By Nathalie Bonney @NathalieBonney
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Videographer / director: Shane Brown
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Pete Ansell, James Thorne
At her heaviest, Catherine Shanklin from Oklahoma City, weighed 420lbs, wearing a size 6xl pant size.
Being treated for numerous medical issues including polycystic ovaries, immune disorders, high blood pressure and diabetes, doctors repeatedly warned Catherine she was putting her life at risk if she didn’t lose weight.
Only after multiple warnings and doctors’ insistence that she needed to have a gastric bypass did the childminder discover within herself the reserves needed to lose 260lbs entirely naturally.
But Catherine’s weight loss journey is far from over – now awaiting skin removal surgery to remove the estimated 20lbs of excess skin from her body, health complications have meant she has had to delay having the surgery while her body heals from invasive vein removal procedures.
In spite of it all, Catherine sometimes still can’t believe how far she has come. She told Barcroft TV: “It took me exactly three years to lose the weight.
“It still shocks me when I see pictures and I'm like is that really me?
“I am so glad I stayed the course to do it on my own and opted out of having surgery.”
Describing her relationship with food as her “second soulmate” it became the solution to however she was feeling.
Catherine said: “I feel sad, I am going to eat, I am bored I am going to eat, it is an emotional connection that I had with it that literally I knew I had to break up with it. It is an addiction; I think it is just like a drug or anything else.
“Being 420lbs we would go to an amusement park and I was the one standing on the side lines just waiting there for everybody to have fun. Riding on a plane, I was the person that had to have that extra seat belt all the time and sometimes probably need two or three extenders.
“I was being held back from so many things and just the simple things like tying your own shoe, like being out of breath or going up stairs.”
Doctors repeatedly warned Catherine about her dangerously heavy weight but she only managed to lose small amounts before putting it back on again. After one particular visit to the doctors though, Catherine had a breakthrough moment, where she realised she not only needed to lose weight but that she could do it.
She said: “I will never forget it, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot at the doctor's office and I left the doctor's office again for probably the 18th time that year, being told that I should have gastric bypass surgery. I had told them over and over again: ‘No I can do this on my own.’
“And I remember getting into my car and realizing more than anything that I wanted this, I needed to do this. And I just prayed to God and asked Him that he would give me the strength to be able to do this.”
Sat in her car, Catherine wrote a list of all the reasons to lose the weight and stuck them around her house – “I could look at those and remind myself that it is worth it to keep working on myself.”
Joining a gym, walking then running on trails she used to struggle to just get to the starting point, Catherine’s new healthy lifestyle has been as much about exercise as adopting a healthier diet. Out went the pizzas and fast food, replaced with fresh salads and vegetables she never used to have a taste for.
“It was really just learning portion control and staying away from a lot of processed foods.
“I learned there is flavour in vegetables, which are amazing.”
But with such dramatic weight loss, Catherine has had to deal with large amounts of excess skin that literally weigh her down.
“When I started, I didn't even think about the loose skin part of it.
“I feel like I have a gravity force against me constantly pulling me forward. And even though you try not to let it get in your head it affects you mentally, the way you look at yourself, you did all this hard work and then you look in the mirror and all you see is all this loose skin.”
Catherine was due to have skin removal surgery this summer but in order to have the surgery she had to undergo painful vein removal procedures in her legs
She said: “I ended up having blood costs that were forming. And so it was just one of those things that for safety reasons there was no way to have the surgery.”
Faced with the devastating news that her surgery would be postponed until 2020, all Catherine had to show for her efforts was 400 scar marks on her legs.
She said: “This was supposed to be my victory story of the loose skin being gone but instead now I get to show off the scarring from something that was not supposed to happen.”
“I hope that next year that I am going to have that skin removal surgery.”
The good news is that the money raised so far in Catherine’s GoFundMe campaign will simply remain in her account until she can have the skin removal surgery – and she now has a longer window in which to fundraise.
And if anyone has the ability to keep going after major setbacks, its Catherine.
“What made me succeed is every time I failed, I got back up, dusted myself off and then I would start over again. And guess what it could be the next day that I failed again but I did the same thing I got back up, and I kept trying.”
And for anyone thinking they can’t do the same as Catherine, she has this message:
“This isn't about being the skinniest person or the strongest person. It's about being healthy and being happy with who you are and filling that confidence. It doesn't matter if you're 400, 500 pounds just get out there, just start walking. It's not going to happen overnight but you take those small steps and guess what you're going to fall.
“There's going to be days when you are going to fall flat on your face but when you get back up, every time you get back up it does make you stronger. And I guarantee you anyone can do this. They just have to want it. They have to find that fight.”