Hayley Mitchell, 37, Mudgeeraba, Qld
The pictures had arrived!
Opening the message on my phone from my friend Natalie, I scrolled through the snaps from her wedding. But clicking on one, I couldn't believe my eyes.
The woman in the photo had my smile and was wearing my clothes but she had a big belly and a chubby face.
My heart sank. The woman was me. I was at least 40 kilos heavier than I ever imagined I would be. I was disgusted.
How had I let things get so bad?
It had all started when I was 18 and left home. Instead of making home-cooked food, I got takeaways each night.
'Let's treat ourselves to a pizza,' I'd say to my partner Paraka, now 38, all too often. Instead of sharing, we'd order a whole one each and eat them in one go.
In three years I put on 40 kilos, ballooning to 110 kilos. Although I knew I'd put on weight, it didn't occur to me to do anything about it.
Marrying Paraka in 2004, I didn't feel like a beautiful bride. I hated how I looked in my dress. But even that didn't spur me into action. By then I was often eating McDonald's or KFC for lunch then gorging on takeaways four or five nights a week.
When our kids, Taylah, now nine, Lincoln, six, and Cooper, four, came along, instead of setting a healthy example, things carried on as before. My 'mummy tummy' ballooned even further.
I knew I was big, but avoiding mirrors and having my photo taken, I was able to stay ignorant of just how bad it was.
Then that photo from my mate's wedding came through and I couldn't ignore the truth anymore. I'd reached a size 24 and 110 kilos was far too big for my 153cm frame. I had to lose weight.
For two months it preyed on my mind. I knew I needed to eat better and exercise but it seemed so overwhelming.
Then one day at a shopping centre, I saw a stall for Goodlife Health Clubs. They were offering 10 visits for $20. Quite a bargain!
A few days before payday, I only had $20 in my account. But suddenly something in me took over. I went to the ATM, got cash out and put my name down.
Going to the gym for the first time was daunting.
'What would you like to achieve?' asked Karl, a personal trainer. Bursting into tears, I told him all about my eating habits and lack of exercise. Admitting how bad things had got was hard, but I felt relieved. Karl was understanding and together we devised a plan to get me fit and healthy.
Starting gently, I did weight-training once a week and used the treadmill or cross trainer three times a week.
I also overhauled my diet. Instead of three huge meals a day, Karl advised I eat six smaller meals instead. I replaced bread, pasta and takeaways with oats, sweet potato, and brown rice with chicken and vegies.
The weight began to fall off at a rate of around a kilo a week.
Over time, my clothes started to feel loose and I noticed I could walk further on the treadmill. My lifestyle change was paying off!
Then I signed up to a 12-week intensive training programme, which meant I dropped another 19 kilos. Instead of hating the gym, it turned out to be my happy place. If I ever felt stressed, I'd jump on the treadmill.
After 18 months, I weighed 55 kilos. I'd halved my body weight and my mummy tummy was gone! I was so proud of myself. But there was a downside. I was left with loose skin hanging around my middle, inner thighs and upper arms.
That's when I made a very difficult decision. In July last year I flew to Thailand and paid $20,000 to get five kilos of loose skin removed. It was a gruelling experience but the transformation was incredible.
After the scars had healed and the swelling went down, I couldn't believe my own reflection. For the first time in my life I had a flat stomach!
I'm now a size 10 and weigh 60 kilos. Since my op I've been able to train even more, so a lot of that is pure muscle!
But the best thing for me is the impact my new lifestyle has had on my family. Paraka has lost 35 kilos and the kids' lives have changed for the better. They eat healthy meals with me and are always swimming or doing sport.
They know a takeaway is a treat to have now and again, not a nightly occurrence.
Looking back, I can't believe how far I've come. My body may have shrunk but I have the biggest smile on my face!
Originally published in that’s life! Issue 44 – November 3, 2015