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Life In The Fat Lane: Part 2


Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 Life In The Fat Lane: Part 2

In continuance of our series ‘Life In The Fat Lane,’we can now look at Ken Clare’s story.

In essence by the time Ken was 40, he weighed inexcess of thirty stone. At his heaviest he weighed in heavier than 34 stone.

His background was that he had always been a large child, however the weight started to go out of control when he became a psychiatric nurse, and later a manager in the NHS, a stressful job that left him with little time. “So I ate junk food, takeaways,” he says. “I would come home at night and use alcohol as a sedative.” Food, he says, was inextricably linked with his emotional state. “I would eat when I was happy and I’d eat when I was sad.”

He now works near Liverpool in a hospital as a specialist nurse and counsellor for people about to undergo weight-loss surgery. He had a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass in 2002, which reduces the size of the stomach and attaches it directly to the small intestine, thereby reducing the amount of fat that can be absorbed.

Clare had tried every diet possible, he had also taken the obesity drug, but alas none of it worked. For Clare, losing weight was one thing, keeping it off was another.

Surgery was indeed his last option as going on the way he was, would have definitely killed him.

Moreover he has lost inexcess of 16 stone as a consequence of the operation, but he says, “You probably think I’m fat now, but I’m a shadow of my former self,” he says. After his operation, he set up his online support group Weight Loss Surgery Information Forum (wlsinfo.org.uk), which has more than 10,000 members.

The downside of his everyday life was that as an obese person he was prevalent to skin infections etc. He recalls, “It was embarrassing being a healthcare professional and getting knackered walking up the stairs, sweating. I would have to put pins in my shirts because I was always popping my buttons.” He got a senior job in the NHS but failed the medical. “I went home and cried. I felt I couldn’t tell people because I had got this job on my merits, except I was too fat to do it.”

Notwithstanding, as a big man he was given a disabled parking badge as his mobility was so poor. Clare would actually get to work two hours before necessary just so he could access the nearest parking space. He would have to shop in specialist shops for his clothes and he states, Shirts for big men tend to be very loud, which announce your presence. I would wear these Hawaiian shirts, burst in the room. I was always larger than life and people would say, ‘You can really cope with being big, it doesn’t bother you.’ But inside, I was wrecked.

Furthermore the sad reality being obese brought other anxieties such as there were times when I was the biggest person in the room at a conference. I couldn’t walk because I was in pain - I was on crutches. You worry about breaking chairs. It starts limiting your life. If we were going out to a restaurant, I’d send my wife in first to check the chairs were OK and there was enough room to get through to the table. I stopped going to family occasions.”

Thus the knock on effect from a psychological stance suggests the ramifications for a whole person suffering from obesity was very emotionally and psychologically damaging.

Finally, Clare talks about the issues surrounding “obesophobia” as “the last bastion of prejudice. he argues fundamentally that there is a lot of negativity on both personal and professional levels. He adds, that many doctors do not like obesity. Clare understands the complexities and he says, It is self-inflicted but, to me, it’s a complex disease,” says Clare. “I see a lot of parallels with alcohol and drug abuse. I think, for me, there was a big emotional component to eating and an addictive element.” Clare was never offered counselling on the NHS, but has had cognitive therapy since his operation, which has helped. “Not everyone I work with is a food addict, and I wouldn’t describe people as ‘food addicts’ because you can end up alienating some people, but I have an addictive personality.”

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