After leaving EastEnders for the second time in October 2003, Lucy Benjamin weighed 8 1/2st and was a size 12 which, although not big, was the largest Lucy had ever been and was, she felt, too bulky for her small 5ft frame.
"I had a bloated tummy, flabby arms and thunder thighs," she says. So the actress enlisted Closer’s diet and fitness team and just over a month later, she had lost a stone and trimmed down to a svelte 7st 7lbs and a size 8.
"I feel great," she said as she reached her weight goal. "I actually enjoyed it!" Here Lucy talks to Closer about her experiences with the Closer diet plan.
How did you feel about gaining weight?
I told myself it didn’t matter and I tried not to let my weight get me down. But I was in denial. My chin became really spotty and my hair started falling out due to the stress playing the role of Lisa (Fowler) put me under. I stopped buying clothes, as I didn’t want to know my dress size and I stopped wanting to go out.
I became really defensive. TV adds about 10lbs which served as a constant reminder to me. My mum, who’s very honest, rang me up and said: "Lucy, you’ve put on a few pounds." I thought, yes, but how do I motivate myself enough to lose them?
Did you use clothes to slim you down?
I wore black. And hipster trousers that were perfect for drawing attention away from my tummy.
Did you ever diet before?
I never worried about my weight as a teenager because I was a dancer and burnt it all off. But when I was 18 I became obsessed with eating sweets. I piled on weight – I went up to 9st and a size 14, which for my height is heavy. In desperation, I went on the Cambridge Diet. By the end of the five weeks, I’d lost nearly 2st. But I piled it all back on once I went back to normal eating. In my head, I always assumed diets didn’t work after that. Until now.
What was the turning point?
I saw myself on the TV with this enormous tummy bulging out of my trousers and I thought, "Lucy, that has got to go". Like many women who suddenly see themselves in a holiday photo, I realised I had to do something about it.
Why was this diet so important to you?
It was about getting myself back and taking some control of my life. I’d worked such long hours on EastEnders, so having time to sit in a sauna, have a facial, massage and healthy lunch felt like the biggest treats in the world. I’m a very active person, but this made me slow down and enjoy my own company.
Good diets aren’t just about losing weight. They’re about saying, this is "me" time. Ultimately, you are doing it for yourself and you’re saying that you matter. I’ve never been one of those groomed, sophisticated women and I’m rubbish at being girly. But this made me feel feminine. There’s power and confidence in health and beauty.
What was so different on this diet for you?
I ate more meat than normal. But I bought really good cuts and it was great that I could eat a small tin of baked beans with my evening meal.
What were the hardest things to give up?
Bread, potatoes and wine. I didn’t think I ate that much bread, but it was really mounting up. And giving up baked potatoes was hell. I loved having a few glasses of wine in the evening, to relax after filming all day.
Was it worth it?
Totally. The bloated, heavy feeling I had after a lot of meals vanished, which was a great incentive. And drinking loads of water cleared my skin up. Incredibly, it also really filled me up before meals.
So how did you cope with the cravings?
It got so bad I dreamt I was eating an enormous plate of gravy-covered roast potatoes in my third week. Any time I fancied a glass of wine, I distracted myself with an apple or a glass of water and told myself how good it would be for my skin.
I pushed the biscuits to the back of the cupboard and the lettuce to the front of the fridge. I was allowed to eat half-fat cheese and pickled onions, which I love, so it wasn’t all bad.
How did you find the exercise regime?
My trainer Sarah Williams was encouraging, but tough. I’d always wormed my way around male trainers before but Sarah was having none of it. She even got me doing 1,000 sit-ups in one day! But when you end up with a flat stomach and toned biceps, you don’t argue.
How do you feel now?
I feel like one of those slimmer of the year winners holding out their old trousers, boasting about how they can get two people into them. I feel great and have a fantastic sense of achievement. Now, I’m looking to the future. I wanted to feel confident and look my best. I feel happy and confident about the future. Thanks Closer!