Wicklow Rose who underwent gastric band surgery: 'I lost 13 stone following the surgery, but I found that I just wasn't that happy still'
Jane Harrison (26) has overcome body shamers and low self-esteem to become this year's Wicklow Rose in the Rose of Tralee. She tells our reporter why a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body
Wicklow Rose Jane Harrison (26) had battled with her weight most of her life. In February 2011, however, aged 21 and weighing 23 stone, she had gastric band surgery to assist her weight-loss.
"I feel like there is a huge stigma to weight-loss surgery. It is something that scares me to talk about, but at the same time I would like people to know that it is definitely not the easy way out," Jane says.
"I remember lying there in pain thinking I would never put myself through it again. It is definitely a wake-up call. There are thousands of people getting it done every year and many people are afraid to say it, in case they might be looked at as cheaters almost.
"It was the hardest route I have tried and I tried them all; I tried liquid diets, I tried dietitians, everything."
Jane's weight began to decrease rapidly in the year-and-a-half that followed her surgery, but her mindset remained the same, causing her self-esteem to plummet even further.
"At that point I still had not dealt with the real problems that had led to my weight gain," Jane explains. "So I lost 13 stone, but had yet to acknowledge that the overeating and the unhealthy lifestyle were caused by my self-esteem issues.
"I lost the weight and then became obsessed with trying to maintain it; I was going to external people and things to get my happiness because overeating was no longer an option for me.
"You just turn those destructive habits to something else unless you really deal with it," Jane adds. "I felt so defeated when I managed to get down to 10 stone at one point and would go out and get a few compliments, but I would go home and still feel empty."
Over time, Jane learned to address the self-esteem issues she had developed in childhood: "From the age of 12 I was going to nutritionists and child dietitians. So my weight was an issue throughout my entire childhood."
"My parents were my backbone growing up and they knew I just couldn't get my overeating under control even throughout my teens and they helped me try every angle.
"I went on a liquid diet once for 16 weeks and I lost about four stone in six weeks, but I put it back on in double, everything was just short term because there was something not right underneath it all.
"From about maybe 13, when you start going out to discos and everybody is wearing fab clothes that you cannot, that is when you start to realise 'well maybe I am a bit different,' but I have always had the best group of friends and family around me so I was never bullied as such, but you would hear comments and jabs."
Being overweight for such a long period left Jane feeling like she was still the overweight person in every room.
"I lost quite a lot of the weight following the surgery, but I found that I just wasn't that happy still," Jane explains. "I thought that someday, I was just going to wake up at my goal weight and be a happier person. I thought the weight and the taunting was the problem, but it wasn't, the issue was the way I looked at myself; after years of being overweight, I just didn't feel like I was worth anything and I felt as if I still needed approval from people."
Happily, Jane has now learned to care less about what others think. "It's not that I don't care anymore - because everyone cares to a certain extent about what other people think of them - but I don't let it get to me anymore," she says. "I know that I am not going to be everyone's piece of cake, but what I have realised over time is that nobody is; you cannot please everyone.
"When you are overweight for so long you think weight loss is the answer to everything," Jane says.
"I was always living for the 'when' so 'when I lose a bit more weight I will do this or that,' but now I am at a stage where I don't put things off.
"I could have said 'I will lose three stone and I will apply for the Rose of Tralee next year,' but why? What is the difference? One very important thing I have learned is to try and accept who you are while you are losing weight because I did not, and I hit a low as a result of that."
Over time, Jane's mind has thankfully caught up with her body.
"It took some big realisations and I definitely had to get in touch with myself a lot more. I got into spirituality and meditation and began to just work out what I want in life," Jane explains. "Now I know my triggers and when I've disconnected from the path I am on and I know how to get back on it."
Jane, who put off going to college after school because of her low self-esteem, is now enrolled on a college course in Communications and will represent Wicklow in the 2016 Rose of Tralee.
"I have decided to go for things I want now and not hold myself back and that is a huge part of why I entered the Rose of Tralee. I am definitely not at my dream weight and there are 100 things I would like to change about my figure, and I will still go to the gym and attempt to, but it doesn't consume me anymore like it did a few years ago," she says.
"When I go down to Tralee, it is going to be two weeks of food and drink and that doesn't freak me out at all, whereas two years ago the prospect of not having complete control over what I am eating would have really freaked me out," Jane admits. "I have a healthy approach to food and exercise now and I know what foods I can have and what I cannot have; I think when you just realise you want to be happy for yourself rather than others, that is when everything really clicks into place."
Health & Living