AT the age of just ten Imogen Wilson was put on her first diet.
She grew up knowing she was bigger than her friends and as her weight crept up and up, her self-confidence disappeared.
Over the years, the now 26-year-old became more ashamed of her figure, and lost all hope of ever feeling “normal”.
She was too scared to do anything due to the crippling fear of strangers looking at her 25st frame, which she tried to hide in size 32 clothes.
Imogen tried calorie counting but admitted every diet felt like a losing battle.
The recruitment consultant said she even avoided dating and travelling because she was so afraid of sitting in a plane seat.
In early 2018, Imogen decided enough was enough – and vowed to make a change.
Imogen began to research weight loss surgery and in May last year she paid £10,000 for a gastric sleeve operation.
She has since shed 10 stone and said she’s never felt better.
“Surgery has given me the chance to lose weight,” she said.
“I tried so many times and the weight always went back on, but this has given me the shot I needed.
“You still have to diet and exercise, it just changes your metabolism to make the weight loss achievable.”
Imogen, from Crawley, West Sussex, said her confidence has been restored and she now enjoys shopping for clothes.
She said her weight had been a concern almost from birth, but from the age of eight it began to spiral.
“I was on a diet by the time I was ten,” she said.
I suffered from a crippling lack of self-confidence, I became so ashamed. I was scared to do anything
“I was very overweight from a young age and I always struggled.”
For years Imogen was taken to see doctors and dietitians, who told her to “eat less, move more”, and keep a food diary.
But nothing seemed to work.
By the time she left school, Imogen said she had “given up hope of ever being ‘normal’.”
Her spiralling weight began to affect every aspect of life.
“I suffered from a crippling lack of self-confidence, I became so ashamed,” she admitted.
“I was scared to do almost anything.
“Even sitting in a room with people made me uncomfortable because I knew they were looking at me.”
For years, Imogen said she tried various diets – always focusing on calorie counting and restricting carbs.
But whenever she stopped the fad diets, her weight piled back on.
“My record was putting on a stone-and-a-half in two weeks,” she said.
“My body always seemed to fight against me.
“I always felt different, I couldn’t take part in group activities. I was always embarrassed and shy, so never did anything outside my comfort zone.
“I haven’t travelled for 10 years because I was so scared of the plane seats.
“I avoided dating completely as I was so embarrassed, and I never pursued a career because I just didn’t have the confidence.”
After researching weight loss operations, Imogen chose to have a gastric sleeve – rather than a bypass.
A gastric sleeve is where surgeons remove part of the stomach, reducing its size and meaning you can’t eat as much as before the op.
In contrast, a gastric bypass is where surgical staples are used to create a small pouch at the top of the stomach, which is then connect to the intestines – bypassing a large section of your stomach.
For Imogen, the surgery has proved “life-changing”.
She has shed a staggering 10st and now regularly works out at the gym, and has even completed a 10K race.
“I always thought it was a massive surgery and I wouldn’t be able to eat again, but after meeting my incredible surgeon I knew there was nothing to be scared of,” she said.
Imogen paid £10,000 to have the operation privately, because weight loss surgery isn’t readily available on the NHS.
Just a day after the op she felt “back to normal” and a week later, Imogen was back at work.
“I respect myself now,” she said. “I’m worth more than I settled for.
“I am confident and I am proud of who I’ve become.
“I can now truly say I’m happy and my life is a complete joy.
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“Every day I wake up with a smile on my face, and I have made so many new friends through my bariatric support group.
“My family are proud of me, and finally I have lost that feeling of shame.”
Imogen urged others to take control, and added: “Don’t waste a second of your life.
“Being overweight is cruel, but there’s an answer. I am so lucky I could have this surgery, because now I have a future.”
She said while weight loss surgery is a “taboo subject”, it’s “nothing to be ashamed of”.
“Saving your life is something to be proud of,” she added. “I want to shout it from the rooftops.”