Lisa Riley: My scars remind me of the hard work I've done to look and feel good

Former Emmerdale actor and Loose Women star Lisa Riley speaks candidly to Gabrielle Fagan about her struggles with dieting and why she's finally found her perfect man

Lisa Riley – it's no exaggeration to say Al brought my love for life back

MUCH-loved television star Lisa Riley has won as many fans for her honesty about her battles with weight and her struggle with grief after the death of her mother, as she has for her acting.

The 42-year-old found fame playing Mandy Dingle in Emmerdale, but has gone on to present You've Been Framed and become a regular panellist on ITV's Loose Women. Now she's starring in a new BBC drama Age Before Beauty.

Having lost 12 stone, she's now a trim size 12, and she first revealed the secrets of her weight loss – achieved through exercise and diet – in bestselling book, Lisa Riley's Honesty Diet. This year she's followed it up with Lose Weight For Life.

Here, she opens up about her new look, getting engaged to her partner of four years and coping with the real fear of developing cancer.

How hard is it to stay slim?

"The biggest struggle in keeping the weight off hasn't so much been physically, but at times it's been a huge struggle mentally. In the early days, I often found it really hard to cope with how much I'd changed, and even now I still can't believe I look like I do. But this is the new me and there's no going back. I feel glowing and life's getting better as I get older.

"Sometimes I still see myself as that other person – the old, overweight me. Even now I get days where I wonder if I'm doing enough, eating well enough and being a good enough person.

"I had surgery after my weight loss to remove the excess skin, and so I have scars – but they're not ugly to me; they're scars of pride. They're a reminder of all those hours in the gym, all the food I've not eaten or drunk and how it was worth it. I feel fantastic, comfortable with my body and finally happy in my own skin. Everything's toned and I'm very neat.

"I have a folder of images on my phone of how I used to look. Seeing those and thinking, 'How on on Earth did I get so massive?' helps keep me on track."

Did you ever dream you'd get engaged and be so happy?

"Definitely not. After looking so long for love and having so many failed, disastrous relationships, I'd resigned myself to it never happening. Life was like a blanket of fun to cover up what I was really feeling about being on my own.

"In reality, I was going down a grim spiral and truly sinking because I wasn't really happy inside, although on the outside my friends saw me as bubbly 'Lisa the fixer' who was there for everyone. I was often helping to sort out their relationship problems. Luckily, when I stopped looking and finally grew up and stopped picking idiots, I found a peach."

What makes your fiancé, Al so special?

"He's different from me but he gets me and all my kookiness. We have trust, loyalty and friendship and he saw beyond the weight to the real me. I started my diet not long after we met, although it was nothing to do with going out with him. It was for me, because I was starting to realise the health implications if I didn't. He's been the ultimate support throughout.

"It took time for our relationship to develop because I had to gradually let down the defences I'd built up to protect myself, and let him in. I had a real fear of getting hurt again.

"It's no exaggeration to say he brought my love for life back, and relit my candle which had been completely blown out. He puts up with my never-ending energy and we both adore travelling."

Will you get married soon?

"I love the fact we've got engaged and made that declaration, 'I'm yours, you're mine,' and we're just happy with that. There's absolutely no wedding on the cards at the moment. If we do it, we'll probably just disappear and do it somewhere far-flung and away from everyone."

You've been told you cannot have children – was that a blow?

"When the doctors told me I was unlikely ever to conceive, even with IVF, because of the quality of my eggs, I was relieved. I was always reluctant because of my family history with cancer to consider children, especially with my own mum dying so early.

"I didn't want to ever put another human being through the pain I go through every hour of every day missing my mum. I miss her so much. We used to speak about seven times a day. She died in 2012 and the loss of her gets harder, not better, as time goes on. I'm a big family person and love kids but you don't have to be a woman and a baby-making machine, and Al is fine with that."

Do you worry about your own cancer risk?

"I live my life for today because of that cancer risk. I'm a realist and know that if I went on Google and researched, I'd have myself dead tomorrow with my history. I joke that if I went on Mastermind my specialist subject would be oncology [study of cancer and tumours].

"I have a fear of cancer but I'm not having what I call the 'Angelina Jolie' test to find out if I have the cancer gene. I can't live my life with the truth that, probably on my death certificate, it's going to be cancer. Instead, I prefer to have regular medical check-ups to safeguard my health."

You've suffered with anxiety in the past. How do you feel now?

"When I was in Emmerdale, I lost track of whether I was Mandy Dingle or Lisa Riley. I'd film all day and then go to do an appearance in the evening and no one wanted to see me, they wanted to see my loud tomboy character. So I'd turn on Mandy for them, and after a while I ended up ultimately not knowing who I really was, which left me feeling very anxious.

"It led me into drinking and eating a lot of rubbish, and sugar can hep make you feel even more panicky by raising your heart rate. Panic attacks are horrible but now I have my anxiety under control. If I feel any sign of it, I'll write my feelings in a diary, go for a walk or do an exercise class. I replace anxiety or upset with the high I get from exercising."

Has the weight loss helped your career?

"I've suddenly realised that I'm not in that envelope of, 'the funny, fat one' anymore. I don't think my weight dented my career – the roles kept coming in – but now I can be considered for lots of different things. Acting is at the heart and soul of who I am."

:: Lose Weight For Life by Lisa Riley is published by Michael Joseph, priced £16.99.

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