Obese couple Jo and Barry shed half their body weight after being told that if they didn’t diet, they would die.

Joanne Richards and Barry Ricketts, dubbed Fatty Jo and Big Baz by school bullies, weighed a combined 45 stone and struggled to get round the house.

Miss Richards even stored her clothes downstairs because she could not make it up to their bedroom to get changed.

The 31-year-old tipped the scales at 24st 5lb and wore size 32 clothing, while her long-term partner Mr Ricketts, 43, weighed 21 stone and wore a six-XXXL trouser.

It was not until Miss Richards’ periods stopped and they were warned their size was putting a strain on their bodies that the couple, from Stourbridge in the West Midlands, paired up to lose weight.

Doctors told her if she did not lose weight, she was risking her health. She said: “I was told I would die by the time I was 40 if I kept going the way I was.

“I couldn’t believe how bad we’d got and knew it was now or never to lose weight. It had to happen.”

She started gaining weight when she was nine and was bullied because of it.

She said: “The kids at school called me Fatty and Big Jo. I should have lost weight but I comfort ate instead. I snacked on crisps and chocolates, and on my way home I’d stop in the chippy. Before long I was on a takeaway a day.”

‘A takeaway a day’

By the age of 25, Miss Richards weighed more than 20 stone and her health was suffering.

She said: “I huffed and puffed everywhere I went but it didn’t stop me eating.”

In 2008, Miss Richards' partner moved in and after a hard day’s work, they found it easier to grab a pizza or Chinese takeaway than prepare a healthy meal.

Miss Richards said: “I made sure our son, Josh, ate healthily, but Barry and I continued to eat junk. Soon, being overweight not only affected our health but our relationship with Josh too.

“He’d want to go for a walk or play football and we’d make excuses to avoid anything energetic. It must have hurt him, us saying no all the time."

Then in November 2011, Miss Richards’ periods stopped and she was told it was because of her weight.

A dietician said losing 13 stone would improve her health, and suggested a gastric band.

‘No’ to a gastric band

She said: “At first I thought it was a great idea, an easy way to lose weight. But I’d always loved food and when I realised it would mean I would never be able to eat properly again, I said no.

"I didn't want to lose weight so fast I was left with saggy skin, too. So I decided to try and lose weight on my own.”

Miss Richards ditched the takeaways and in March 2012 she joined her local Weight Watchers class.

She said: “I was taught how to follow their healthy eating plan, find healthy alternatives and eat smaller portions. My group leader was full of tips.”

Feeling encouraged following her first class, Miss Richards decided to walk to her mum’s house three miles away to get some exercise.

But things didn’t go to plan. She said: “It should have taken me an hour, but it took me four.

“I’d always thought I was young so I was healthy, but I kept stopping because my knees and feet hurt. I got out of breath and suddenly realised just how unfit I was.”

Show of support

Mr Ricketts offered to show his support by eating the same low-calorie meals as her.

Then when he saw her lose half a stone a week, he joined Weight Watchers too.

Mr Ricketts said: “I’d always thought I could eat what I liked – massive curries, all-you-can-eat carveries. I had a huge appetite and would only stop when my stomach hurt.

“I didn’t care how I looked. Eating made me happy.

“But my health was suffering too and I realised someone of my size could have a severely reduced mortality and I wanted to live to see my son grow up.”

The couple spurred each other on, and as the weight fell off, they even started exercising.

Happy, healthy, attractive couple.

“We went for walks together, to the gym twice a week, and swimming,” Miss Richards said: “I wouldn’t have dared do any of that before. I would have been too embarrassed to walk around in a swimsuit, and too unfit.”

Mr Rickets had lost seven stone five pounds and reached his goal weight, 13st 9lb – ditched his XXXL trousers for slim, medium jeans. And his partner is now a svelte size 12.

Mr Ricketts said: “We’re so much happier now, how we look and feel. Losing weight has brought us all closer together.”