Clutching a bouquet of white flowers, with her hair in soft curls and her pale pink gown flowing around her, Kayla Hatcher should have felt like a million dollars.
But after the 117kg bridesmaid and mum-of-two walked down the aisle on her cousin Rachel’s wedding day, she was in for a shock.
Seeing a photo of herself on the happy occasion in October 2015 brought size 22 Kayla back to earth with a jolt.
‘That picture changed my life. I stared at it for hours, and knew things had to change,’ Kayla tells New Idea. ‘I was so annoyed with myself for letting things get so out of hand.’
At first Kayla was angry at the unflattering angle of the photo, but then she realised she needed to take action.
The once-petite size 10 mum had ballooned to a size 20 after giving birth to two babies and tragically losing her sister to cancer in 2014.
‘After having babies, my weight crept up,’ 30-year-old Kayla explains. ‘My typical day was to watch TV, eat and sleep – I was very unhealthy. But I didn’t pay attention. I just got bigger clothes.’
Kayla admits she’d start the day with two sugary bowls of cereal for breakfast, and several cups of tea with sugar.
But after seeing that photo, Kayla vowed to change. She joined her local gym in March 2016 and traded her fast food addiction for smaller portions of home-cooked food.
Avoiding noodles, bread and sweets, Kayla drastically cut her kilojoule intake down from the 14,000 she’d previously been consuming every day.
As the determined mum increased her physical activity and learned more about nutrition, she aimed for between 6200 and 7500 kilojoules a day.
The Alabama real estate manager began her exercise regimen by going to the gym for a cardio workout at 4.30am for half an hour before her kids woke.
By mid-2016, she would sometimes head to the gym as early as 2.45am for a solid two hours of cardio, weights, squats and crunches, five days a week.
With no formal training, Kayla learned the exercises by watching others and copying them until she mastered them.
‘It was really hard in the beginning. I really love my sleep. But once I saw it working, it became easier,’ Kayla says.
It was overwhelming when you’ve never set foot inside a gym before, and know there’s people who go there every day. But I did it.’
Kayla says she became addicted to exercise – sometimes going to the gym twice a day. Now she has even joined a running club and jogs for an hour and a half with her kids twice a week.
‘When I began losing weight, I was thrilled. Never in a million years did I think I could lose 20 kilos, much less 50,’ Kayla says.
By June 2016, Kayla had lost 23kg. And by the end of February 2017, only 11 months after starting her weight-loss journey, Kayla had shed a staggering 45kg.
Exactly a year after beginning her transformation, it was time for her to be a bridesmaid again – for another cousin, Katherine.
By now she was 50kg lighter and this time she was wearing a different dress – one that was eight sizes smaller.
‘It was one of the best days of my life,’ Kayla smiles. ‘I feel so much happier and better about my appearance these days.’
Kayla now works out from home to spend more time with the family she was losing weight for – and her kids and husband often join her.
She says one of her favourite things to do is to pop on some headphones, put on Netflix and watch some TV while doing her cardio workout.
Kayla regularly offers advice to other people who are going through the same thing – whether it be recipes, fitness information or simply a supportive shoulder to lean on.
‘I’m still in shock about how much I’ve changed. If I can do it, anyone can,’ she says.
For the full story and to see Kayla’s before and after diet pick up this week’s New Idea. Out now.