Newry woman transforms body and mind following personal heartache

A Newry woman who has spent her life caring for others has been nominated for an inspirational award for her personal transformation following the tragic loss of her young son and parents.

Andrea McCormack is amongst the finalists of Unislim’s inaugural Inspire Awards. Despite losing four stone during the past year, she has been nominated for the WOW Award, which recognises a personal accomplishment unrelated to weight loss.

The mum of four’s third child, John was just three-year-old when he was diagnosed with cancer. “He passed six months later, just before his fourth birthday,” recalls Andrea, admitting that she turned to comfort eating to cope with the loss.

Andrea's son John, died aged just three
Andrea's son John, died aged just three

Acutely aware of how precious time was with her children, the former doctor’s receptionist dedicated her life to raising her family.

Now aged 25, 23 and 16, in more recent years Andrea has also been busy caring for her elderly parents and was left devastated when they both died within two days of each other last January.

“Mummy passed on the Tuesday and daddy died on the Thursday - my 50th birthday. Mummy had dementia and daddy was ailing, but their passing was sudden and unexpected.

Andrea's late parents pictured on their wedding
Andrea's late parents pictured on their wedding

“When my parents passed I felt a void in my life. I just sat back in the house – ate, drank, and felt I wasn’t worth anything.”

It was a photograph of herself taken with her niece, wearing a floral vest top, ahead of her formal that kickstarted Andrea to transform her mind and body.

“I decided I had to start doing something for me and I walked in alone.”

It was the chance reading of a Facebook post shared by her aunt of a success story at a local Unislim group that gave her the impetus to act. “I just wasn’t very happy with myself and the size I was and when I saw the post I thought ‘here goes, this is where I need to go’," says Andrea, who started her journey in Arlene Carlisle’s class in October 2022.

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“It did take me courage to go because I normally don’t do things myself, but I decided I had to start somewhere and walked in alone.

“I went to the Tuesday morning class at 9.30, which suited me well after my daughter had went to school.”

Unislim, which was founded in Newry in 1972 by Agnes McCourt, is celebrating its 51st anniversary. It offers weekly classes across Northern Ireland, to support, motivate and inspire members to reach their happy weight.

As well as the accountability of a weekly weigh-in, Andrea enjoyed the weekly topics, recipes ideas, healthy alternative suggestions and app tracker.

Andrea’s transformation wasn’t just physical – she gained many friends, who were so supportive of her weigh loss journey and her grief journey, and she regained a belief in herself, having the confidence to go back into the workplace.

“The weight loss gave me the confidence to get back into the work after 23 years. The opportunity arose of a part-time job as a receptionist at Mourne Office Supplies in Warrenpoint after Easter and it’s been great, enthuses Andrea.

She was also grateful that her employer allowed her to start later on a Tuesday to allow her to keep attending  her Unislim class.

Her weigh loss enabled her to regain the joy of clothes shopping, after years of trying on new clothes in the privacy of her home, she was confident again to use shop changing rooms.

“My nephew’s wedding was in July and it was great to be able to lift something off the rail, without feeling I was putting on a tent.”

Arlene is one of 12 finalists in the wellbeing awards, whose categories also include Most Inspiring Transformation, Community Spirit Award and Health Hero Award.

The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony at The Merchant Hotel, Belfast, on October 4 and Andrea has already began her preparations with hair, beauty and dress hire appointment made.

The 51-year-old already has set herself further health and fitness goals, hoping to tone up and loose another “stone and half or two stone,” with the help of a personal trainer, organised by her brother.

““My son's graduation is in November and I would like to look well for that,” adds Andrea.

Andrea with her family at a wedding this summer
Andrea with her family at a wedding this summer

Her advice to others who have suffered personal loss or who have dedicated their lives to putting others ahead of themselves is to “start looking after yourself”.

“When it comes to weigh loss, your motivation needs to be yourself. There's no point saying you are going to do it for your husband or children. I did try and used to yo-yo. It never works”.