Forum raises awareness of weight loss surgery

BEFORE: Anna Petrie before she turned her life around.
BEFORE: Anna Petrie before she turned her life around.

Obesity is on the agenda in Christchurch this weekend.

For the first time, the Garden City is hosting this year's Weight Loss Surgery of New Zealand national conference.

Experts, academics and surgeons will discuss how the surgery works, how to keep the weight off and healthy eating habits.

RESULT: The results of Anna Petrie's hard work and determination are easy to see.
RESULT: The results of Anna Petrie's hard work and determination are easy to see.

There would be several stories from people who had had the surgery or were about to go under the knife, spokeswoman Robyn Sullivan said.

The conference aimed to support those undertaking or considering weight loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, while raising awareness of the surgery and campaigning for more public funding.

There would be also be an emphasis on how to recognise and treat food addiction, she said.

Sullivan, who had lap-band surgery in 2010, said the public perception of weight-loss surgery was that it was "taking the easy way out".

"People think that surgery is like cheating and that these people lack willpower, but the reality is weight loss is a complex subject and the reasons for people being overweight or obese are actually quite complex," she said.

The conference hoped to challenge the common misconceptions about weight loss surgery.

"It wasn't living and I am so much happier now."

Anna Petrie was the biggest she had ever been in her life last year. Now she is much smaller.

The 29-year-old Christchurch woman shed 35 kilograms in just over six months, dropping from a size 16 to a size 6, and now "cringes" when she sees photographs of herself as a "big girl".

Petrie started a rigorous diet and exercise regime in June last year after realising she was bigger than her eight-month pregnant sister.

At only 1.54 metres tall and weighing 85kg, Petrie was considered clinically obese.

She never went shopping for clothes because she felt "disgusting" and had contemplated breast-reduction surgery.

"I remember going shopping and trying on size 14 jeans and I couldn't even get them over my legs.

"I had not realised how big I had gotten until then," she said.

Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and the Dukan Diet brought no results and Petrie was told by her doctor that she would never be able to lose any weight because she suffered from hypothyroidism.

"I had thought that was the way I would be for the rest of my life," she said.

Despite not holding on to much hope when she started her own diet and exercise plan, Petrie stuck to it.

She cut out carbs for four months, stopped drinking wine, started eating meals off a bread plate and began interval running between lamp-posts.

Within weeks, the weight was beginning to fall off, she said.

Now weighing 55kg, Petrie "feels fantastic" and said her drastic weight loss had transformed her into a different person.

"I was miserable," Petrie said.

"It wasn't living and I am so much happier now."

Petrie had to buy a new wardrobe for her slimmer figure and was proud to throw away her size 16 double D bras and replace them with size 10A.

She felt more confident going out at night and said it was "bizarre" when she first heard someone refer to her as being "hot".

"I have never been called hot in my life," she said.

Petrie moved to Melbourne in June to live with her partner. She now has a normal diet and said running up to 40 kilometres a week was "just part of my new life".

She hoped her success story would encourage other people struggling with weight loss to "never give up".

"After years of trying, it did work for me," Petrie said.

"There will be days when you fall down and can't be bothered getting off the couch. But that's OK; just get up and try again the next day."

Life-saving operation

Stomach-stapling surgery saved the life of Brioney Henderson-McGregor when she was only 15.

At the time she weighed almost 170 kilograms and was the youngest person in New Zealand to have bariatric surgery in 2004.

Now, at 24, Henderson-McGregor has lost almost 80kg and said the gastric bypass was "the best thing that has ever happened to me".

She may still be "bigger than the average person", but the surgery had enabled the Christchurch woman to "live like a normal person".

She can now wear high heels, she can run on the treadmill and she can walk into retail stores and buy clothes off the rack.

Before the surgery, she said, people were scared of her size and her mother had to handmake her clothes as she was a men's size 5XL.

She used to struggle getting out of bed, was constantly tired and could not even tie her shoelaces.

"It just changed my whole life from day one and was the best thing I have ever done," she said. "Life is just so much easier now and I can do everything."

Although Henderson-McGregor was an advocate for bariatric surgery, she believed it should be considered as a "last resort".

Before she went under the knife, she had tried "every diet there was" without success. She had tried prescribed weight-loss medication, soup diets, Weight Watchers and various other dieting programmes and had been admitted to hospital for a month on a strict diet, but ended up gaining weight.

Suffering from hyperinsulinemia, a condition where excess levels of insulin circulate in the blood, Henderson-McGregor said, her weight issues were not caused by the food she was eating.

"If I could have lost the weight myself I would have, but I didn't have a choice. I was told either have the surgery or die," she said.

"If you can exercise and lose the weight naturally I would try to do it that way. Surgery is not just a quick, easy fix and there are a lot of struggles that I will have for the rest of my life."

The surgery had left her with a "life plan" where she had to watch what she ate and how she lived her life constantly.

She was also left with "a lot of excess skin" around her legs and stomach that she hoped to get surgically removed one day.

"The surgery saved my life but if you are thinking about doing it then you need to think about it seriously as it comes with its consequences," she said.

The Press