A couple who weighed a combined 37 stone told how they shed 11 stone in time for their wedding – and looked so different some shocked guests did not even recognise them.
Laura and Chris Wheal, both 29, of Royston, Hertfordshire, first contacted each other in May 2010, via online dating site Plenty of Fish.
At the time midwife Laura was working as a nanny on a cruise ship and weighed 16.9 stone and was a dress size 20, having piled on the pounds gorging on cheap and easy snacks.
She said the “upstairs downstairs” culture on board the ship meant every time she was on shore leave she would race to supermarkets and panic-buy long-life food.
“I would buy pasta, biscuits, noodles – anything that I could take back on board and would last,” she admitted. “The food on board was great for the guests, but not brilliant for the staff.
“So I ended up gorging on things below deck which were not great for you.
“I also picked at the kids’ food.
“There was not much opportunity to stock up, so the vegetables available were given to guests.
“Our veg, well it could be going off, so I didn’t eat it. I was nibbling on things and loved chocolate. I couldn’t stop eating it.”
McDonald’s free meals
Meanwhile Chris weighed 20 stone and had a 40-inch waist.
Working in McDonald’s during his A-level exams, he took full advantage of his free meal allowance.
“I loved Big Macs and fries,” he confessed. “But I also had no idea about cooking. I would cook everything in oil and have huge, huge portions.
“It meant I piled on the weight.”
Describing his typical day, Chris said: “I wouldn’t eat breakfast. I realise now that was a bad idea, as I would end up snacking mid-morning with my coffee, and eating a larger lunch than I needed.
“For lunch I would have a large bag of crisps, a triple-packed sandwich or baguette, usually covered in cheese, and a bottle of cola.
“Dinner was varied, as I enjoy cooking, but always made too much and ended up eating it rather than saving some for the following day.
“Dishes included shepherd’s pie with lots of potato and cheese, curries with mountains of rice, or toad-in-the-hole with thick batter. And when cooking roast dinners, I would roast everything in a layer of oil.”
Neither Laura nor Chris were keen on exercise – Laura said the only thing she did to keep fit was climb 19 flights of stairs twice a month as part of the ship’s security drill.
But in May 2010 they separately decided they wanted to date, so both signed up for Plenty of Fish.
“I noticed Chris’ picture and thought he looked nice,” Laura said. “I didn’t think much about his weight.
“At the time I was living on the ship, so didn’t have much internet connection. We were only able to talk online occasionally.
“He seemed really down-to-earth and kind, so I contacted him.”
The pair spent months chatting online, unable to meet because Laura was in the middle of the ocean.
When they finally met in July 2010 they went on a date to Costa Coffee in Cambridge, where Chris lived at the time.
The couple said they were aware of how much the other weighed, but didn’t think much of it.
In fact, one of their favourite things to do was to go for big meals where they scoffed calorie-laden feasts.
Chris said: “We loved going to Italian restaurants and eating carb-laden pasta dishes topped with cheese and going to the cinema where we’d buy huge bags of popcorn and other fatty snacks.
“I loved big bags of crisps too. I just ate loads.”
On Laura’s 26th birthday in March 2011, Chris treated her to a surprise trip to London where they went to see the stage show of The Lion King.
Afterwards they went to a steak restaurant.
“Chris ordered pudding even though I wasn’t hungry,” Laura said. “I think he was surprised because I love sweet things.
“When the plate arrived he’d written on it in chocolate, ‘Will you marry me?’
“I said yes straight away. I was really excited and told everyone I was getting married.
“But I realised I didn’t want to be a chubby bride.
“I didn’t want to waddle down the aisle!”
So Laura decided to go to Weightwatchers in Royston – and Chris announced he was coming too.
“When I stepped on the scales I couldn’t believe I weighed nearly 17-stone.
“I knew I had to lose weight – I didn’t want to be a fat bride.”
Only man at the session
Chris also wanted to shed the pounds, and was embarrassed he was so heavy at 19.5 stone.
“I was the only man at the session,” he said. “But I didn’t let that hold me back.”
The couple learnt they had not only been eating the wrong things they had also been cooking them the wrong way.
“Over the next few weeks we cut back drastically and stopped cooking everything in oil,” Chris said. “I cut out chocolate, which I love, entirely,” Laura added.
“My mum knew I wanted to lose weight but we didn’t tell anyone we were going to lose it for the wedding.
“I didn’t want to tell everyone we were going to in case we didn’t lose weight, though a few people I saw everyday knew we were because I was changing what I ate.”
They set the wedding for September 2014 and in October 2011, Laura went for her first dress fitting.
“Despite being a size 20, I optimistically ordered a size 14. I didn’t know if it would fit in time for the wedding, but I wanted to try,” she said. “I thought it would give me a goal.”
Walking the weight off
The weight loss went brilliantly, with the couple walking everywhere.
Within a few months they had already lost a few stone, also cutting back on their favourite ‘chips ‘n’ dips’ while watching a film of an evening.
Chris continued: “After only a little while, the small changes we made became part of our daily lives, and have helped to keep us on track.
“If we were hungry we’d fill up on fruit.”
The weight loss continued and in early 2014 Laura went to try on her dress, a strapless, lacy number.
It was too big and had to be resized.
This happened two more times before the wedding as she lost weight rapidly at the same rate as her then husband-to-be.
“I kept having to get it taken in,” she laughed.
“But the seamstress wasn’t annoyed. She was really impressed and asked me how I’d done it.
“We were busy with wedding preparation and some family and friends lived far away so they didn’t see us before the wedding.
“I put some statuses on Facebook to show close friends how we were doing with our weight loss.
“We never set out to surprise our guests but some people we didn’t see, so it was for them, and we got loads of nice comments, showing everyone we could do it.”
Slim and sexy
On September 6, 2014 they got married in Parklands, a stately home near Saffron Waldon in Essex.
By the big day, Chris weighed 13 stone 10 with a 32-inch waist and Laura weighed 11 stone and wore a size 10 dress.
“I was so proud when I saw Chris,” Laura said. “I knew how hard he had worked because I had worked just as hard.”
Chris was equally smitten. “Laura looked beautiful,” he smiled. “The dress looked wonderful and she looked slim.
“I loved her when she was bigger, but I know how hard she had worked and she looked so sexy.
“We couldn’t stop grinning. We looked so different relatives we hadn’t seen for a while confessed they wouldn’t have recognised us if it was not for the fact we were the bride and groom.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Laura admitted.
“We went to Cancun in Mexico for our honeymoon and I wore a size ten bikini. I wouldn’t have done that a few years ago.
“It was so fun. I had it all – my brilliant, svelte hubby and a bikini bod.
“Now I am eating chocolate again, but in moderation. I am so happy I lost weight.”