Stephanie Hooper had always been big. As a child and throughout her teenage years she sought comfort in food as a way of dealing with life, until a series of events lead her to turn her health and life around forever.
As a child, Stephanie lost a grandfather to heart issues related to his weight and another grandfather to diabetes in 2010. She didn’t want the same fate for herself, but the real wakeup call came from the three digits staring back at her on a set of scales at work one day.
She weighed 182kgs at twenty five years old.
”When I jumped on those scales, I cried because I didn’t think I was as heavy as I was. But that’s when I knew I had to do something about it.” says Stephanie.
Under supervision from her doctor she tried multiple weight loss regimes from Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers that worked for a time, but she would gain back the weight, sometimes double the amount when the programmes ended. Eventually she was prescribed the appetite suppressant, Duromine. It had more success and she lost thirty kilos, helped by her two-hour daily addiction to the gym. But it wasn’t to last and she formed gallstones as a result of her rapid weight loss.
Stephanie says it was a constant yo-yo with diets and after having her gallbladder out and not being able to exercise properly, the weight crept back on.
Finally, in September 2017 her doctor referred her as a candidate for the recommended sleeve gastrectomy surgery where majority of the stomach is removed and a new sleeve shaped tube is created from a small portion of the stomach, allowing food to be passed straight through into the intestines, leaving patients to feel fuller sooner and longer.
When she found out she was accepted for the surgery, Stephanie started to change her mindset and relationship with food, eliminating her daily addiction to the energy drink, “V”, cutting down on carbohydrates, refined sugar and getting back into exercise that saw her weight fall to 177kgs by October 2018.
But it still wasn’t enough.
Even at 177kgs, she was still a high risk for the anaesthesia, so she was told to lose another thirty kilos before they could put her on the table, however long it would take.
“Most people get an eight to ten kilo goal. I put on a brave face, but in my head I thought otherwise. I cried on my way back to work because it seemed overwhelming. At 177kgs, I still couldn’t bend over to tie my shoelaces, let alone thinking, I had to get off my ass and move. But, I knew I had to do it and realized I had to deal with my head demons and get over the fact that food isn’t life and that I could live a much better life by doing this.“ says Stephanie.
From there, she followed a strict diet of non- starchy vegetables, protein and Optifast shakes, coupled with bootcamps and the gym and surrounded herself with positivity in the form of motivational quotes and making herself accountable by telling people around her of her goals.
“Being surrounded by positive people who are supportive of your journey, that’s what helps with your head, not the people who turn up with McDonald’s and eat it in front of you at that point in your journey.” says Steph.
That support went a long way and started changing a lifetime of habits for Steph who would regularly spend “$20 a day on crap food” to clean eating with cheat meals consisting of Subway or Pita Pit.
In March 2019 she weighed in again, surpassing the expected weight drop by 10kgs down to 151kgs and was told she had another eight weeks to get down to 147kgs.
“So, I booked in to walk Wairere Falls (East of Matamata in the Waikato) to get the last of the weight off. It took me six hours to the summit and back and was a huge achievement.” says Stephanie.
At the end of July 2019, Steph got the call she had been waiting for, her surgery date had been scheduled for August 20th, 2019 and she celebrated by having her Mum make her favourite dish as her “last meal” Swiss chicken and dessert before starting an intense Optifast phase for four weeks the following day.
On the day of the surgery, she weighed in at 129kgs and doesn’t remember much from the time she was put under. She woke up in recovery a few hours later with seven incision ports and a stomach that can now only hold 200mls of liquid and food.
Steph says it was a real mind game throughout the entire journey, especially to start with due to the initial swelling of her stomach she could only hold 30mls of food or liquid and had to adjust to the strange feeling of not feeling hungry anymore.
“I think a lot of people find they overeat, and they don’t know their “full” signals. Your body naturally sighs when its full. For me, I hiccup when I’m full now, and if I try and force more food in beyond that, even just a teaspoon, I’m sick.”
Now, six months post operation, Stephanie says it’s a new life, but it isn’t always easy.
She says she can no longer drink plain water, which sits like concrete in her new stomach, so she adds drops or Weight Watcher’s juice to lessen the impact, and overcooked, fatty or overly sweet foods are also rejected.
“Everyone is different and it’s all about learning a new you with your new tool. The biggest take home is, they’ve done surgery on my stomach, not my brain. Your brain still smells and sees things you want but they’ve removed the portion of the stomach that controls hunger so your stomach can’t tell the brain your hungry anymore. If we think we’re hungry, It’s our brain talking, not our stomach. When it happens, the best thing is to reach for your water bottle.” says Stephanie.
Currently, she is down to 102kgs and able to eat no more than one quarter to one third of a cup of food, but eventually she will be able to hold a cup or cup and a half and has a bariatric bowl and plate to keep her honest with her portion size.
Looking ahead, she is considering a career change to help others on their own weight loss journey and has goals of re walking Wairere Falls, but in half the time and wants to try the Tongariro crossing and plan a trip to the States.
“Having this surgery was the best decision I have made for myself. I would encourage anyone struggling with their weight, to discuss starting their own journey with their Doctor. But it’s not just a diet, fad or a magical cure, it’s a tool and this is the beginning my entire life now. I’m able start living again!”