A woman who had resigned herself to “being a bigger lady” after reaching 22st decided enough was enough when she overheard a stranger making a vile comment about her in a nightclub.
Fran Drake, now 31, struggled with her size for much of her life after turning to comfort food when cruel school bullies nicknamed her ‘Fat Fran’.
Over the years she tried a handful of diets, including the 5:2 diet, but none of them kept the pounds off for long and she was stuck around a size 24.
So she decided just to accept her body, and before long her confidence grew dramatically.
She said: “If I couldn’t change myself physically, I was going to change myself mentally.
“Just because you’re not a size 8 doesn’t mean you can’t be happy in yourself.”
And in 2011 – then a size 18 – she started dating Matt after they got talking at a Christmas party.
“Bagging myself a fit man really reinforced the idea that I could be happy in my own skin without losing any weight,” she said.
“I was never confident when it came to dating before I met Matt. I always ended up with men that didn’t appreciate me and I thought I didn’t deserve any better because of my weight.
“But the problem was that after settling into a happy relationship and feeling more confident in myself, I started to eat more and more.”
Though her relationship with Matt was great, Fran saw her diet go from bad to worse and on a typical day, she would eat 3,500 calories a day – almost double the NHS recommended daily amount for women of 2,000 cals.
Discussing Matt’s naturally athletic build, she said: “On nights out people would whisper, ‘She’s punching’ – like I didn’t know that he was in much better shape than me already.”
Things reached an all time low when she was flicking through photos from the trip of a lifetime to Walt Disney World, Florida, in April 2016, and was reduced to tears at realising just how overweight she had become.
From there, Fran, of Bournemouth, Dorset, ditched her diet of Pop Tarts and cheese-laden pasta bakes, and before long the pounds began to melt away.
Now, she has shed a mammoth 12 stone, slimming to a 10 stone size eight – and has even fulfilled her ambition of becoming a trainee firefighter.
She said: “I convinced myself before jetting off to Florida that I’d lost enough weight to finally look good on holiday, when in reality I’d lost a few pounds and was still grossly overweight.
“Now I’m healthier than ever, I’m finally training with the fire brigade and doing something meaningful with my life for the first time in what feels like forever.”
Since childhood, Fran, who married carpenter Matt on May 1, 2017 at Kingston Maurward, an 18th century mansion house in Dorchester, Dorset, has battled with her weight.
As a result, she was teased mercilessly at school, which left her confidence in shreds.
She recalled: “Children have a knack for sniffing out your biggest insecurity and making you feel 10 times worse about it.
“Unfortunately, my weakness wasn’t too hard to spot – my weight – and from the age of 11, I was referred to as ‘fat Fran’ or ‘Fatty-esca’.
“I grew up in a household where, if something was going wrong, you’d cheer yourself up with something hearty and filling, and that’s how I got locked into a vicious cycle.”
After leaving school and landing a job working in patient services for the NHS, Franfell into a cycle of yo-yo dieting.
By 2016, Fran found herself squeezing into a size 24 and tipping the scales at 22 stone.
That April, she and Matt booked to go to Walt Disney World and, though she was still feeling relatively confident, she decided to try her hand at dieting once more ahead of the trip.
“I was still very much of the mindset that I was happy with how I looked but wanted to be a bit trimmer for Florida,” she recalled.
“I gave the 5:2 diet another whirl and was thrilled to lose a few extra pounds.
“I managed to drop a dress size down to a 22, and I was actually really happy.
“Florida was amazing too – the trip of a lifetime.”
But Fran’s dream holiday soon became a nightmare when, back in the UK, she decided to leaf through the photos she had taken and was left shocked at how she looked.
“I don’t know what it was about those particular set of photos, but it suddenly dawned on me that if I didn’t change now, my weight was going to kill me,” she said.
“It all finally hit me, and I decided to overhaul my lifestyle there and then.”
Signing up to her local slimming group in April 2016, Fran swapped the junk food she had been living on for fresh home-cooked meals, veggie casseroles and fruit salads.
Losing over six stone in a year, she was able to fit into a svelte size 12 corset dress by the time her wedding day rolled round in May 2017.
Remembering her special day, she said: “Looking back, I can’t imagine what I would have looked like walking down the aisle in a size 22 wedding dress.
“I can look back through my wedding day photos and smile at the happy memories without any self-loathing.”
Throwing herself into exercise, Fran also began hitting the gym three times a week, having regular personal training sessions.
To fuel her workouts, she upped her protein intake with supplement brand Bio-synergy.
Able to do things she never thought possible, from training in the gym to going on country walks with Matt, Fran found herself wanting to put her newfound fitness to use.
“I’d always admired firefighters and growing up I thought it would be ace to work as one, but because of my weight the idea soon fell off my radar,” she said.
“But after the weight began to come off, I decided to make that my goal – to become a trained firefighter.”
After a gruelling eight weeks of training, Fran found out she had passed the Dorset and Wiltshire fire service test in May this year and will be spending the next two years working on the job to become a fully-fledged firefighter.
She said: “It was pretty intense getting this far. I had to haul equipment weighing up to 40kg (6st 2lb) and was taking part in a bleep tests – something I thought I’d left behind in my school days.
“It’s all been worth it though, and I feel like after almost 20 years of being nothing more than the fat girl, I’m finally going to be giving something back to the community and keeping fit at the same time.”