x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

My life changed when...

We all experience change in our lives. But what happens when something transforms your life forever? While some people return to their old routine, others embark on a whole new path.

Jacki Miltner who lost 30 kilograms on a diet and joined a slimming club. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Jacki Miltner who lost 30 kilograms on a diet and joined a slimming club. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

We all experience change in our lives. But what happens when something transforms your life forever? While some people return to their old routine, others embark on a whole new path. We meet four women whose lives will never be the same again

I lost 30kg

When Jacki Miltner, from Paisley, Scotland, saw pictures taken on her holiday in the Maldives she was horrified by how she looked. Four years later, Jacki, 44, who lives in the Old Town, Dubai, has changed her life by shedding 30kg. She is married to Omar, 51, from the Palestinian Territories

When I first arrived in the UAE in 1999 I weighed a healthy 59kg. But even though I was thrilled to be here, it was not everything I had imagined. I was working hard, did not have children, which can often give you an immediate social circle, and my husband worked until late at night, so I became quite depressed.

It wasn't a case that I was overeating but when your self-esteem starts to go you don't want to do anything and end up not doing any exercise. If my husband was working late and I was preparing the meal, I'd eat as I went along and then eat again when he came in.

I realise I was quite unhappy and eating for comfort. But even though I knew I was gaining weight I just covered up with loose-fitting clothes. When I couldn't get into a size 16 anymore, I just went shopping.

The turning point came after a trip to the Maldives in July 2006. We always make an album of our holidays and when I saw the photographs I thought: "What a beautiful paradise but it could have been so much better if I hadn't been 89kg".

I decided there and then to do something about it and started going to the gym. I lost 10kg quite quickly and felt better. Exercise is the best remedy for unhappiness because it gives you such a high. But even though I wanted to drop another 10kg, I couldn't do it by myself.

Then I helped a friend redecorate her home. She was in her 60s and did things like yoga and aqua aerobics but she also revealed she went to Good Habits - a slimming club in the UAE. I was so inspired I logged onto the club's website that day, and at my first meeting in September last year I weighed 79kg.

One thing I quickly realised was that I was not going to learn some big secret - it was everything I already knew about healthy eating, portion control and exercise, but when you talk to other people on the plan it's very motivating. I'd look forward to the weekly weigh-in, and by January I'd hit my target weight of 65kg.

I've lost more weight thanks to a hiking holiday. It took me down to 60kg (I'm 167cm tall, and now a size 10). I feel like I glow inside and out. I have so much energy now and am constantly looking for new things to do. I'm far more confident and have a spring in my step. I don't know why weight has such a huge impact on us but it does.


I went on an adventure

Susan Macauley, 54, from Vancouver, Canada, was happily married and running her own business in Abu Dhabi. After training for a trek to the Great Wall of China she underwent a huge physical and emotional transformation that saw her change her image, personality and perspective on life

When my husband, Bob, landed a job in Abu Dhabi working as a technical instructor it seemed like a cool thing to leave Canada and travel to the Middle East. But I gave up a high-powered job as a public relations director and I went from a corporate lifestyle to being a homemaker. I spent my time buying furniture, making dinner and going to coffee mornings. But I hated my new role. When I couldn't find a job I eventually set up my own company consulting in PR and business communications, and life was good. The marriage was happy, we were both doing well at work and there were no financial issues.

What changed is hard to say. The catalyst was a business women's meeting in Abu Dhabi. They were talking about an adventure challenge to the Great Wall of China, somewhere I'd always wanted to go, so I signed up in November 2003.

I spent the next six months training and that's when it all changed. I started losing weight, gaining confidence in my fitness and there seemed to be a connection between becoming more physically fit and psychologically strong. It was strange because at the same time I was going through "the change" so all the hormones flying around were making me feel anxious as well.

As I changed physically - I lost 9kg - I started to wear more form-fitting clothes and applied make-up daily. Before, I had dressed in big, tent-like clothes in navy, black or beige but during those six months I'd buy pink or bright blue, fitted tops, boots and mini-skirts.

It wasn't about the way I looked; it was about a different feeling inside. I started acting differently, calling people "Darling", sending texts, and wanting to go out more.

In just six months I went from being happily married to dissatisfied, so when I came back from China, Bob and I tried to figure out what to do. I wanted to save the marriage but for him - after 18 years together - it was like waking up next to someone completely different. I think he withdrew from the marriage first, but I was the one who physically left.

When I moved to Dubai in January 2005, I felt I was not only escaping from a place I was no longer comfortable in but also losing the person I loved.

For the first 18 months, I was incredibly sad but I continued my business and started doing workshops on public speaking, trained as a life coach and found out more about myself. A big part of that was launching amazingwomenrock.com in August 2008. I feel the website, my business and my one-on-one coaching are all part of my purpose in life which is to inspire people to do things they think they can't.

Every day is different now. I feel I need 25 lifetimes to do all the things I would like to do.

I am open to the idea of meeting someone else as I do get lonely sometimes, but my happiness is not dependent on that. None of this was part of the plan. The plan was to be with Bob, move back to Canada, settle down, grow old together and travel. I don't think my marriage failed. I see it as a joyful, wonderful 20 years together that was enriching for both of us. I'm also very happy now; I just don't have a plan anymore.


I got a new smile

Alison Pateman, 48, from Buckinghamshire, England, was so embarrassed about her teeth she rarely smiled. Alison, a mosaic artist who lives in Jumeirah, Dubai, with her husband, Justin, 38, spent Dh130,000 on getting a new smile

I've always hated my smile. In fact, I've wanted to change my teeth since I was in my 20s working as a PA. However, back then I didn't have the money or the time to do anything about it. My bottom teeth were crossed over, some of my teeth were missing and when I smiled I showed a lot of gum.

If I smiled in public I would always cover my mouth with my hand and people would often ask me to speak up because it made me mumble a lot.

But despite my shame I was too frightened to go to the dentist. I grew up living in Africa and if there was anything wrong with a tooth the dentist simply pulled it out. This fear grew into a phobia, causing me to shake and sweat just at the thought of a dentist; I would rather endure pain than get help and put it off until my teeth had gone bad and had to be removed.

The situation got so bad I had problems chewing my food because of the missing teeth and because I grind my teeth in my sleep, it had weakened them even more.

But I was also tired of being miserable so when we moved to Dubai in 2007 I decided to get help because I wasn't working and I had time to do something about it.

I used to drive around looking at dentists' clinics and then one day I saw a sign for The Dental Studio in Jumeirah. It sounds stupid but it looked like a house and when I went inside it wasn't like a clinic at all - it felt more like going for a spa treatment in a luxury hotel.

There I met a cosmetic dentist and I told him I wanted a nice, natural smile, not the pure white Hollywood smile that everyone would assume was false. He told me he and his team needed to do a full mouth reconstruction to balance out the pink gum on both sides of my mouth, and replace missing teeth with implants and insert crowns. The whole process took over a year to complete but because everyone there was so nice and friendly, it didn't matter.

When the big day to reveal came my mouth was pretty sore as I'd had two full days of work in the run-up. The pain was overshadowed by the pure elation I felt looking in the mirror. I couldn't believe I was looking at my teeth.

My husband drove me home and I couldn't stop crying with joy; I had this perfect, natural smile and I felt amazing. My husband couldn't believe how natural looking it is and he's had his teeth done now as well.

Now I can look at people and laugh without covering my mouth. And when I'm talking I'm far more confident and open; I think underneath I was never happy. Now I am.


I was diagnosed with cancer

When Dana Jallad, 39, a Lebanese-Jordanian, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in April 2008, she faced the double anguish of undergoing surgery and losing her father within a few days of each other. Dana, who lives in Umm Suqeim, Dubai, with her husband, Raed Saqfelhait, 41, and daughters, Karma, six, and Tayma, four, decided to face her grief head-on, launching one of the UAE's most successful cupcake businesses, in tribute to her father

When I woke up with a small swelling on my neck I did not think it was anything serious. But the next day I was signing the lease on the space for my new business and the agent advised me to see a doctor.

My doctor told me not to worry because the growth was on my thyroid, and thyroid problems could be solved. He referred me to a specialist who requested an ultrasound and biopsy, and said the growth might be cancerous. So I packed my bags and went to Jordan for a second opinion. There, doctors told me the only way they could determine if it was cancer was to have surgery.

A doctor in Beirut was recommended to me so I flew to Lebanon from Jordan for the surgery. When I came round, I was told the growth was cancer. To ensure it did not return they had completely removed the gland.

Within a couple of days I was back in Jordan with my family. Then my father, who had been suffering a depressive illness, died from complications from his medication two days after I returned. It was a huge loss and I still had my treatment to finish. Because my thyroid would try to revive itself, I needed a dose of radioactive iodine - a drug that would kill it completely. Taking it meant I had to stay in solitary confinement for three days so I had a lot of time to think.

I realised that life can end very quickly, and your legacy is what you leave behind; all this material stuff is not really the end game, it's really how you've lived your life, and how you've touched the people around you.

My father, the investor in my business, had been my confidant and had helped with all the plans. My brother and sister were co-partners but stepped up their roles after our father's death. I felt this tremendous drive to get things done as though the clock was ticking. Sugar Daddy's Bakery opened in December 2008 with a cafe in Village Mall, Jumeirah. On the first day, I was felt I could see my dad looking in, smiling and saying "I knew you could do it".