Real Life

70kgs lighter: How Veronica saved her own life

The Big Ward star is scoring high on the happiness scales.

Veronica Tawhai calls them her non-scale victories, or NSVs for short. They’re the everyday things that are now easier, or in some cases newly possible, thanks to the fact that she’s a staggering 70kg lighter than she used to be.

Losing the weight means more than just decreasing numbers on the scales and fitting into smaller clothes. It means little triumphs such as being able to cross her legs, do up jackets and play a game of netball.

These may seem fairly insignificant to others, but to Veronica, they are evidence of the huge transformation her life has undergone.

“I do feel like a different person,” she says. Veronica’s amazing weight-loss journey featured in the TVNZ documentary series The Big Ward.

The mum-of-three from Pukekohe was one of six people followed by TV cameras as they prepared for, then underwent, bariatric surgery.

The Big Ward shows the ups and downs of having the life-altering operation, and although she finds it strange being on TV and getting recognised by people, solo mum Veronica (43) is glad she took part in the programme.

She wasn’t keen to start with but decided “if I could help just one other person by sharing what I had been through, it would be worth it”.

One of the benefits of doing the programme was that members of the production team were a great support, both before and after the operation.

“They’d ring and see how I was, and I could share my highs and lows with them. It was good knowing they were on my side.”

The mum-of-three no longer rewards herself with food like she used to – instead she has her nails done.

Veronica also got lots of support from other people she met who were going through the same thing.

She would have been lost without her mum Carol and her youngest child, daughter Sophie (now 15), by her side as she faced the challenges of the surgery.

“People think it is the easy way of losing weight, but believe me, it isn’t,” insists Veronica, whose oldest children Daely (25) and Darcie (22) no longer live at home.

“It changes so many things, such as what you can and can’t eat. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I didn’t realise just how hard it would be.”

Office worker Veronica started gaining weight in her early 20s after she had her second child. She suffered from postnatal depression and was prescribed medication.

“My eating wasn’t good, but I think it was mainly due to the medication – I gained 55kg.”

At her heaviest, Veronica got up to 169kg and experienced health problems, particularly pain in her knees due to arthritis.

She tried many times to lose weight, shedding 29kg with Weight Watchers, but put it back on. She joined a gym and a walking group but only lost a few kilos, despite working hard.

At her largest, she wore size 28 tops and pants – and suffered osteoarthritis problems. Right: Her 40th birthday part

Trying to shed excess kilos was made even harder by the fact that she suffered anxiety attacks after having children.

“I found it hard to cope. Going to the supermarket was one of the worst things – it made me feel so panicky that I wouldn’t go. It was easier to get takeaways.”

It was a vicious circle – the more anxious she was, the more weight she gained and the heavier she was, the greater her anxiety became.

“I was too scared to go out,” tells Veronica. “I was paranoid that people were judging me.”

The anxiety has eased a lot thanks to intensive therapy, but she knew she would also need help to slim down.

Veronica was referred for bariatric surgery after an orthopaedic surgeon told her losing weight was the only way to help with her knee pain.

She got down to 140kg to have the operation in March last year and has lost a further 41kg.

Now she can only consume tiny portions and can’t have things like pasta, rice and bread because they make her feel uncomfortable.

She can’t eat and drink at the same time, and she has to carefully chew her food so she can digest it.

Side effects of the surgery have included hair loss, which has thankfully stopped, and she has also been left with excess skin, which she’d like to have surgically removed.

Teenager Sophie has been a huge support to Veronica and they enjoy exercising together. “I’m so proud of my mum and it is good to see her so happy,” she says.

But then there are all the benefits of weight loss – Veronica’s NSVs.

“Little things like not needing a seat-belt extender when I fly and being able to put the tray table all the way down feel so good,” says Veronica, who is now 99kg and would like to get down to 87kg.

“I can walk without waddling, run in short bursts and I have even played netball, which I love.

“One thing I am looking forward to is being able to get life insurance – I couldn’t get it before because of my weight.”

When someone mentioned she looked taller as well as slimmer, she thought they were imagining it.

“But my personal trainer said they were right – I’ve got more confidence so I am standing taller. I’m a new me!”

Words: Donna Fleming

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