SHE’S won her battle of the bulge – and now a Basingstoke lawyer is telling her inspirational story in a national slimming magazine after she lost an incredible eight stone.
Melissa Vanzant-Birch grew up in southern USA, and at the age of 11 weighed a whopping 11 stone.
She struggled with her weight for most of her life, having become accustomed to eating what she describes as “enormous and fat-laden” meals with her family.
After leaving university, Melissa spent a year working with Hilary Clinton as part of her unsuccessful 2008 campaign to be a presidential candidate.
Melissa said: “It was an extraordinary opp-ortunity, but with it came 14-hour working days and lots and lots of takeaway pizzas! When I saw the photos taken of me around that time, I was astounded by my size.”
It was when Melissa started law school in Boston, Massachusetts, that she decided she had to lose weight.
Weighing 19st 6lb and being a dress size 26, Melissa joined WeightWatchers in June 2008.
She said: “Outwardly, I was a confident young woman with great opportunities, but internally I was extremely insecure and had no confidence.
“Dating when you are that overweight can also feel very difficult and I tended to shut off that aspect of my life.”
However, determined Melissa, who is now 30, shed four stone in the first year and discovered a love of healthy cooking and exercise.
In 2009, Melissa was in Starbucks when she overheard an English accent at the next table. With her new confidence boost, Melissa decided to talk to the mystery man, and said: “I’m a real sucker for that accent, so I immediately introduced myself to Paul, who was in town on business”
The pair embarked on a long-distance relationship until Melissa graduated and moved to England to marry Paul and set up a new life in Basingstoke.
Here, she joined Weight-Watchers online, but long hours and a commute to London for work made it hard for her to stay on track.
Melissa then joined a local group in Basingstoke and managed to continue losing weight, dropping to a size 12-14.
She said: “I remember dancing around the room when I reached a weight that was no longer classified as obese.
“I’m now on a final push to get to the weight I want to be and am determined to get there, but when you’ve been as overweight as I have, the motivation to lose that last few pounds can be hard to find.”
Melissa features in February’s edition of WeightWatchers magazine, which is on sale now.