Louise Cannon wasn't always a ‘big girl’. She’d had weight issues all her life, and constantly yo-yo’d between being slim and overweight.
Before having her children, she was a size 10, and at her slimmest, weighed 8 stone 13lbs. But Louise says, ‘It wasn’t easy to maintain that weight and I never felt comfortable. I always had to watch what I ate and was a regular at various slimming clubs and had tried other diets too, like the Cambridge Diet. It was a real struggle to keep the weight off.’
In 2004, Louise fell pregnant. Amid the excitement of impending motherhood, one of her other thoughts at the time was, ‘I'm gonna eat what I want and enjoy it!’ But 5 stone later, she knew she’d made a mistake and was devastated about the way she looked. After having her second child, despite trying to watch what she ate, Louise still piled on the pounds, and was soon up to 15 stone. At only 4ft 11ins, she knew (but was ashamed to admit) that she was classed as obese. ‘No girl wants to be classed as obese’, she says. ‘I just couldn't come to terms with it.’
Louise knew she needed to take drastic measures.
While sitting in hospital awaiting an appointment for a hernia problem, Louise found a leaflet about weight loss surgery and was immediately curious. She says, ‘I can remember thinking to myself ‘what I would give to have a gastric band?’, but knew there was no way my husband or parents would ever agree to it.’
So after days of plucking up the courage, Louise finally mentioned her thoughts to her husband and family. ‘They said to me, ‘are you mad?’ It was exactly as I‘d feared.’
Louise became extremely depressed. She didn't want to leave the house and was ashamed of the size she’d become, and just couldn’t accept that this was how she was going to look for the rest of her life. Remembering her feelings at the time, Louise says ‘In my heart of hearts, I knew that if I didn't do something about my size, I’d end up even bigger with very serious health problems.’
Seeing her so depressed, Louise’s family finally decided that if she made the appointment to see a surgeon about having weight loss surgery, they’d go along and support her.
So in September 2009, Louise finally picked up the phone and made an appointment at Spire Roding Hospital for a consultation - and hasn’t looked back since.
Talking about her initial consultation at Spire Roding, Louise says, ‘I went to see the consultant, Mr Mannur, with a huge mix of emotions – excitement and apprehension all rolled into one. Mr Mannur asked me lots of questions and took all my details – my height, weight, how well did I breathe, did I snore, etc. He then thoroughly explained all of my options – gastric bypass, gastric band and so on - and what was involved with each weight loss operation. He asked me if I had any questions, and as usual, my mind went blank! But it didn’t matter, because he’d been so thorough and had covered everything very impressively. I originally thought I might want a gastric band, but after hearing about all of the pros and cons, the bypass looked the most likely option for me.’
Mary Casey, Spire Roding’s specialist weight loss nurse, explains, ‘The gastric bypass works by restricting the capacity of your stomach and bypassing part of your digestive system. The bypass was suitable for Louise as it would help her feel full after small meals and reduce the amount of calories she could absorb. But like all gastric surgery patients, Louise needed to commit to making significant lifestyle changes for her bypass to be a success’
Louise was grateful that her husband and mum went along to the consultation with her. Obviously, they had the all the normal worries about the surgery, but as Louise points out, ‘They’d heard everything first hand from Mr Mannur and felt they’d had their questions answered.’
Louise booked the operation for 5th November 2009, and as the date drew near, she felt both optimistic and excited. For the first time in years, she was actually beginning to believe that returning to the old, ‘slim Louise’ was a possibility.
On the day of her operation, Louise remembers sitting with her husband and mum in her hospital room at Spire Roding feeling excited but very nervous. She reflects, ‘I was worried about all sorts of things – my children, being in pain, whether I was doing the right thing….I even worried about when I could next eat! The first night after my gastric bypass I remember feeling shattered, but not in pain, which I wasn’t expecting.’
For the next few days, Louise was only given water to drink and a couple of sips of soup. She was very surprised not to feel hungry because out of habit, her mind told her that she should be eating.
After a couple of days, Louise was allowed home. ‘Being honest,’ she says, ‘it was difficult to be around food in the first few weeks. I was only allowed liquids and I had a hungry family to feed. But I was determined to stick to the advice that Mr Mannur and the Spire Roding team had given me, otherwise I’d risk putting pressure on the staples.’
Following her gastric bypass, Louise carefully stuck to the eating plan that she was given by the Spire Roding weight loss team:
- Weeks 1-2: liquids only
- Weeks 2-4: puréed food (baby style)
- Weeks 4-6: mashed up food
- Weeks 6-8: gradually introduce more solid food
After surgery, getting used to eating just a few mouthfuls at each meal was a big challenge For Louise. She says, ‘It could be really confusing and frustrating because some days I wanted to eat loads of food but physically couldn’t, and other days I had no appetite at all. Strange things would happen too – for example, eating pasta was easy some days, but on others, it simply wouldn’t go down’.
Another adjustment Louise had to make following her gastric bypass was with sugary foods and fizzy drinks. She was told before the operation that she’d have to avoid these types of food, because after gastric bypass surgery, they travel through the body much faster and can cause blood sugar levels to become too high. As she had done all along, Louise listened to the advice, but didn’t appreciate how much of a problem sugary foods could cause until on holiday she was tempted to have an ice cream with her son. She remembers ‘After about 10 minutes, I felt very sick, dizzy and sweaty and had severe diarrhoea. After this, I stayed clear of ice cream for a very long time!’
Fifteen months down the line, Louise’s whole attitude towards food has changed. Before having a gastric bypass, she’d order ‘virtually the whole menu’ just to feel full up! Now, she eats smaller portions than her two young sons. In fact, getting used to smaller portion sizes has been Louise’s biggest challenge, but she has learnt to order smaller ones when eating out and stick to non-fatty foods.
Speaking of adjusting to the challenges of life after weight loss surgery, Louise considers one of the most important things that have helped her has been the amount of support she has received. She says, ‘When you are depressed about being very overweight, you feel that you’re the only one who’s ever felt that way. But through Spire Roding, I’ve met a nurse, a dietician and a surgeon who have seen so many people in the same boat as me – it’s been so refreshing.’
After surgery, Louise found it a great help to be able to turn to her dietician whenever she was worried about whether or not she was eating correctly. ‘I’d simply pick up the phone, and my dietician would give me the advice and encouragement I needed. My nurse, Mary Casey, was also a huge support. She’s had a gastric bypass herself, so it’s been really easy to connect with her because she’s been through the same thing.’
To help people like Louise, Spire Roding Hospital has set up a support group, where patients who have had weight loss surgery in the past or are considering it, can get together and swap advice and experiences.
‘The support group is like a breath of fresh air’, says Louise, ‘Just sitting in a room with people who all understand you and are aware of how you are feeling is a big relief after years of being depressed and feeling alone with a weight loss battle. Everyone is aware of what you’ve been through, the ups and downs - and what’s still to come.
Mary Casey adds, ‘It’s hard for other people to understand how a large amount of weight loss can change your life and what support people need to achieve their goals. For example, at our support group at Spire Roding, people have often needed help to adjust to thinking of themselves as a ‘thin person’. Having weight loss surgery is a real roller-coaster journey, and it’s very important to have the psychological support of others that have had the same experience.’
Considering that weight loss surgery presents a huge challenge to anyone who has it, what does Louise Cannon have to say about her experience of having a gastric bypass - and the results it can bring?
’Would I recommend having weight loss surgery?’ asks Louise, ‘Let's put it this way - it's the best thing I've ever done in my life apart from having my children. In 15 months, I've gone from being 14stone 11lbs to 7 stone 11bs. Don't get me wrong, weight loss surgery is not the easy option that everyone thinks it is. Your whole life has to change. And to make the gastric bypass work for you, you have to continuously watch what you eat and your portion size. But I could never have lost so much weight without it. I'm a completely different person - I make an effort with myself and can enjoy playing with my sons without feeling tired.’
And to any dedicated mum with growing children, that must be the most rewarding thing of all.