Walking across the tarmac, my nerves jangled with a mix of excitement and fear. It was August 2011 and my best friend had paid for us to go on a helicopter ride over Las Vegas while we were on holiday there. As we reached the helipad, I realised the pilot was asking each passenger to step onto digital scales before allocating seats. I’d already told a little fib earlier when we’d checked in for the flight – adjusting my weight down by a stone so that Becki wouldn’t hear the real number.

When we took off, I was seated at the back, while she was up front with the pilot. Being at opposite ends of the helicopter wasn’t the only distance between us. It dawned on me that being self-conscious about my weight was causing me to hide things from one of my oldest friends.

I’d always been a bit bigger than my mates and I used to cut the labels out of my clothes so they wouldn’t know my size. Then, during my first serious relationship, I gained 2st in two years. My self-esteem dipped and when I went for a pill check-up at 19, I was mortified when the doctor commented on how much weight I’d put on. She handed me a leaflet about safe weight loss, but I felt so full of shame that I hid it under my mattress, not even telling Mum and Dad. Instead I searched online for quick fixes, trying unregulated diet tablets in desperation, oblivious to the potentially life-threatening risks.

While I was training to become a teacher in my 20s, the day loomed when we were going to learn about PE. The thought of teaching physical activity, when I did anything I could to avoid it myself, filled me with dread. It brought back memories of school, when I’d hated playing sports with all the athletic girls and I’d beg Mum to write me a note to get me out of PE class.

It was when my friend Ashley asked me to be her bridesmaid that my mindset began to change. For years, I’d avoided looking at my graduation picture at Mum and Dad’s house, wishing I’d lost some weight before being photographed in that billowing gown. I thought of how the pictures of Ashley’s big day would end up being displayed in her home and all over social media, and I realised something: it was time to stop beating myself up about my weight and start making positive changes.

That night, I texted Ashley: ‘I’m thinking of joining Slimming World.’ I was so pleased when she replied she’d join with me. On my first night at group, the anxieties I’d had about being weighed melted away as our Consultant, Dan, welcomed us. He had us in stitches with his jokes, and I felt so inspired by the other members I went home ready to start my own journey.

In my first week at Slimming World, I lost 5½lbs – and knowing it worked was all the incentive I needed. Now qualified and working at a primary school, I prepared my lunches and snacks in advance. During my second week at group, I learnt Ofsted were coming to inspect the school. Staying late at work, I resisted the lure of the pizzas some of the staff had ordered in and even nipped out to group at 7pm, returning to work afterwards. My dedication paid off when, after three weeks, I got my half-stone award.

That week, my friend Danny decided to join Ashley and me at group, then more and more of our friends came along until at one point there were six of us! We took Hi-fi bars when we all went to V Festival together, held slimming-friendly dinner parties and chatted about the best drink choices on our nights out. My self-belief grew as I saw my progress on the scales each week, and so I ordered a dress two sizes smaller for Ashley’s wedding – determined I was going to fit into it.

About two months into my weight loss, I decided to set up an Instagram account. I posted photos of my Slimming World recipes, and I loved how people commented and asked me questions about them. With group each week, my friends beside me and my growing Instagram following, I felt like I had endless support. That’s when a thought hit me: now I’d proved to myself I could lose weight, despite what I’d believed before, what was stopping me doing the same with exercise? Perhaps I’d enjoy being active, meaning I could teach PE with more enthusiasm. Ashley was up for getting fitter, too, so we joined an aerobics class. At first, I hid at the back, wearing a baggy T-shirt and shorts – until I realised that the only person who cared what I looked like was me.

Free from worrying about what other people thought, I genuinely looked forward to my workouts. It was a revelation, and I started doing more classes – Monday was a combination of abs and HIIT (high intensity interval training), Wednesday was an all-over toning class, and Thursday was Bodypump, which involved training with weights to music. Then, four months after joining Slimming World, Danny and I were voted our group’s Mr Sleek and Miss Slinky, which really spurred us on. I stayed on plan over the whole of Christmas and started the new year feeling unstoppable. In February 2016, I hit my target weight of 10st 3lbs – and Danny hit his on the same night!

With a new zest for life, I decided to give internet dating a go and met Steve. It was something I’d never have had the confidence to do before, but now I was putting myself out there and it was paying off at every turn. It was tricky balancing lots of dinner dates with staying at target, and I wanted to make sure that the excitement of our new romance didn’t mean me losing sight of how hard I’d worked.

Before every meal out, I checked the menu in advance so I knew exactly what I was going to order, and when we went for picnics I packed hampers full of Free Food. I often cooked Food Optimising meals for the two of us at my house, too, and Steve enjoyed them all!

Losing weight has brought out a bravery in me, in all sorts of ways – I can do anything I put my mind to.

Soon it was Ashley’s wedding – the special day she and I had both decided to slim for. Ashley looked amazing and as I walked down the aisle in my size-12 bridesmaid’s dress, I beamed. After the ceremony, I happily posed for pictures, not once worrying about what angle I was standing at, whether I was sucking in my tummy enough, or how my bare arms looked. I felt comfortable in my own skin, which let me concentrate on joining in the celebrations.

I’ve been maintaining my target weight for more than two years and it’s such a boost to know I can live my life to the fullest and stay slim. I’m so much braver now, in all sorts of ways. I’ve entered the ballot for the London Marathon with Danny because I actually believe I can make it all the way around. Steve and I went to Thailand in August and I wore colourful, size 10-12 bikinis on the beach, not cover-ups. And in the future I’d love to train to become a fitness instructor, and run classes at weekends and in the school holidays. I never realised it before I joined Slimming World, but feeling worried and insecure about how I looked had been holding me back all my life. At 30, I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. And I’m excited to see what happens next!

*Weight loss will vary due to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.