A woman who shed half her body weight after fearing she wouldn’t live to see her daughters marry has snapped a selfie of herself wearing her wedding dress - which is now twice her size.
Monica Perez, 33, said her eating habits spiralled out of control after she got married and became “comfortable” in her relationship. At her heaviest, she weighed 25 stone.
When she thought she was suffering a heart attack while out driving, she knew something had to change.
The following day she joined the gym and hasn’t looked back since.
In January 2013, Perez was out driving with her daughters Eliana, eight, and Cesia, nine, when she began to feel an alarming tingling sensation down her arm.
Struggling to breathe, she pulled over, terrified it was the start of a heart attack.
Luckily, it passed after half an hour. But the experience alerted her to the harm her overeating was doing to her health.
Recalling the day that changed her life, Perez, from San Diego, USA said: “As soon as I stepped out of the car, my legs gave way and I would have collapsed if a man hadn’t grabbed me.
“I thought, if I die, I will leave my girls without a mum and it’s going to be my fault because I’m not taking care of myself.
“I wanted to be there for their birthdays and weddings. I wanted them to get married with their mum there.”
After the alarming episode, Perez sat down for a while and after some fresh air and drinking water, she recovered.
But the thought of missing out on seeing the children she loved grow up stayed with her.
She said: “When we got home, tears were rolling down my face.”
Perez’s unhealthy relationship with food began young.
Growing up, she was fed a lot of her grandmother Anselme Ortiz’s home-made Mexican food, who passed away two years ago aged 83.
She lived with her gran from the age of eight to 15, as her parents had got divorced.
At 15, she moved to Downey in California, USA, with her mum Elsa Lopez, 51, who gave her smaller portions.
At first, she struggled to adjust to eating less. But it helped her to lose a little bit of weight.
When she met her now husband Ivan Perez, 43, upon moving into the area in 1988, she weighed 13 stone 2lbs.
They bonded as they attended the same local church.
After they married in December 2002, Perez had a contraceptive injection, which she believes made her gain weight.
It also made her feel more “hormonal and emotional”, triggering her comfort eating.
Just six months into married life, she noticed stretch marks on her arms.
She said: “If I felt like going to McDonald’s and having two burgers and two packets of fries, I would.
“Sometimes, I’d have a McDonald’s breakfast and lunch and then a burrito for dinner.
“If a dress didn’t fit, I’d just get a bigger size.”
In time, her unhealthy lifestyle began to affect her health. She’d wake in the middle of the night gasping for breath, or would feel a numb sensation in her arms.
Shaken up by the incident in her car, in January 2013 she vowed to change her ways.
Despite feeling intimidated by working out, she knew her “life was on the line” and was determined to stick to her new fitness regime.
Within a few months, she was going to the gym every day. She also completely overhauled her diet.
For breakfast she now has eggs, spinach and mushrooms; for lunch she has a chicken salad; and for dinner she has some form of protein, with brown rice and broccoli.
She has also taken up Bokwa - a style of dance fitness inspired by African moves – even teaching classes herself.
Her weight has since plummeted by 11 stone. She now wears a UK size 16 and, at her lightest in July 2015, she weighed just 12 and a half stone.
“Now my children are like my little cheerleaders, doing workouts with me at home,” she said.
“Finally I portray on the outside what I feel on the inside.
“The joy I feel now is a reflection of how I felt on my wedding day.”