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TV producer Jules Coll: 'Overeating and hormones made me fat... a gastric bypass made me thin'

After piling on the pounds in her teens, TV producer Jules Coll tried every fad diet in the book to lose weight. At 19, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition which leads to, among other things, weight gain. At 36, she made the decision to undergo gastric bypass surgery, and to document her journey for TV

Published 28/09/2015 | 02:30

Jules Coll post surgery, and 10 stone lighter. Photo: Ronan Melia.
Jules Coll post surgery, and 10 stone lighter. Photo: Ronan Melia.

I love watching weight-loss programmes on TV.

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Especially extreme weight loss. I always found myself crying at the end of the show when the person transformed and became slim.

Jules Coll pre weight loss
Jules Coll pre weight loss

Half of me was crying because I was so happy for them and the other half of me was crying because I was envious that they'd achieved it.

Well this year, aged 36, after spending years working behind the camera as the writer and producer of RTE2's Damo & Ivor, I stepped into the spotlight as I documented my nine-stone weight loss after undergoing gastric bypass surgery which enabled me to go from 19 stone and a size 22 to 10 stone and a size 10.

Surgery? Are you mad? I probably am, but it's turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I can hear you wondering if I did anything to combat my weight before making the decision to go under the knife and have a surgeon rearrange my insides. Of course I did.

If there was a Miss Fad Diet competition I would have brought home the gold medal for Ireland. I tried all sorts of diets, weight-loss programmes and exercise plans. I was only short of using superglue as lipgloss, but nothing ever gave me long-term results and I'd always end up piling back on the pounds, plus interest.

Jules Coll post surgery, and 10 stone lighter. Photo: Ronan Melia.
Jules Coll post surgery, and 10 stone lighter. Photo: Ronan Melia.

I would consider myself to be quite knowledgeable about nutrition. One week I'd be knocking back shots of wheatgrass and making courgetti while up to my eyebrows in chia seeds and quinoa and I'd be loving myself on my healthy buzz.

I'd feel great and be taking photos of my superfood salad and hashtagging it on Instagram so everyone could see how pure and wholesome I was.

Then the weekend would rock around and I'd go out on the lash and start milling in the double vodka and Red Bulls and I'd wake up feeling horrendous and so dehydrated I'd look like ET.

I'd try to cure the hangover with pizza and copious cups of tea with buttery toast and before I'd know it I'd be off the wagon again and back to eating rubbish like chocolate, crisps and chicken fillet rolls dripping in mayonnaise from the deli counter.

No consistency. No will power. That was my problem. Why couldn't I just get it together and stick with it? I just don't know.

I was a slim child and at the age of 14 I got my first period and from the start they were always irregular. At 19 I started to pile on the pounds and the more weight I put on the more irregular my periods became until I was only getting one or maybe two a year.

I knew something wasn't right with my hormones and menstrual cycle so I went to my GP who sent me to a specialist and I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Finally, I was getting some clarity as to why I was overweight.

But was I fat just because I had PCOS? No, I was overweight because I bleedin' shovelled too much food in my mouth, I did as much exercise as a sloth on valium and I was addicted to sugar which is a dangerous combination when you have PCOS as it makes you prone to weight gain due to hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance.

Basically my body didn't know how to process carbohydrates so instead of turning them into energy to fuel my body, it just converted them to fat and stored them in my gigantic thighs. Cheers hormones, cheers.

After reading up on PCOS, which affects 40pc of Irish women, I discovered that the most effective way to deal with it is to lose weight so that the hormones balance out.

But isn't that what I've been trying to do for 15 years now and it's been like pissing in the wind? Can I not just print myself a slim body on a 3D printer please? I had another bar of chocolate while I pondered what to do next.

I continued to balloon and I felt like I was imprisoned in my own body. I couldn't shake the feeling that this wasn't what I was supposed to look - or most importantly - feel like.

As I looked at my bloated pillow face in the mirror I felt at a loss about what to do. In every other aspect of my life I was a high achiever and when I put my mind to it I reached my goal, but when it came to my weight I just couldn't get a handle on it no matter how hard I tried.

I couldn't face getting on the weighing scales and was unaware that by the age of 35 I weighed a whopping 19 stone. I was wearing size 22 clothes and my thoughts about my weight consumed me. I couldn't cross my legs. I could only wear flat shoes.

I found myself grunting loudly as I tried to haul myself up when getting up off the sofa. I was always sweating. I felt terrible and hated what I looked like. Even though I always made an effort with my hair and make up and I wore clothes to flatter my flab, I was miserable about my appearance.

While watching yet another weight-loss show on TV, with my tears rolling down my face, I wondered what was the deep-rooted emotional reason behind my over eating? I could easily see it in other people in these TV programmes - they'd been bullied, abused, gone through a divorce, grief, had a tough childhood.

But what was my deep dark chasm from the past? What void was I trying to fill? I couldn't think of anything.

I had a wonderful childhood. I've lived a charmed life. I've always been happy. So what was the emotional reason behind my ever increasing Jabba the Hutt-type physique? Because I knew there always was one!

So I went to my GP and asked him to send me to a psychiatrist who would try and help me work it out. After a two-hour in-depth chat about my life, my past, and my medical history, the psychiatrist came to the conclusion that I just had PCOS and my weight was due to this medical problem. Okay, well at least they weren't putting me in a straight jacket and wheeling me off to the looney bin. Great. My mind is apparently sound but my hormones are fecked. What am I going to do now?

So that's when I started looking into weight-loss surgery. I'm the kind of person that when something needs to be done I'll say 'Stand back everyone this is a job for Jules! Nobody's gonna do it as well as I will so I'll do it all!' But for the first time I had to reach out for help and say I can't do this by myself. I needed an intervention.

I read up a lot about bariatric surgery online, I even watched the operation on YouTube - and yes it made me queasy but I continued researching over the course of a year so I could learn as much as possible about it to ensure I was making the right decision as this is not just booking a holiday - this is surgery!

After discussing it with my GP I went for a consultation with a bariatric surgeon in a reputable private hospital in Dublin. (I did look into other places to get it done, including abroad because it was cheaper, but then I thought 'What am I thinking? Another country are you mad? What if something went wrong? What if I turned up and the surgery was in a back alley with some dodgy surgeon?' Feck that. Also the thoughts of flying after surgery made me worry and looking back on it now and knowing what it's like to recover from the operation, the last place I'd want to be is in another country let alone on an airplane).

So that's why I went to a renowned hospital with a top-class surgeon as this was going to be one of the most serious things I'd ever do in my life, so if I was going to do it then I was going to do it right. After nine months of consultations (they really make sure you're not just after a quick fix) I was approved for gastric bypass surgery. What a day! I felt so excited, relieved and full of hope.

I began my preparation for surgery by looking online for other people who'd been on the journey, and while there were lots of amazing before and after photos, I couldn't find any videos of people sharing their experience.

So I decided I'd take my video camera and vlog my journey and share it on YouTube in the hope it would help others who were considering surgery as an option. Then I was called into RTE for a meeting about a project they wanted me to work on, but I had to tell them I wasn't going to be around for a few months as I was going for weight-loss surgery and I was going to vlog the experience for YouTube, and they asked if I was going to vlog it anyway would I be interested in making a TV documentary about it?

I was thrilled. Why hadn't I thought of that idea? I'm a TV producer for God's sake. Sign me up! We started prep and the wonderful Ruth Carter who had produced Damo & Ivor with us and director Aoife Kelleher (One Million Dubliners) stepped in to help me tell my story, and filming began.

Now you'll see the journey I go on when you watch the documentary and I wanted to make a programme that was as honest as possible. I did the scariest thing ever and I stood in front of the camera at 19 stone in my bra and knickers, with all my rolls of fat and cellulite hanging out and I talked about how I felt about my body.

At that point I had a 43-inch waist, 50-inch hips and each thigh measured 30 inches. Then I had the gastric bypass surgery and you will see what that was like and the recovery.

I spoke to nutritional therapist Elsa Jones about my diet and had a light-bulb eureka moment with her about the emotional reasons behind why I was overweight (so there was a reason). Personal trainer Karl Henry got me sweating like a pig to look like a fox and gave me some fitness challenges - even a feckin triathlon.

I am now happier than I dreamed possible and when I look at my reflection in the mirror and I see what my hard work has achieved, I feel like Beyonce herself has appeared beside me on a pearlescent cloud, nodded at me and whispered "Fierce!"

'Nine Stone Lighter', RTE2, October 1, 9.30pm

Read more here: Damo and Ivor writer Jules Coll on her gastric bypass: 'Buying size 10 clothes beats the taste of any pizza'  

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