Amber Hart, 28, Lethbridge Park, NSW
Leafing through the wedding album, I stared at the blushing bride.
There was a smile on her face but I could see the pain in her eyes.
While most brides love being the centre of attention, she looked like she wanted to run away and hide.
It was hard to believe the woman in the photo was me.
At 160 kilos, I'd been too big to even choose my own dress - something I'd always dreamt of.
Instead, I'd had to get a large gown custom made.
Thankfully, my husband Lional, now 41, had always loved me the way I was.
When we met 11 years ago, I was already big. I'd been overweight all my life.
My sister Holly, now 26, has disabilities and her constant hospital visits meant our family ate fatty takeaways and vending machine snacks.
Then when I was 12, my dad Stuart, 50, fell 21 metres while abseiling and nearly died.
As he recovered in hospital for four months, we stayed by his side.
Traumatised, food became my source of comfort.
I would snack on chips and biscuits all day then have large portions at night.
By year 11, I weighed 100 kilos and, at 164cm tall, was clinically obese.
When I fell pregnant with my daughter Chloe, now nine, my weight had ballooned to 120 kilos.
Lional's job as a truck driver meant he was away from home a lot, so I relied on fast food even more as I adjusted to life as a busy mum.
When we got married two years later, my weight had risen to 160 kilos.
After the birth of our son Jason, now five, it climbed again.
By 2013, I'd reached 195 kilos and was too big to stand up for long, let alone play with the kids.
Just walking across the front yard left me breathless. I put on a happy face but deep down I was hurting.
I wanted to be a good role model for the kids, but they'd only ever known me this way.
But when I went to see my doctor it became clear I might not even see the kids grow up.
'If you don't change you'll be dead before you turn 30,' she told me gravely. Her words cut me deeply. I knew I needed to do something.
Whenever I tried dieting, I lost a few kilos but my hope would fade when my weight plateaued.
So my doctor suggested lap band surgery.
But with a price tag of $16,000, we'd need to access Lional's super to cover the cost.
For three years, we fought to access the money with no luck.
By now, it was a matter of life or death.
'What if I don't see our kids grow up?' I cried to Lional.
'I don't want to lose you,' he said, holding me tight.
That week, he sent a letter to his super fund explaining our situation.
'My wife needs surgery to save her life,' he wrote.
Around two months later, we were amazed when we got a letter saying access had been granted!
Straight away I booked in for the op.
Surgeons folded my stomach over and tied a gastric band around it to make it smaller.
While some people think it's a quick fix, that's not the case.
For two weeks I could only drink liquids and it was a month before I could eat solid food again.
Then my portions were smaller than my kids'.
I'd have to monitor my food intake for the rest of my life.
After four weeks, I had lost four kilos and it was clear I needed to do something more. Calling my friend Maree, 21, who is a personal trainer, I begged her for help.
'I want to get fit and healthy,' I said.
Maree encouraged me to walk the kids to school and showed me simple moves I could do at home, like push-ups off the kitchen bench and squats on my front step.
She even got me doing burpees!
We met twice a week for PT sessions and every time I walked through the kitchen, I'd stop to do five push-ups.
It was hard work, but I was determined.
Within the first month I dropped another eight kilos.
As I kept it up, the kilos kept falling off.
Five months on, my weight dropped to 140 kilos.
'You look incredible,' Lional told me sweetly.
'I feel pretty good too,' I responded with a smile.
It had been hard work but the results were so satisfying I wanted to do more.
So I joined a boot camp and went to the gym, as well as going for walks and runs. I'd gone from being virtually immobile to working out twice a day.
And I loved it!
Twelve months on, I was thrilled to reach 119 kilos.
However, dropping 76 kilos left me with massive folds of excess skin.
It hung off me like drapery and felt so uncomfortable I almost wished I was fat again.
Thankfully, I was able to have surgery to remove it.
So in September 2014, doctors cut away 11.2 kilos of excess skin.
Finally I looked as good as I felt.
Wanting to inspire others, I started studying to become a physical trainer.
Now I've lost 110 kilos and my 85-kilo frame comfortably fits size-12 clothes.
Looking back at my wedding album, I can't believe how much I've changed.
'You're still the same person I fell in love with,' Lional said sweetly as we looked at the photos.
'But I feel completely different,' I smiled.
Lional and I have decided to renew our vows.
'You'll be marrying a new woman,' I joked.
Since losing the weight, I'm fitter and healthier than ever. But most importantly I've become the mum I always wanted to be.
Not only am I able to play with my kids, but Chloe and I spend hours doing handstands and cartwheels together.
I have a long future ahead of me and I couldn't be happier!
Lional says: Amber knew she wanted to lose weight, and surgery was a tool to help.
Her willpower determined how well she did.
She put in 500 per cent and made a lifestyle change weve all embraced.
She used to sit on the sidelines and watch me play with the kids, and now we all do activities together.
We eat healthy meals and she's even inspired me to quit smoking!
Amber still has all the qualities I fell in love with and I'd renew our vows 100 times.
Originally published in that's life! Issue 01, January 7 2016.