Kim Freshwater was overweight as a child, but the problem escalated in her teens when her father died.
She tried diets and exercise, but any success she had was soon reversed.
Freshwater, who is married with three children, continued to be overweight for four decades. In addition to experiencing a variety of weight-related health problems, the British woman found herself avoiding social situations - such as weddings and parties - because she didn't want to embarrass herself and her family.
She was too big to sit in the seats in movie theaters or on amusement park rides, and she was forced to miss her son's school awards ceremony because she was afraid of breaking the chairs there.
"I once broke a chair at my friend's house, which was mortifying, and I even slept on the floor when we went away because I was so scared the bed wouldn't be able to take my weight," she said.
She once skipped a relative's funeral because she couldn't make the long walk from the church to the graveside. That forced her to change her life.
"I was so upset about it one night that I couldn't sleep and there was a program on TV about funerals, showing how severely overweight people need special coffins and how difficult it is to cremate their bodies. It was as if someone was trying to tell me something. I didn't ever want to put my family through that," she said.
Three years ago, Freshwater joined Slimming World, a British weight loss group that now operates in the U.S. She weighed 404 pounds then, and lost 44 pounds in the first 12 weeks.
Through regular exercise and a change in her diet, Freshwater dropped a total of 243 pounds, and now weighs 161 pounds. The feat earned her the title of Slimming World's Woman of the Year.
Rather than having one large meal a day - generally lasagna with a cheesy sauce, fries and garlic bread, followed by a snack of chips or chocolate - Freshwater now eats three healthy homemade meals, plus snacks.
"I actually eat more now than I did before, but I've learned to make good choices," she said, speaking of the grilled meats, vegetables, fresh fruit, yogurt and low-calorie snacks that now comprise her diet.
She also plays tennis, goes swimming, walks for miles, indulges her photography hobby and is cycling again after hanging up her helmet 20 years ago.
"I can do so much more since losing weight, but for me the biggest achievements are the small things, probably things that most people take for granted," Freshwater said in a Slimming World news release. "I love that I don't need seat belt extensions on planes anymore. I can sit in chairs with arms. I can shop on streets with hills. The list is endless."
She has also expanded her shoe collection from four to about 40 pairs. And instead of all black, her wardrobe now includes lots of colors.
"I don't think I realized how unhappy I was until I became as happy as I am now," she said. "My daughter recently told me that I used to be a chunky caterpillar, and now I'm a beautiful butterfly, and that's exactly how I feel!"