Celia’s weight problems started in her late teens. Juggling various jobs with unconventional hours meant missed meals and late night gorging. Her weight would fluctuate as she alternated between starvation and over eating. This was the 60s and weight loss myths abounded. One weight loss centre on Harley Street put Celia on a diet which permitted nothing but meat and fish for weeks, whilst injecting her with pregnant women’s urine and insisting on a high dosage of water tablets. Celia lost a lot of weight. She also lost two inches in height as her spinal column shrunk.
Celia went from decade to decade, diet to diet in an ever-tightening vicious cycle. No weight loss promise or guarantee delivered and after the frustration of denial and failure came the comfort of eating.
In March 2009 Celia was 19 stone. She wasn’t well and was taking every kind of medication. Her acute asthma and emphysema made life as a busy child minder impossible. She could no longer run around and have fun with the children she cared for. Half of Celia’s hair fell out due to the stress of self-loathing. She contemplated suicide.
Celia had heard of weight loss surgery but due to the expense hadn’t seen it as an option. After a consultation with her GP however she realized she qualified for the surgery on the NHS. Finally, Celia was afforded some hope and she approached the surgery with all the determination she could muster.
Of the three procedures offered, Celia opted for a gastric sleeve; a partial bypass of the stomach. A two finger sized volume of stomach would be relocated to beneath her main organs via a tube . This procedure would take three hours. A full bypass of her stomach, promising even greater weight loss, would take five hours but the doctors feared that, in her poor state of health, Celia may not make it through the surgery. Celia hoped she would attain her ideal weight of 9 stone and whilst the NHS told her she would ‘never look like a model’, she should lose plenty of weight. She was also told she would never feel hungry again.
The reality of post op life struck Celia extremely brutally. She had not, she feels, been prepared adequately for the enormous adjustments necessary following such a drastic procedure; Adjustments on not only a physical, but also psychological level.
For example, Celia hadn’t been warned that she may throw up after consuming tiny amounts of food and even after drinking only tap water. She was not prepared for the crippling constipation which struck soon after the operation; so severe that the NHS wanted to operate on her. Fortunately, a good friend and litres of prune juice came to the rescue. Celia was given no dietetic advice. She received no continuity of care, or indeed any support, from the hospital or doctor who had overseen the operation, but instead had to seek help from her local GP. After four years Celia was called back to the hospital for a urine sample, when she discovered she had developed diabetes.
Four years after the gastric surgery Celia had lost 5 stone. Though the operation was the catalyst for change, it was Celia’s own iron will and discipline that ensured she continued to lose and maintain her weight. Celia had discovered the MBT shoe at the Ideal Home exhibition and taken up walking: a dog and new baby to care for demanded long walks.
What Celia had not been told was that she still had to monitor her daily calorie consumption. She still had to ‘diet’ and the promise of never feeling hungry again turned out to be an empty one. Celia was still haunted by the same psychological demons, which had plagued her before the surgery, and the comfort she used to derive from food she now sought in other places. After her operation, Celia developed a far sweeter tooth, and started drinking wine frequently as a way to satisfy her cravings for sugar, and more worryingly to give her comfort and relief. When she admitted this to other women who had been through bariatric surgery, Celia discovered that alcohol consumption was common to almost all of them and that dependency on it was rife.
In Celia’s view, anyone who has been through bariatric surgery should be constantly monitored both physically and psychologically. Unfortunately, she received no such attention after her procedure.
In the summer of 2015, Dr James Kavanagh, Celia’s local GP sent her an invitation to attend a new weight loss programme, “Step forward to Health”. Celia, always open to new ways in which to lose weight, went along and from the very outset realised that this was something very different from the run of the mill slimming group. There were no prescribed menus and no do’s and don’ts/shoulds and shouldn’ts screaming from the literature.
Step Forward to health instantly seemed like a more respectful and intelligent approach. It covered all bases, with experts on hand delivering advice on diet, physical exercise, and even shopping habits. Goals were achievable and lifestyle changes possible to pursue day to day without having to adopt a different life altogether. All of this was discussed in groups, and it dawned that everyone shared similar habits and issues – there was a palpable sense of shared experience and compassion amongst the attendees. Such was the bond between those attending that the groups would continue their discussions in the car park, sometimes in the dark, after the session ended. The trust grew amongst the group safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t discuss what had been divulged with anyone outside of the programme. Celia hated having to miss a session.
What really struck Celia was the way in which the group tutors made her realise that many of the answers to her problems lay within her. She felt empowered and in control for the first time for years and years and began to make changes in her life. For the first time since surgery she was able to make the choice not the have a drink. SFH made Celia realise that change has to come from within you, and that until it does no weight loss method would be effective. Celia stopped turning to wine for her comfort fix and found making healthy decisions and choices easier.
One aspect of the programme towards which Celia was initially wary was the idea of ‘buddying’. This entailed asking someone Celia trusted from within her group of friends and family, but were not part of the SFH community, if they would listen to her talk about her SFH experiences. Celia had trust issues stemming from past relationships and felt like such an intimate, intense exchange may overwhelm not only her but also her condfidante. As it turns out, Celia found this opportunity to share, to open up and ‘have a little cry’ with someone she could trust immensely important to her journey and she still speaks to her Buddy today. When time permits Celia joins the SFH walking groups and enjoys feeling reconnected to those who have shared the SFH experience and constantly refers back to the literature she was given during the course to stay mindful of what she had learnt.
In Celia’s view, SFH is for anybody who wants to lose weight and can’t, and feels that had she discovered SFH earlier than she did she may not have required the surgery. Her gastric sleeve was a superficial fix to a far deeper issue and though the initial weight loss was impetus for change it took far more work for Celia to feel that the fundamental psychological problems, the root cause of her troubles, were being resolved. Since SFH Celia’s weight has more or less stabalised though, like most, she sometimes loses and gains and occasionally eats for emotional comfort during particularly tough times. What remains constant for Celia is the knowledge that such drastic weight loss is inconceivable without consistent guidance and support and thanks to SFH she now ‘feels complete’.