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I was once 17 stone but walking changed my life

Dee Ucuncu was housebound due to her weight until she took up walking. Here she shares her inspiring story

split screen of woman before and after weight loss
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I've struggled with weight my whole life and have been obese since childhood. At five foot tall, I was 17 stone at my heaviest. I was in my mid-30s, but I felt like a 78-year-old.

I struggled with lots of daily things, including walking, getting dressed and making food for my kids. I had to keep a chair next to the oven so I could take breaks and every day was a physical struggle.

Looking back, I think I was depressed. A lot was going on in my life and I was using food to suppress my unhappiness. I got to the point where I couldn’t look in the mirror because I felt ashamed, and I didn't even want to go outside.

Woman walking in a striped top
Dee began walking to overhaul her lifestyle

The turning point

In 2019 I was on a plane and the man sitting next to me called over the steward to say he didn’t want to sit next to a fat person because I was overflowing on the seat.

I was heartbroken and couldn’t believe that I'd got myself into such a state that people were making such comments. I cried all the way home and I knew I needed to lose weight, but I didn't know how.

I decided walking seemed like the simplest way to fit exercise into my day, but I didn't even own any trainers and I never usually walked anywhere. I didn’t go out except to take the kids to school in the car and if I did walk at all, I felt dizzy and found it mentally draining.

Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe.© Getty
Dee was nervous before her first walk

I had to gear myself up to begin walking and the first time I went I was too apprehensive to go alone, so my eldest child, who was 10 at the time, joined me. Having someone with me gave me the encouragement I needed – I knew I wouldn’t turn back with someone by my side.

INSPIRATION: I'm doing my first ultramarathon at 46 – and I've never been a runner! 

The first step

I felt great after that first walk. It was only half a mile but I felt I had accomplished something, just by stepping out and walking. I felt free for the first time in a long time.

When nothing bad happened to me on that first walk, I was confident enough to go alone and that confidence continued to build. I made my walks longer each time and went out three times a week, making my walk longer each time.

My motivation was a wow moment for me. I was building the energy and taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle – and I was enjoying myself!

Woman standing on beach
Dee soon found she loved walking

Walking quickly became part of my daily life and I rarely use my car. If I was ever bored or stressed, I just went out for a walk and I felt a lot healthier and fitter very quickly.

To this day, I’m shocked at how far I can walk and I’m always on the lookout for walking races. I love them because you get to see amazing scenery and earn a medal.

 DISCOVER: I went for a walk every day - here's what it did to my stress levels 

Life changing walks

Walking helped me gain the confidence to tackle harder things. I began spinning which I never thought I'd be brave enough to do, and I'm even part of a running group! It took a lot for me to join because in my head I’ve still got that obese woman telling me that I can't do it.

Walking has led me to meet more people in the community and even gave me the self-confidence to go to India on my own last November. That sort of thing would never have been possible before. I went to a concert over there and was standing up for a long time – before, that would have been impossible. It’s small things that make the biggest difference.

Woman with a 25km sign
Dee is challenging herself to walk further

My goal is to walk an ultrarace of 100km Last summer I did 25km and this summer I’m going that bit further with 33km. This is to honour my journey and to help a local charity.

The great outdoors

The fitness you can gain through walking is underestimated, and the mental benefits are huge too. Being in the outdoors appeals as it helps my mental health and I gain more from being outside than I do from being stuck inside.

 READ: I found a sense of freedom at 49 through a challenging new hobby 

The Ramblers Wellbeing Walks

In 2022 I joined my first Ramblers Wellbeing Walk. It's a nationwide project set up to help people’s wellbeing and get more of us active. It’s a safe space for people to come and share and have a little bit of outdoor activity.

I was keen to join because it married together walking and socialising, but when I got there, I noticed they were looking for walk leaders and decided to apply. My old worries did resurface, and I was hesitant because I had been housebound for so long, but I wanted to join a walking group so I thought I might as well set up my own!

Women walking together
Dee makes sure her walks are inclusive

Everyone on the wellbeing walks has a different reason for coming, but it all comes back to socialising and mental health. Everybody is really friendly and as soon as somebody new comes along, everyone huddles around them.

Encouraging others

When I started choosing routes for my rambles, I made sure to pick one with lots of seating so that it was open to everybody, no matter their fitness level.

Walking for an hour is a lot for some people and when I was losing weight, I couldn’t find anything that made me feel supported, so I wanted to change things for the better. We don’t go at a fast pace, we chat and there are several places on the walk for resting.

Walking is the easiest exercise you can do. It’s low impact and eases you into fitness. I love that it’s accessible; just step outside and go around your neighbourhood.

Walking will always hold a special place in my heart, and I want to give that belief to other people.

Dee is a Ramblers Wellbeing Walks leader. Each Wellbeing Walk is free and accessible to all and ranges from a slow to steady pace along tried-and-tested paths. Find out more.

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