After reaching 21 stone and battling Type II diabetes and high blood pressure, mum Mell Handley says her problems with food started in childhood – and only ended when she went under the knife. She fears her story could become ‘normal’ for today’s children if things don’t change.
“My mum had terrible trouble feeding me as a baby, I just screamed all the time. It turns out that I’m lactose intolerant but she didn’t know that back then. The doctor told her to feed me fish and chips to shut me up. She didn’t do that but she did wean me as soon as possible just so that I would eat something. As I grew up she didn’t mind if I had chocolate mousse for breakfast and ate my dessert before my dinner, she was just relieved to finally be getting food into me. Mum always joked that once I started eating, I didn’t stop.
“That stuck with me. I was a size 16 when I fell pregnant aged 20. I thought ’great, now I can eat for two.’ By the time my son was born I’d gained three stone and when I got married the following year it was in a size 24 wedding dress.
“I had no grasp on the correct portion sizes for me, let alone for my child. I was overeating and as a result, so was he. Luckily when he grew up he figured it out for himself and he’s now a healthy weight.
“It wasn’t so easy for me. But I never really saw myself as properly obese. I was in my mid-forties when a blood test showed I had type II diabetes. At the time I didn’t think that much of it. I read the leaflets and took the Metformin medication but I didn’t really understand the seriousness of the consequences. Then I had an eye check and the optician said I was lucky that there was no damage to my eyes yet. She said: ‘You’ve been lucky so far, but you will have problems.’ That really made me panic. I suddenly connected my weight issues with my health issues.
“I avoided walking up even small flights of stairs. I couldn’t walk very far or even tie my own shoe laces, and I was constantly tired. But worse of all I had friends with things like muscular dystrophy, real disabilities they couldn’t do anything about. I knew that if I didn’t do something then my life would be over and I was still in my forties. So I went to my doctor and asked for help.
“I really tried all the usual avenues, weight loss groups, fitness classes. I even had counselling to try to understand why it was that I couldn’t stop eating. I ate when I was sad, when I was happy and when I didn’t know what I was. But I couldn’t get the weight off and keep it off.
“I was 49 when my doctor finally said that I was a suitable candidate for a gastric by-pass. I was told the risks. Some people may die having this surgery. And I was overweight with high blood pressure, but I wanted to go ahead because I knew this could be the fix I needed.
“I had my surgery in July 2015 and since then I’ve lost eight stone. I was a size 26/28 and now I’m a 14/16 but more importantly my blood pressure and blood sugar levels are that of a healthy woman my age and for that reason I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to have this surgery.
“The surgery I had is extreme. It should never become normal, it should be a last resort. Prevention is better than cure, I strongly believe that. When I was a child Thursdays were the best day of the week, that was when mum did the main supermarket shop and the fridge was full of treats. These days it’s normal for families to eat out and the choices available are mostly fast food. I hope that someone reads my story and starts now to make the changes needed for their children to grow up to enjoy a healthy future. “