‘My gastric band gave me an eating disorder’
Tuesday 09 August 2011
After a childhood of unhealthy eating habits, 22½st Siobhan Leighton was forced to face up to the extent of her problems when, aged 21, her doctor diagnosed her as clinically obese.
Shockingly, rather than dieting, she was convinced the “easy” answer to losing weight was gastric surgery and she went abroad to have the op.
But, without dealing with her food addiction first, surgery couldn’t cure her of her overeating and she developed a bulimia-type eating disorder.
She says: “Looking back, I didn’t commit to the idea of eating less to lose weight and that led to problems with my band – I ended up abusing it by overeating which led to me being sick.”
Siobhan, 27, who’s speaking out to warn other women against having surgery as a quick fix, says: “I thought having a gastric band would be an easy option. Now I know I was too hasty. I should have got more help with my eating.
I never learnt proper discipline with food, so instead I had a gastric band. I’m skinny now, but I wish I could change the way I got here.”
Speaking from her home in Glasgow, financial adviser Siobhan admits she’s always been chubby, but was never bothered by her size.
But aged 21 and weighing 21st, a routine trip to the doctor’s highlighted to 5ft 2 Siobhan that she was clinically obese.
She says: “I was shocked. I wasn’t slim, but I didn’t feel my weight was a real problem.”
The doctor advised dieting, but Siobhan gave up after a week. “It made me irritable,” she says.
On a normal day, Siobhan skipped breakfast and had takeaways for lunch and dinner – snacking on crisps, biscuits, chocolate, cakes, ice cream and fizzy drinks.
“I never liked vegetables and I’d eat three portions of dinner,” she says.
But, by January 2006, she’d actually put on weight. Now 22½st, size 30 Siobhan asked her doctor about a gastric band, to limit the amount she could eat. She was refused due to her age.
After researching the internet she found a deal in Belgium, allowing her to get the band for £3,500 – a third of the price of a UK op. “It seemed so easy,” she admits.
A gastric band reduces the size of the patient’s stomach so they can only eat a limited amount. That food must be low fat for them to lose weight.
In Siobhan’s case, her band wasn’t tight enough and she was able to carry on overeating.
“I was advised to eat less and go for liquids to start with but I carried on with my bad eating habits and managed to eat all my favourite fatty foods,” she says.
Gastric-band patients often need their bands regularly tightened, but Siobhan’s too-loose band went undetected for 11 months, during which time she lost just half a stone.
Frustrated, she eventually got a private surgeon in the UK to tighten her band, but the effects were dramatic because Siobhan had never stopped overeating.
“The next day I gulped a big glass of water, but threw it straight back up. I was so shocked. I was used to eating huge portions and now couldn’t handle the same amount of food. I felt so miserable,” she says.
Unable to break the habit of overeating, one night in April 2008 Siobhan polished off a takeaway and a packet of biscuits.
She confesses: “I knew my stomach couldn’t keep all that food down, but I still had the urge to eat.”
Seconds later, she vomited.
She reveals: “I finally felt in control. I’d heard of bulimia, but it didn’t cross my mind that I had similar symptoms – I wasn’t putting my finger down my throat to make myself sick.”
From that point on, Siobhan binged twice a day. She admits: “I knew if I pushed how much I ate, it’d come back up.”
During a typical binge, Siobhan ate a multipack of crisps, a takeaway, biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks – all foods that gastric patients should avoid as they struggle to digest them.
Shockingly, research suggests eating disorders after gastric surgery often go undiagnosed, as the bulimia-style vomiting can be mistaken for post-op symptoms.
If Siobhan was sick around friends, she blamed it on the gastric band. “No one ever questioned it,” she reveals.
It wasn’t until she got a knock on the door from her neighbour in February 2009 that Siobhan was forced to face up to her problems.
“She told me she could hear me retching and couldn’t handle listening to me being sick,” says Siobhan. “It made me see I had an eating disorder.”
Reluctant to go to her doctor, incredibly Siobhan tackled her problem alone. She got information about eating healthily from magazines and, three weeks later, forced herself to slowly eat a small baked potato.
“I desperately wanted to keep it down. I concentrated really hard on chewing and swallowing slowly,” Siobhan says. “When I finished an hour later, I was exhausted – but it felt amazing knowing I didn’t need to be sick.”
Admitting she relapsed several times, Siobhan says it was “a continual battle” to decrease her binges.
Now, weighing 8st 6lbs,size 8 Siobhan has lost a staggering 14st and is finally in control of her eating habits. But she’s struggling to cope with the loose skin she’s been left with.
In March, her grandad, Ronald Leighton, 89, paid £5,100 for her to have an arm lift, chest uplift and 32F breast implants.
“From afar my body is almost normal but, up close, I have huge scars,” she reveals.
Siobhan still needs a £10,000 tummy tuck and thigh lift, but can’t afford it. She says: “Yes, I’m skinny, but my body’s a mess.”
Siobhan’s continual vomiting has left her with severe acid reflux and she now lives on child-sized portions of fish and puréed vegetables. She says: “I can’t eat salad and fresh fruit as they’re acidic and bulky.”
She adds: “It’s hard to believe but I was actually happier overweight – now I’m a patchwork doll having to be sewn up bit by bit.”
By Jenny Francis