Looking at the photo from the previous night’s New Year’s Eve party, Sam Pratt hardly recognised herself.
When she’d left the house with her gladrags on, she’d felt fine. But the image staring back at her was of an overweight woman in a frumpy dress, clearly lacking in confidence.
It prompted the 25-year-old to take action and lose more than seven stone – and it has changed her life.
‘I looked pregnant’, says Sam. ‘I know that sounds ridiculous, but I was that big’.
Despite being a slim teenager Sam, a teacher, started piling on weight after leaving school.
She spent cash from a part-time job on junk food and sweets and did little exercise. Before she knew it she had ballooned to 17st 10lbs and soon it became a vicious circle.
I had so many Chinese takeaways that it got to the point where they knew my order, knew my voice and even gave me a discount.Sam Pratt
Sam’s eyes well up when she talks about how she felt at her biggest.
‘It makes me tearful to think about it now, as I was quite unhappy.
‘I felt upset and angry because I used to love going shopping, especially with my sister. But it became a depressing experience.
‘It was hard seeing my sister because she’s very slim, but she never made me feel bad.
‘I thought food was making me happy because it was the only thing I looked forward to. But that was only for a short time, while I was eating it.
‘When it came to the next day, getting ready for work and finding nothing that fitted me, it didn’t feel so good’.
Being overweight and with little confidence, Sam found it affected her social life.
She says: ‘I would stay in and turn down invitations to go out.
‘I would want to go, but the closer it came to going out I wouldn’t be able to find anything that fitted me so I’d make up an excuse.
‘And if my friends invited me round I would even turn up in my pyjamas and pretend it was because I was too lazy to change.
‘But they were actually the only thing that I felt comfortable in’.
Sam’s love of takeaways was such a big part of her life that she was on first-name terms with staff at the Chinese near her home in Bridefield Close, Waterlooville.
She laughs when she recalls: ‘I had so many Chinese takeaways that it got to the point where they knew my order, knew my voice and even gave me a discount.
‘I would get some sort of takeaway two or three times a week.
‘I’d pick up a big portion of cheesy chips and large battered cod on the way home from work.’
Her use of food as a crutch manifested itself in a habit of stashing carrier bags full of chocolates and sweets around the house.
Her drawer at school would also be full of treats, which she would give to pupils at Charter Academy for good performance.
But as soon as the school day had finished and the students had left, she would dip in and eat the treats herself.
‘I would have carrier bags that I’d stash away. It was hard to get out of that.’
Last year Sam suffered a health scare when her eyesight deteriorated and her optician suggested it could be linked to Type 2 diabetes.
Tests proved negative, but it was enough to prompt Sam to change.
She says: ‘I couldn’t do exercise. I would avoid walking anywhere.
‘We would even drive to the corner shop.’
She reveals that well-meaning pupils even asked if she was pregnant.
‘It was very upsetting but they didn’t mean any harm by it. I looked pregnant.’
The trigger for joining Slimming World was the dreaded New Year’s Eve photo that appeared on Facebook.
She says: ‘It was my sister’s New Year’s Eve party.
‘I was at my biggest. I’d put on a black dress – because I always wore black – and thought I looked okay.
‘Lots of pictures were taken and I was horrified when I saw myself.
‘I had a massive belly and arms and was wearing glasses.
‘There and then I decided I would do something about it and that photo is now my ‘before’ picture’.
In nine months Sam has lost an incredible 7st 1.5lbs.
As well as changing her diet, Sam has changed her attitude towards food.
She says: ‘It took me a few weeks to understand the rules but it’s a healthy and sustainable way to eat.
‘I exercise five or six times a week. I did the Race for Life in under 30 minutes and the Couch to 5KM.
‘I’ve joined a gym and I go spinning. I feel so much happier now.
‘Every day people tell me how different I look and it’s a real boost to my confidence.
‘I can wear what I want and shop where I want to.
‘I’m doing more things and I’ve met a lot of new friends through the gym. I’ve reconnected with old friends.
‘There were days before when I didn’t want to get out of bed and I’d lay there eating.
‘Now I feel absolutely full of life’.
Sam’s partner of eight years, Adam Donges, 29, agrees.
He says: ‘I’m so proud of Sam. Her confidence has soared.’