Danielle Takoko sits on her couch thinking about chocolate. Whittaker's chocolate. She's had a tough day and she really wants to pick up a block. Instead, she jumps up and starts marching on the spot. Her kids, five of them, are in hysterics, wondering what on earth their mum is doing.
That was over a year ago, when Takoko, 43, weighed 144kg, was prediabetic and had high blood pressure.
"Chocolate was my vice. I spent up to $80 a week on chocolate. It was to cope with the stress of my kids' illnesses. I used it to eat my way to happiness," says Takoko, who is a stay-at-home mum to her five children, two of whom are adopted, one who is a "foster for life" and two who are Takoko and her husband Brian's biological children.
"I deal with lots of mental disorders with my children. My adopted sons have fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). All four sons have different versions of ADHD. Three have anxiety. We have lots of obstacles that we live with and have to work around," says Takoko, who spends more time than most in hospital on routine visits for her children.
As one might expect, Takoko was exhausted. And further impacted by fibromyalgia, a condition that includes symptoms of widespread pain and fatigue.
"I fell over a lot. I tripped over nothing. I was just exhausted all the time. I was constantly eating because I was constantly trying to fuel myself," says the Gisborne local.
When Takoko told her GP how she was feeling she was referred to be tested for sleep apnoea. "I thought, but I don't snore. I went to the sleep clinic, they put me on the potato scales and I weighed 144.4kg, That was in May 2019."
As it turns out, snoring isn't always a symptom of sleep apnoea and Takoko was diagnosed with the condition.
"It took about three months with the [sleep] machine. At first, I was tired because I wasn't used to sleeping. Then I felt great and thought I should tackle my weight."
Even though Takoko was a candidate for gastric sleeve surgery, she never pursued it. "It took me 40 years to get this fat, it was going to take me a few years to get it off.
"I had to do it myself. I know others do it that way, I'm not knocking them. But for me, I knew it had to be something that involved changing my mindset, for good. Also, I'd rather enjoy food. I'm a foodie. But I'm always going to have issues with food. I had to find a healthy way to live with it, this eating problem I have."
Takoko knew she had to change the way she ate, which was skipping breakfast, grabbing a muffin, cake or chips on the go, buying sushi or a kebab for lunch and takeout for dinner. And "chocolate, chocolate, chocolate", to round it all off.
She noticed a friend had been losing weight and asked how she'd done it.
"My friend laughed and told me it was good old Weight Watchers [WW]."
And so Takoko signed up and began her journey, making changes one meal and one shift in mindset at a time. For the first eight months, she just focused on having a good breakfast. Eventually, she tackled other meals and now she eats "better and more" than she did before.
Breakfast: Overnight oats and fruit salad.
Lunch: Vegetable dahl or vegetarian omelette
Afternoon tea: chickpea chocolate cake.
"This is my saviour. It's an old school WW recipe. It has no sugar and no flour in it."
Dinner with the family: Venison ragu or a harissa traybake. "Our favourite and often a birthday-dinner request is 'the ultimate bacon cheeseburger' - it's a WW meal. And we have dessert most nights."
But getting to a whole new diet made for a gruelling period that really tested the busy mum.
"It was really hard. I was detoxing my body. For the first eight months of my journey, it was very hard, mentally. People would ask if I was all right. I'd be like, 'Nope. For f***'s sake, I'm going to kill someone.'
"Because I wasn't eating my emotions, I was suddenly having to put words to things. Instead of sneaking off to the bedroom to eat that bar of chocolate to feel good, I was actually having to say, 'It's a fricken s*** show today and I'm not okay.'
"I learned to use words like 'overwhelmed'. I'd say, 'Actually I'm feeling really overwhelmed in this moment.' And that surprised people. They'd never heard me say things like that. I was always in a chocolate haze. I wasn't the happy, bubbly person I'd always been. I was confronting really big eating problems."
And as she made more changes and saw the weight come off, all 62kg of it as of last week, Takoko realised people didn't recognise her.
"I was always the big person in the room. I was always bright red, because of my high blood pressure. I'll be there in the room but people are looking for me. They just can't even see me and I'm standing there in front of them. They say, 'My God.'
"I look in the mirror and think how thin my face looks. It was so huge and bright red. To see collar bones, it's little things like seeing my tummy recede so it no longer touches the steering wheel when I drive. I have to move my seat forward to reach the pedals now. To lose 62kg, it's mind-blowing.
"For me, I'm still the same person but I'm just more driven. People say, 'Just have a day off.' I say, 'I don't want a day off. This is my new lifestyle.'"
And it's not just her physical appearance that has changed.
"I've been able to come off medications. I was on blood pressure pills, I didn't need to have anything anymore. And because I didn't have a weight condition anymore I was able to go on hormone replacement medication to help with going through menopause. My pain with my fibromyalgia is nearly non-existent. My health is amazing. I used to be sick all the time. I picked up everything. This year I've only been on one round of antibiotics for an infection in my thumb."
Undergoing such dramatic weight loss, Takoko has been left with excess skin around her stomach.
"The loose skin is overwhelming," she shares. "I've got this hanging skin on my tummy. My legs are a size 10 but I have to wear a size 14 to 16 around my stomach. It lies in bed next to me. It claps when I run or hits my thighs when I ride a bike. You'd hear 'clap, clap, clap' when I'm out running around, playing ball with the kids."
But next Thursday Takoko will undergo surgery to remove her excess skin. She's nervous but excited. "It's terrifying but it's part of the journey," she says.
"I am freaking out a bit. More because it's at a hard time with the kids. I've got boys just out of hospital and it's school holidays. But we'll work it out. I'm looking forward to getting into a pair of jeans."
Through Takoko's efforts to change her lifestyle, her husband has also lost 25kg and signed on to WW too. And her kids couldn't be more proud of their determined mum.
"My daughter, my husband, my mum, they're my biggest cheerleaders.
"I still have days where I think, holy crap balls, that chocolate is calling my name. But I changed my response to that. I'd fully march on the spot. My kids used to think it was hilarious. Now they come in and they march with me."
Following Takoko's journey
Takoko has also found a community online, sharing her journey on Facebook and a similar messaging section on the WW app where she's picked up thousands of followers.
"I share what I'm having for breakfast. I share that I'm going through menopause. I share that I'm in hospital with my kids but I've still prepared this food. It holds me to account and also inspires other people."