At just 27, Claire Burt found herself struggling with everything from walking down the street to going to the bathroom alone.
Having battled various eating disorders since her teens, binge eating had taken over her life to the point where she weighed over 150 kilos in March this year.
That wasn’t even her heaviest weight; just six weeks later Claire tipped the scales at 170 kilos.
Not only was the weight affecting her physically, it had left her in a deep depression and totally cut off from the world.
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“I was completely done with everything. I was mentally and physically past the point of no return,” she tells 9Honey over the phone.
In the last decade she has lost and gained weight too many times to count, always putting the lost weight back on – plus more.
“I’ve tried every diet you can think of, every medication, I’ve paid money for fad diets,” she says. “For 27 years of my life it was a constant battle and it took its toll.”
In fact, had Claire not been given the chance to have gastric sleeve surgery this year, she’s sure she “would have ended up eating herself to death.”
She had been preparing herself physically and emotionally for the operation that was meant to change her life, originally scheduled for March.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, New Zealandwent into lockdown, and the surgery was cancelled two days before it was due to happen.
It was a devastating blow for Claire, who was battling crippling pain from her excess weight and rapidly deteriorating mental health.
With no clue when the surgery would happen, if at all, Claire slipped into an “even darker place” and turned to food, gaining an extra 20 kilos in just six weeks.
Feeling hopeless, there’s no knowing how far she could have gone if she hadn’t received an unexpected call from her doctors in April.
“They said, ‘How would you feel about having surgery in five days?’ and I said, ‘Yes, absolutely, 100 per cent’,” she recalls.
Five days later, she was wheeled into the operating room and put under. When she woke up, everything changed.
“As soon as I woke up from the surgery, my brain was at complete peace. It was like my brain knew that this was a life changing experience,” she says.
“Ever since then, I haven’t had one thought about obsessing over food, not one binge thought. It’s like that extreme addiction that I had to food has completely disappeared.”
While her mental state seemed to improve in the blink of an eye, Claire’s body was a different story.
Her body initially rejected the surgery, which saw 80 per cent of her stomach removed. Rare complications left her fighting for life as her organs even shut down at one point.
Unable to hold down any food or liquid for weeks at another stage, Claire was shocked to realise that people still judged her for her size, even as she was fighting malnutrition.
“People think ‘oh she’s big, she can’t be malnourished’, but that’s literally what happened,” she says.
After two corrective surgeries, Claire’s body finally accepted the changes and began healing after a torturous recovery period.
But as she finally began dropping weight, Claire was shocked to encounter even more hate and stigma for “taking the easy way out”.
Despite battling an eating disorder and weight gain for decades, people criticised Claire for undergoing the surgery she believes very likely saved her life.
“Would you rather I continue down this path and die?” she asked of critics.
“I was completely isolated [by my weight], I wasn’t living a normal life, I was completely detached from the world mentally.”
If surgery can change that for someone, she says, why on earth shouldn’t that person seek it out?
As for claims surgery is the “easy way out”, the complications that almost killed her, the cost and the emotional and physical strain of surgery are proof that isn’t the case.
But Claire doesn’t blame the individuals for their harmful views; instead, she cites a lack of compassion and education around issues like binge eating disorder.
“People look at a bigger person and think they’re just lazy and eat too much… but it’s not as easy or as simple as that,” she says.
With fatness still something of a taboo topic, health and mental issues that can contribute to obesity often go undiscussed in day-to-day conversation, and it’s hurting fat people.
“When you think of an eating disorder, people think of skin and bone like anorexia and bulimia, because binge eating disorder isn’t talked about enough,” Claire explains.
“When people go and ask for help from their doctor or an eating disorder clinic, they go, ‘You’re fine, you’re not dying yet, you’re still big so you’re actually fine’. They’re not looked at as a priority.”
Though binge eating disorder is scarily common, it simply isn’t talked about openly and many people who may be suffering from it don’t even know what it is.
That’s why Claire chose to share her own experience with the illness on her Instagram page ‘Life of a Binge Eater’, where she shared the highs and lows of her eating disorder.
She says too many people aren’t diagnosed with binge eating disorder because they don’t have the education to see the signs and symptoms, so she hoped to raise awareness by sharing her own story.
“I’m trying to open that conversation up,” she says. “It might save them years of torture… if they can just go and get help.”
Now she uses the page to share her milestones after surgery, from losing over 80 kilos to fitting into clothes she never thought she’d wear again.
Showing off incredible transformation photos and a newfound love for her body, Claire’s page is filled with hope and encouragement.
“It was the best thing I could’ve done for myself,” she says of the surgery she had in April.
“It’s only been seven months and everything is all new and exciting, but every time I hit a milestone… it’s just amazing.”
Her mental state has totally changed as she embraces a new happier, healthier life and discovers a new sense of self love.
Along with losing almost half her bodyweight, Claire has been able to throw herself into the active lifestyle she missed out on for years. Not to mention, she looks pretty damn good too.
As for the battle to get to her surgery and the life-threatening complications, she says she’d brave it all again in a heartbeat to be where she is now.
“It’s like I’m finally starting my life now. It’s been on hold for 27 years and it’s like my life is actually starting now,” she says.
Where to get help for an eating disorder
- 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor.
- Healthline 0800 611 116, available 24/7
- EDANZ 0800 2 EDANZ – Support for family of those with an eating disorder.
- If you think you are suffering from an eating disorder, see your GP immediately for a referral to specialist services.
- If it is an emergency or you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.
This story first appeared on Nine Honey and is republished with permission.