A tale of two gastric bands
Best mates Claire and Lisa had been fat friends for over a decade and now they decided to get thin together.
Only it was never going to be that simple. After having gastric surgery on the same day Claire got off to a slow start, but Lisa’s weight dropped so low she looked anorexic.
We wandered round the supermarket, stuffing things into our baskets like women on a mission. Triple-decker packs of sandwiches, family-size packets of crisps, a huge bar of Dairy Milk, a litre bottle of full-fat Coke, a box of cream cakes…it all went in.
Anyone would have thought we were catering for a party, but Claire and I were on our lunch break, choosing what to bring back to our desks for that afternoon.
And by the time it was time to go home, rather than feeling sick, I was already thinking about what takeaway I fancied for dinner.
Claire was my first boss and best mate and over the last few years – unsurprisingly – we’d both been through every diet going. Weightwatchers, Rosemary Conley. Slimming World, Atkins…we’d tried them all. Plus, of course, every fad there was going.
But whilst our ‘all or nothing’ attitude meant that, at first, the weight fell off, we soon piled it all – and more – back on again. Because once we’d congratulated ourselves on losing that first stone, we’d celebrate by going out for a meal together…or by treating ourselves to a cream cake, or three.
We might have been best friends, but we were each other’s worst enemies when it came to losing weight.
‘This time we’re going to do it,’ we’d promise ourselves each time we embarked on a new regime. But it wasn’t long before one of us would lead the other back to temptation.
Even when, just after my 30th birthday I lost a whopping five stone by doing WeightWatchers, four years down the line I’d put it all back on again.
Well let’s face it, diets were boring. It was much more fun going out for tea and cake with Claire! So while our joint obsession with weight loss and food meant we stayed close, it also meant we also stayed fat.
By the time my 40th approached, I was a size 20 and determined to lose the weight once and for all.
‘I’ve got an idea,’ I told Claire one night on the phone.
‘Which diet is it now?’ she asked.
But I was through with diets. I’d been researching gastric band surgery after seeing a TV documentary. It seemed like the only option.
It was expensive – £10,000 in the UK – but I’d been looking into surgery abroad and in Belgium you could have the procedure for less than half that, and the surgeons were renowned, too.
I’d arranged a meeting with a consultant who was visiting Manchester, where I worked, the following week.
‘Count me in!’ Claire said, just like she did whenever I suggested a new weight-loss idea.
My husband Clive never mentioned my weight gain, even though I’d been a trim size 14 when we’d met. Even so, when I told him my plan he was behind me 100 per cent. ‘You’ve got to do what makes you happy,’ he said.
And a week on, excited and encouraged by what the consultant told us, we decided to go for it.
Clive and I used our savings to pay for the op, while single Claire put the £4,000 on her mortgage.
For a week before the op, we could only eat yogurt to prepare our bodies for the liquid food that was to follow. Claire lost an impressive 10lb!
‘Maybe we should have stuck with the yogurt-only diet for longer,’ she joked. ‘It would have saved us a lot of money!’
Just three weeks after our consultation, we flew out to Belgium from Birmingham Airport, with our operations scheduled one after the other the very next day. We were in this together – as always.
But that evening, we decided to have one last blow out. In the small town where we were staying, we managed to find a Chinese restaurant and ordered a banquet. Soon the table was groaning under platters of duck, glistening plates of sweet and sour chicken, beef in black bean sauce, mountains of egg fried rice and piles of prawn crackers.
‘Dig in!’ I told Claire.
The next morning we excitedly said our goodbyes as I was wheeled down to theatre first.
We groggily came round together later that afternoon. Surprisingly, neither of us felt that bad. There was a bit of soreness but very little pain.
Still, when it came to food, the difference was apparent straight away. We could stomach only liquid and thin soups and I felt full after just a few mouthfuls.
After a few days, we flew home to a diet of yet more soups followed by tiny spoonfuls of pureed fruit and mashed potato. It was like started all over again, teaching a baby how to eat.
A fortnight in, I’d lost an encouraging half stone. But the scales still hadn’t shifted for Claire.
‘Everyone’s different,’ I told her.
Gradually, I started introducing small portions of solids. ‘Strange isn’t it?’ I said to Claire. ‘Feeling bloated after an egg cup-full of food.’
But she didn’t find it as hard to eat as I did.
In fact, while I shifted an impressive four stone in the first year, going from a size 20 to a 12, Claire lagged behind, dropping just 3lb.
‘I just don’t understand it,’ she said.
Not that it caused any problems between us.
‘I only need to look at you to see that it does work,’ Claire said. ‘I obviously just need to stick with it.’
But while I neared my target weight in early 2009, Claire was still stones away from where she wanted to be.
Eventually, she phoned the clinic in Belgium who referred her to a consultant in Manchester who looked at her band under x-ray. It revealed it was far too loose. After having it tightened, the results were immediate – the weight began to drop off.
Only, I continued to shrink, too.
I went from my goal of a size 10-12 to a size eight, then a six.
By the time I’d gone to a tiny size four people started at me everywhere she went. Once they’d stared because I was fat. Now they were staring because I was so thin.
I’d gone from obese to looking anorexic and my family and friends were worried, especially Mum as my sister had struggled with an eating disorder and she knew how devastating it could be…
‘Mum, I promise you I’m not anorexic,’ I told her time and again.
But you only had to look at me to see that something wasn’t right.
That November I went on holiday to Egypt with Clive, Claire and Mum. I struggled to keep anything down, even liquids. And when I came home a fortnight later, the new size four suit I’d bought for work just before we’d left hung off me.
Clive was worried to death and when I returned to work my boss took one look at me and sent me straight to hospital.
I was transferred to Queen Mary Hospital in Nottingham, where they had experts in gastric surgery. There, tests revealed my gastric band had slipped meaning my body had not been absorbing any nourishment at all.
At just six stone, I was severely underweight, dehydrated and malnourished and doctors warned me that unless they operated immediately, my life was at risk.
Surgeons relaxed the band to allow more food to travel through and over the coming months I slowly started to gain weight.
But while I was finally gaining weight, Claire continued to lose.
‘You look amazing!’ I told her.
‘So do you,’ she smiled with relief as over the next 18 months, I gradually put on two-and-a-half stone.
Over the past five years I’ve gone from 17 stone and a size 20 down to a dangerous six stone and a size four, then back up to a healthy ten stone and a size 12.
My eating has changed completely. Whereas before I’d easily graze my way through 3,000 calories a day, now I hover around 800 with a cup of tea for breakfast, a healthy snack at lunch and a small pasta or rice-based evening meal. I can’t stomach any more than that.
Claire, meanwhile, has gone from 20 stone and a size 24 to a much healthier 15 stone and a size 14/16. She’s aiming for 12 stone and a size 12.
Although it’s proved far from the quick-fix we imagined, despite our complications both Claire and I would do it all again. With regards to getting down to a healthy weight – and staying there – I really believe that having that gastric band fitted was the best thing I ever did.
And of course, as always, we did it together. We really have supported each other through thick and thin!