AUDREY, 36, ScotlandAt my heaviest I weighed 27 stone and 12 pounds. I couldn't walk properly. My self esteem had hit rock bottom. The effect of a lifetime of emotional eating had taken its toll and I decided enough was enough. Now, my life is great. I'm more mobile, I've got my self-belief back. Gastric band surgery means I am now just a normal regular person - and that's all I ever wanted to be.
From then on my life became a constant cycle of dieting and putting weight back on. I'd always start out with good intentions but then after about three or four months, I'd get bored. "What do I fancy tonight?" I'd ask myself. The answer would inevitably be a Chinese or something else which wasn't good for me. So my weight went up and up.
By 1996, my age was the same as my weight - 25 (stone) and I slipped a disc in my back. Although my mum, who was also big, had told me that my size didn't matter; for the first time I realised that it did. It was as if my body was saying to me: "No way - that's enough".
With my whole body out of action because of my back, I had nine months off work; but once I went back I also rejoined WeightWatchers. I lost 8 stone in one year and went down to a size 18. Why? Because I knew that if I didn't I wouldn't have a life in ten years time. For a while, I felt great, but inevitably things didn't stay that way, as the old habits came creeping back.
That's what many people who criticise big people don't understand. They'll say: "Why don't you just eat less?" My response to that is: "I wish I could but it isn't that easy." For me food is more than just fuel for the body, it is about emotions. After all, who hasn't eaten too much or the wrong things when they're bored or upset? We all have an emotional attachment to food - it's just that, for some people, it's stronger than others.
I think my attitudes to food relate to the way I was brought up. When I was younger my mum gave me food if I was upset - cakes made you feel better. She also used food as a reward if I was good. "Cupboard love" was the name she gave it, and although, now I'm older, I know I shouldn't use food in this way, what we learn as kids is very difficult to get away from when we're adults.
By the time I married my second husband, aged 30, I weighed 26 stone and really started to lose my confidence. I didn't like going out. If we went to a bar I would sit in the corner because I couldn't bear people laughing at me. Sometimes I would hear blokes sarcastically saying to their friends: "Look there's your girlfriend" as I walked past. My husband was supportive but even he got fed up of my inactivity. He used to like beach combing but I'd get out of breath after a couple of steps. He used to like cycling but I couldn't go with him. None of this was surprising, as I couldn't really walk more than 400 yards without having to sit down.
It was around this time that my friend Fiona told me she gone on the waiting list to have gastric band surgery. I was interested but told myself I could do it on my own. Deep down though, I knew I couldn't and eventually my GP put me forward for surgery. The average waiting time in Glasgow is about two years, but because I needed surgery on my gall bladder, I only waited six months.
The operation went very smoothly in August 2003. I was taken in on the Monday morning and came out on Thursday afternoon. I was in a lot of pain to start with, but I was told this was more to do with the gall bladder operation than the gastric band surgery. Four weeks later, though, I was back at work. I then lost a stone every month for the first six months; then half a stone every month for the next six months. Altogether I lost 9 stone in the first year and 5 stone in the second and got down to 13 stone 4 pounds.
Since then I've had to have the band readjusted, as I did put some weight back on after my mother died but now I am around 16 stone and I feel great. I would recommend surgery to anyone who has struggled with their weight over the years like I have. Physically I am now normal. Three years ago I couldn't walk to the end of the street, but not long ago I walked ten miles and I felt like I'd won the lottery!
Mentally, I've got my self confidence back. I used to wear clothes simply because they actually fitted me, but now I can choose clothes I want to wear. I've had to find out what my fashion tastes are, and that's been fantastic. I've been to nightclubs and danced and I've been hit on by men. It's all been such an ego boost. I also attend the Glasgow Weight Loss Surgery support group which gives me chance to share with other people in my position. I know that my emotional relationship with food will always be there, but while my brain is learning to deal with that - my body gets on with living.
And, you know what? We're going from strength to strength.