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3rd November 2016

‘I lost control of my life; I needed help’

For Simon Harris, weight-loss surgery was a chance to break free from addiction and reboot his life

Most people can think of a period when they’ve been stuck in a rut. For Simon, it was 2005 when things, personally and professionally, began to slide.

“I was a bit down and a bit lonely,” he recalls. “I began eating takeaways all the time and was drinking two litres of soft drinks every day. I lost control.”

It was a downward spiral that accelerated quickly. He gained about 70kg and developed diabetes but his appetite had become insatiable. His stomach was never well settled and sleep had become a luxury.

Self-destruct

Simon’s story resembles that of an alcoholic or a drug addict: he knew what he was doing was bad for his health but his destructive behaviour patterns continued.

“I consider eating to be as addictive and self-destructive as smoking, drinking and taking narcotics,” he says. “I had lost control of my life through food in the same way as people lose control of their life through other addictions.”

Soon daily tasks were a major burden and he was trapped in a relentless cycle; miserable and repetitive.

As Simon gained weight, his knees began showing the strain, further reducing his capacity for physical activity. “There were 13 stairs up to my bedroom and I dreaded them every day,” he says. “Walking to the corner of the street – or even getting up to answer the door – became a real challenge.”

With the physical hurdles came stigma and insults. Simon stopped flying long haul because it was so uncomfortable. Even short trips were soon a source of dread: “I had to ask for a seat belt extension which is embarrassing in itself. On one occasion, having heard airline staff pass remarks about my weight, I chose to pretend I could close my seat belt rather than ask about it and become the butt of another joke.”

Even hospital staff – including health professionals – made insensitive and cruel remarks.

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In December 2014, Simon had weight loss surgery which marked a turning point. “I saw it as rebooting my life: The day I woke up was year zero.”

The sleeve gastrectomy that Simon underwent makes him feel full very quickly. It was a chance to break the cycle and recast his relationship with food but it was also a catalyst for a wholesale lifestyle change.

“The surgery alone is not the end – you’ve got to do other things around it,” he says. “I now do a lot of exercise every day.”

And it’s working. Having once been 173kg, Simon has got his weight down to around 108kg and is hoping to get below the 100kg mark – a healthy weight for a former front row rugby player.

Sustaining momentum

The journey may not yet be over but he feels he has the wind at his back. “I look at the life I had before the surgery and the life I enjoy now and it couldn’t be more different – it’s chalk and cheese.”

Simon does a minimum of 12,000 steps a day and doesn’t think twice about the four flights of stairs that lead to his apartment. His type II diabetes is now in remission and he no longer needs the daily medication that he once expected to be on for the rest of his life.

He hops off the bus early to ensure he gets enough exercise and has recently returned from a long-haul holiday.

“I do not believe I am cured. I have got to be careful about everything I do from here on in. The way I see it, the surgical and medical team gave me a second chance and I have a responsibility to make that work.”

Find out more about obesity at the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and learn about European Obesity Day 2017