November 28, 2015
Jilly Sampson lost almost 100 kilograms, but rather than celebrating, she felt worse than before. And her new problems had nothing to do with fat.
Jilly Sampson, at 40, is funny and articulate, with glossy black hair. Arriving at a deserted CBD cafe on a grey afternoon, she’s wearing a beautifully fitted pencil skirt, a soft pullover, and dark, brilliantly patterned tights: she looks the very archetype of an attractive, successful city professional. Which is exactly what she is, and has been for a long time.
Fifteen years ago, Sampson (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) was working as a solicitor. She had two degrees and significant expertise in assisting women and children. She was intelligent, thoughtful, ambitious. She was also morbidly obese. She weighed 165 kilograms; she is only 163 centimetres tall. As she puts it: “I was, literally, the human cube.” Sampson had always been “a fat kid”; at age seven she weighed 53 kilograms, at eight she started Jenny Craig. She describes herself as a compulsive eater, binge eating for comfort and in response to stress, and as she got older the problem grew worse. Nevertheless, she was a popular teenager – vice-captain of her school – and did well at university.
“I remember lying in a hotel pool once, and all the skin just floated up around me, as if I was lying in a lily pad. It was just hideous.”
But after graduation, as several potential employers rejected her (“I got interviews based on my CV, but basically, the feedback was, ‘Clients won’t have confidence in you because you’re huge,’ ”) and the details of a normal life – romance, a partner, a family – seemed ever more unlikely, she became profoundly depressed. “In my head I was this articulate, hilarious person,” she says, smiling grimly. “But in reality, I could barely get into a suit, let alone walk up to the courthouse. Until I had bariatric surgery, I was facing a short and pathetic life, ending with emergency services removing my colossal, smelly corpse out of my parents’ house.”
In 2000, at 25, she made the decision to have lap band surgery: an inflatable silicone band placed around the top of her stomach to slow and limit food consumption. Over the next five years she lost 75 kilograms, and maintained her new weight of 90 kilograms. In 2007, she travelled to Asia to write a human rights training manual with an international aid organisation. While she was there, she lost 23 kilograms, eventually reaching 67 kilograms; a normal weight for someone of her height, age and gender.
It was, by any measure, a great achievement. Even with surgical intervention, sustained weight loss depends on enormous discipline and huge, permanent changes in lifestyle and mental attitude. Sampson had lost an incredible 98 kilograms, the equivalent of a pro AFL or NRL player: a Matthew Pavlich or a Justin Hodges. Like anyone else in her position, she was sure she’d feel entirely different as a result. All the horrors of morbid obesity, she thought – the health problems, the social ostracism, the self-hatred, the loneliness – were behind her. “I thought losing so much weight would solve everything,” she admits. “I thought my life would be forever rainbows and unicorns.”
As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth. “There was actually no joy in the weight loss,” she says matter-of-factly. “None. Because of the skin. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? I lost nearly 100 kilograms. But I didn’t look any better. “In fact, I looked worse.”