Daily Mail

How stom­ach sta­pling op gave Layla the con­fi­dence to be­come an MP

She’s 5ft 6in and used to weigh 19st — then she had a dra­matic wake-up call


TO meet Layla mo­ran, one of the high-pro­file crop of new mPs elected last year, you’d never guess she’d ever had an is­sue with her weight. the 36-year- old, with her trade­mark tor­toise­shell glasses, cuts a stylish fig­ure in West­min­ster.

But looks can be de­cep­tive, and in the wake of the grow­ing child­hood obe­sity prob­lem — one in five chil­dren aged ten to 11 is now obese, says Pub­lic Health eng­land — the Lib­eral Demo­crat mP is speak­ing out for the first time about her own life­long battle with weight, which cul­mi­nated in her un­der­go­ing weight-loss surgery at the age of 23.

‘It’s not an easy thing to talk about,’ says Layla, who at her heav­i­est, in 2003, weighed nearly 19st (around 120kg; she is 5ft 6in). ‘But with more and more young peo­ple fall­ing into the obese cat­e­gory, I wanted to talk about my own ex­pe­ri­ences in the hope it might help de-stig­ma­tise it.’

the teacher-turned-mP — who last week ap­peared for the first time on the BBC’s Ques­tion time and has been tipped as a fu­ture Lib Dem leader — even doubts she would have stood for Par­lia­ment if she hadn’t man­aged to shed the weight, which had left her with low self-es­teem.

‘my weight was al­ways an is­sue as a child,’ says Layla, the el­dest of four. ‘When I was one, mum started talk­ing to doc­tors about my size. I think there was a ge­netic is­sue — some of my mum’s aun­ties were very over­weight or obese.’

Un­like her two younger sis­ters and a brother, Layla was ‘al­ways chubby’.

‘One of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries is mum telling me not to have as many sweets as the other kids be­cause I put on weight so eas­ily,’ she re­calls.

‘And, yes, I was bul­lied and called “fat” by some kids.’

When she was 11 or 12, ‘the sort of age that girls start to no­tice boys, and as a girl you care a lit­tle more about what you wear and look like, I re­mem­ber look­ing at women’s mag­a­zines and think­ing: “I’m never go­ing to look like that” ’.

By the age of 15 she was a size 16 to 18. Her over­rid­ing mem­ory of her teens is of be­ing em­bar­rassed about her weight, es­pe­cially when out shop­ping with friends.

‘they were look­ing at the flashy stuff at the front of H&m and I had to go to the back of the shop, where in those days they had the plus-sizes,’ she says.

Layla’s par­ents and fam­ily were ‘al­ways very sup­port­ive’, but at 11 she joined a gym and by 13 she was on an al­most con­stant diet. SHe

was at board­ing school for five years (her fa­ther was a diplo­mat), and ev­ery week would be called down­stairs to go on the scales in front of the housemistr­ess. ‘ the in­ten­tions might have been good, but it was so hu­mil­i­at­ing,’ says Layla, now mP for Ox­ford West and Abingdon.

there was more to her weight gain than her genes, she ad­mits: ‘In my teens, when I oc­ca­sion­ally got sad as a lot of teenagers do, I found so­lace in eat­ing.’

As a univer­sity stu­dent ‘ in a high-pres­sured en­vi­ron­ment’ at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don, where she stud­ied physics, she suf­fered ‘mild to mod­er­ate de­pres­sion’ and was pre­scribed anti-de­pres­sants.

mean­while, her weight con­tin­ued to bal­loon. Shortly af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 2003, the then 20- year- old Layla joined an am­a­teur orches­tra as a cel­list and had an ac­ci­dent that forced her fi­nally to con­front her size.

‘Another cel­list jumped off stage for fun af­ter a re­hearsal one day, and I thought I’d do the same thing, not re­al­is­ing how bad an idea it was when car­ry­ing all that weight,’ she says. ‘ the jump shat­tered the bones in my an­kle and I was con­fined to a wheel­chair for three months.’

It was a wake-up call. ‘I re­alised that now was the time to get a han­dle on my weight prob­lem — what­ever it took.’

Af­ter three months in a wheel­chair she topped the scales at 19st and her body mass in­dex was over 40 — of­fi­cially obese.

Layla was re­ferred to an en­docri­nol­o­gist for tests, but these didn’t re­veal any­thing new. the spe­cial­ist then sug­gested she might like to think about weight­loss surgery.

‘I was shocked, but at the same time des­per­ate to lose weight,’ she re­calls.

‘ It wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion be­cause it was a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous op­er­a­tion,’ says Layla. ‘But noth­ing else had worked.

‘I hated look­ing at my­self in the mir­ror. And there were the health ben­e­fits of be­ing slim­mer. my size made me more likely to get type 2 di­a­betes and per­haps even can­cer, and could have af­fected my fer­til­ity.’

Layla had the surgery in 2005. ‘At the time it seemed a re­ally “out there” thing to do — it was quite a new op­er­a­tion,’ she says.

‘And very few peo­ple had spo­ken about hav­ing bariatric [weight­loss] surgery.’

Layla, who’s re­cently come out of a long- term re­la­tion­ship, con­tin­ues: ‘Part of me felt a fail­ure for even con­sid­er­ing the op­er­a­tion; a lot of peo­ple are vil­i­fied when they opt for such surgery.

‘ But then I re­alised it was ac­tu­ally a re­ally brave thing to do, be­cause I was ac­knowl­edg­ing that I wasn’t go­ing to beat my weight prob­lem on my own.

‘Se­condly, I was giv­ing my­self the chance to ex­plore what it might be like not to be car­ry­ing the ex­tra weight I had been car­ry­ing all my life.’

She had the four-hour op­er­a­tion in Bel­gium, where she was then liv­ing and work­ing. Her stom­ach was sta­pled, re­duc­ing it to around a third of its size, with a ca­pac­ity of about 250ml — ‘about the same as a glass of wa­ter’.

the surgery ‘ was in­cred­i­bly painful. I was on painkiller­s for a cou­ple of weeks and I strug­gled to eat af­ter­wards,’ she says. ‘It was sev­eral weeks and months be­fore I could eat any kind of vol­ume of food.’ even now she strug­gles to fin­ish, say, a plate of meat and pota­toes. But it is a small price to pay, she says, be­cause the op­er­a­tion has proved a re­sound­ing suc­cess.

Within 18 months she’d lost around half her body weight — she now weighs just over 11st (72kg). ‘I’d still like to lose another 5kg,’ she says.

‘When I be­gan shed­ding weight, peo­ple would of­ten say: “You look great!” But if they asked how I’d done it, I just said: “By work­ing with doc­tors.” I didn’t want to have to ex­plain ev­ery­thing.’

the weight loss gave her self­es­teem a mas­sive boost.

‘It was like I was a new per­son,’ she says. ‘And I don’t know if I’d have had the con­fi­dence to stand as a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment if I hadn’t lost all that weight.’

She also no­ticed that peo­ple be­gan to treat her dif­fer­ently. ‘In the old days, I’d stand at a bus stop and a bus would sail past, whereas nowa­days a bus is more likely to stop right in front of me,’ she says. ‘I’m not kid­ding!’

How­ever, Layla is quick to point out that ‘the surgery was not the end of the is­sue — I still have to keep tabs on things — but it was a help to get to a new begin­ning’. A long- term side- ef­fect of the surgery is that her body’s ab­sorp­tion of B vi­ta­mins ( B12 in par­tic­u­lar), vi­ta­min D and iron is poor be­cause of changes in her stom­ach anatomy, so she has to have reg­u­lar in­jec­tions. She also needs reg­u­lar blood tests to check she is get­ting the right nu­tri­ents. Per­HAPS

not sur­pris­ingly, given her long strug­gle with her weight, Layla has strong opin­ions about the lan­guage of ‘ be­ing over­weight’ and ‘obese’.

‘I can only speak for my­self, but I think that the way the Gov­ern­ment talks about “the obe­sity cri­sis” and “the obe­sity epi­demic” isn’t help­ful,’ she says.

‘When you’ve got so­ci­ety calling you a bur­den and talk­ing about how much money you’re cost­ing the state, it’s bound to im­pact neg­a­tively on your men­tal health.

‘I think we need to make ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices a pri­or­ity in the obe­sity strat­egy, too.

‘Be­ing over­weight or obese is not like smok­ing — in­ci­den­tally, I was a smoker and found it much eas­ier to give it up than los­ing weight — be­cause so much of my be­ing over­weight was ge­netic and, I felt, out of my con­trol.

‘Surgery was the right thing for me, but it is a big de­ci­sion and must be done hand- in- hand with doc­tors. Such op­er­a­tions carry a stigma, and I’m sure there are peo­ple read­ing this who will think: “You don’t need to have surgery to lose weight, you just need to eat less and move more!”

‘I don’t think they’d ever say that if they’d been through my life-long strug­gle with weight. Stom­ach re­duc­tion surgery cer­tainly isn’t an easy way out.’

that said, she ad­mits her life now is ‘ so much bet­ter than the tra­jec­tory I was on be­fore’, adding with a smile: ‘I’m very happy with the new me.’

 ?? Pic­ture: DAMIEN McFAD­DEN ?? Life-chang­ing: Lib Dem MP Layla Mo­ran is now a trim 11st
Pic­ture: DAMIEN McFAD­DEN Life-chang­ing: Lib Dem MP Layla Mo­ran is now a trim 11st

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