EASO Patient Council Spotlight: Meet Audrey Roberts
Greetings! My name is Audrey Roberts, I’m 45 years old and live in Glasgow which is in the West of Scotland. I’m married to Davie and have 3 cats. I work in ICT for the local government and I’m the youngest of 5 siblings. I’ve lived in Scotland all of my life and I’m proud to call it my home.
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland with a population of just under 600,000 people. I’ve lived here for 6 years having moved from Paisley (around 15 miles west) to share a home with my husband. Glasgow is a port city with Victorian and Art Nouveau architecture. Its 18th to 20th century prosperity was founded on trade and shipbuilding. Glaswegians are renowned for their good humour and friendly, helpful nature. Famous Glaswegians include the comedian Billy Connolly, actor Gerard Butler and the inventor of the television John Logie Baird, to name but a few.
I really enjoy listening to audiobooks; my favourite types of book to read are murder mystery, biography and crime novels. I also enjoy meeting friends for coffee, travelling to different cities across the world and visiting other countries to soak up the culture, atmosphere, scenery and architecture that each place has to offer.
Thank you, Audrey. Please describe what your personal experience of obesity has been
I’ve always been bigger than everyone else, at 5 foot 11 when I was 15 years old, my nickname was “Big Auds”. I felt self conscious and awkward standing out like I did; who didn’t at that age?! My weight issues didn’t intensify till I was around 19. I had just come out of an abusive relationship and in hindsight now realise that’s when I turned to food for comfort and the weight piled on.
Previous to this I’d mostly been in the “normal” weight range, or perhaps a little overweight. In my first attempt to lose weight I joined a slimming class, I was 17 years old and was less than a stone overweight with a BMI of only 26. I thought I was huge! Unfortunately this was confirmed by the class leader who promptly told me I was “too heavy” and had to “do something about it” this compounded my insecurities which kick started my years of yoyo dieting, extreme weight loss (and inevitable regain) and general unhealthy attitude surrounding food.
My heaviest recorded weight was 27 stone 12 pounds (390 lbs, 177kg) my BMI was 54.5, at that time I was 32 years old. I struggled to walk more than 500 yards and was unable to fasten the buckle on a plane seat, even car seat belts were difficult to manage. I couldn’t get clothes to fit me, even the “big lady” shops couldn’t cater for my size. I couldn’t fit into individual or secure seats and garden chairs were a complete no no!
I’d join slimming classes, lose lots of weight and regain more. I’ve lost 10 stone twice and then promptly regained 12. I’ve lost 5 and regained 6 stone more than 5 times. Nothing seemed to work in the longer term, it seemed that no matter how motivated and “determined to make it work this time”, after a few months the old habits and cycle of binge eating/starving/healthier eating continued and I had absolutely no control over it. In 2002, when inevitably my gall bladder started to produce stones due to the extremes of my eating pattern, I went to my GP who recommended bariatric surgery. She then referred me to a surgeon on the NHS; I was given a date of August 2003 to go under the knife.
My initial weight loss was rapid; I lost 14 ½ stone (203 pounds, 92kg) in 2 years. Within 6 months I started to feel the benefit of my weight loss. I could move and walk more. I could shower without assistance. My back pain was decreasing. I was beginning to be able to fit into public toilets without being jammed in the cubicle door!
After 18 months or so, it was the simple things that I forgot were part of normal life for some people that made all the difference to me, things that are called “non-scale victories.” Things like being able to cross my legs, not being stared at and verbally abused while walking down the street. I realised quickly that I actually didn’t know what my “fashion style” was. For most of my adult life I wore the size (size 32) which had incredibly limited availability to me, I never wore what I actually liked, when I eventually did venture out to shop, I had absolutely no idea what to buy!
My weight loss held steady for a few years, then after the death of a close family member, old habits of comfort eating crept back in. My weight and attitude returned to the yoyo cycle again and though I never regained all of the weight lost I found myself back up to 22 stone and in despair of my future and prospects, I really didn’t have it in me to diet again.
I realised that food was my comfort, my friend, my companion in life. It never judged me, was always there for me. I loved it. I also hated it. I hated its power over me (I still do to a degree). I hated the effects it had on me. The emotional turmoil in the excitement of a “binge” followed by the guilt and shame I felt immediately after. I often went to bed believing “tomorrow I’ll be better,” “I won’t overeat,” “I’ll stick to my diet and everything will be ok.” It never was.
I decided in 2015 to have revision surgery. After much research, I chose a surgeon in Belgium and paid privately for his services. My weight has decreased again and I’m feeling emotionally and physically well again. I’ve learned that food is only the symptom and not the cause of the issue; for me it was a form of self medication. What was needed was to identify the problem and deal with that. I often say that surgeons operate on our stomachs, not our brains, and until I find the root of the issue I’ll always acknowledge the power that food has over me and will need to be on guard against the bad habits creeping back in.
I’m learning to forgive myself for the damage I’ve done to my body and to be grateful for what I have instead of the continual search for the next best thing that will make me/it/everything better. I’m learning to be happy.
Thank you for sharing, Audrey. What are your hopes for the EASO Patient Council at the 2017 European Congress on Obesity #ECO2017?
I’m looking forward to meeting Patient Council representatives from other countries across Europe. Understanding priorities across countries tackling obesity. Listening to speaker presentations and gaining insights we can apply in Scotland.
Audrey, how do you currently advocate for patients and how do you intend to advocate for patients in the future?
I serve as a committee member of the charity WLSinfo and for the past 13 years have been the organiser of a support group in Glasgow for pre-and post-op bariatric patients. I also participate in “online” discussion groups and one-to-one meetings with people who have not had bariatric surgery but who struggle with excess weight and issues related to obesity.
My aim is to help and encourage patients who may be struggling to cope with bariatric surgery. I offer support and guidance when I can and advise patients with the aim of making the journey less stressful.