EVERY bride wants to look and feel their most beautiful on their wedding day.
But for Jo Collins her big day will always be tainted with misery – as she "huffed" her way through the ceremony in a size 22 dress.
The mum, 39, from Southampton, Hampshire, had ballooned to over 17 stone after years of gorging on McDonald's and pastries – and was " crushed" by people mistaking her as pregnant.
However, Jo's turning point came when she was on a family holiday and felt too self-conscious to get into her swimsuit.
Determined to do something about her size, Jo overhauled her diet with the help of a weight loss coach.
Jo lost six stone in just six months and now feels more confident than ever in her trim 11 stone figure.
She said: "For me, not only do I look different, but I feel different too.
"I’m so much more confident, and now I want to help others feel that way too."
Jo had been slim when she was younger but saw her waistline expand as she became more successful – eventually landing the coveted role of hotel general manager.
Jo said: "I stopped running around as much and was, instead, sat behind a desk, having food and coffee shoved in front of me all day as I did admin, answered emails and juggled spreadsheets.
"As I was earning more, too, I would go out to restaurants a lot, rationalising it by saying I had worked long hours and deserved a treat."
Most days, Jo ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the hotel she was working at, kicking off with a bowl of sugary cereal and a round of toast, followed by a pastry or plate of leftovers from the breakfast buffet.
Lunch would be either pizza or curry from the hotel kitchen, or a takeaway if any of her colleagues were doing a "McDonald's run."
Then, arriving home late, she would "reward" herself with a huge bowl of pasta, smothered with cheese, plus garlic bread and a glass of wine.
"I’d be having dinner at about 9pm, so I was eating all that food, then not doing anything to burn it off," she said.
"Pastries were a problem, too. Whenever we were holding meetings, there’d be all these plates of Danishes or croissants put out.
"But I now know that, though it seems like a treat, it’s not the right fuel for your body."
Jo soon met her partner Mark, 48, through online dating, and the pair welcomed their first child, Luke, into the world in 2007.
But, by the time they got married the following year on a beach in Perth, Australia, Jo was a size 22.
She said: "I’d had all these images of getting married on a beach in a long, flowing dress – but my dress was a size 22, and I was huffing and puffing in the heat all day.
"I told myself it was just baby weight, given that I’d recently had Luke, but if I was honest, I had been big before that."
I’d had all these images of getting married on a beach in a long, flowing dress – but my dress was a size 22, and I was huffing and puffing in the heat all day
Habitually grabbing unhealthy food as fuel, while she conducted her busy working life, Jo, who had her second baby, Finlay, in 2011, eventually reached her heaviest weight of 17st 5lb.
This meant that at 5ft 7in tall, she had a body mass index – used to gauge if a person is a healthy weight – of 38.8, compared to the NHS recommended range of 18.5 to 24.9, making her obese.
Being so overweight had a crushing effect on her confidence.
Looking back, Jo said: "Mark and I went out for my birthday once – I can’t actually remember which birthday it was now – but I had done my hair and make-up and put on this purple maxi dress.
"I thought I looked nice, but when we got to the restaurant, the waitress mistook me for being pregnant, saying something about how our seats were near the toilets, so I wouldn’t have far to go 'with the baby.'
"I fell silent and Mark took my hand. He could see I had tears in my eyes and said, 'Do you want to go? We can leave quietly and don’t have to cause a fuss, but we don’t have to stay here – it’ll be okay.'
"I did, so I went out to start the car while he politely explained why we were going.
"On the way home, I sobbed and sobbed. You don’t forget comments like that."
Then, in 2014, Jo finally knew she had to change when, having already struggled to keep up with the physical activities during a break at Center Parcs Europe, she was actually too self-conscious to swim.
She added: "My turning point didn’t come until I was on holiday five years ago.
"I was that big I was struggling to keep up with everyone else, even cycling on the flat roads.
"I remember lying, pretending I didn’t feel well so I wouldn’t have to join everyone swimming.
"The thought of putting on a swimsuit and walking out there amongst other normal, healthy mums was mortifying.
"I sat by the side of the pool and started crying. I thought to myself, 'You’re missing out on life – you have to change'."
Arriving back in the UK that April, she vowed to overhaul her life, agreeing to help a friend who had recently become a consultant for the 1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan with the social media side of her new venture.
Jo said: "She said to me, 'I hear you’re a social media whizz, could you help with my page?'
"I agreed and, as I sat there, uploading all these posts about the 1:1 diet, I found myself wondering if it could work for me."
I thought to myself, 'You’re missing out on life – you have to change'
In June 2014, Jo attended her first session with Sandra, who went on to become her coach throughout her weight loss journey.
Recalling that first meeting, she said: "Sandra and I had a chat about my goals and my lifestyle, so I could choose a plan that was right for me, which was so important.
“Then I had a medical check, was weighed and measured, and we set about putting together a plan of what I would and wouldn’t eat.”
In just six months, Jo lost an incredible six stone, keeping Sandra’s support as she moved into the “maintenance stage” of her weight loss, which she says many people struggle with.
"She explained all the different steps, so I knew she’d be there forever and a day. I didn’t want to lose all that weight only to slowly gain it back, like many of us do," Jo said.
"I wanted to keep it off for good and not just to feel dumped by my consultant the second I’d reached my goal. I still keep in touch with Sandra to this day."
Jo’s diet has been totally transformed, and she now starts the day with breakfast of porridge and berries, overnight oats or eggs.
Jo's diet before and after
Breakfast: Sugary cereal and a round of toast, followed by a pastry or plate of leftovers from the breakfast buffet
Lunch: Pizza or curry or a McDonald's takeaway
Dinner: Huge bowl of pasta with cheese, garlic bread and a glass of wine
Breakfast: Porridge and berries, overnight oats or eggs
Lunch: Fresh soups and salads
Dinner: Grilled meat and vegetables with jacket potato
Then, both lunch and dinner will be fresh soups and salads or grilled meat and vegetables with jacket potato.
She also hits the gym two to three times a week and, best of all, has the energy to run around with her boys again.
"I go running with them, swimming, play netball – all things I wouldn’t have dreamed of five years ago," she said.
In fact, Jo was so thrilled by her own success that she decided to become a 1:1 Diet consultant herself in 2017.
She concluded: "My job now is a world away from the cold, corporate world I used to work in.
"It’s amazing to see how much people’s lives can change.
"For some, it may just be about losing a few pounds, but often, it’s much more than that."
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