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Name: Natasha Bunby
Before Weight: 299 pounds
How I Gained It: When I was 15 years old, my best friend Cara died of meningitis. I was absolutely devastated. She was so well-loved among our group, and I really struggled to cope. I'd never had a weight problem before, but suddenly I was turning to pastries and chips for comfort. At around the same time, my legs started giving way underneath me. It would take more than a decade before doctors finally diagnosed me with multiple sclerosis.
In the meantime, I became a secret eater. My friends would always wonder why I was getting so big, because I'd sneak chocolate and chips only when I was on my own.
I was a single mom to my son Deon when I met Marc in 2002. He didn't seem to mind my weight; he loved me for who I am, not my size.
We got married and the wedding day was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, but in truth I hated the way I looked. I didn't even bother to go to bridal shops for a dress; I went online and ordered one from a plus-size company.
Marc and I had suffered through five miscarriages since we'd been together, but in January 2008, our longed-for baby boy finally arrived. I was relieved and delighted, of course, but it's difficult to be completely happy when you're that heavy -- especially because people can be cruel. One night, I went to a crowded bar with friends and someone shouted, "Watch out, wide load coming through!" I went to the restroom and cried, and after that I stopped going out. I became something of a recluse.
Breaking Point: In 2010, I was admitted to the hospital for six weeks to deal with complications from multiple sclerosis. One day when my mom was visiting, she and the boys took me outside in my wheelchair. While mom was pushing me, she lost control on a slope and I ended up stuck in a bush. I was so heavy that my mom couldn't pull the wheelchair out of the hedge, so she had to ask someone passing by to help. It was, without a doubt, the most mortifying thing that has ever happened to me.
Back at the hospital, my oldest son seemed unusually quiet and sad. I asked him what was wrong and he said, "If you're going to be in a wheelchair from now on, and you're too heavy for people to push you, how are we going to take you out?" That was the turning point for me. I knew that when I got out of the hospital, I'd have to do something about my weight once and for all.
How I Lost It: After several months of physical therapy, I decided to join Slimming World, which is very well-known in the U.K. and is now available online across America. At first I was worried about joining a weight-loss program because I have a mobility issue. But on Slimming World's activity program, called Body Magic, members are encouraged to increase physical activity at their own pace, to take small steps toward a more active lifestyle. For me, that means just walking to the end of the street or taking a pile of laundry up the stairs. Even that can be a real achievement, and I need to remember it.
The support I felt (and continue to feel) at Slimming World was also a key to my success when other programs have failed. I definitely wasn't treated as "different" because of my disability; we're all there for the same reason, after all: to lose weight. I was given the tools to choose for myself how to make changes in my life and health, rather than following a specific plan that wouldn't have worked in my circumstance. Feeling empowered in that way -- and feeling encouraged each week, rather than criticized -- has helped my self-esteem tremendously.
After the first week, I'd lost five pounds. And I'd eaten so much food -- but the difference is that it was all healthy. For example, instead of eating fattening snacks, I'd make homemade hummus or fat-free yogurt and fruit. My whole family is eating the same meals as I do, such as Slimming World-style roasts. I've since lost 168 pounds, and I've finally gotten back my sparkle that was lost so many years ago.
Since losing weight, I've discovered inner strength and courage that I never knew I had. I hope my story inspires other people with disabilities. Even if you're not completely mobile, you can lose weight and change your life for the better.
After Weight: 131 pounds
After photos courtesy of Slimming World magazine/Su Forrester
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