Anita Ahmetaj – How I changed my body and my life
I was born in Pristina, Kosovo forty one years ago and have been living in London since 1991. I’m a mother of a three year old daughter; Beatrice, from my partner, whom I’ve been in a relationship with for nearly twenty years.
I was only eighteen when I came to live in London, and I left home at such a young age due to the political situation in Kosovo that was rapidly deteriorating and which continued to worsen until 1999. At the time, there was no future for my generation, further education was becoming impossible, as all universities teaching in the Albanian language were closed by the Serbian regime. Moreover, unemployment was rife and there was no potential to explore or enjoy the luxury of being young. This led to myself and many of my generation being forced from our homes, families and communities to pursue lives abroad.
I arrived in London – I had to survive… pursuing work that I could quickly find… to pay my rent, bills and most importantly, support my family back home, who desperately needed financial aid.
My dream at the time was to become a Fashion Designer, however, when I arrived in London, it was not so easy to dream. I had to adapt to a different world, culturally, linguistically and emotionally and most importantly I had to survive. This meant pursuing work that I could quickly find, which was in restaurants and bars; work that allowed me to pay my rent, bills and most importantly, support my family back home, who desperately needed financial aid. This was due to the severity of events unfolding in Kosovo, in which the majority of native Albanians were either being fired from their employment positions, or if they had managed to hold on to them, were now working for very low incomes.
Nevertheless, although I had worked extremely hard and acquired so many skills in London, through both work and studying, there was something always missing for me, in that I had yet to complete my University education. I believe that this came from deep within and was related to my heritage and upbringing where the expectation placed on a University degree from both my parents and their extended families, was that it was highly valued and fundamentally important.
Proudly I have to say that in 2013, I completed my BSc in Psychology and during my studies, I also became a Mother to my beautiful little girl Beatrice. Without a doubt, I see her and the effort and reward of my degree as the two greatest achievements in my life, something that makes me extremely happy.
I was a chubby little girl and all my life, weight was an issue. However, as my appearance mattered to me, I must admit that despite my size, I always tried to dress beautifully and valued being creative with fashion and how I looked. When I think of that, I now understand the compliments of others especially ‘only you can pull this look off’, commendations that made me smile and gave me pride in myself.
When I became pregnant, I was also overweight but thankfully health wise, I was considered ‘as healthy as someone without extra weight’, the words of my midwife. Nevertheless, my weight was a consideration and further tests were at times necessary as a result. Furthermore, as pregnancy naturally provokes weight gain, I found myself definitely larger following the birth of my beautiful daughter.
It is a myth that as soon as you have your baby you will lose your extra weight within months, personally I didn’t, though I managed to comfortably lose half a stone. However, I was now weighing considerably more than I did before my pregnancy, and with the deep hope for another baby and realising that my weight could affect both my health and that of my potential child’s, I decided that drastic and courageous action was necessary.
This led me to the decision to undergo a gastric bariatric operation and under the advice of my GP and following inspiration from the success of friends who had also had this surgery, a consultation appointment was made at the University College Hospital London. It took less than six months after the initial consultation at the hospital, for the date of surgery to materialise, and after following a restrictive diet for four weeks, on the 28th of November 2013, I had a gastric sleeve operation.
Struggle to re-educate yourself to new methods of eating is mentally very hard… you could find yourself feeling very sick or often not hungry at all.
I was very lucky in that I had lots of help from my partner and also support from my friends, nevertheless, I must admit that it has been a very tough journey and it is very difficult to adapt to completely new ways of eating both biologically and socially. The first six weeks post-surgery were particularly gruelling, as my new diet consisted of only liquids for two weeks, then blended food for another two weeks and finally, a slow introduction to mashed food, the last as an analogy, is similar to the process of introducing solids to babies.
Moreover, the struggle to re-educate yourself to new methods of eating is mentally very hard, and if for some reason you don’t follow the rules simply because you are still learning a completely different method in your eating lifestyle, you could find yourself feeling very sick or often not hungry at all. This was due to my stomach now being the size of a banana, as 70% was removed, and therefore its capacity, is small and only able to handle a certain amount of food or liquid.
Nevertheless, gradually the body adapts, and the positive thing is when you step on the scale and you see how much weight you have lost. While the reaction of family and friends was so encouraging and makes you feel better, even though at times you’re struggling.
I still think that going through surgery and undergoing a bariatric operation should be considered as a last option, after all other avenues of weight loss methods have been tried.
If I could give advice to anyone undergoing this procedure or even others, it would be a big no to drinks with gas, and stop dieting as the operation is designed to help you manage and enjoy eating less. Also do not restrict yourself from food you love, simply eat everything but in small quantities, because if you stop eating the food you love and if you get bored of eating only whatever diet chosen allows you to, than you’re at risk of stretching your smaller stomach and not only regaining the weight you will lose, but perhaps even more in the years to follow.
I am extremely happy with the weight target that I have achieved and the clothes sizes that I am wearing and the wonderful compliments that I am showered with every day. However, I still think that going through surgery and undergoing a bariatric operation should be considered as a last option, after all other avenues of weight loss methods have been tried.
Nevertheless, although it has been tough, it has also been a successful journey and a very emotional one too. So many positive things have happened following my surgery and resultant weight loss, I took part in Race for Life 2014, where along with a group of ladies we ran five miles and we raised money for cancer research, including shaving all my hair off for charity and donating the proceeds to an organisation which makes wigs for children undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
My next plan is to open a charity or trust within my community so that as a unit we can collectively assist through donation and other charitable work, all whom we can and know in my home country, Kosovo, which needs our help now more than ever.