Two different journeys to reach a weight loss goal - Manchester Evening News

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A NEW survey reveals almost half of us believe it is not helpful to give surgery to obese people and around a third think obesity is a financial burden the NHS can not afford. But with around half of British men and over a third of British women expected to be obese by 2025, weight loss initiatives have become the political hot potato. Sarah Walters talks to two big losers who have been through very different journeys to meet their weight loss goals.

Healthy eating and exercise: Gary Brennan, from 40 stone to 13 stone

AS METAPHORICAL mountains to climb go, Gary Brennan's battle with the bulge was an Everest-sized challenge.
Weighing in at just a pound under 40 stone, Gary couldn't climb the stairs without stopping for breath or even tie his own shoelaces. He had type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnoea – a condition that blocks the airwaves and prevents breathing.
In his words, he was a 'waddling disaster zone'.
He tried to work out his Body Mass Index (BMI) online but the government calculator replied: '247.6 kgs? That's much too heavy. Please try again'. In hindsight, he reflects on this with a smile, but Gary knows  that he was slowing killing himself by over-eating.
It wasn't always that way. Until he was in his late teens, Gary was a keen footballer who played amateur matches with pals as many as four nights a week. And then he 'got a job, got married, had children and woke up 40 stone', he says – his chest was 72-inches wide, his waist was 68 inches and his neck was 26 inches, but he simply didn't notice how big he was.
His wife and his children rarely said anything to him about the weight he was gaining. And as he got heavier, the subject came up less and less. Gary believes that his friends and family worried about the psychological consequences of raising the subject of obesity and weight loss, and so they chose instead to ignore it completely.
"As I got more comfortable with life's routine, I got more uncomfortable with who I was," he admits. "I sat down in front of the TV and became a humongous couch potato.
"Eventually, the confidence issues and the self loathing compounded and became a juggernaut. Until I stepped back and looked at what I'd let happen, I didn't realise what a juggernaut it was."
Back then, he was so big he couldn't weigh himself on home scales. He went to see his doctor who advised he have a gastric band operation – a weight loss device that cuts off part of the stomach to restrict the amount of food a patient can eat.
Gary was accepted as a patient, but postponed it for six months ahead of a holiday he had booked. "I decided to use that six months to lose some weight," he says.
"I knew the operation was risky and I thought losing some weight would make me a little bit stronger for the operation and as a person.
"I got a bike and went for a ride, which wasn't easy at 40 stone. You have to research what frames can take your weight, what tyres can take the pressures. For weeks, I was terrified of hitting a bump in the road because I thought the tyres would explode.
"I cycled a mile and that nearly killed me, but every week I did that little bit more, cycling to and from the train station to get to work.
"Six months later, I'd lost eight stone. And when I went back to the doctor he said, 'You can do this on your own, you don't qualify for the operation now'. That was fine because it actually felt like another victory – that operation had been my safety blanket and I saw losing it as a good thing.
"The day after I was told I didn't qualify was an October day with gale force winds, the most rain I've ever seen, it was freezing cold, but I cycled to work with the biggest smile on my face I've ever had."
When Gary started his journey, his goal list included weighing less than 400 pounds (28 and a half stone), wearing a 7XL shirt and fitting into trousers with a 66-inch waist. He never had an ultimate goal; taking the journey one step at a time meant he wasn't overwhelmed by the size of the task.
Two and a half years later, though, 30-year-old Gary has lost 27 stone; he has lost 38 inches off his waist, 34 off his chest and 11 off his neck. Gary has maintained a stable weight of 13 stone for over six months and is in a very narrow bracket of formerly morbidly obese people who achieve this – only five per cent stay slimmer, says Gary, and those who put weight back on often end up 20 per cent heavier than they were before they began their weight loss journey.
He cycles at least 30 miles a day, eats a healthy balanced diet, and regularly enters charity bike rides and runs. Online, he shares the lessons he learnt with others on his blog ( and he teaches other overweight and obese people about the health benefits of getting on your bike.
Outside work, Gary is a British Cycling trained Sky Ride Leader, who takes amateur cyclists on guided routes around the region to help them get in shape. In fact, his friends and colleagues believe his story is so inspiring that they nominated him to be one of the 2,000 people chosen to carry the London 2012 Olympic Torch around the UK. He's made the final shortlist of 8,000 and will find out on December 5 if he will carry the torch for one mile somewhere in the north west.
"From a personal standpoint, being chosen to carry the torch would represent that final chapter, give me some closure on the journey I've been on," says Gary.
"But it doesn't mean the journey ends there. The next book is about me going on to help other people. If you'd have told me back then there were people out there who'd done what I'd done I wouldn't have believed it was possible.
"I saw an episode of The Biggest Loser and realised that it was possible to exercise at my weight. I don't want to call it a nanny state, but doctors are scared to advise people to exercise because they might drop dead. But if they don't exercise, they might drop dead too.
"The infrastructure is there to say, 'Go and have this surgery', but it's not there to say, 'Go and read Gary's blog'. We also have an old fashioned view on morbidly obese people exercising, and we should be telling people that everybody's weight loss journey starts with small steps."
A mantra that Gary is a perfect advert for. "When I look back now, I can't even recognise the person I was," says Gary. "And I'm not just talking physically or mentally; I was someone with no self confidence, self worth or self belief.
"Life was a case of getting by day to day, never seeing a future. You're 40 stone, you can't physically do very much. I got in my car, got to work, got back in the car, came home. I didn't have friends because I couldn't interact socially and I couldn't walk to the toilet without getting out of breath.
"Your twenties are supposed to be the best years of your life, but for me they brought me nothing but stress and upset.
"Now I'm starting to live again. I chose to save my life – I want to show others that they can do the same."

NHS gastric bypass: Pearline Storer, from 23 stone to under 15 stone

SHE was a judo champ and a healthy recipient of the Duke Of Edinburgh award in her teens, but by the age of 39 Pearline Storer weighed over 23 stone.
A full-time midwife working shifts, Pearline watched her weight increase steadily from her late teens onwards, but the biggest increase happened when she injured her back in 1998 and lost her mother shortly after.
"My weight really went up after that," says the Stretford mum of two.
"I reached over 23 stone at my heaviest, and I was quite happy with the weight I was, even though I was severely obese. I wasn't looking in the mirror feeling repulsed, but I did have health problems.
"Certainly, my weight didn't help with my recovery from my bad back, and I had a misalignment of the pelvic girdle which was very painful with each menstrual cycle.
"I couldn't walk for long, I had to keep stopping. I'd walk my girls to school and it took me an hour and half to do a mile round trip. And walking it totally wiped me out so I could only walk them on a Friday because I knew I wouldn't have to do anything physical on Saturday."
Her daughters – eight-year-old Faith and her 10-year-old sister Marianne – were instrumental in Pearline's decision to finally do something about her weight. After years of 'trying every diet out there', she found herself researching the possibility of paying privately for weight loss surgery.
"My children had people say stuff about me, cruel comments," confesses Pearline. "Both of them were getting a bit upset, and I wanted to be a healthy role model for my children.
"I looked into paying for surgery but it was too expensive and I couldn't justify spending all that money on myself. So I went to see my doctor."
Her doctor referred her to an endocrinologist to look at possible weight loss options. But when Pearline saw patients go in before her and be repeatedly turned down for surgical bariatric solutions, she anticipated being the next patient to be told no.
"She asked why I was there and had I any thoughts on how I might lose weight," remembers Pearline.
"I mentioned the gastric band and she immediately said no. I thought that was it. But then she said, 'I think you need a bypass'. All the people I'd seen in the magazines that had had bypasses were desperate people and I remember thinking, 'I'm not a loser, only losers have bypasses!'.
"She pointed me towards the British Obesity Surgery Patient Association website, and I read all about the different surgeries. After reading through, I could see why she thought I'd be better with a bypass."
Her surgery was carried out in October by Spire Manchester Hospital, a centre of excellence for obesity surgery and metabolic disorders. Pearline acknowledges that surgery was a radical decision – and a controversial one.
A recent survey commissioned by Spire revealed that over 80 per cent of British tax payers polled believed obesity is a burden on the NHS and 30 per cent said NHS resources should not be spent on weightloss surgery.
But Pearline is firm in her belief that she deserved medical help. "I don't want to die and leave my children.
"I can remember one doctor saying I'd be dead in 10 years, and another gave me five years. I thought, 'Oh my word! I need to do something about this now'.
"People can say what they like about the fact I got this operation through my doctor, I don't mind. There's so many other things you could look at and say, 'That's a waste of NHS money'.
"For me, it's made a big difference to my life, it's given the girls a mother they've never known. I wanted to be an inspiration to them, and now they see me eating properly I hope they follow my lead. And although I've got some loose skin, I don't care what people think – I say, 'You lot don't know where I've come from'."
Now just under 15 stone, Pearline has gone from a size 30 to a size 18 and says she'd like to meet her next goal of 14 stone. She goes to zumba, yoga and aerobics classes every week, and even though she has never been able to return to midwifery, she's a happy and healthy housewife and mother.
With so much still to achieve, she is also aware that she mustn't put too much pressure on herself. For now she's enjoying the small victories: being about to walk her children to school, cross her legs and sit comfortably on aeroplanes.
"I've had ideas of where I want to be for occasions, weddings and so on before and now I'm not thinking about it all the time," says Pearline.
"I feel like one of my normal friends who has never had weight problems. Each day is a new day and it's exciting to meet friends and see their reaction to me."

11 Oct, 2011

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