Spotting the emerald green dress, I knew instantly that I had to have it. I hurried over, and began rummaging through the rail for my size. Grabbing the largest, I sighed. It was a UK size 16, the largest they had, and I realised I’d never fit into it. I was 168cm, 105kg and a size 20.

The story at the next shop was the same – I found a gorgeous dress, only to take it off the hanger and see it was several sizes too small. I felt ashamed and close to tears as I scoured the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, for something new to wear.

I must have walked in and out of half a dozen stores and was about to break down – I couldn’t get a single dress that I liked in my size. In desperation, I picked up a black dress that was a size 22 – the only one left, which I was sure would make me look like a grandma – and went home.

I was too scared to even try it on in the shop. What was the point? I had no hope of it making me look nice – I was too fat.

I’d always been chubby. Even as a child growing up in Moldova, in Eastern Europe, I remember being frequently bullied by friends about my weight. My late father Alexander and my mother Parascovia Ciobanu never mentioned it. My dad’s side of the family was big so maybe they thought it ran in the family. But my older brother Cornel wasn’t overweight.

Friends’ reactions

It was partly my fault too. I enjoyed takeaways and loved fast food. Burgers and pizzas were my favourite. I’d shovel them in, along with crisps, chocolates and cakes. Then I’d glance in the mirror and see the spare tyre around my middle, the kilos sitting on my hips and thighs, and I knew I had to lose weight. I’d go on diets but I could never stick to them for more than
 a couple of days.

As I grew up, I became bigger and more and more self-conscious. As soon as I went to college, I bought slimming pills off the internet and tried to cut down on my calories, but nothing helped. So I stopped looking at myself in the mirror. I didn’t go near scales and always hid if photos were being taken.

I had a lot of friends and used to go out with them often. Only a few of them ever mentioned my weight or suggested I slim, even though at the time I weighed around 90kg.

After graduating in journalism, I worked for a few companies in Moldova and I made a lot of friends. No one said anything directly about my size but a couple of them hinted I should join a gym. I ignored them. A gym was the last place I’d ever go – I didn’t want anyone to look at me exercising. I didn’t want to be noticed. I wanted to be invisible. That’s one of the reasons I decided to come to Dubai. No one knew me here and it was a clean start.

Adding the Dubai stone to her woes

After landing here in January 2012, I began to panic. I could change countries but my fat didn’t magically disappear. If anything, I began eating even more. With a hectic work life as a public relations executive I soon began to put on the famous Dubai stone. I blamed it all on my job, which kept me busy and left me with no time to think about what I was doing to myself.

Every day I’d stop at a coffee shop on the way to work and gorge on two to three fruit muffins washed down with creamy sugar-laced coffee. Throughout the day, I would snack on several large bags of potato crisps and a couple of packets of digestive biscuits. I rarely if ever drank water. Instead it was always fizzy drinks and colas, sometimes a couple of cans at a time.

Lunch was usually burgers with double cheese and a side order of fries washed down with colas. Sometimes, a couple of burgers would not be enough and I’d have a small pizza as well. Italian food was my weakness – I could not resist digging
into layers of cheese-filled lasagna or creamy pasta.

Weekends were no better. Although single, I made a lot of friends and went out often. But on Thursday, the beginning of the weekend, I’d visit a supermarket on my way home to stock up on potato crisps and family-size tubs of strawberry and vanilla ice cream, which I’d binge-eat while watching my favourite cookery shows and Hollywood movies. I’d easily devour a tub of ice cream and a cheesecake in one sitting.

Then one day, just before my 30th birthday, on a whim, I checked my weight at a pharmacy. I gasped when it said I was 105 kilos. I’d seriously had no idea. I left the pharmacy shaking, and fighting back tears. I’d been planning on going shopping for a dress for my birthday but that would just have been torture. I was obese and had to do something about it. So instead of a tent-like dress I decided to give myself a slimmer body and better health.

I went online to look for ways to lose weight and came across an article about hypnotherapy. It explained how it had become a popular
 way to lose weight. That same day I also happened to find an online video featuring cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist Russell Hemmings and a teenager who talked about being bullied in school because of his weight.

I related to the boy’s story of being bullied in school. I was impressed by Russell and felt confident about this therapy. It seemed risk free without the added stress of having to follow a particular diet. I booked a session with him straight away.

I didn’t know what to expect but Russell started by asking me questions about my family and what I wanted to change about my life. I told him that I wanted to lose weight to increase my self-esteem and confidence. The talk lasted for an hour. He then explained hypnotherapy to me and how it would work and what exactly would happen during the session. He told me that I wouldn’t be put to sleep, I would be conscious and in control at all times. He would be working on my subconscious mind making me change the way I thought about food and putting me in control.

Russell also talked about portion control, slow eating, mindful eating and overcoming sweet cravings.

Instant result

After the three-hour session I felt relaxed and pleasant. The change in my attitude towards food was also instant and dramatic. From the moment I left the clinic, I started eating less and began looking at more healthy options. I started paying attention to what I bought at the supermarket. At breakfast I ditched the muffins and made fruit shakes at home or had low fat yogurt or fruit. I started making salads for lunch or healthy wraps. Dinner would be home-made again and usually fish with plenty of fresh vegetables; pastas with low-fat sauce and, for dessert, stewed fruit. In between meals I started snacking on fruit avoiding crisps and colas completely. In a week I had lost two kilos and that was a big motivation for me.

The next week I went back to Russell for my second session where he targeted other areas of my life that I wanted to change. Being overweight meant I had low self-esteem and hated being photographed or looking in mirrors. During the five sessions with Russell I lost weight and gained confidence. He used a combination of hypnotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy and taught me visualisation techniques to imagine myself as thin and beautiful. Within a fortnight, I joined a gym and started working out three times a week.

I lost seven kilograms the first month and was motivated to keep to my healthy lifestyle and exercise. By November 2012, after just six months, I had lost 30 kilos.

It’s now been more than a year since I started hypnotherapy. I have lost 37 kilos in all and am 68 kilos today. I can fit into any size 12 dress. On my birthday this year I wore a champagne-coloured fitted outfit and treated myself to grilled fish and a tiny piece of tiramisu. 
I have also begun to take a lot more interest in my lifestyle and work hard to stay healthy. I take the stairs all the time, eat homemade lunch at work, drink green tea and still exercise three times a week. I laugh a lot and often catch myself admiring my new figure in the mirror. At work I am more energetic and ready to take challenges. Hypnotherapy helped me to love myself. I’m happy to pose for pictures and I enjoy shopping for clothes. Best of all I found love and I blossom in the glow of having someone special in my life.

Breakfast: Two to three muffins with large milky coffee

Lunch: A couple of burgers with extra cheese and fries; sometimes a pizza too

Dinner: Grabbed a take-away or ate out – usually high fat and highly processed meals

Snacks: P ackets of crisps, biscuits and colas throughout the day

Breakfast: Homemade fruit shake made with fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt

Lunch: Salad or healthy wrap made at home, fruit

Dinner: Lean meat/fish, couscous or pasta with low-fat sauces, fresh vegetables and stewed fruit

Snacks: Fresh fruit

Corina Ciobanu, 31, lives in Dubai