I have been overweight my whole life. I have old, square photos with white boarders, of a chubby little girl in her favourite red pants suit, cuddling a precious blonde haired doll and sitting on her a too small wooden chair. I have a vivid memory of the day I refused to participate in the ballet concert because
I knew, even at age five, that I did not look like the other little ballerinas in their tutus.
I knew, even at age five, that I did not look like the other little ballerinas in their tutus and I simply refused to go on the stage. My parents argued after the event and I heard my Father say “we can't make her if she doesn't want to do it”.
This must have been a great disappointment to my Mother as, being a size 6 she was not only a ballerina, but had also worked as a teenage swimsuit model and was crowned Miss Teenage Croydon 1964. Suffice to say, I did not inherit my Mother's body type. At one point her nickname was 'garbage guts' because she could pack so much food away into her little frame - obviously I did not score her fast metabolism either.
Primary School was lonely, Secondary School was a fight for survival - bully or be bullied - with one horrible experience of an announcement coming over the PA system for the five largest children in the school to come to the Principal's office and my brother and I were both included in that group. This was to humiliatingly withdraw us from class and put us through a weekly diet and exercise lesson - I recall one girl crying profusely throughout the sessions and us being told it was all for our own good. I was less affected, having been told I needed to change many times by family members and long standing adult family friends and having been put on various kinds of diets since I was 10.
I only experienced one fleeting period of time when I was close to normal weight range; that was during my mid teens when I was riding my push bike to the beach everyday, where there was no food to be had and where I passed the time waterskiing. Even then, when I was fifteen I walked in on my Dad watching some kind of talent show, crying quietly as he watched them sing 'Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen' and I convinced myself that he was upset because I would never be the kind of pretty girl described in the song. This brief light period didn't last, as with Year 12 requiring long sessions of sitting to study, back came my weight issues. These then continued right through my adult life with increases due to pregnancy, emotional episodes, stress and some decreases now and then, but there was always the same struggle.
Of course I have tried every diet and quick fix under the sun including the Weight Watchers points system, Tony Fergusen and other types of shakes, bars and powders, Fit for Life, not mixing protein with carbohydrates, all different kinds of food type diets like grapefruit, cabbage, lemon detox, or weeks of veggie soup and the low carb Atkens.
Weight has been the focus of my girl talk of the day…and the last thought on my mind at night.
I have spent many long hours in gyms, on my bike and at aerobics in the late eighties. I have swum and run and danced and hiked and walked for hours on end until I've given up when weight loss did not stick. I have tried less healthy means like expanding fibre capsules, speed tablets, smoking and water binging, I've attempted to make myself vomit, stay asleep for days on end and have often starved myself.
I was stuck in a vicious cycle of self hatred, loss and gain and I finally chose to opt out.
I have wished for just a small case of anorexia. This was all very disturbing at the time and is even more upsetting now that I look back at how much I put my mind and body through. Weight has been the focus of my girl talk of the day, the ever present image in the media, the topic of a school lesson, the reason for any compliments or criticisms and the last thought on my mind at night. When I turned forty I knew I could not maintain long lasting weight loss with any method I had already tried, that I was stuck in a vicious cycle of self hatred, loss and gain and I finally chose to opt out.
A very close friend had a gastric band done, but her surgery happened to be during the week she unexpectedly fell pregnant and so her experience with banding did not start as planned and over time was not very smooth sailing or obviously effective. Bands were being discussed more and more, but I knew that many were not a long-term fix and that bands needed regular attention for checking and filling.
Others were there to answer questions – I didn't really have any questions after seeing their before photos…
That sounded like one more way to fail to me. My best foodie buddy mentioned the option of a 'gastric sleeve'. Her husband and herself were over weight and interested. I mentioned it to my then partner and we decided to find out more. By the time we got ourselves booked in and the information session came around my partner had changed his mind, so I went along with the couple. The session explained the choices, the procedures themselves, outlined the risks involved and confirmed the permanency of the sleeve option. Others who had experienced success were there to answer questions - I didn't really have any questions after seeing their before photos - there was nothing more I needed to know. I decided to go ahead.
I booked in for a Sleeve, now I was in a rush. But there was all the pre-op appointments, one of which was a metabolic test. I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that my metabolic rate was abnormally low - but this fact cemented my decision to go ahead with a system of permanent restriction on the amount I could eat. I felt that this explained why I had never been able to eat as much as others around me, and the results gave me a solid medical basis for taking such an extreme measure. Having learned so much about food over time, I knew my diet had been a healthy one for most of my life and I actually felt relieved to know that there was a medical reason for my struggle and that my weight was not all down to just being a greedy guts.
My surgery came up within one month of attending the information session. During that time I had friends who are doctors and nurses and people close to me try to talk me out of it.
I was the biggest I had ever been by far
I even broke up my 3 year relationship because, as an amateur chef, my partner expressed his caring and love through providing food and he felt both disappointment that there would be a shift in focus and that he would no longer be able to cook so much and also concern that I would regret this decision in the future and that I may eventually starve to death. Many people told me I was not big enough to warrant surgery. At 104 kilos (size 18 - 20) I may not have been the largest medical professionals had seen, but I was the biggest I had ever been by far and I had a real problem with being over the 100 kilo mark. When I was pregnant and reached 116 kilos my Gynaecologist commented “I note you are now way over the tonne”; that was not something I wanted to hear again. After much discussion and planning together my best friend pulled out of her booked surgery due to health insurance issues. I was then on my own and up against concern and doubt all around - for me my date could not have come fast enough. I also missed the culmination of an important public charity event I had been organising for months to take advantage of and ensure I got the earliest available date.
Knowing and stressing over every possible bad outcome doesn't change much for me. When I was 18 I drove myself to Queensland so I could experience bungee jumping. I did not wait for them to call out the usual “3,2,1,Bungee!” I told the tower operator that if I stood out on the edge and looked how far down it was I may not go through with it. So as soon as the platform jolted to a stop I just threw myself off the edge.
If I did nothing, I felt I would, before long, experience some weight related illness
In 1990 I was in Britain and they were looking for test subjects to try out a new laser eye surgery technique to eliminate the need for glasses - I put my hand up immediately and then had a blissful 10 years glasses free. Others find it hard to understand how I can leap in without researching or considering as extensively as they themselves would, but there are some things which I know have risks and, on balance, I'm prepared to just take them. Knowing and stressing over every possible bad outcome doesn't change my need and so it was the same with the sleeve. People told me all sorts of horror stories, but I had already listened carefully to the major issues and I felt that this decision was the best one for me and worth the risks I was taking. If I did nothing, I felt I would, before long, experience some weight related illness; my knees and back were already problematic, my Father had a recent heart attack and a multiple bypass and I was possibly headed the same way. Therefore I did not call back acquaintances who were nurses and wanted to tell me all about what could go wrong, I just jumped.
When I woke up from the operation I was next to a girl who had been in hospital for weeks after a Sleeve operation and who had undergone numerous operations to correct an unexpected complication. She could not sleep, keep anything down or move freely and was in a dreadful state. As I did not require attention, the nurses really focused their efforts on her and left me to my thoughts. I had been advised by a nursing friend to frequently ask for painkillers to avoid any increase in pain and so I did - this was a mistake as whatever they gave me made me slip in and out of consciousness and vomit. So I spent the first 24 hours heavily drugged. When I realised it was the pain killer that was making me ill I changed to panadol and then felt much better. I was up and walking around as soon as my head cleared and I showered the next day. The poor girl beside me expressed envy at my wellness and I did feel for her. I had a drive to move around and so walked the corridors as far as I felt I could go while still able to get back again. At first, this was just a little shuffle along, but I was soon moving upright and easily. The drainage tube was a constant sting, especially if caught and pulled when sitting and the IV was a hinderance. I couldn't drink much of anything. The foul tasting dye needed to check for leaks on the x-ray was revolting and it was difficult to get even a sip in but, after my surgeon Mr Draper had a swig in solidarity, I managed that and then gradually built up the amount of liquid I could take in.
I stayed longer than I needed to because I had no partner at home to help me, and when I left the hospital after three days I was still only drinking less than half a small cup. But I felt well and ready to go home. The main pain was shoulder referred pain - I think from air bubbles, and I had experienced this in the past after ceasarian sections and so knew a hot pack helped. At home I slept elevated, stayed still most of the time and kept a constant hot pack on my shoulders. I had soluble panadol when I needed it and I read a lot of books. Friends made me tiny containers of soup and my children fetched and carried for me. After two weeks I drove, started back at work and just made sure I didn't carry anything heavy or move around too fast. No one really noticed anything unusual.
I was very worried about eating in the hustle and bustle at work, as I was expecting to vomit as per warnings, but this never happened and still hasn't. I began on sloppy foods like Weatbix and moved quickly to soft solids like scrambled eggs. Processed sugary foods made me tired and yawn for half an hour after eating them, but this symptom has now subsided.
I felt stronger and, as I became lighter, more able to exercise.
Three months post surgery I felt stronger and, as I became lighter, more able to exercise. I began a fitness session 3 times per week and now can even do the unthinkable - run! The class is hard but I join in with the rest and I feel much stronger for it. I am very floppy and wobbly as my skin sags without so much filling, so I hope the exercise will tone and tighten - but I don't think any amount of exercise can eliminate my apron like belly overhang. Luckily I can hide this under my clothes.
The 6 month mark has just passed and my intake has increased to close to what I ate before the surgery, but with no binges or blow-outs possible at any time. I am now able to eat any foods at all and drink when I eat. I have been to parties and out to dinner and had no trouble at all. I just eat an entre slowly. I do feel constricted and have to stop if I am talking and eating at the same time, but the feeling of tightness passes quickly. I have had no pain or reflux. I have had trouble drinking the required amount of water as I manage about a litre and a half per day, but realise this should be more. I carry a water bottle wherever I go but just don't seem to sip often enough. I am consciously working on this but have to admit I currently have a pea-sized bladder.
I have lost loads of hair and am now awaiting regrowth and, after a few years of threatening signs, I'm expecting it to be fully grey.
My Brother tells me I look 10 years older and maybe I do, but many others say I look 20 years younger
This has been hard because it's difficult to disguise, although I have now made good use of the many hats collected over the years and rarely used before. This will be the winter of the cream cashmere beret. My five entry point scars are tiny and light pink - not that I will be wearing a bikini any time soon so scars aren't a consideration for me. I notice I have more wrinkles on my face, hands and even toes. My Brother tells me I look 10 years older and maybe I do, but many others say I look 20 years younger than the photos taken just prior to surgery. At this point my face has not hollowed out in the cheeks and I'm told I appear very healthy.
The most embarrassing symptom for me has been a huge increase in gas. I was never physically able or willing to participate in burping competitions when younger and have always felt any type of expended gas was less than lady like. So now I am having some difficulty with my fairly constant throat gurgling noises, little burps and hugely increased flatulence.
It used to be that I would buy whatever fitted me in the shop – now it all does...I'll have to get some help with this or I'll be broke in no time.
I am learning when and where to deal with this and, despite some concern, have not yet had any public humiliations. I do find I can gurgle away loudly when I lay down at night, particularly if having just had a nightcap. As a single woman, I do wonder whether I could find a partner who would politely ignore these constant noises and resist the urge to nickname me 'Froggie' - we'll see. I'm sure I no longer snore - so that's a plus.
As yet, I have not had the funds, nor the courage, to have an all out shopping binge, but have instead found new joy in shopping at Opp shops and Savers. My jeans fit me for about a month and then I change sizes, although the pace of this is more slowly now. My wardrobe contents are reassessed fortnightly and bags of clothes have gone on to new homes. I am currently a size 12 to 14 and even my long hoarded 'dream' outfits fit me. My work wardrobe is currently limited, but I can wear any style - I'm actually a bit scared to go shopping properly as I wouldn't know how to choose. It used to be that I would buy whatever fitted me in the shop - now it all does...I'll have to get some help with this or I'll be broke in no time.
I'm very thankful that my sleeve experience has been so simple and trouble free. I realise I have been lucky and am somewhat hesitant to carry on too glowingly as I know other people may have a less positive experience; I wouldn't want to convince anyone to have surgery as the complications can be so serious. It is hard to hold back though, as I wish I'd had metabolic tests and, subsequently, this surgery when I was younger. As I've already mentioned - I'm not adverse to being a medical guinea pig so the newness of the surgery probably wouldn't have bothered me. I look at overweight friends and family now and wish they'd consider doing the same, so that they could break their weight focused cycle too.
I don't worry about what I eat any more. I have enjoyed camembert for the first time and full fat mayonnaise - what a delight! As well as loads of protein, I eat way more varieties of sweet and fatty foods than ever before; I have had to condition myself to cream because after so long dieting my body was lactose intolerant. I try a bit of anything and everything and have just enjoyed my 42nd birthday afternoon tea with hours of cakes, champagne and chat and not concerned myself with what will happen on the scales the next day. I do my 3 exercise classes each week and then I get on with my life without pressing myself to do more or feeling guilty when I don't. I now have time to focus my thoughts and energies on other things and have, to this end, begun my much put off Masters Degree. I want to go out, enjoy dressing up and look for opportunities to socialise. As the permanently 'designated driver' I have fun before midnight, but now excuse myself when others get drunk, and wake up to Sunday feeling refreshed and ready to be productive. I cook every day with my children and they have also benefited from the new smaller serving size, which I hope will become their habit.
It may be way too late for me to be a ballerina, but a healthier, longer and better life now awaits and I know I have done the right thing for me.
Amanda had a Laparoscopic Sleeve Gastrectomy 6 months ago. She initially weighed 104kg, had a BMI of 35 and was a size 18 - 20. She now weighs 79kg having lost 25kg and is now a size 12 to 14. And she is still losing weight...