Margaret, from Leap, Co Cork, who is studying psychology at Cork College of Commerce, weighed 15st 7lbs stone when she became the youngest member of the local UniSlim class in May last year.
“People think teenagers do crash diets and a lot of girls thought I was on diet pills but I told them that the weight loss was down to something much healthier than that... just healthy eating and exercise,” she said.
“Now, if I want to eat some ice cream, I make sure that I go for an extra walk to earn some extra yums. My friends are all eating more healthily and we appreciate our treats now rather than just eating without thinking.”
The teenager, one of 10 finalists, who now weighs 11st and fits a size 10 dress, found it tough being an overweight child and was bullied in primary school. “That just brought me down and made me go into my comfort zone — eating.
“As I got older, I knew I needed to do something — my family helped a lot and my friends have been very supportive.”
UniSlimmer of the year, meanwhile, is Bernadette McHugh from Mayo who shed 7st 5lbs after joining a class in Belmullet in Nov 2010.
Less than 18 months later, she reached her target weight and now weighs 10st 11lbs.
“The moment it hit me, that I had to do something about my weight, was when I was lying on my bed struggling to pull up the zip on my size 22 jeans,” the mum-of-two said.
“Before I joined UniSlim, I would eat fries and lots of white bread. I could have half a loaf toasted with butter for my breakfast. I also ate tonnes of chocolate and, at night, I could sit down and eat bags of crisps and fizzy drinks.
“At my first UniSlim class, I remember weighting in at 17st 12lbs. I was shocked when my leader said if I could lose just 1lb a week I would lose three and a half stone in a year. That stuck in my head.”
Bernie, who used to be known as ‘Big B’, says her family has benefited from UniSlim. “I have cut down on the so-called treat foods I used to buy. We all do more exercise now.”
The judges for this year’s UniSlimmer of the Year competition included RTÉ’s Off the Rails presenter and stylist Sonya Lennon and founder of UniSlim Agnes McCourt.
UniSlimmer of the Year 2012 finalists.
* Nikki Quigley, 23, a mum of one from Artane, Dublin, who joined UniSlim after a night out with the girls.
“They had these lovely size 8 and 10 figures and I felt enormous,” said Nikki who lost 6st 6lbs and now weighs 11st 9lbs.
* Imelda Murphy, 36, from Wicklow now weighs 8st 7lbs after losing six stone following the birth of her son in 2009.
“When my son was five weeks old, I was with my mum shopping for new clothes and I hit my low. I was devastated when a size 18 jeans wouldn’t fit me and I burst out crying when I handed them back to the sales girl.
“Now I’m a size 10. It feels amazing to go out and shop for clothes instead of buying it just because it fits.”
* Fintan McEvoy, 57, from Offaly was 19st 4lbs when he joined UniSlim. He has lost 5st 4lbs.
Twenty years ago he was crushed by a forklift truck at work and ended up in a wheelchair for over a year.
Fintan, who still uses crutches, said he had been eating out of all proportion and ended up with a huge belly before joining UniSlim.
He says his friends are amazed at how he lost weight with little or no exercise.
“All I know is that if I hadn’t gone into that first meeting, I’d probably be 25 stone by now.”
* Nicky Nesbitt, 42, from Antrim went from 15st 13lbs to 11st 6lbs after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2008.
“When I was thankfully given a clean bill of health three years later, my weight issue came back to haunt me with a vengeance. I decided there and then that I was one of the lucky ones and I would stop complaining and feeling depressed about myself and do something about it.”
* Stephanie Ryan, 32, from Tipperary, was 16st 12lbs when she joined UniSlim in Cashel in Oct 2010. She now weighs 10st 9lbs.
The mother of two was diagnosed with gestational diabetes when she was pregnant and was told she would have to take insulin.
“Right now, I’m about the same size as I was when I met my husband 12 years ago. He and our children don’t know themselves with all the great food I can dish up. I feel so much happier in myself and can deal with my problems or stress without reaching for the biccies.”
* Joanne O’Dwyer, 39, from Thurles, Co Tipperary, who once weighted 16st, went from a size 18-20 to a size 12 after losing 4st 10lbs after a family tragedy.
In 2009, she lost a baby and the family business in a fire but having another child, a daughter, now aged 18 months, forced her to turn her life around.
“Having a daughter made me want to look good, as I know we’ll be shopping together,” said Joanne, who also became a UniSlim class leader.
* Ursula Guilfoyle, 43, from Ennis, Co Clare, lost almost five stone since joining UniSlim in Feb 2011 and now weighs 10st lllb.
“The week that I started UniSlim, I bought a Karen Millen dress in a size 12, hung it in my bedroom and made that my target,” she said.
“I proudly wore that dress to my sister’s wedding. It even had to be taken in on top as it was too loose.”
* Louise Elphick, 31, part-time care assistant and mum-of-three from Clonakilty, Co Cork, lost 6st 1lb.
She weighed 16st 12lbs when she joined UniSlim and now weights 10st 11lbs.
“The biggest high for me was when my grandparents came to visit this summer and I picked them up at the airport. When I greeted them at arrivals, they didn’t recognise me.”