A childminder who ballooned to 21 stone slimmed down more than SEVEN dress sizes in time to fit into her “fairytale” wedding dress.
Despite years of dieting, Katie Bernasconi, 34, only found a lasting solution to her weight gain when she underwent an NHS gastric bypass operation which resulted in her losing ten stone.
Newly confident, she was able to fit into her dream wedding dress when she married her partner of 17 years, market trader Ray Bernasconi, 37.
She said: “By the time we tied the knot we had been engaged for six years. I knew I wanted to be with Ray for the rest of my life, but I had put the wedding off time and time again because I simply did not want to be a big bride.
“Everyone saw me as a happy, assertive woman, but inside I was deeply insecure. Every time I imagined myself as an overweight meringue waddling down the aisle, I felt ashamed of myself.
“Once the weight had gone, a switch was flipped and I was desperate to go ahead with the ceremony. We organised our wedding within ten weeks. I was over the moon.”
Mrs Bernasconi, of Westminster, met her future husband when she was a still a teenager and went on to have two children with him, Aaron, now 14, and Jamie, now 9.
She said: “I quickly became comfortable with my life with Ray. He was so sweet and I felt perfectly safe with him. I found myself falling into bad habits – eating crisps and chocolate and going for convenience meals like takeaways or ready meals.”
By the time the couple got engaged in January 2006, Katie was wearing size 18 clothes.
She said: “I proposed to Ray because I wanted him to know how committed I was. When he said yes I was overjoyed but I also felt sad because I knew we wouldn’t be getting married soon – I was determined to slim down first.
“I tried dieting – every programme and fad you can think of – but I just put it back on again. Whenever our thoughts turned to setting a date for the wedding, we put it back.”
As she hit her heaviest weight of 21st 2lb in 2008,when she was wearing size 24 clothing, she began to experience crushing health problems.
She said: “I couldn’t walk for a few minutes without needing to sit down. I became breathless really easily and had terrible pains in my knees.
“The boys used to love going on rollercoasters at themeparks, but I wouldn’t even bother queuing up because I knew I wouldn’t fit on. I wouldn’t have been able to face the humiliation.”
In April 2009 Mrs Bernasconi’s younger sister Laura Stokes, now 30, announced she was getting married.
Knowing of her sister’s desire to slim down, Mrs Stokes ordered two gold bridesmaids dresses – one in size 14 and another in size 20.
Mrs Bernasconi said: “I broke down in tears when I realised the size 14 wouldn’t even cover my thighs. I’d dreamed of looking perfect on Laura’s big day, but I had failed.”
Seeking a lasting solution, in 2010 Mrs Bernasconi visited her GP who said her obesity-related health problems meant she was eligible for bariatric surgery on the NHS.
She said: “I put it off at first because I wanted to research all the risks, but a photograph of my on holiday later that year made me reach breaking point. Someone pointed out I was taking up half the photo – even though there were nine other people in the shot.”
In September that year her husband held her hand as she was wheeled into theatre at Charing Cross Hospital in London for her gastric bypass operation.
Just three months later, she had lost five stone and within a year her weight had plummeted to 10st 11lb.
The finally got married at Q Vardis in Uxbridge in June 2012, when Mrs Bernasconi wore a size 10 dress.
She said: “Once I got below 11 stone I knew it was time to get cracking on the wedding.
“The day was absolutely perfect. It was like a fairytale. For years I had dreaded walking down the aisle, but it felt incredible to feel all those eyes on me and not feel ashamed by my figure.
“Underneath the wedding dress, I wasn’t particularly comfortable. The figure-hugging dress supported the saggy skin I’d been left with after the weight loss.
“Luckily, people didn’t notice. People I hadn’t seen for years couldn’t recognise me because I looked so different.”
Faced with unsightly and irritating saggy skin, Mrs Bernasconi had an all-round tummy tuck on the NHS in September 2013.
She also spent £6,500 on private operations to lift and reshape her breasts. She is currently waiting to see whether she can have a further skin-removal operation on the NHS, which would give her the healthy figure she has always dreamed of.
In the meantime she has managed to keep the weight off by overhauling her diet.
At her heaviest weight she typically ate nothing for breakfast, followed by a triple-pack of chicken sandwiches for lunch, followed by a large pepperoni pizza for her evening meal. She would snack on sandwiches, crisps and sweets throughout the day.
Today, she typically eats boiled or scrambled eggs for breakfast, followed by homemade chicken soup for lunch, with grilled sea bass and vegetables for her evening meal. She does not tend to snack during the day.
She said: “Ray and I have learned how to cook healthy meals from scratch so we don’t need to buy takeaways anymore, and I don’t even miss them.
“I can do anything I like now – I can even run around with the kids, and wear anything I like.
“Ray has stood by me through thick and thin. He’s the perfect husband. I’ll never go back to the way I was.”
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