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Living with obesity: ‘You would lose three stone in two weeks, but then in four weeks you would put 3½ back on’

Having felt a sense of shame and failure for years, bariatric surgery proved life-changing for electrical contractor Joe Meade

Electrical contractor Joe Meade struggled with shame and a sense of failure for decades over the size of his body.

Ever since giving up playing soccer in his late 20s, his weight began to creep up. Other family members were heavy, “but I was more than that”, he says.

“What I would eat is what a normal man would eat. But everything that I would eat, worked against my body and I just put on weight. That’s the way my genes were.”

He was never a binge eater but the weight accumulated, reaching a high of 143kg (22½ stone) despite trying umpteen diets.


“I did 10 days on oranges and 10 days on water,” he recalls. “You would lose three stone in two weeks but then in four weeks you would put 3½ back on. Pure madness, but these were the things you would do thinking you could beat it. But you just can’t.”

With high readings for cholesterol and blood glucose, he knew he was on the borderline for “a hell of a lot of stuff”.

But it was only when he heard endocrinologist Dr Donal O’Shea speaking on the radio one day, about how obesity is now recognised as a disease rather than a life choice, that Joe realised he needed medical help. By that stage, “I had probably put on and lost over 40 stone. The more I did it, the more I failed”, he says

Having learnt that his private health insurance would cover the cost of bariatric surgery, he researched the options and found William Robb at Dublin’s Blackrock Clinic. A general and upper gastrointestinal surgeon, Robb performed the first robotic gastric bypass in Ireland in November 2017.

“The primary goal of bariatric surgery is to improve patients’ health rather than simply providing meaningful weight loss,” says Robb. “It is typically considered for individuals with a BMI of 40 or higher even if they have no diagnosed medical complications of their obesity.”

It may also be done those with a lower BMI (35 to 40) if they have obesity-related health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension or sleep apnoea.

The operations, the most common of which are the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy, work by altering the stomach and intestines to restrict the dietary capacity and may also reduce absorption of nutrients. A psychological assessment is part of pre-surgery evaluation, to ensure patients are prepared for the significant lifestyle changes that will follow and to commit to measures such as dietary modifications, regular exercise and ongoing medical follow-up.

Joe, now aged 62, says he felt at ease in the run-up to his gastric bypass in March 2022.

“The preparation I had to do was to stop preparing. I had been preparing for diets all of my life. I decided I was going to stop the planning and stop the expectation. It was to give in to it almost.”

But he did wonder if he would ever be able to dine out in a restaurant again, go out for a drink, enjoy life on board a cruise ship.

“I had joined a gym many times but for the first time ever I looked forward to going to the gym.”

“The minute I went down for the operation, I had no nerves whatsoever. I had the sense ‘it’s done’.”

All bariatric surgery in the Blackrock Clinic is performed with robotic technology which, as the surgeon explains, “allows for greater precision and accuracy and reduced operation times for patients”.

“Mr Robb sits in the corner, like on a PlayStation, and he does the surgery from there,” says Joe.

Although the first couple of weeks recovering from surgery were difficult, after that “everything became so much easier. Your head space changes,” he explains. Daily life became very “natural” because he no longer had hunger pangs and cravings.

Within months, having lost 19-25kg at that stage, he was out walking every day and had joined a gym that he was attending regularly.

“I had joined a gym many times but for the first time ever I looked forward to going to the gym.”

There is a pool there and he swims lengths now, something he hadn’t done since childhood.

Blood test readings are back to within a normal healthy range and the only thing he has to take daily is vitamins. The small surgical scars have practically disappeared.

In addition, he has gained huge mental benefit from losing his sense of failure. He sees now how the highly lucrative diet industry is on a “no lose” because “you don’t blame the diet, you blame yourself”, he points out.

“You can’t sustain a diet when you suffer from obesity, you need a physical change to do that. Then that changes your mental attitude.”

Joe has handed the reins of the family business over to his two sons but still works about 20 hours a week. He and his wife Irene dine out regularly but although he will always order a full main course, he will take half of it home for his lunch the next day.

“Very quickly I adopted that lifestyle, and you taste your food better. You are more appreciative of a smaller amount; you are not horsing the food down. I can even have a drink now.”

That would be one beer, not three or four, but “I can have everything and not look out of place”.

He is not afraid any more to jump on weighing scales, that now show a steady 82.5kg (13 stone). But he dropped the idea of targets the day he went in for the operation.

“If you don’t adopt that new mindset, you’ll always be wondering should you be less, should you be more. I just run with it,” he adds. “The goals I set now are for holidays.”

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Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, family and parenting