Matthew Briggs received the wakeup call he needed from Facebook.
Or more specifically, Facebook’s photo-tagging feature. In December of 2009, Briggs attended a Christmas party, returned home, checked Facebook and saw that he’d been tagged in a photo taken at the party of himself and his father.
He was stunned.
“I’d fooled myself into thinking I wasn’t that much bigger than him,” says Briggs, 30. “The truth is, I was actually twice his size.”
Briggs had ballooned to 434 pounds without really being aware of it. That night after the party, his dad asked him a simple question: “Are you happy?”
“I had to admit that I wasn’t,” he says.
Thus began his journey to change his lifestyle and his future. Through a British weight-loss program called Slimming World – which has U.S. headquarters in Lewisville – Briggs has lost 245 pounds. The Englishman, who was named Slimming World’s Greatest Loser 2012, was in Lewisville last week to talk about how he transformed his life.
Briggs admits he was skeptical that anything could work for him when he was that overweight. But when his father offered him a bet – that he’d pay for the first 12 weeks of Slimming World meetings if Briggs managed to lose 2 stone, or 28 pounds – he couldn’t turn it down.
“My dad’s from Yorkshire. Where I’m from, a Yorkshireman is classed as a person who really watches their wallet,” he says. “To get money out of him was really a massive sort of thing.”
So Briggs agreed to go to his first group meeting. He sat quietly and listened as the group's consultant told them all about the plan, which allows for unlimited amounts of fruits, vegetables, pasta, potatoes, rice, eggs, lean meats and more. Members are also given the option of having three “Healthy Extras” such as whole-wheat bread or cheese per day, while being allowed indulgences such as sauce or chocolate (Briggs's favorite) in moderation. This way, members don't have to fight feelings of deprivation or the need to rebel.
Was he skeptical that such a program could ever work?
“Oh, completely,” Briggs says. “But you don’t say anything – especially the first night. And plus, I still had to get weighed.”
The scale read 434 pounds, or 31 stone. Briggs started the eating plan the very next day.
“The first week I switched from sugar Coke to Diet Coke, and went to three meals a day,” he recalls. “I went back to cooking at night – I love to cook. I kept it simple to start: a meat and two vegetables, or pasta dishes where I was making my own sauce.
“I went and started buying the books and the magazine for all the recipes,” he adds. “When you eat all this food, you’re thinking, ‘There’s not a chance that I’ve lost any weight.’”
When he returned to his group meeting a week later, he’d lost 12 and a half pounds. The weight continued to drop, and by December 2010 he was 140 pounds lighter.
Although his friends and coworkers knew he was losing weight – Briggs kept everyone posted via weekly texts – it took seeing him in person to really grasp the change.
“I work in the retail business, and one of the managers in our company works 60 miles away, so I don’t see him often,” he says. “I went to a meeting down in London, and I was talking to another manager there. He came over as I was going to put my coat away, and he said to the woman, ‘Who’s that you were talking to?’ She said, ‘It’s Matt.’ He was like, ‘Shut up. No, it’s not.’”
The reaction from strangers has also been interesting for Briggs, who has received a lot of press in Britain.
“People make comments, like in the Daily Mail [newspaper] and stuff,” he says. “People comment on the story like, ‘Did this person ever see a mirror?’ Yeah, you see a mirror, but when you see yourself every day, you know you’re big but you don’t realize how big.”
Then there are the more flattering comments. Does he often hear, “Wow, he’s good-looking” these days?
“Yes,” Briggs admits. “It’s still very bizarre to hear it, because to me, I don’t think of myself like that. I’m just me. And I sometimes don’t recognize it. One day my friend said, ‘That person was flirting with you.’ I was like, ‘Were they?’”
But Briggs is enjoying the attention, along with his suddenly-active lifestyle. An avid runner these days, he hopes to finish the New York marathon next year.
So what’s the catch to a program that allows people to feel full and still lose weight?
“There is no catch if you really embrace the plan and follow it,” he says, adding that those who are skeptical can learn more at www.slimmingworldusa.com. If you’re thinking this is a diet, you’re doomed to fail. You might lose a bit of weight, but then you’ll get stuck in a rut. You really have to embrace it as a change in lifestyle.”
Before his trip last week, it had been six years since Briggs was on an airplane. Back then, he paid for a first-class ticket to have a bigger seat and he needed to ask for a seatbelt extension. This time, “I actually Tweeted a picture when we boarded at Heathrow: ‘OK, I didn’t need an extension and I have this much belt to spare!’
“Everything’s changed,” he adds. “A lot of my friends are turning 30 this year, and some of them are dreading it. But it’s a brand-new start for me.”