago now.  While I gave it all the chat upon reaching target that I would still keep going to group, it pains me to say I haven't been since about April time.

Initially I kept going every other week but that soon fizzled out.  Now, I wonder how I ever found the time to go!  I would love to go back to group again, I miss the people there so much!  I'm pretty sure if I did go back I wouldn't recognise some of them, I see on the Facebook group some have lost tremendous amounts of weight.  I feel so proud of them all when I see the updates.

Thankfully, though, not going to group hasn't hampered my weight loss and I haven't piled back on the two and a half stone that I lost in just over five months.  Which I think is quite rare for target members that bail on group.

My weight does fluctuate from the bottom of my target range, to the top, and just out of it.  I have good weeks and bad weeks, like any normal person.  Right now, for example, I am probably out of my target range after a heavy week of alcohol and food celebrating my birthday.  But that's ok, it was my birthday.  It wouldn't have been any sort of birthday if I'd just eaten salad and fruit.

This week, I am back on it again and I am confident that the pounds will shift as quickly as I put them on.

I really struggled being at target at first.  It's such a strange psychological barrier that only other target members will understand.  It sounds so stupid saying how hard it is, surely the hard part would be shifting all the weight in the first place.  But that's not so.  Maintaining and switching your mindset is really tough.

That's why I've struggled to get my bum back to group - because I'm not motivated every week to get a good weight loss.  Some weeks I let myself go and throw caution to the wind and just eat whatever I want.  Those weeks I'd hate going to group.  Standing on the scales and seeing I'd put on half a stone or whatever.  I know that's what group is there for - nobody judges and everyone is there to help.  But I'd judge me.  I am the worst person for being tough on myself and giving myself a hard time.

I know in myself after a week of eating foods which aren't necessarily the best when I've put a bit of weight on.  My jeans start to get a bit tight and I just generally feel a bit more sluggish.  But I don't beat myself up, or let myself "fall off the wagon" because I know I do not want to go back to where I was.

Food is everything to me.  When we're celebrating anything - a birthday, good news at work, Friday... - it's with food.  A meal out, a treat meal at home, cake... Similarly, when I'm sad, I turn to chocolate and sweet things.  So when I start to think "shit, I've put on some timber the last few weeks" I automatically want to eat more crap, because I'm sad and need a pick-me-up.  Switching out of that mindset is bloody difficult.  Especially when you're the kind of person who can't eat whatever they want and not put on any weight.

But I think I am finding my way through the maze that is target.  I have learnt to stop being so hard on myself and look at how far I have come.  I was never going to stop enjoying food and drink, that would not be a life I would enjoy.  I just need to remember that everything is fine in moderation.

I can have weekends/nights where I do treat myself and maybe have an extra bit of chocolate or order dessert when out for a meal.  Denying myself those things would just make me want them even more!

I know, though, that as long as I do revert back to 'plan' everything will be ok.

I said to Tom the other day I will probably start going back to group after Christmas to make sure I am in peak condition (lol, like I've ever been that!) ready for our wedding & Soph's wedding.  Knowing I will be going back to group to face my consultant's scales will be an even more daunting thought than my wedding dress fitting!

If that doesn't stop me shovelling in the chocolate yule log then I don't know what will!

I just have to keep looking at my 'before and after' comparison, and that is what keeps me going.


Looking for a romantic break in Yorkshire? Look no further...

If you're looking for a romantic location to celebrate a special occasion or simply escape from the real world, then look no further - I've got just the place.

Crab Manor Hotel, the gorgeous accommodation attached to the incredible Crab and Lobster restaurant, will literally tick every box you have.  We stayed there earlier this week and I was blown away by it.

When you drive into the manor car park you immediately feel like you've left the real world behind.  The glimpse of the stunning gardens as you walk into the manor house reminded me of a movie set, for a really romantic film.

Into the manor house itself and it was just stunning.  There are simply no other words.

We checked in and were taken to our room by a lovely man who explained all the features while lugging our bags up the stairs.

Each room at Crab Manor is themed to a different country/location/city.  We stayed in the Mount Nelson room, which was South African theme.  The attention to detail was incredible, with statues of safari animals dotted all around the room and the colour scheme and decor feeling so authentic.

Each manor room has the use of a communal hot tub and sauna in the courtyard.  We took full advantage of this and were chuffed when we were the only ones down there - result!  It felt very private, even though it was just out the back door of the manor house.

There are also a number of private rooms, which looked like cute little log cabins from the outside.  These each came with their own private hot tub.

The communal one was lovely, though.  Obviously we weren't joined by any other couples as we enjoyed it, but it was big enough for you not to be sat on top of one another.

Without a doubt, my favourite part of the entire stay was our bedroom.

The bed was like sleeping on really soft, fluffy clouds.  It even had curtains around it which were like the ultimate blackout curtains!

Then there was the bath.  I absolutely love a free standing bath and this one was just amazing.  It was so traditional.  The first thing I did when we arrived was fill it with the complementary toiletries and have a soak (with a chilled glass of champagne too, of course).

Around the perimeter of the bathroom was a shelf filled with champagne bottles.  I thought these were part of the decoration.  Maybe they were initially, but after Tom inspected them closer he realised each one had been put there by a couple who had stayed in the room previously.

Each couple who had enjoyed a bottle of fizz in the room left their names, the date of their stay and a little message on the label of each bottle then placed it on the shelf.  It was really lovely.

After we'd drank our bottle, we too left our names and the date of our stay on the label and added it to the collection.

If, after reading this, you decide to stay at Crab Manor and end up in the Mount Nelson room, see if you can spot it.

As well as enjoying the hot tub, sauna, and amazing bath, we also had a meal at the Crab and Lobster.

As its name suggests, the menu was predominantly seafood.  Any kind of fish you could want was served.  It was quite pricey, with starters priced from £9 and mains starting at £20.

Like other restaurants where the menu is expensive, the portion sizes at Crab and Lobster are not small; not by any stretch of the imagination.  I ordered fish cakes for my starter, with Tom having tandoori prawns.

The presentation was amazing and the food was simply out of this world.

When the mains came, you could have knocked me down with a feather - they were ginormous.

I'd ordered fish and chips - keeping it classy - and I swear I have never seen a fish like it.  It was like they'd caught, captured and killed Jaws, fried him in batter then served him to me.  It came with huge chunky homemade chips, too, which must have been made from 10 potatoes.

Tom had a curry, which again was huge.  A large dish of rice, a huge dish with the curry, and accompanied with homemade naan bread and poppadom.  He also ordered chips, as he was expecting the portions to be small.

Needless to say, we had enough food left after our attempt to feed another couple.  I didn't even eat half of my fish and chips.  In fact, I was so full that I couldn't even finish my wine.

What was most disappointing was that we were both so full we simply had no room for dessert so missed our chance to try the plate they do with mini tasters of their entire dessert menu.  Gutted.

If ever you do go to Crab and Lobster, please don't be fooled by some of the reviews on the internet which say the portions are small.  You most definitely get what you pay for.

Breakfast was impressive, too.  Although we were both still fit to burst after our banquet the night before, we ventured down to inspect the offerings.

There was the usual fruit, yoghurt, cereals, pastries, juices etc. and a hot menu which was just as 'wow' as the rest of our stay.  Steak, kippers, smoked salmon (not all together, obvs) and, of course, a full English.  Anything you could have wanted was there.  Tom had steak, eggs and hash browns while I settled on a simple favourite of boiled eggs and soldiers.

The whole experience was just that - an experience.  I came away feeling so relaxed, rejuvenated and like I'd had a break from the whole world.

The little extras thrown in make the whole thing even  better.  We had a Nespresso machine in our room as well as crisps, sweets, biscuits and tea and coffee making facilities.  We also had robes and slippers, which were great to snuggle up in when fresh out the bath.

There were complementary canapes served in the lounge before dinner, as well as a small bar.

Possibly the manor's most famous attraction is the secret beer tap.  Yes, you read that right.  There is a secret beer tap in the manor house.  Each room has a pint glass - just one, which I thought was odd - and a little note encouraging guests to find the tap and make the most of the complementary beer.

I asked one of the staff members where the secret prosecco tap was, and why there was only one pint glass per room, but he just laughed at me.  If I could make any suggestion for improvement, it would be that.

Overall, we had the most beautiful overnight stay.  The hotel was immaculate.  It was beautifully decorated and maintained, the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the whole experience was just incredible.  The food was incredible.  It wasn't pretentious, it wasn't so small you needed a magnifying glass, and it wasn't like anywhere I have ever been before.  It was outstanding.

We will most definitely be returning for another stay to try out one of the other rooms and hopefully be able to squeeze in dessert!

Anyone looking for a romantic break in Yorkshire, look no further than the Crab Manor Hotel at the Crab and Lobster.  When I told people where we were going, everyone said the same: "Oh my God it's amazing there", "I've heard amazing things, it's supposed to be fabulous", "Tom's done good, you'll have the best time."  I was so glad that all the hype and the build up didn't disappoint.

One of the best places I have ever, ever stayed.  I'm already trying to work out when we can return!


This will be my last birthday as a Derham

Just a few more days until my last birthday as a Derham.

It'll also be my last birthday as a Durham/Dereham/Durhem/Dearham and all the other crazy variations I get on a daily basis.

I swear I've had my name misspelt/mispronounced so many times, I'm not even sure what the right way is anymore!

I absolutely love my birthday, I always have.  Back in the old school MSN days I'd have a birthday countdown in my MSN display name from about 250 days.

This year's celebrations have extra poignancy not just because I'll be turning the ripe old age of 25, but because it's the last time I'll be sent cards addressed to 'Miss N J Derham'.

In my life plan, that I drafted in my late teens, I always imagined I would be married by 25.  When that seemed like the impossible dream, I scrapped the plan and put to bed my 'goals' by which I wanted a house, a baby etc.  I convinced myself that I'd be knocking on the door of my 30s before a wedding was even an option.

Now, just days away from turning 25, and our wedding is just over six months away.

This time next year, I'll be getting cards in the post addressed to 'Mrs N J Kershaw'.  Crikey, when you put a 'Mrs' in front of my name it makes me sound/feel well old!!

I used to always think that 25 was old.  Meeting people in their mid-20s as a teenager, they felt so much older than you.  So much more mature, together and grown-up.  I sometimes can embody these traits, but the rest of the time my life is just as much of a mess as 10 years ago.

I still get crabby when I haven't had enough sleep, I still have absolutely no idea about anything to do with mortgages and interest rates and variables and all that jargon, and I still have to Google how long to boil an egg to make it nice and runny.

Maybelline dream matte mousse is still my go-to day-to-day foundation, I still don't know how to do a French plait and I still just want my mum when I'm sick.

When people ask me how old I am, I have to take a second to remember.  The first thing I want to say is '19'.  But I'm almost closer to 30 than I am to 19 - that's scary!!

Since I was 19 I've been through university, graduated, worked at a job I love in my dream career for over two years, bought a house, got engaged, got two cats, and so much more besides.  It's crazy that so much has happened in six years, yet I don't feel any different.  Except being unable to drink the same as I used to.  And maybe a bit poorer.  How did I have more money as a student than I do working full-time?!

My Timehop is a daily reminder at the moment of three years of outlandish freshers fun when I was at uni.  While I cringe most days, questioning what it was that ever possessed me to post some of the things I did, I have to smile to myself at the amazing experiences I had.  While they do feel like they were one really long, sometimes stressful, dream; they were some of the best days of my life.

Now, here I am about to turn 25.  I don't feel it, though, and I certainly don't think I look it.  Especially if the incident in the gym the other week is anything to go by...

Me and my best friend were in there one night after work and one of the staff members approached us and asked our age.  It transpired that he thought we were under 16 and was going to try and throw us out for being in the gym past our 'allotted time'.

We couldn't believe it!  Almost 25 and being mistaken for being 15.  I must look more like a 15-year-old now than I did 10 years ago, because I was always mistaken for being older.

Age is a funny thing.  The older you get, the less it matters.  That doesn't mean I won't be milking the celebrations and prolonging it for as long as possible.  Meals out with family and friends, drinks with Tom, some nice days out, and a hell of a lot of cake.


Choose a job you love & you'll never have to work a day in your life

If you were to rank all the jobs in the world that make a difference to people's lives, I'm pretty sure journalist would be quite low down.

You'd obviously get doctors, nurses, police officers, firefighters, teachers, the armed forces, scientists, health researchers, charity workers, and probably hundreds more listed way ahead of journalists.  And rightly so.

When people think of journalists many think 'hacks' who dig into people's backgrounds, reveal their deepest, darkest secrets and go out of their way to find scandal or ruin people's lives.  That's maybe true for a really tiny proportion, but not for the rest of us.  And certainly not for me and the other local and regional journalists who were at the O2 Media Awards last night.

Earlier this week I spent the morning with a man who lost his wife to secondary breast cancer just four weeks ago.  I didn't know this man before I went out to meet him and I didn't know his wife.  I sat there for over an hour with him as he told me all about how she was diagnosed with breast cancer and beat the disease, only for it to return in a more aggressive form.  He told me about her fight, her struggles and the pain that they both went through as they watched cancer take hold of her.  It was truly heartbreaking to hear.

I listened to him and comforted him where I could, telling him how brave he was to be able to speak out about it.  Not only to talk about it so soon after her passing, but to a complete stranger as well.  He trusted me enough to share his heartbreaking story with me, and trusted me to tell it to our readers (I was going to say the world, but I know that would be over-egging the pudding somewhat!) on his behalf.

That's when I realised that, while we may not be doctors or teachers, we do good in different ways. And listening to all the amazing work that other journalists have done made me feel so humbled.

The last few weeks I've been working on a huge feature for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Each week will feature a different story and a different person's experience with the disease.

I've mainly spoken to friends who have/have had breast cancer which, in some ways, is more daunting than speaking to complete strangers.  There's an added pressure to get everything perfect when it's someone you know.  But when this gentleman contacted me earlier this week about his wife's recent passing, I knew it would be tough.

He was still grieving and was still struggling to talk about it - of course he was, it was only four weeks ago he lost her.  I'm not sure I could speak about it so openly, and to someone I didn't know, so soon after.

But hopefully by me sharing his experience, and the experiences of the other ladies I have spoken to, it will do some good.  It will encourage at least one person to check their boobies for changes or lumps.  Or it will encourage someone to go for that screening that they've been putting off since they got the letter six months ago.  If sharing experiences of others can help raise more awareness and encourage more people to look out for the signs, then I have done some good.

I've written some terribly sad and heartbreaking stories in my two and a bit years as a reporter.  From infant loss to stillbirths to childhood cancers to adult cancers to sudden deaths and obituaries.  It makes me feel incredibly proud of the work I do when people I don't know trust me to tell the story about the hardest, darkest, most difficult time in their life.  I'm not sure I could have the strength if I was in their shoes to be so open with a complete stranger about something so personal.

It all seems worthwhile when someone gets in touch afterwards to say thank you, and I know I did their story justice.  The biggest thing for me was after I shared the heartbreaking story of Emma Fisk, who died aged just 25 from cervical cancer.  After I wrote that, I had loads of women get in touch saying they'd booked their smears after reading Emma's story.  Being able to raise the profile of such important things and have people actually listen, and act upon it, is such a rewarding part of this job.

It is that trust people have in me that makes me love my job even more.

I've always joked I was destined to be a journalist because of how nosey I am.  I mean, don't get me wrong, it helps no end.  But I love people too.  I love telling people's stories - whether they are happy or sad.

Each day I go home full of admiration for people I meet through work.  Admiring their strength, bravery and courage.  It also makes me feel so blessed and reminds me that, no matter what obstacles may be thrown in my way sometimes,  I really shouldn't let it get me down.  If there are people out there going through real hell and real battles and they can carry on with their heads held high, then I really have no excuse.

Last night's award ceremony was amazing and, while I didn't walk away with the top prize, the judges said some really good/nice things about me. I'm still so young and so new into this career path it was such a huge honour to be shortlisted and highly commended. I love my job and the work I do, and for others to recognise that makes it even better.