By Kevin O'Donovan
Abigail says the BOSPA support group is open to all
A Bournemouth woman who has lost over 7 st 2lb (45.5kg) in weight following a gastric bypass operation has said she now has a new lease of life.
Abigail Collings struggled with obesity since her late teens but is now helping others as part of a new support group.
She said: "People who understand what you're going through are few and far between, but when you come to a group like this, you can help each other.
"It's also great to be able to give a bit back."
Abigail had her gastric bypass operation in May 2009. Based on her body mass index, surgeons worked out they had to remove a metre and a half of her large intestine.
The result is that her stomach becomes full more quickly, and is only able to absorb small amounts of food.
The procedure was the final part in a long and miserable time in Abigail's life.
She said: "When you're larger, everything becomes difficult.
"Trying to get around is hard, and your mobility lessens. Weight puts a huge strain on your body.
"I used to have to crawl up the stairs.
"You can't go to the theatre, you can't go on a plane, because the tray won't fit down, you can't fit into clothes. I bought my clothes from a men's online retailer.
Abigail says she feels like a new person since her operation
The new support group Abigail is involved with has been set up by BOSPA, the British Obesity Surgeries Patients Association.
They meet every second Sunday afternoon of the month at The Nuffield Health Bournemouth Hospital.
Abigail said: "Absolutely anyone can come. It's for anyone thinking of having surgery, or if you have already had it. We can talk to each other about the things we can't talk to our families about.
"Our group is very new but this kind of support for me, after my operation, was a vital link."
Abigail believes her food addiction, which led her to gain the weight, stemmed back to her childhood.
She said: "When we grow up we learn how to behave and the way it worked in our family was that if we had something to celebrate we would go out for a meal, and if you were poorly you'd go out and buy sweeties.
Abigail worked as a model in her teenage years
"And on the flip side of that my mother was very obsessive about us not gaining weight so I had these two contradictory messages.
"I took these into adulthood and if I felt bad or good I would have something to eat to counteract it.
"You get a lot of so-called specialists who say there's no such thing as food addiction, but anything that contains things that are addictive such as sugar or carbohydrate will cause you to crave them if you cut them out.
"And unlike an addiction to drugs or alcohol or smoking, you can't just completely cut out food."
Since her operation, Abigail says she feels much more positive, and taking the decision to have the surgery was "not a hard decision in the end".
She said: "I got to a point where I was really struggling. I had tried psychotherapy, different drug treatments, but when they offered the operation to me it was a lifeline.
The idea that fat people are 'born fat' is not always true, says Abigail
"It is major surgery, and there are risks involved but the NHS don't give these operations out very easily, and it's a long route to getting help. You do have to jump through hoops."
"What this operation is, is a stepping stone. It gives you a good start but you need to take it seriously and you do need to work at it."
Abigail, who at 47 is now the lightest she's been in 17 years, says she wants to get back to a size 12, which is when she felt the happiest about her size.
"I look back at pictures of myself [Abigail was a model in her late teens] and think it's like looking like someone else.
"And when I hear people say, "I've put on a stone", I want to tell them to take it off now, because realistically, once you've put on anything over two stones it's harder to take off."
For Abigail, a brighter future lies ahead.
She is retraining in counselling and psychotherapy, and her quality of life has improved.
"My positivity is showing, I'm being chatted up again, and my friends tell me I look great. I feel like a new woman."