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Janet

Age at interview: 62
Brief Outline: Janet started to struggle with her weight after having children and being diagnosed with diabetes. Janet found she could not lose weight through dieting, so travelled abroad to have a gastric band fitted. Although Janet found the operation difficult, she is pleased with the decision she made, as she has since lost around 10 stone and found her health has improved.
Background: Janet is 62 and is a retired local government officer. She is married with 2 adult children, and is white British.

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Janet has always been “big”, but started to struggle with her weight after having children and being diagnosed with diabetes. Although she never ate excessively, Janet used to “eat constantly”. Because of this, and the medication she was taking, Janet continued to gain weight. Around 14 years ago, Janet had a gastric band fitted. Since it was not offered on the NHS, she travelled abroad for the procedure. Since then, Janet has lost about 10 stone.

Before her surgery, Janet tried to manage her weight through going to weight loss support groups, and trying different diets. Although she tried everything from only eating cabbage soup, to a beetroot diet, she could not lose weight in the long term. Her weight began to affect her daily life, causing her joint pain, and making it hard to walk or get dressed. She also found it hard to maintain her social activities like going out for meals and dancing. Janet made the decision to have the gastric band fitted for health reasons, “That is the only reason I had to do this because I knew that the dieting wasn’t helping. I have no self-control so the band is the master. I just let that dictate terms to me”.

After her gastric band surgery, Janet began to lose weight quickly. She had to learn how to manage her diet again. Although Janet was given a recipe book after her operation, she does not eat meat, vegetables or carbohydrates like potatoes, as she worries these will make her sick. Janet now eats 500-800 calories a day, though she doesn’t have regular meals, “I can’t sit down and have a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner. I don’t ever do that because that scares me”. She mainly eats crackers and cheese, yogurt, sandwiches, and the occasional piece of fish. Although her diet is limited, Janet enjoys being able to eat food she craves in moderation, “I can go and have some chocolate if I want chocolate, but I can’t have what I used to eat”. Whilst Janet is aware that her diet may not be giving her all the nutrients she needs, she finds the band helps her maintain a stable weight, “I can get on with the rest of my life now can’t I, because I don’t have to worry about weight gain or weight loss. It’s just not an issue anymore”.

Janet feels she needs to adjust psychologically to her weight loss, as she still thinks of herself as a “fat person”. There is a sense of needing to tell people about her journey, “…emotionally I still need to say to people or psychologically, “Oh, you know I used to be massive but I’ve lost all this weight””. Janet has found that people treat her differently since she lost weight, including doctors, “You were just like a blob on the face of the earth, weren’t you? People now talk to me… to me face”. However, Janet has become conscious of her excess skin in recent years, “I can’t go swimming now. I’m more embarrassed putting a swimsuit on now that I’ve lost the weight than I were when I were massive”.  

Although there have been times where Janet has struggled to manage her diabetes, her asthma has improved since her surgery, and she describes the impact of her weight loss on her health as “second to none”. Janet is now able to walk, run, and play with her grandchildren. She is happy with the decisions she has made, although the surgery was difficult, and she had to go through it twice after her band broke, “I have never had one regret about having the gastric band surgery because I know I couldn’t have done it on my own”. However, Janet describes the gastric band as a “last case scenario”, and recommends other people to try different measures to lose weight. Janet feels support around weight loss should be improved, “There’s support out there if you’re drug abusers…alcoholics… smokers. The support for people that are fat is not there…it’s kind of “You’re eating too much, go home and diet.”  It’s, that’s not always the cause… Everybody’s different and I think they should take that on board, health care workers”.
 
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Before her gastric band surgery Janet weighed 22 stone and was taking 174 units of insulin a day. She has now dropped to a dress size 12/14 and feels very much better.

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Yeah, the reason I wanted to, the reason I had the operation in the first place, my weight ballooned up quite a lot due to the medication that I were taking. So, the Metformin and the insulin together, rather than me lose weight used to make me put weight on. So, I’d go to places like Weight Watchers or Slimming World and I’d stick to the diet and I may be on it three or four months and I never lost anything. I couldn’t lose it but then as soon as I stopped eating the healthy food I put a stone on, a stone and a half and then I’d struggle then getting that off.

So, I were on this constant programme that my weight kept going up and up and up and I really couldn’t control it but that were down to taking huge amount of insulin. I mean like 174 units a day is what I used to take, and I, I averaged 22 stone, 22, I got up to that.

Twenty-two stone?

Mm. So then came to the point where, you know, my joints were aching. I couldn’t bend down and put my shoes on and I’m talking like forty-five/forty-six. I couldn’t walk up a hill. I didn’t walk, I didn’t do any exercise. I used to swim but that’s all I ever did but that’s, that’s fine, I’ve always swam. But basically, I didn’t do anything. So, I knew I’d come to that point in my life where I had to do something.

So, you made the decision to have the gastric band for kind of…?

Just for health reasons. Not for cosmetic reasons although I feel good and now that I’m down to a size 12/14 it feels even better. I started off as size 32 and I’ve got clothes in my wardrobe of every size all the way down to a 12 [laughs]. Charity shop loves me [laughs].

I’m sure they do [laughs].

I’m there, “Do you want this?” [Laughs] So yes, yeah. So yeah, I didn’t do it for that reason. I did it solely for health reasons because I knew if I didn’t do something at that stage, you know, how were I going to carry on. Aching legs, aching bones. Not being able to walk. Can’t get your breath and the worst part, oh, we travel a lot me, and my husband. Getting on a plane and taking up two seats and the seat belt not fastening round your stomach [laughs] It’s really embarrassing. So, yeah, I’ve been there. It’s not a nice place to be. Being where I am now is a really nice place to be.

 

Two years after having a gastric band fitted, Janet’s liver was back to normal.

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I decided that at the age of forty-nine that I had to something about this, not to make me look any different just to, you know, as a health precaution, I knew that I needed to do something. I’d got to that stage where this is just ridiculous. So, we decided that I would go and have this gastric band fitted which I did. I hadn’t even heard of this operation at that stage. A friend of mine visited from Australia and apparently it quite common over there so we did that.

When I came to from the operation, the doctor came to me and he said to me, “It’s a good job you’ve had this operation done today,” and I said, “Why’s that?” He said, “because you’ve got cirrhosis of the liver,” which really shocked me to the core and I first reaction was, “Well, I don’t drink.” Because I thought you just got that with drinking and he said, “No,” he said, “the cause of this, the biggest cause of this is the weight.”

So, I asked him, I said, “Will that ever repair itself?” Well luckily the liver is the only organ in the body that does repair itself. So after two years I went back for a liver test and it’s absolutely perfect. So that were that. But he also said to me, “Had I not had it done that day I would be dead before I were fifty-five.”

 

Losing weight following her gastric bypass surgery has given Janet the confidence and motivation to do all those activities she couldn’t do when she was ‘massive’.

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When I went to see the, the psychiatrist and the first question he asked me, he said, “Why are you doing this?” and I said, “Obviously for health reasons” and he said, “If there’s one thing that you want to do while you’re fat, now, that you can’t do but you think you can do when you’re thinner. What is it?” I said, “I want to run.” And I knew at that point that’s where I needed to be, and I did it. Killed me but I did it [laughs]. Think I were the last one to cross the finishing line but I did it [laughs].

My family life, I can’t say it’s changed. I just run about more with them and play with kids and, you know, like, I’ve had, we’ve had two little granddaughters since then. So, rolling about on the floor being able to get on the floor and get up. Things like that. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t play with them. I never took my kids swimming because I were too fat to go into the pool, things like that.

So, you felt embarrassed?

I were, yeah, I were too embarrassed, yeah. Yeah, I were and then I kind of got over that stage and it’s really weird I swam from being thirty-eight to being in my fifties and I never bothered putting a swimsuit on when I were twenty-two stone. I didn’t bother because we used to go all ladies, I never used to go mixed, I always used to go on a ladies’ swim and I used to swim every week. I used to swim every day. Every single day I went swimming. Thirty lengths in my twenty-minute dinner break. I used to do it every day and then I lost the weight and obviously I’ve got baggy skin problem now which is, I’m not ever going to do nothing about it because it’s, I look okay while I’ve got clothes on. But when you take the clothes off and it all droops South, I can’t go swimming now. I’m more embarrassed putting a swimsuit on now that I’ve lost the weight than I were when I were massive.

But that, that is obviously self-, that’s being self-conscious of the mess that I am [laughs]. But I can live with that because that doesn’t matter. The, skin and, the baggy skin and the overhang is fine because that’s not impeding on anything. So, I never did it for cosmetic reasons, it was just health wise.

So as long as I’m as fit as I am and as well as I am, and I can go out and do what I did yesterday. We walked for two and a half hours, up hill, down dale. Then I went and danced for four and a half hours last night. I’m quite happy at sixty-two year old to be able to say that I can do that without getting out of breath, without feeling aching, well no, I won’t say that.

 

Janet describes how her social life changed after having gastric band surgery and the support she received from friends and family.

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Can you tell me a little bit more about the, the gastric band surgery, how the psychologist prepare you because you said he or she said that, “Things were going to change.”

My social life will change. I don’t think I were actually prepared for the operation when, that’s a different thing anyway. When, we talked about social changes. We talked about what I could put in place of the going out for meals. I think that were the biggest issue really, about family, about friends and the sad thing is we’ve lost some of our friends because of this. Not that we fell out. We’ve just kind of gone our separate ways because they’re still going to have the meals and we don’t.

So, we don’t see them, which is quite sad but having said we lost that group of friends by doing what we took over and did, I’ve made a huge social circle of friends. So, it’s like kind of swings and roundabouts so the impact has not been great because we’ve replaced one thing with another but I had something to replace it with didn’t I?

And luckily my husband’s amazing, he’s supported me throughout this. The kids have been a complete support. Everybody all my friends have been wonderful, which is, you’ve got to have that, and my husband has adapted to everything that I wanted to do. So, he comes dancing with me. We go out every night. He’s, he’s done all of that. So, he’s quite happy for us to go dancing. So, the dancing took over, took over from the meals but I were lucky in that respect that I had something.

 

Janet describes the support she received from staff at the diabetes centre when she had her gastric band operation.

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And then when I went to have this process of the gastric band my diabetic nurse were such a support to me and she and the dietician at the diabetes centre helped me through that process of finding the right thing. So, through that process they asked me would I go and see a psychologist to talk to me about a complete lifestyle change. So, I had that advantage that I did go and see him for about six times and he were brilliant. So, I knew before I went to have the gastric band that everything was going to change.

 

Janet felt she was treated differently by doctors when she was bigger. She would like health teams to offer more support for weight loss.

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Do you have any messages for health professionals who want to help people with weight control?

I seriously think they should be, especially the health teams, I think they should be more supportive. There’s support out there if you’re drug abusers. There’s support out there if you’re alcoholics. There’s support out there if you’re smokers. The support for people that are fat is not there. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s kind of “You’re eating too much, go home and diet.” It’s, that’s no always the cause. We’re not all alike. Everybody’s different and I think they should take that on board, health care workers.

Okay. So, do you think there was a kind of judgement there?

I, oh, definitely. Definitely and something I’ve never thought, I’ve always been a confident lady and when I were big, I’ve always had loads of friends and, you know, I’ve always been the life and soul. Never bothered me. But somebody once said to me, “If you’re slimmer, people treat you differently,” and I said, “Rubbish.” It’s very true that.

You have found that out?

It’s absolutely. Especially on the health teams, yeah. Doctors like to sit and look me in the face now. I cannot tell you, people will look at you rather than look at you. They’ll look at me, they’ll look at me face and talk to me direct. When I were bigger, and I never thought that could ever possibly be true. So that came as a huge shock to me…..

That’s very interesting.

….and it’s true. You were just like a blob on the face of the earth, weren’t you? People now talk to me, talk to me, to me face.

So, do you think they were embarrassed or…?

I don’t know but I, I, but if you’d have asked me when I was as big as I were, would I think I were treated any different, I would say, “Truthfully, no because the group of friends I had, nobody ever looked at me like I were big.” I mean, these friends that have come in now, we’ve been friends since we were babies, they’ve never looked at me any different. Fat or thin, I’ve always just been Janet haven’t I? So, I never thought that strangers would ever treat me in a different way and yes, they do. Absolutely, one hundred per cent.

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