The Big Ward star Lisa Hardy isn't convinced she will be able to fit into any of the outfits our stylist has picked out for the Woman's Day photo shoot. She's astonished when she slips into the clothes with ease.
"I still have fat brain," she concedes. "My body has changed so much, but my brain hasn't caught up yet."
The Hamilton store manager and mental health advocate has shed an amazing 65kg since having bariatric surgery – also known as gastric bypass – in March last year.
Lisa, 49, says, "After surgery, every week, except one, I've lost weight. The kilos have just fallen off me."
Since the operation, the mother-of-two's been able to return to full-time work, which she hadn't been able to do for years because of her depression and anxiety.
"Before surgery, I was on a six-week cycle of, 'I'm OK, then I'm down,'" she explains. "And the downs were so bad that I was getting psychosis. I would be hearing voices – that's how low I got. There was self-harm and things like that. I was on psychosis medication."
She was also taking pills for her blood pressure and cholesterol, antidepressants and blood-thinning medication because she was in stroke territory.
"I was having mini-strokes," says Lisa, who is mum to Kirsty Mils, 29, and DJ Purvis, 27. "But two weeks after the surgery, I was off the blood pressure medication because it was bringing it down too low. Now I'm off everything except my antidepressant!"
She hasn't had a symptom of depression since surgery, which is what motivated her to go under the knife in the first place.
"My psychiatrist Dr Jay mentioned that some of his patients who had weight-loss surgery had been cured of their depression," tells Lisa.
"He said that won't happen with you because yours is chemistry, but it could really help with bringing the symptoms down. He gave me a referral, which led to a team assessing me and saying, yes, I was sick enough and fat enough to go through to Dr Richard Babor's seminar."
Lisa and her husband Chris, 49, listened to what Dr Babor had to say about a gastric bypass. They also heard that Greenstone Pictures, which makes local reality series The Big Ward, was looking for people who underwent the surgery to feature in series two.
"Motivation is everything with me and if I think all of New Zealand is going to be watching me go through this, then I definitely don't want to screw up!" says Lisa.
She took a while to mull over whether to sign up to the surgery – and the TV show – as food had always been her crutch.
"As a child and teenager, I comfort-ate," she says.
"I didn't have a very nice father. He was quite strict and the only thing I could really have pleasure in was eating. I started getting depressed when I hit puberty, probably at 13 or 14, and I didn't medicate with drugs or alcohol – it was always food."
With Chris' support, Lisa decided to go through with it. Her goals were to beat her depression, to be able to wear a necklace on her "chin-neck" and to be able shop at an ordinary store.
She tears up when she remembers buying her first "skinny girl outfit" six months after surgery.
"We went into Forever New and Chris said to me, 'Try this.' I was like, 'There's no way I'm getting into a 14.' I was in the dressing room and I just burst into tears because it fit. The poor salesgirl – I was in the ugly cry. She kind of backed away slowly. Chris turned around and said, 'It's OK – she's lost a lot of weight.'"
Lisa started looking for work in June last year, and loves her job at kitchenware store Stevens. She even relocated to her hometown of Hamilton to manage the Te Awa shop.
"It's a huge change from where I was pre-surgery to where I am now," she enthuses. "I'm a functioning adult in society, which is just incredible."
For others considering bariatric surgery, she warns, "It's not a quick fix. Before I had the operation, I could eat everything I wanted and drink everything I liked, and then I couldn't and it's permanent. You think, 'What the hell have I done to myself? I cannot stand up, I'm dizzy, I'm nauseous and it's a roller-coaster of different symptoms. Your whole life changes, so you've got to be prepared for that."
So what is she replacing food with? "Oh, just sex," she laughs. "I had my first glass of wine yesterday because you can start drinking a year after surgery. I've never been a big drinker anyway. I sniff the cork and I'm off my head. But it was nice to have a glass of wine with my daughter.
"Feeling normal is just wonderful. Feeling normal was my end goal and I'm so normal now, it's great."
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