MP Carolyn Harris has spent lockdown serving up piles of chips to hungry kids and NHS heroes but is chuffed to have stuck to her diet after shedding seven stone.
The former barmaid and dinner lady – who, as Keir Starmer ’s Parliamentary Private Secretary has the key job of covering the Labour leader’s back in the house – has shrunk from 19 stone to 12 in a year, dropping from a size 24 to 16.
She was ready to show off the results in her sparkly dress for a Strictly Come Dancing-style contest in South Wales – before Covid-19 scuppered her plans.
“It’s unfortunately been postponed,” says the campaigning Swansea East MP. “That gives us longer to practise American Smooth to Michael Buble. And we had flags with us in our dancing gear, we don’t want them to go to waste.”
Physical tiredness in April last year triggered a change in her lifestyle, unleashing a commitment as formidable as her fight for working people.
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Taking a pause from organising meals for 400 hard-up people and 100 staff in Swansea’s Morriston Hospital, she declares, laughing: “I’ve not cheated once. Not one chip. I’ve not had a chip despite cooking mountains of them.
“You see how much you’ve lost, then think is it really worth backtracking for a chocolate or a biscuit. Often I thought I’d have a cup of tea with a Kit-Kat but then thought, no, I’d be forever upset with myself.
“It’s so easy to slip back into bad habits so I don’t allow myself a cheat.”
The bundle of energy’s love of politics won her respect from MPs in all parties – but she found her weight was weakening her.
She began to wonder if a meeting was too far away to walk to and she was always looking for a chair.
Carolyn said: “I woke up one day and I couldn’t even be bothered to run the Hoover around and I thought this has got ridiculous. It was all down to the fact I allowed myself to put so much weight on. I never lost my enthusiasm and energy for work and I’ll never lose that but I was losing my physical energy, feeling tired and quite depressed.”
A chat with Labour’s ex-deputy leader Tom Watson, who shed eight stone, helped. “He said about the keto diet [low carb, high fat]. I thought I’m never going to do this, it’s too stressful. Now I can’t imagine not doing it.
“Your tastes change, your body changes and your mind changes. You get a phenomenal amount of energy from the inside out so physically you’re not tired and mentally you’re not tired.
“I’d eat anything before. I loved mash and crisps and chocolate, pasties, and a cream tea,” she recalls. “Now I predominantly live off cottage cheese, any kind of cheese, meats, green veg and salad. I eat a lot of fish. I eat a huge amount of walnuts, that’s my sweet thing, a walnut. At least a packet of walnuts a day.
“I can’t even drink gin and tonic. I can only drink gin and soda.
“Twice in my life I had willpower. I packed in smoking the first time I tried and I’ve got the same determination with the weight. The only clothes I’ve got is what I had to buy since I lost weight. I’d have nothing to wear if I went back.”
Harris represents the city she was born into nearly 60 years ago, and where she persuaded the Mecca to let her use Swansea’s bingo hall to feed the hungry and health workers battling Covid-19.
“We’ve got council workers doing deliveries. I’ve got tradesmen, painters and decorators, plumbers, electricians, packing to take food out,” she explains.
“We demonstrate our support for the hospital workers and we don’t want anyone vulnerable to go hungry.
“And we’re getting pens, glue, paper, books and even iPads – and some bikes and scooters for the garden – so children not going to school don’t fall behind.”