A teacher whose impending 30th birthday inspired him to lose nearly half his body weight in one year has been named the Slimming World Man of the Year.
James Pepper weighed almost 24 stone after regularly gorging on pizza, chips and cake since his teenage years.
But with his milestone birthday approaching, he decided to shed the pounds and has lost almost 10-and-a-half stone since June last year.
Mr Pepper, from Market Deeping, in Lincolnshire, has seen his waistline shrink by more than 50cm (16 inches) and now weighs a healthy 13-and-a-half stone.
The 30-year-old said: “At my heaviest I would feel embarrassed on transport, trying to get seat belts on and feeling like you’re taking up too much space on the bus.
“You’d always feel uncomfortable in social situations. I’d never get up and dance because I was afraid of people looking at me. That’s when comfort eating starts to kick in and makes it worse.
“A couple of things clicked. I had been overweight since I was 15 and wanted to do something about this. With my 30th birthday coming up I realised then that I’d been unhappy with my size for half of my life.”
James joined his local Slimming World group in June 2011, weighing a massive 23 stone 12lb.
He returned to work at Arthur Mellows Village College, in Glinton, Peterborough, after the summer break almost five stone lighter.
By his birthday in October, James had lost nearly six stone and he has since shed another four-and-a-half stone.
James said: “The kids at school have been absolutely fantastic. I walked in the canteen after the summer holidays and there were gasps of shock and a round of applause. They’ve been so supportive.
“I really hope I can be a good role model to kids in that respect. I hope they can see that someone has changed their life and I now eat the right things and am physically active. If that prompts them to think about it, then excellent.”
James said improving his diet was the key to his dramatic weight loss. He said: “I never used to think about what I’d have for dinner until I was on my way home, which means I’d pick up a takeaway or grab something quick and easy – and usually unhealthy – from the supermarket.”