Back to blogging with a big, fat bang….

dv1554019I have been subject to a ‘blogging malaise’ over the past few weeks. Trying to think of a subject to cover; a poem to recommend; a book to discuss etc has seemed too much trouble. No more wriggling out of writing was the title I chose for this blog three and a half years ago now, before I could really call myself a professional writer. Now I am one. So why need I blog?

Well today I thought, at last, of a reason to get on here and say something and it struck me that perhaps I had forgotten how important it is, even as someone lucky enough to have commissions to work on, to simply WRITE. No wonder I am feeling low – I haven’t been writing much at all. I have been reading a lot, but as an escape and as procrastination. So I am grateful that Radio 4 and Any Questions actually got me sufficiently riled to put finger to keypad once more. Here is why.

2013 was not a good year for my insides. I started suffering acute stomach pains and was sent for all manner of scary tests at the hospital. Many of you will know that as someone who has been treated, successfully, for breast cancer, I find the words ‘because of your medical history we just need to check’ are words that strike the fear of the Almighty in me. I had a few of those moments in 2013, but eventually it was discovered that my gallbladder was as a bulging bag of lead shot, overflowing and requiring urgent removal. The stress here is on ‘urgent’ as I had narrowly avoided one hospitalisation and was fearing another at any moment. So the surgeon saying ‘we should have you in here in a month’ seemed like good news. Our local NHS hospital, Musgrove Park in Taunton, has always seen me right. Saved my life even. But as one month went to two, and then to three, I was getting worried. But a strict low-fat diet and regular, gentle exercise was seeing a weight loss of 2lb a week. By the time I was called in, I was two stone lighter and although still suffering from the shot in the gut, I felt much better for it.

As is so common, I have struggled with my weight for years. I have been slim, fat and somewhere in between. It IS hard for me to lose the flab; I have lymphoedema in my legs that makes them heavy and prone to serious swelling and I am on cancer and anti-depressant drugs that make it even more difficult to shed the pounds. But never was it more obvious to me that I had been using these things as an excuse than when I was waiting for my gall bladder op. I could do it if I tried, and I did because I knew my health could be seriously compromised if I didn’t. I took control.

Andy Burnham-of-the-lovely-brown-eyes - on the Any Questions panel
Andy Burnham-of-the-lovely-brown-eyes – on the Any Questions panel

Over the past few days, and on aforesaid Any Questions, the subject of the obesity epidemic in the UK came up again. Last week it was said that some 2 million people in the UK could be eligible for NHS gastric band operations in the next few years. Should we regulate the food industry? Teach kids what a vegetable is?

Now, at last, I get to the point. When I did at last get my appointment, after weeks of nice phone calls with helpful appointments staff, I found myself on the ‘gastric band’ list and was told that they often ‘squeezed’  a gall bladder removal (or choleocystectomy) on to that list. I was surprised, not least because I had no idea there was a ‘list’ for NHS gastric band surgery but also because those who were in the waiting room had not struck me as very different from your regular ‘Taunton tummy’ type, in which classification I would, two months before, have had to include myself. Overweight, possibly obese, but still a pretty common shape.

bandAs I slid down the day’s operating list to accommodate those with Type 2 diabetes who had to go before me to ensure their blood sugars didn’t spiral out of control, I had one of those wicked thoughts that creep up on us occasionally and cause us to judge others more harshly than we might otherwise do. Why had that woman just gone in front of me to have her gastric band, accompanied by her two sons who had had the same operation eight weeks before? She was no more overweight than I had been. Why couldn’t she, and her two sons, have done what I did and controlled their diet and exercised a bit more? Wasn’t that gastric band fitting a dangerous operation to control appetites that simply needed more self-control? If they needed it, then half the UK would qualify surely?

Perhaps. What worries me most is that since I had the gallbladder operation, for all my good intentions, the surgeons words ‘well you can go back to a normal diet now’ have inveigled themselves into my subconscious and eaten away at that very self-control I bemoaned the lack of in the woman and her family in the hospital. I must have put half a stone on since Christmas. Being overweight, for me, means a long hard road to fitness but it can be done. Surely I have no right to expect the NHS to sort me out just because I can’t pass a chocolate bar or a bun without cramming it in my mouth? Surely, if an NHS doctor can’t find it possible to tell me that, without my gall bladder, I still have to eat carefully, he is making work for himself and our cash-strapped health service?

I am a greedy pig and I know it. But it seems I have long term medical conditions that could qualify me for this radical  surgery. Why should we offer gastric bands as apparently ‘preventative’ medicine? Diabetes may be a silent killer, but tell us about it, have us in to your office and tell us we will die if we don’t cut out the pies and walk round the block. Tell us we are neglecting our kids if we encourage them to eat in the same way. Take adverts for McDonalds and KFC off the telly and sod corporate anger. Anything, but DON’T fit us with something that could kill us and will certainly not teach us how to live our lives in a healthy way. Who knows, is it far-fetched to think that we may end up fitting young girls with gastric bands just to help them achieve some ridiculous idea of ‘body-image’ that the madness of the media and big business would have us believe is the only way to be?

Put the money into treating those with life-threatening illnesses unrelated to gluttony.

There, said it. And perhaps you wish I had kept this bile to my duct, where it belongs….

9 Replies to “Back to blogging with a big, fat bang….”

  1. Two years ago I also found myself on the waiting list for a choleocystectomy, so I completely understand the motivation to eat a low to non-existent fat diet when the tiniest crumb of cheese can have you in agony for hours. And the pounds came off. Like you, the weight went back on afterwards. Nothing motivates us like pain, I guess.
    Perhaps obesity should have the intervention of CBT or other psychological help before surgery is considered? Deal with the mental dysfunction which causes it, rather than the symptom which identifies it. I reckon nearly every case of obesity has a history which explains why that person over-eats. It’s why diets never work: obesity is a symptom, not a cause.

      1. I also think it’s interesting that, although obesity is not by any means the only eating disorder out there, it’s the only one (as far as I know) for which surgery is offered. Disorders like anorexia and bulimia are treated as psychological disorders and treated accordingly. Obviously there are cases like Viv’s, which involve clinical conditions and can’t be treated psychologically, but how many people who are eating mouse-sized meals for the rest of their lives are still dealing with the issues that put them there?

      2. Martine, you mistake me. I have a serious health problem that’s likely to kill me untreated but while I wait for surgery, I’m not able to take the exercise I need to keep my weight stable. The condition is nothing to do with food or eating, and wasn’t caused by any lifestyle issues either, just a random, nasty and fairly rare thing. My issues with weight and food are another matter, just currently exacerbated by pain and drastic loss of energy.
        I believe that the surgery has become common because of the reluctance to tackle the deeper issues throughout society and have become embedded (as Suzie mentioned) in families. Demonising fat people is a political strategy to divert attention away from the fundamental flaws perpetuated by government.

  2. Nor does a gastric band actually tackle the changes in metabolism caused by yo-yo dieting.
    A gastric band is actually just as likely to shorten a life, as the person has such restricted capacity for food they will become malnourished in crucial ways, even when they take the prescribed supplements.
    A compassionate approach to obesity is more effective than bullying and fat shaming. I know quite well I’m fat; I don’t need anyone to taunt me or tease me about it, and just as with smoking, there are few smokers who respond to being told it will kill them. There’s actually little reliable, unbiased evidence that confirms that being obese (of itself) shortens lives, because the research has all been funded by companies that have a vested interest in diet aids (drugs etc).
    In addition, as someone who is waiting for potentially lifesaving surgery because there is a shortage of surgeons able to perform the required surgery for a condition that is not life style related at all, I’m gaining weight because I am less and less able to be active due to pain and catastrophic loss of energy. The money goes to the research and the surgery-types that deals with whatever is politically hot at the time.

    1. I was horrified that there were five people on the list to have the gastric band op that day, and it is a fortnightly or monthly list – not a one-off. I was also worried that the woman I saw had two adult sons (twins) who had just recovered from the op themselves. That was a family with issues that will remain unsolved by gastric band surgery…

    2. Hi Viv, there was no reply button for your reply to me (above). Sorry, I misconstrued. I hope you get the surgery you urgently need . It must be dreadfully frustrating and distressing to see vital medical resources going towards people who could be treated without surgery when your life is at stake!
      I completely agree about the problems within society, and the demonising of the overweight. It goes so deep in our society, with the media advocating such impossible ideals and the implicit acceptance of it by a government who puts the profits of multi-national companies over the health of individuals.

      1. I am so pleased we have had a debate about this. It is a difficult topic to discuss and goes to the heart of how we perceive ourselves and others and the burden of expectation that can affect so many of us in a negative way. Thanks both 🙂

      2. I think I can hang on for a few months. It’s frustrating but I don’t blame anyone but government. I also feel strongly that excess money spent on things like multiple IVFs when people are dying is something that needs looking at. However distressing it may be to be childless, it’s very different to people with things like kidney failure etc.

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