Like most young women, Stephanie Hammel felt a sense of excitement at the thought of a night out to celebrate a friend’s birthday and took an extra effort over her appearance in anticipation.
Stephanie picked out a flattering outfit, got her nails done and styled her hair and went out feeling confident and happy.
But like the air hissing out of a balloon, her good humour and elation was sucked out of her after a cruel encounter with a stranger.
Stephanie, 25, who lives in Walton Park, near Preston, recalls: “I remember feeling really good at the start of the night and after making an effort, even though I was big, I felt like I looked nice.”
During the course of the night out in the city centre, Stephanie was in a Preston bar when she became separated from her friends when she went to the toilet.
As she made her way down the stairs from the toilets to head back into the main bar, a man coming up the stairs looked at her sneeringly and gave her a look of pure disdain.
But nothing could have prepared her for the shocking event that followed.
Stephanie says: “The man was about the same age as me and he looked like the type who was concerned about his image and into his looks.
“I saw him clock me as I was going down the stairs and he gave me a strange look, but I didn’t really think anything of it.
“However, as he got level with me, he gave me a look of revulsion and then he told me that I was disgusting because of how overweight I was, then he threw his drink over me.”
With tears of humiliation pricking her eyes, Stephanie felt her confidence plummet and recoiled with shame.
Stephanie explains: “I felt mortified that someone could do that to another human being and make them feel like that.
“But I also felt embarrassed and ashamed as I knew I was big. I felt that no one should be able to make me feel that way again and I knew I needed to do something about my weight.”
Stephanie confesses that she had always known she needed to lose weight but always told herself that she would start tomorrow – but tomorrow would never come.
However, the harsh words of a stranger proved to be the turning point Stephanie needed to change her lifestyle.
She says: “The weight had been piling on over the years, but I had been in denial and I never weighed myself as I didn’t want to know.
“But being called disgusting and having a drink thrown over me gave me the wake up call I needed.”
Stephanie, who works as a local government authority officer at Wyre Council, admits she was never skinny, even as a youngster. However, because she was a dancer, she burned up a lot of calories which allowed her to eat larger quantities without it affecting her weight.
Stephanie explains: “I used to dance from about the age of seven until I was 17.
“I did everything from freestyle, rock and roll, ballroom and Latin American and I was training up to four times a week and competing in competitions.
“I was always a bit of a curvy girl and not stick thin like some of the girls who danced but I was fit and healthy.
“While I was dancing, I was burning such a lot of energy that I could get away with eating treats and bigger meals.”
Stephanie, who went to All Hallows Catholic High School in Penwortham, gave up dancing at the age of 17 when she went to college.
She admits: “I used going to college as an excuse to stop dancing as it used to take up so much of my spare time.
“But in reality, it was because I had started going out at weekends and having a social life and at the time, I felt I was spending most of my weekend dancing and I thought I had outgrown it.
“When I look back now, I wish I hadn’t given it up as I did love it so much.”
After giving up dancing, Stephanie didn’t take up any other exercise but she was still consuming the same amount of food she had eaten while doing so much training.
She then got a job at a pub and as she got the food cheaper, she began regularly eating her meals there and would choose things like burger and chips.
She says: “I would eat my tea there and I would also pick on stuff throughout the day.
“At home, my dad is a good cook so I would pretty healthily. But unknown to him, I would buy crisps and chocolates and eat them in secret in my room.
“I thought that if no one saw me eating, it was as though I hadn’t done it.”
Stephanie began putting on weight at around a stone a year. However, as she never weighed herself, the full extent did not sink in.
However, she began struggling to find clothes to fit and she always had to head for the plus size section.
Stephanie recalls: “When I went on nights out, I could never find anything to wear.
“I remember a few incidents when I would go shopping on my own, I would secretly cry in the fitting rooms because an outfit I desperately wanted wouldn’t fit me.”
Stephanie ballooned to 22-and-a-half stones and reached a dress size of 26.
It was at this stage at the age of 23 that Stephanie went on the night out around Preston for a friend’s birthday.
It took Stephanie a few weeks to pick herself up after suffering such a blow to her confidence but she then became filled with determination to shed her weight and began researching diets.
She explains: “I never wanted to feel the way that man had made me feel again and I had also started thinking about the potential health problems I could face in the future due to being obese.
“I decided that it was best to do something about it while I was still young and create a healthier life for myself.”
Stephanie discovered the Cambridge Weight Plan and decided it was the one for her.
She says: “I had never followed a proper diet before but after researching it and reading its success stories, I felt the Cambridge Weight Plan was the one for me.
“I liked the fact that it was more controlled and you can their products such as shakes, soups, porridge and bars.
“You get in touch with them and a consultant comes to you and you discuss how much you want to lose and they work out a programme.
“Because I am 5ft 9ins tall, I was allowed four of their products a day.”
When Stephanie began the diet, her BMI was 47 and because of this, she also had to drink extra milk while she was on the diet.
Stephanie says after the initial shock to her body at not having large quantities of food, she began finding the plan easier to follow.
She says: “It is not easy, especially at first, but if you really want to do it, you stick with it.
“I felt a bit tired at first, but after two weeks, I had my first weigh-in and I could not believe it as I had lost one-and-a-half stones.
“I was gobsmacked and this gave me the motivation to keep going.”
For the first four months of following the plan, the weight dropped off Stephanie. She began the diet in August and by the end of the year, she had lost six stones.
Stephanie’s weight loss slowed down and she continued to lose weight and when she had lost seven stones, she tweeted before and after pictures of herself and the Cambridge Weight Plan invited her to a photoshoot in London.
Stephanie was determined to reach her target weight loss of 10 stones and she was elated to hit this in June last year.
Smiling, Stephanie says: “In the space of a year, I had gone from 22-and-a-half stones to 12-and-a-half stones.
“That is a whole person! I could not even pick 10 stones up so it is unbelievable to think I was carrying it around in excess weight!
“I went from a size 26 to a size 12. It is crazy!”
Stephanie has now won the title of Cambridge Weight Plan Woman of the Year and has now trained as a consultant herself so she can help others lose weight.
Stephanie says: “I still cannot believe it as it all feels so surreal.
“Since losing weight, my confidence has gone through the roof and I no longer feel that people may be laughing at me or looking at me in the wrong way because of my size.
“I still find it really strange when I go shopping as I can now buy things that I could never have dreamt of wearing before.
“It is the little things that most people take for granted that mean the most to me.
“People now open doors for me while once they would have ignored me.
“I can now cross my legs under my desk and I can sit comfortably in an aeroplane and not have to ask for an seatbelt expander.
“I can walk between cars in a car park without worrying about getting stuck.
“I am a much happier person now because of how much better I feel in myself.”
Looking back on the night when the man threw his drink over her for being overweight, Stephanie can afford to be generous about the heartless individual.
She says: “I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.
“If I met that guy again, I would probably shake him by the hand or buy him a drink to replace the one he threw at me.
“Even though it was horrible at the time, he probably saved my life as I couldn’t have carried on putting on weight at the rate I was without it having a serious impact on my health.”