Note: Individual results might vary

Gabrielle before
Nine months after Gastric Bypass


Yesterday I bought my first ever River Island dress - a floaty number with a short skirt.   I was mindful of the fact that River Island sizing is small, so I chose a size “L” and didn’t bother trying it on as it was just €18 in their sale.   When I got around to “modelling” it later last night I was astonished to find it was way too big!!   Seven stone lighter than I was just seven months ago, I simply have to realise that I’m no longer a big girl!!

Life these days is wonderful.

Being fat is a pain in the big butt. Unless you’ve been there yourself you can never contemplate the indignity of it all. Skinny people blame you for your “condition”.   They look at you as if you’re diseased, and in some of their minds you are.

Unless you’re heavy from childhood (which I wasn’t), fat is something that creeps up on you and before you know it you’re more than twice the weight you were in your twenties.   I look back in horror at my fat photos – OMG that wine coloured velvet trouser suit and frizzy wild hair!   At my worst I was a bit over twenty one stone.   To begin with you try to fight it, but when diet after diet fails you become somewhat complacent and you start to think fat.   You ditch the diets.   You give in to your inclination not to exercise.   You figure “to hell with it” and you have the dessert PLUS the cheese board.

Pretty quickly you’re asking for the extension seatbelt on the plane.   The first time I had to ask for it I was mortified.   On the flight out I pulled in my tummy as far as I could and squeezed into the standard belt.   Coming home, after a fortnight all-inclusive in the sun, I must have weighed in ten pounds heavier and squeezing that tummy just wasn’t an option any more.   As the stewardess handed me the brightly coloured extension (why DO they have to make it so obvious?) I was quite sure she was looking on me in pity.   As years and frequent flights went by, the feeling waned.   You develop a thick skin – literally!

When you’re young you ignore all the health warnings.   You truly believe “it couldn’t happen to me.”

By the time I was fifty I was complacent in my obesity.   I had all the “Big Girl” clothes shops and websites off to a T.   I even managed to order my gold and glittering dream 50th birthday dress online in a size 26 and it was similar to what I might order in a slim version.   But at the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t happy in any of my party photographs and was embarrassed to put most of them up on Facebook.   On one of the travel websites I write for I had even posted a pic of my sister’s legs!!!

That Summer I got a roll of big black sacks and filled them with all my slim girl clothes.   I had been hoarding those for years in the hope of some day fitting back into them.   Filling the black sacks was a sad acknowledgment to myself that I was never going to be slim again.

How I wished I had them nine months later!!

Shortly before that big birthday, I sat down to do one of those on-line medical quizzes.   You know, the kind that predicts how long you’re likely to live based on a plethora of health- and medical-based questions.   The American website was aptly called “Real Age”.   I had first taken the test when I was in my mid forties, having lost a pile of weight, and my “real age” was several years younger than my actual age.   At fifty I was half way through the test when I realised I wasn’t going to have any such pleasant result this time.

High blood pressure – tick;

Diabetes – tick;

Joint pains – tick;

Failing eyesight – tick;

Hysterectomy – tick;

Sleep apnoea – tick.

That bad, bad list went on..............and on...............and on...................

I began to really start worrying about myself but I still didn’t do very much about it, although I did manage to get down to just below that dreaded twenty stone mark by watching what I ate ....... sometimes.

I bought a couple of dogs, planning to get out there and walk them; but I didn’t think it through.   Toy poodles won’t exactly run you off your feet (in fact, they trip you up – or mine do anyway).   To top that they were just too cute and the neighbourhood kids had the door knocker worn out offering to take my pooches for a walk.   I took the lazy way out – I let them.

I joined a gym, but it didn’t work out, as the one I chose was a fifteen minute drive from home which added half an hour to the time I was away from my invalid Mum every day.   It just wasn’t practical.   One thing I realise about exercise is that unless you’re totally committed to what you’re doing, you need to remove as many obstacles as possible.   You also need to acknowledge and accept that your clever little subconscious is working away in there trying to make excuses for you to get out of whatever it is you really don’t want to be doing.

I think it only fair to let you know that I always hated exercise.   As a child I would feign illness to get out of school sports classes.   Although we had miles of wild countryside behind our house, we were brought up as closeted little ladies so I wasn’t inclined to get out there and run wild with the rest of the kids.   I hated the family Sunday walks.   The things that interested me cost money and as the eldest of a family of six there simply wasn’t the financial wherewithal for tennis club membership or horse riding classes.

Eventually a natural predisposition against exercise developed into a complete aversion.

Believe it or not I “saw the light” courtesy of the British NHS.   My Welsh cousin Sheila was very ill and even more overweight than I was.   Her Doctors recommended that she should have a gastric band fitted and when my Mother told me about this I thought “why not me?”   I had read about these surgeries in the past but had always seen them as cosmetic and dangerous.   This time I figured “well, if the British NHS is actually recommending this type of surgery then it must be safe”.   I decided to do something about it.

My first stop, in September 2011, was to my GP who emailed me with a link to a website for Mr. Colm O’Boyle at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork.   This brought me immense reassurance from the start because:

  • He was Irish and Irish educated (a Trinity graduate);
  • I knew the Bon Secours hospital since I was a student at Cork University thirty years before;
  • This was a proper consultant in the field operating from a highly reputable hospital;
  • He had an excellent website which was informative and included testimonials from former patients.

I gave my GP the go-ahead and she contacted his surgery for me, emailing details of up to date blood tests and a medical history.

I was amazed at how quickly they got back to me and I had an appointment within three weeks.   I had to send on €300 before they would give me an appointment.   I can fully understand that as I am sure that with this type of surgery they get a lot of time wasters and no-shows.   For my money I got three pre-op appointments with Mr. O’Boyle plus a full day of tests in the Bon Secours hospital.

I met the great consultant at his clinic on the Western Road in Cork.   I hadn’t been in the city for many years, other than passing through on the way to the airport.   It was so wonderful to be back there again and felt a bit like coming home as I drove to his rooms beside the University.

I sat in the reception and waited with a lot of other “fat people”.   It made me feel comfortable to realise that so many others were in my position.   As I sat I watched a beautifully dressed, slim lady talking to the receptionist.   “I don’t need to come any more” she said “this is my last visit.”   “Wow” I thought – “could that be me?”

I was hugely impressed by Mr. O’Boyle himself.   He gave me about an hour and a half of his time – way more than I have ever had from a consultant surgeon in the past.   He asked me if I was sure I wanted gastric band surgery and then went through the various alternatives with me.   Everything was set out in simplistic form for the uninitiated to understand.   He had lots of diagrams on his computer and as I’m an inquisitive type I had several questions about where the various “bits” ended up.   He put my mind to rest on every query.

He recommended that I should have a gastric bypass instead of a band.   He advised that I would have a greater chance of successful and maintained weight loss with this and no risk of a gastric band slipping or expanding too much.

I left the surgery with an armful of reading material and instructions to contact them when I decided whether or not I wanted to proceed.   The thing is that I knew even before I went in that I was going to go ahead with this and there was no swaying me, so before I left I went to the receptionist and booked my pre-op tests.   She had a cancellation the following week, so I was in luck!

On the way home I did the usual and stopped at a hotel for a huge seafood salad which I devoured, together with dessert and lattes.......

The one thing I didn’t do, though, was pop into one of my big girl shops and buy more size 26/28’s.   I was a girl on a mission.   Looking back I think that part of my brain had accepted that all this weight was going, but I hadn’t yet come to terms with the food part of it.

Things moved rapidly from there.   I had my full day of tests and when I got the all clear on those I attended the excellent psychologist Dr. Gillian Moore-Groarke.   It’s part of the process to be assessed by her – naturally they want to ensure that you have no underlying issues that will adversely affect the best possible outcome for you.   I found Gillian to be hugely encouraging and supportive.   She motivated me immediately and I was already on a diet by the time I left her office.

I was astonished when Mr. O’Boyle’s team found availability in his diary for me to have the surgery in early December 2011.   It suited me down to the ground as I knew that the usual Christmas over-indulgence would have made things all that much more difficult for me.

Financially, the VHI covered the majority of the cost for me because I had so many pre-existing dangerous medical conditions.   Indeed, Mr. O’Boyle will not carry out the surgery in the first place unless you need it medically.   This is not a beauty clinic!!

Looking back now I would say that I flew through the operation.   I didn’t even have much pain and although morphine was available post op, I was off it after a few hours.   Strange to say, the most unpleasant thing for me was not being allowed to drink fluids after the operation and as I was dehydrated my lips cracked.   My niece Robyn, who is a medical student at Cork University, brought me some Bonjela and soon my lips were healing.

It was great being a patient in the Bon Secours.   In my private room it felt like staying in a good hotel and I found all the nurses and other medical professionals to be so kind that it was like being with friends.   Although I had no visitors other than my niece, I never felt lonely.

As soon as I was discharged from hospital I determined to get into the swing of thinking thin.   I love food so, instead of depriving myself, I became motivated in inventing recipes that were low in fat and sugar but high in the vitamins and proteins I needed.   Diarmuid, the dietician at the Bons, was a great source of information and I quickly compiled a small book packed full of recipes for tasty soups and pureed foods for use in the early weeks.   That has since progressed to a larger volume of delectable low fat dishes that I can serve up to anyone.

Realising that exercise plays such a very important part in staying slim I knew I had to find a plan that suited me and that I was likely to stick to......something that I could do alone and that didn’t depend on anyone else.   I chose swimming.   I have heard so very many heavy people complain that they are embarrassed to go to the pool because of their weight.   I never was.   It’s mind over matter and you are never going to get slim if you have such a negative view on things.   This time I joined a gym that was close to home and I began to look forward to going there.   I never pushed myself too hard and you must always bear in mind that whatever exercise goal you set yourself must be one you feel you can maintain on a permanent basis.   Your body gets used to a certain level of activity and will miss it if you slow down or stop.   I also encourage everyone to try swimming as a great all round form of exercise as it is low impact for those with joint problems plus it tones every part of your body.

But enough of the food and exercise stuff – those are the boring bits and the professionals will ensure you know as much as possible about them.

You’re wondering what life is like for me now, aren’t you??

Well, I feel.........amazing, beautiful, healthy, energetic, list goes on.

Within two months I had already found the confidence to start dating again – and this time I realised that I was meeting the kind of guys I should have been dating all my life but never had the confidence to attract.   Looking back I realise I had a sad trail of destructive relationships behind me with men who made me feel bad about myself and who didn’t respect me for the lovely soul I know I am.   Because I didn’t love or admire myself, they didn’t either.   As I write this I am dating a wonderful man – handsome, professional, kind and generous.   He calls me Princess and tells me every day how proud he is to be with me.   Maybe it will last, maybe it won’t, but right now it feels really good.

I guess the most obvious change I notice is in my physical attractiveness because that’s where I felt sorely deficient in the past.   I always knew I was clever, witty, and competent but never gorgeous or stunning.   Now I know I am.   That said, I must emphasise that these days I know I smile from within and that’s more attractive than any physical beauty.   Complete strangers say hello to me but I know that’s because I seem to be hapy all the time.   Men hold doors for me, offer to carry my bags for me, even wolf whistle at me!   You don’t expect to get that at 51.

I have boundless energy and at a friend’s wedding two weeks ago I danced like I was a teenager again.   I feel the need to be active all the time.   My energy is infectious and at that wedding I soon had everyone out on the floor dancing with me – I found myself pushed into the centre of a circle of friends who hadn’t seen me for three years but were so happy to see the new, energetic, glamorous, and slimline me.

I have found a recessed well of chattiness that I never knew I had.   I talk to everyone now – even total strangers.   I find myself wanting to compliment people and make them feel good – I guess I want everyone to feel as happy as I do.   Strangers come up to me in shops and ask my advice on what to wear – I take that as a terrific compliment.   I have even been invited to model in a charity fashion show.

Most importantly, when I review that medical checklist, I note that practically all of my pre-op illnesses have been cured.   I am no longer a diabetic.   I now take one mild blood pressure tablet a day instead of six strong ones.   My arthritic pains are few and far between – I can even wear high heeled shoes again.   My sleep apnoea has been cured.   My list of improvements just goes on and on.

There are monthly support group meetings in Cork but I don’t travel to them as it’s just too far for me to go every month.   I do, however, keep in regular contact with a wonderful friend I made while in hospital.   My friend had similar surgery so it’s good to have someone to compare notes with.

I know I am at the upper end of the weight loss success scale and in fairness I think I had a number of things in my favour starting out so I will share those with you now.   The big one is that I seldom drink alcohol.   I believe that helps on both a psychological as well as a calorific level – alcohol is a depressant and will be a major factor in preventing your desire to exercise and to eat properly.   Secondly, I never had a very sweet tooth but these days if I do long for something sweet I give into it – in moderation.   I don’t deny myself – there’s nothing more likely to encourage mad cravings.   I keep a store cupboard of healthy foods – as one of the supermodels says, your body craves what you other words, if you eat healthily your body will crave foods that are good for you; of course, the corollary is also true so avoid those really fatty and sweet foods.   Thirdly, I partake in forms of exercise that I enjoy – swimming I’ve already mentioned but I also spend a great deal of time gardening and derive endless pleasure from seeing my garden grow.   I never liked walking but I have a great interest in photography – so now I carry my camera everywhere and walking has become an adventure where I seek out the beauty of nature with my lens.

Seven months down the road I find I can eat almost everything, but in much smaller quantities.   I go out for dinner regularly but these days I never feel the need to clear my plate.   I have never had the unpleasant food reactions that some weight loss surgery patients experience.

Shopping for clothes is a joy – now I buy because I like something and not simply because it fits.   I adore bright colours and striking styles – things they don’t make for fat girls.   I buy a lot of really cheap clothes, and sale items, because every month that passes sees me in a smaller size.   I have gone from a 26/28 to a 14/16.   My friends call me the Incredible Shrinking Woman.   I post lots of photographs on Facebook as I get a great deal of encouragement from all the friends I have there.   If you venture down this road then I advise you to take all the praise you are given because you deserve it.   I know that in the era in which I grew up there was a tendency for parents to encourage you to play down your looks and to discourage you from seeing yourself as extraordinary.   That has changed with younger generations, but I need to work on my personal confidence now.   I allow myself to believe I am beautiful and that allows me to grow within my own attractiveness.

These days I have a few very different complaints – I don’t get out half often enough and I don’t have the money to buy all the clothes I know I deserve; in addition to this I feel deprived of the good weather I need to wear that bikini at last (yes, I have bought two!!).

Finally a word of warning – don’t be discouraged by anyone from taking the step in the right direction.   Many people will try to put you off because there is so much negative publicity surrounding weight loss surgery.   They tried to put me off.   I ignored them all and I did what was right for me – I was so heavy and had so many resultant illnesses that my lifespan was seriously limited anyway.   I knew I was with the right medical team and that I wasn’t dealing with charlatans.   It’s like anything – a few “chancers” give all the good guys a bad name.

Go with your gut (pardon the pun) and take the first step in what’s guaranteed to be a new and better life.

Bon Secours Hospital CUH Trinity College Dublin Royal Adelaide Hospital