Scanning the racks of pretty dresses in a shop, I finally spotted the one I knew instantly I had to buy. It was the right length in shimmery black fabric with lace trimming. Caressing the cloth, I was transported to a romantic candlelit dinner setting with my husband, Arun Jivothama. He had been away in India on a business trip for almost a month and I had been missing him.

“12, 14, 16…” I read the size labels of the dresses one by one. But it was a UK size 22 that my eyes were frantically searching for. At 171cm tall I weighed 102kg. Would I ever find my size, I wondered, as I moved the hangers slowly this time, carefully searching through the row. A surge of sadness overwhelmed me as I realised there were no large sizes available. Disappointed, I had no will to shop for another dress.

“Anyway, what’s the point,” I said, catching sight of my bulging waistline in the store mirror. My plans were shattered and I drove home in tears.

Being an emotional eater, I headed straight to the freezer and pulled out a tub of ice cream. With the curtains drawn I plonked myself on the living room couch and devoured the whole tub. In silence.

Then I thought about being in the dress shop and something flipped in me. I realised I’d let myself go for too long and now I couldn’t even find clothes that fitted. It was the turning point, and I decided I had to take control of my life and get it on track.

Food had always been my biggest weakness. Growing up in Mangalore, in southern India, I was the tall, plump school kid who was always gorging on food. By the age of 13 I was 75kg – all thanks to the heavy, calorie-rich food that I used to have at home. By the time I went to college I was tipping the scales at 90kg.

It’s not that I never tried to lose weight. In college I once shed 10kg, my first-ever weight loss, by going on a diet and playing basketball and other sports. But the kilos piled on soon after college when I stopped playing sport.

In 2004 I got married and moved to Dubai. I lost weight before the wedding because I wanted to fit into a gorgeous wedding dress. With aerobics and dieting I lost a few kilos but promptly put them back on as soon as I settled into matrimony.

Then, during my pregnancy I gorged on rich food under the guise of feeding the little one growing in my tummy and was soon a whopping 109kg in 2005.

A year after I had my baby, in 2007, I decided to give weight loss another shot and enrolled at a well-known slimming centre in Dubai and lost 25kg in three months. But as soon as my membership for the slimming programme ended I was back to large meals, which meant the weight came back with a vengeance in a year.

I craved fatty, oily, greasy and sugary food. The only time I regretted eating all those goodies and putting on the extra kilos was when I went shopping. Like most women I loved dressing up, but over the years I realised I was opting for loose, baggy tops instead of the trendy figure-hugging dresses I loved to wear, only so I could hide all my fat.

It made me terribly sad yet I did nothing about my diet. My day would typically start with a heavy breakfast of chicken mayonnaise sandwiches washed down with a cup of milky tea or a can of soda. My job as a secretary at an automobile showroom in Dubai meant I was spending long hours at my desk with little physical activity.

Even at work I was munching often. For instance, at 11am I would snack on a big packet of crisps and guzzle down a large mug of coffee laced with a lot of sugar. Lunch would be two burgers, a medium cheese pizza or a large portion of biryani. The meal would end with two bars of chocolate every day.

At 4pm it would be tea and a whole pack of cookies or a plate of banana or onion fritters. Yet by 6.30pm when I reached home after work I would be desperately rummaging through the kitchen cupboards for munchies. I’d snack heavily on biscuits, chips, rolls or crêpes.

Dinner was an elaborate affair that included a large bowl of rice with fish curry or four or five chappatis with chicken curry. No meal for me was complete without sweets. Late at night I would again raid the fridge for Indian sweets such as gulab jamuns and laddoos.

My sweet tooth made me do crazy things at times. I’d be shopping in a mall and the smell of a waffle baking would make me drop everything and head for a bite. We’d be driving to an event and if I spotted my favourite ice cream store I’d insist on turning the car around to get a scoop or two.

With time my food indulgences started taking a toll on my health. All the extra kilos used to leave me breathless even if I climbed just a few steps. Back aches and knee aches became more frequent. Squatting and bending was almost impossible. I was also diagnosed as a borderline diabetic. My BMI was 38.

“Do something, lose weight, get fit,” my mother, who lives close to our home in Karama, would tell me. But I was living in a bubble – wrongly believing that just because I was tall, the extra kilos would not show much and because there was no major medical condition everything was just fine.

Of course, the idea of losing weight did appeal to me but the thought of not eating my favourite foods would make me banish those thoughts quickly. But it also meant I could not even tell my slightly chubby eight-year-old daughter Calista to lose weight as she would retort, “But Mamma, you are also fat.”

However, shopping for a dress that time in March last year was a major turning point. I was by now fed up with my boring wardrobe that made me look old and haggard. My health also began to worry me. After finishing the tub of ice cream, I thought hard and said to myself, “This is it. Either I can eat yummy food or look yummy.”

The next day I woke up at 5am and went for a walk to Zabeel Park, half a kilometre from my house. I managed one round of the park (2km) in about 30 minutes and felt exhausted.

I came home and made a breakfast of two wholegrain cereal biscuits with low-fat milk that I’d bought on my way back and then packed a large bowl of fruit salad with a tub of yogurt for lunch. Instead of soda and tea I guzzled water throughout the day. It was difficult and there were times when I felt like indulging myself but I would think of a dress that I could wear if I was thinner – so that made me stick to my routine.

When I reached home in the evening I had watermelon and it made me feel full. I continued with this routine the next day as well and soon teamed up with my neighbour – a fitness freak who used to go for walks at 4.30am every day. I joined her and slowly increased my duration and distance – doing around 7km.

I also altered my diet drastically. Now I started my day with one litre of warm water at 4.30am. After the 7km walk I would have a glass of unsweetened lime juice. At 8am my breakfast would be cornflakes with low-fat milk and a handful of nuts. At 11am I would munch an apple or two oranges with a cup of green tea. Lunch was grilled chicken or fish with salad or yogurt and fruit (apple, pear or orange). Some days I ate only fruit and a few bowls of low-fat yogurt. At 4pm instead of tea and cookies I’d have fruit and green tea. Whenever I had a strong craving for sweets, I’d take a small portion of fruits.

It began to pay off. In the first month I lost 6kg. That was a big motivator, as was the fact that my husband was pleasantly surprised when he came back from a business trip. “I’m so glad you are doing this,” he said. “You do look slimmer already.”

But the next 10 days after that initial weight loss I was stuck at the same weight. That’s when I increased the distance of the walks, doing an extra 5km in the evening as well. My speed had also increased and now I could do one lap in 20 minutes.

In June I discovered the Friends of Yoga group, a voluntary organisation that provides free yoga classes outside parks all over the UAE. Now my routine included a 7km walk every morning and a 5km walk in the evening, followed by an hour of yoga.

In that month I lost another 6kg. 

Diet, the walks, yoga and Kallie Puri’s book Confessions of a Serial Dieter helped me to lose more weight. From her book I learned it’s important to avoid eating after 7pm.

Initially it was difficult to skip dinner and I spent a few sleepless nights but in just a matter of a few days my body got used to the new eating patterns. My last meal at 7pm was fruit and green tea. That’s when I started seeing a drastic weight loss.

Around that time Dubai Municipality launched the Your Weight in Gold Campaign. Participants had to lose a minimum of 2kg to win a gram of gold for every kilo lost. I registered for the campaign at Zabeel Park in July, lost 4kg and won two gold coins. 

At first when the weight loss was slow, no one noticed the change. But after losing 22kg my fitter form became a topic of discussion wherever I went. Several colleagues at work wanted to know my diet mantra. A month later, I lost four more kilos and since then I’ve managed to maintain my weight at 76kg. This is in spite of putting on weight when I went to India on holiday.

My target is 75kg. Once I attain that, I’ll switch to a more moderate diet and maintain it. My daughter and colleagues at work have been inspired by the changes in me.

My daughter joins me on my evening walks and several of my friends have started seeking my advice on how to lose weight.

My mom was delighted by my progress. “I can’t believe you did it,” she said. “You look so nice. Just keep at it and don’t allow the kilos to return.”

The best part about my weight loss is that I didn’t spend a penny on expensive gyms, fat-burning pills or slimming centres. All I did was invest in a good pair of walking shoes.

Now, almost a year later, I have managed to keep my weight at 76kg.

I give into my cravings occasionally but it never becomes overindulgence.

I was thrilled to bits when I was chosen to be featured in Friday’s diet issue of May 30. I enjoyed the fashion photo shoot and traded weight-loss advice with the two other women who were also part of the feature.

After I appeared on the cover, several of my neighbours and friends who I had not seen in a long time, called to ask me details about my diet. In fact, I still get calls from people who saw the issue.

Oh, and yes, although I didn’t manage to get the black dress I so wanted, which set me on the path to a new lifestyle, now I do have a lovely selection of size 14 dresses. And I love dressing up in them!