By Emma Pearson @emma_pear
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Chubby schoolgirl Sarah Sjoholm weighed in at 18st when she was just 16 and ballooned to a whopping 23st 6lbs by the time she was 25.
Sarah, from Leeds, was so big that she struggled to fit in chairs in restaurants and was taunted by groups of men on nights out who called her a ‘fat sl*g’.
But now after gastric bypass surgery, Sarah has shed her size 28 smocks for slinky size 12 dresses, and is turning heads for all the right reasons.
Sarah, now 28, said: “I was always the biggest girl in the school, even in the primary, and as I got older the weight just kept piling on.
“I was always picked on in the playground, I came to accept it was just part of being big.
“The bullies called me ‘beach ball’ and ‘fatty’. I tried to ignore them but the names did hurt.”
It was an accident on a school trip to Amsterdam that really caused Sarah’s weight to soar.
Then sixteen and tipping the scales at 18 stone, Sarah took a tumble whilst ice-skating, badly crushing the bones in her ankle.
For two years Sarah was unable to walk and the immobility took its toll on her size.
By the time she was able to walk again, 18-year-old Sarah weighed 21st.
Desperately unhappy and fearing for her health, she embarked on a grueling gym routine and successfully lost four stone, but more health complications were to set her back again.
Sarah said: “I started developing abscesses in my sweat glands around my armpits and groin which left me in unbearable pain.
“They were so extreme that I had to have operations to drain and pack them and once again I was unable to move and exercise.
“It took another two years for them to heal and I piled on all of the weight I had lost and more.”
Sarah visited her GP and was put on a healthy eating program but struggled to maintain any weight loss.
And the cruel jaunts and jibes she had experienced in the schoolyard were nothing compared to the taunts from men in clubs and on the street.
Sarah said: “I’ve had groups of men come up to me randomly and call me a fat b*tch. It was really hard.
“My weight was always on my mind. Any time I would go into a restaurant I’d worry that I wouldn’t fit in the chair and struggling to get up was embarrassing.”
By the time she was 24, Sarah weighed 23st 6lbs, and when her doctor suggested weight loss surgery, she jumped at the opportunity.
Sarah was deemed eligible for gastric bypass surgery, where the majority of the stomach is permanently removed, on the NHS.
And after a two-year wait for the op, Sarah successfully underwent surgery in March 2012 aged 26.
Before the operation, Sarah would eat two slices of buttery toast, a sandwich for lunch and a dinner of meat and potatoes, picking at snacks throughout the day.
But after the bypass she struggled to eat at all for six months, surviving on soup and liquidised food.
The weight immediately started dropping off and Sarah’s size 28 clothes were soon hanging off her shrinking frame.
Now, three years on, she is able to eat anything she wants in small portions, but tends to stick to a healthy diet of fruit and veg.
And at 12 stone, Sarah has shed 11 stone six pounds – almost half of her body weight.
She said: “I never realised how big I was until I lost the weight.
“Even just moving around the house and getting up from the sofa was a struggle before.
“I was too scared to sit on the floor when I was big in case I couldn’t get back up but now I feel like I have a new lease of life.”
Since her weight loss Sarah has been promoted in her job as a sales account manager and credits her shrinking waistline for her success at work.
And now she is getting attention for all the right reasons.
She said: “It feels so strange to get attention from men. I still find it difficult to accept that their appreciation is genuine.
“I still see myself as that big person and when I do get male attention it freaks me out.
“I have noticed that people treat me differently and it’s sad really that people can be so shallow.
“I’m the same person whether I’m fat or thin and the way society treats fat people is really quite depressing.”
“My confidence has soared and I feel like I can do anything now – I could take on the world.
“I’m a lot more adventurous and find myself saying ‘yes’ to a lot more opportunities.
Sarah is currently single, but insists her weight loss wasn’t for anyone but herself.
She said: “I didn’t lose weight to find a man, I did it for me, and I’m happier than ever.
“I would recommend weight loss surgery to anyone considering it in a heartbeat, it’s completely changed my life.”