Office worker Vicky Finch, 66 when interviewed, had a gastric band fitted in February 2012. This followed years of failed dieting and increasing concern about her long-term health. She discusses her experiences candidly here.
“My weight had begun to creep up when I was 25, after having children, and in spite of numerous attempts to lose weight, I got heavier with each decade. By the time I reached my fifties, I was having to take medication to control my blood pressure and underactive thyroid.
“I’ve never been one for sport or exercise and have had a sedentary office job my whole life. While bringing up children and working full-time, I developed bad eating habits. I ate too fast, had large portions, snacked on sugary treats and didn’t sleep enough. I love cooking, but I’d become obsessed by food.
“I tried combining dieting with going to the gym, and went on various slimming programmes. These approaches all worked initially, but I found dieting hard and couldn’t keep the weight off long term. I’d soon put it all back on, and more.
“At my heaviest, I weighed 17.5 stone (111kg) and as I’m 5ft 1in, this gave me a BMI of 47. I began to have serious concerns about my health. I already had high blood pressure and kidney problems, and had had two knee replacements. I knew I was at risk of stroke, heart disease and developing diabetes.”
The road to weight loss surgery
“I visited the GP several times about my weight and was encouraged tolose weight through dieting before choosing weight loss surgery (also called bariatric surgery). I was also offered regular appointments with the nurse to weigh myself and discuss my diet.
“Eventually, I learnt about gastric band and gastric bypass surgery. A gastric band is where a band is fitted around the top of your stomach. This causes a feeling of fullness after eating a very small amount of food, and means that food must be eaten very slowly.
The gastric band procedure
“I was put on a liquid diet two weeks before the operation, to shrink my liver and to get me used to being on a liquid diet afterwards. The operation went very smoothly. I stayed in hospital overnight, but I felt well enough to go home straight away. I was left with a port under the skin, which is attached to an upper rib. This is so that saline can be injected into the gastric band through the port every six to eight weeks, until the right level of restriction is achieved.
“The follow-up I received after the operation was good. I could discuss my progress, including any difficulties I was having, with a team of dietitians and nurses. After I’d followed a liquid, then soft food diet for a few weeks, the nurse injected the first 5ml (one teaspoon) of saline into the port.
“After eight months, I now have 10.5ml in my band out of a possible 14ml, and I’m really starting to feel the restriction. I thought the feeling of restriction would be immediate, but it has taken time.”
Living with a gastric band
“Before the operation, I thought, ‘This gastric band is going to be the magic wand’. However, people need to be able to commit to making necessary changes following surgery. I didn’t realise what big efforts I’d have to make to change the way I eat. For example, as well as eating more healthily, I always have to take small mouthfuls and chew slowly and thoroughly. To help me control my portion sizes, I have to eat from a tea plate rather than a dinner plate, and spend no more than 20 minutes on each meal.
“It’s not easy. If I’m hungry, I tend to fall back into bad habits of eating fast and not chewing properly. When this happens, I quickly become very uncomfortable and have to stop eating and wait until some food moves through the artificial neck in my stomach sac. Sometimes, if I have a bad reaction, I end up retching saliva, which is quite antisocial.
“Having a gastric band has made me more cautious towards food. Although I still get hungry, I know that if I don’t take smaller mouthfuls I’ll feel uncomfortable or be sick. I’m lucky, though – I can now eat almost anything, which not everyone who has a gastric band can. The only food I have to avoid is crusty bread, as I react badly to it.
“So far, my only regret has been that I couldn’t lose the weight without the surgery. It was difficult telling family and friends about my decision at first. But since having my gastric band fitted, the weight is slowly but steadily coming off. I’ve lost two-and-a-half stone and dropped two dress sizes.
“After eight months, I’m now 15 stone (BMI 39). My target weight is 9-9.5 stone (BMI 24). I’m trying to introduce more exercise, which will make me lose weight more quickly, and I look forward to a healthier, more fulfilled life, with less need for medication.”
Vicky’s advice to people considering a gastric band
“For anyone considering gastric band surgery, my advice is to read up about it and spend time thinking it through first. It’s important to be realistic about what will happen after the surgery, to understand that you’ll never be able to eat the same way as you did before, and to appreciate that the weight loss process takes time.
“You also have to do a lot of the hard work yourself. I think it’s easy to be swayed by gastric band success stories in the media, which can hold people back from accepting what the realities of the surgery are. If you don’t think you’ll be able to make permanent, healthy changes to your diet, then it’s probably not for you.
“Personally, the restriction of the band has actually made me feel more liberated in general. I now have control over food; it doesn’t control me. And my husband has noticed that I’m slimmer and can move around better!”