As the candles burned brightly on top of my birthday cake, I closed my eyes and made a wish.
Please let me lose weight this year, I silently prayed.
Growing up, I was always at war with my own body.
With my red hair, freckles and chubby frame, I was often picked on at school.
And due to my weight, I struggled to find nice clothes. My wardrobe was more about what fit me as opposed to choosing cute outfits I liked.
Though my meals were fairly healthy, I ate large portions, and would sneak in lots of unhealthy snacks to avoid judgement from my parents and friends.
By the time I reached 24, I weighed 104 kilos and was convinced I’d never find love.
No-one will ever find me attractive at this size, I thought.
Still, it wasn’t enough to stop me from bingeing on chips, cake and fast food.
My mum would question my food choices. Given my size, it was definitely warranted, but it still hurt.
When I would openly lament about my weight, my friends would ask me, ‘So why don’t you just lose weight?’
It’s not like I haven’t tried, I thought, feeling frustrated.
I’d attempted every diet under the sun but nothing seemed to stick. Though I’d always lose weight, I’d end up gaining it all back – and then some. Eventually, my weight ballooned to 134 kilos.
But in October 2018, everything changed when I met a man named Kenny, then 34, online.
Weighing 185 kilos, he was a bigger guy, but had a striking face with the most beautiful eyes.
As we bonded over our sense of humour, I knew I’d found The One.
Then Kenny shared with me that, before we’d met, he’d been given grave news by his doctors.
He’d been suffering from uncontrolled high blood pressure and severe sleep apnoea.
‘If you don’t do something about your weight, you won’t see your 40th birthday,’ he was warned.
Terrified I’d lose the love of my life, I knew something had to change.
Tired of the constant cycle of losing weight then gaining it back, I decided to undergo vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery to help me lose the weight and keep it off for good.
The operation would involve removing 80 per cent of my stomach, meaning I’d get fuller much quicker.
Given his serious health issues, Kenny decided he would get surgery too.
He booked his op for September 2019, and mine was locked in for two months later.
To prepare ourselves, we followed a liquid-only diet for two weeks.
Watching as Kenny embarked on his journey before me, I was amazed at how well he handled it all. And it helped me understand what I’d have to deal with after surgery.
‘You’ll be fine,’ Kenny reassured.
His words were a great comfort to me.
When I woke from the op, my doc confirmed that it’d gone well.
At first, I could only stomach liquids, but then moved on to pureed food.
And my weight dropped instantly. Much like Kenny had, in the first month, I lost nine kilos.
As the number on the scales continued to change, our relationship with food did too. Instead of chomping on fast food, we nourished ourselves with egg whites and low fat cheese for breakfast, and grilled chicken and salad or vegetables for lunch and dinner.
Noticing a significant boost in our energy levels, we also began cardio and strength training, as well as going on daily walks and weekend hikes.
I also had the confidence to do things I never would have dreamed of before, such as swimming at a public pool, playing laser tag, and kayaking without the fear of sinking.
Incredibly, by March, I had gone from wearing XXL clothes to large, and Kenny had gone from a 6XL down to a 2XL. And, while he’d lost 90 kilos, I’d dropped 58, meaning we’d shed 148 kilos combined.
‘I can’t believe we did it,’ I cried, proudly.
We were on cloud nine.
In March 2021, Kenny and I were out hiking in my favourite park, when he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.
‘Yes!’ I replied, ecstatic.
We were married in October last year, surrounded by 180 of our closest family and friends.
For the first time in my life, I was excited to see photos of myself instead of shying away from the camera like I used to.
Though I admit it was no walk in the park, I never imagined how much weight-loss surgery would change my life.
Before I lost the weight, I used exercise as a punishment for eating poorly, but I have come to love how it makes both my mind and body feel strong.
Now when I blow out the candles on my birthday cakes, I no longer wish to lose weight.
Instead, I’m excited that I’ve been given the gift of experiencing another year, surrounded by my family, friends and, most of all, with Kenny.
Losing weight didn’t just transform how we look, it literally saved our lives.
As told to Freya Coombes, Media Drum World