By Sarah Francis
A teacher who gained weight after losing her mum has dropped 101lbs (7.2st) after her husband’s desertion was the ‘slap in the face’ she needed to get her life back on track.
Jennifer Velardi, 33, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, turned to food to cope with her mother’s tragic suicide in 2011.
As her weight spiralled to 237lbs (16.9st), her marriage began to crumble, until one day her husband left the country and never returned – she has still not seen him since.
After he abandoned her, Jennifer decided to kick start a healthier life style, swapping junk food for protein and vegetables.
Now Jennifer is a trim 136lb (9.7lbs) and following two skin removal ops, has transformed into a toned fitness guru.
She said: “I was an emotional eater, I ate pretty much everything.
“It didn’t even matter if I particularly liked it or not. Eating wasn’t really enjoyed or mindful.
“It was simply something I did because I always felt empty.
“Also, because I always had a sense of emptiness, I would eat large quantities of food.
“I wouldn’t stop until my stomach hurt.”
As a child Jennifer learnt to use food as an emotional crutch to cope with her mum’s mental health problems.
She said: “My mother suffered from severe depression. It was a very difficult time.
“I worried about her all the time and kept her very close to me. I ate a lot to quiet my fears and anxieties.
“I slept all the time I was an empty shell. I ate all my emotions.”
When Jennifer was 27, 11 months after getting married, her mum took her own life.
Jennifer said: “This was an event that left me feeling like I was broken beyond repair.
“I began eating even more. I was trying to fill the emptiness that I felt inside and tried to stifle all the pain I was feeling.
“I slept all the time and didn’t exercise at all. My weight reached an all-time high and I didn’t even care. I let myself go for three years.”
Instead of supporting his grieving wife, her husband of three years began to withdraw from the relationship.
Jennifer said: “Our marriage was very rocky.
“I was going through a very emotional time. I wasn’t always easy. I was depressed.
“As my weight continued to steadily increase from the stress, it got worse and worse between us.
“I tried once to start losing weight, but he wasn’t supportive at all. He would tell me to stop buying ‘rabbit food’.
“When I asked him to go for a walk with me, he would laugh and tell me to go on my own.
“Even though he didn’t explicitly tell me that he was turned off by my size, his behaviour made me feel very unwanted, unattractive, and unworthy. ”
She reached 237lbs and at 5.2 feet put her body mass index at a dangerously high score of 43.
But when Jennifer thought it couldn’t get any worse, her husband abandoned her.
She said: “He went home to the Dominican Republic to visit his family and never returned.
“On the day I was to pick him up at the airport, I received an email from him instead stating that he would not be returning.
“It was sort of like a slap in the face to me and woke me up from the emotional coma that I was in after my mum passed.
“I wanted to lose weight and I was tired of waiting around for a hero to come and save the day.”
Jennifer started by ditching junk food and soda, as well as cutting back on portions.
She counted her calories until she had lost 20lbs and then she began adding exercise by walking, then jogging and now weight training.
In 2016, she had abdominoplasty and a brachioplasty and is scheduled for thighplasty July 2017.
Jennifer claims losing the weight restored her life, allowing her to do many things she never could do before.
She said: “Being obese was exhausting.
“My hips hurt, my legs hurt, my body hurt all the time. My joints were under a lot of stress.
“There’s a lot of things that I can do now that I couldn’t do before. I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without being winded when I was at my heaviest.
“Now I am able to engage in all kinds of different physical activities. I couldn’t fit into rollercoaster rides at amusement parks.
“Movie theatre seats and airplane seats were extremely uncomfortable. I loved summer and the beach but was always covered up.
“I didn’t wear shorts or tank tops very often. I never in my life ever wore a crop top or a two piece bathing suit.
“This past summer was the first time that I ever wore a bikini in front of friends and family.”
Later this year, Jennifer will embark on a new career empowering other women to pursue their own journey to a healthy lifestyle.
She added: “I think my mum would be really proud of the fact that I have finally taken control of my health; mind, body, and soul.
“Her greatest wish was to see me happy.
“I spent so many years feeling trapped, unmotivated, and unworthy.
“I know she would love to see how I am currently living a positive, healthy lifestyle.”