A size XXXXL granddad has revealed how he “feels like a 21-year-old” again since losing 10 stone – and is saving a whopping £80 a week on food.
Craig George used to scoff 5,000 calories a day, including three loaves of white bread a week, and eventually reached 23st 10lb.
The 55-year-old, of Curdridge, Hampshire, said for years he would have to ask his wife to put on his socks on for him or tie his shoelaces.
But it was not until a doctor told Craig that he may only have “five years left” that he realised he needed to make a change.
With the encouragement of his wife, homemaker Leanne, 54, he underwent a gastric bypass – where the stomach is made smaller using surgical staples – in December 2018.
Having lost an average of two to three pounds a week since his operation, the forklift company manager reached his goal weight of 13st 10lb in May this year.
Craig, who is father to sales manager Adam, 33, and office manager Katie, 32, and granddad to Hollie, two, Sophie, one and Lucy, five months, said: “I was slowly walking to an early grave, and I didn’t realise it.”
He continued: “For years, I would ask Leanne to put on my socks or tie my shoelaces. There was 20 stone of fat in the way, yet I still couldn’t see it.
“I’m nearly half the man I was before and I feel like a 21-year-old.
“My wife jokes I look like George Clooney. I’m not quite sure I agree, but I agree on one thing – I feel like a new man.”
He continued: “It’s really brought a spark back to our relationship and I have a lot more energy.”
For as long as he can remember, Craig’s life has revolved around food.
He first began to struggle with his size at just eight years old, when he would raid the shelves of his corner shop for sweets and crisps before enjoying a home-cooked meal with his family.
Sadly, his frame made him a target for playground bullies.
“I’ve always lived to eat,” he recalled. “When I was at school, all I heard was that I need to lose weight.
“My nickname was ‘Podgy,’ and it stuck with me for years.”
He continued: “Looking back, I feel like I missed out on a lot of what it is to be a kid. I never played sports with the other children – I was too embarrassed by my body.”
Despite being taunted by his classmates, one person who saw past Craig’s size was his childhood sweetheart Leanne, who he met aged 14 and married on May 4, 1985, at a register office.
“On my wedding day, I was probably about 15st 7lb, I was quite comfortable but knew I was overweight,” he explained.
He continued: “After we got married, I thought to myself, ‘Right – let’s shift the weight.’
“I’d try various diets, and end up losing a stone, but then putting two back on.
“I couldn’t switch off the hunger pangs. I’d wake up and plan my whole day around food – when was the next feeding time?”
He continued: “I don’t think people without eating problems can truly understand what that’s like.”
For most of his young adult life, Craig weighed around 17st – but in 2004, when he left his job as an engineer to set up his own forklift business, the stress of running a company took its toll on his waistline.
He continued: “The year before I set up my business, I ran a half marathon. I was 17st then, and it nearly killed me, but I did it.”
“But after that, my eating habits really ramped up, from being at a desk all day or wining and dining clients,” he added.
“It happens so slowly you don’t realise it. You keep buying one size up, and then the next, until you’re gigantic.
“I remember being in Marks & Spencer outraged that they didn’t have an XXXXL shirt.”
He continued: “I wish someone had just called me out and told me – I was fat.”
By the time the 10-year anniversary of setting up his business came around in 2014, Craig was tipping the scales at 22 stone.
Then, two years later, the dramatic impact his size was having on his health became terrifyingly clear when he almost passed out in the office.
He recalled: “I was sat in my office one afternoon, when it suddenly started getting darker and darker.
“It was like someone had dimmed the lights down. I called my daughter Katie in, who works me. She took me straight to University Hospital in Southampton.”
After examining the back of his eye, doctors gave Craig a lumbar puncture – where a needle is inserted into the spinal canal to test the craniospinal fluid.
The results revealed he was suffering with idiopathic intracranial hypertension – a build-up of pressure around the brain with unclear causes, which is sometimes associated with being overweight or obese, according to the NHS.
After having a second lumbar puncture to drain the excess fluid that had collected around his spine, he saw the condition, which is not usually life threatening, hit a further four times in 18 months.
On his fifth visit to hospital, in July 2018, after suffering a loss of vision, Craig – who was also diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes around the same time – was given a harrowing prognosis.
He recalled: “The doctor turned to me and said, ‘Craig if you don’t do something about your weight, you’ve got five years left in you.’ By that point, I’d hit my heaviest weight of 23st 10lb.
“That’s when I started taking it seriously.”
At 5ft 11in, Craig had a body mass index (BMI) of 48 – far higher than the recommended range of 18.5 to 24.9 by the NHS – meaning that he was classed as extremely obese.
He was also eligible to have weight loss surgery on the NHS, who require a BMI of 40 or more to be considered.
But, with a waiting list of over a year, he decided to fork out for the £8,000 operation himself, using his savings.
He said: “I was told the wait list could be a year. After being told I only had five left, I didn’t want to waste any more time.”
He continued: “My legs and toes had started going numb from the diabetes. I was on a one-way road to losing a leg or having a heart attack.
“I missed out on so much of the kids growing up because of running my own business. I was determined not to miss the grandkids growing up too.
“My wife was just as worried about my health as I was. She was convinced I was going to pop my clogs and backed me to the hills.”
After a consultation with independent weight loss and cosmetic surgery clinic Transform Hospital Group in September 2018, Craig was placed on a liquid diet for two weeks before the operation, which took place on December 27.
“On the way there I kept thinking, ‘Is this worth it? What if I die?’” he continued.
“But I’d already been handed a death sentence, I knew I had to do it.”
Coming round from the four-hour surgery, he was told it had been a success, and spent two days in Birmingham’s Dolan Park Hospital recovering before being discharged.
From there, he was placed on another two-week liquid diet, before a further fortnight of eating pureed “baby food.”
And the results were soon plain to see.
Losing two to three pounds a week, after just a month-and-a-half, Craig could fit into clothes that he had not worn for decades.
“My hunger pangs had completely gone,” he said. “Whatever it was that caused me to constantly crave food, that tap had been switched off.
“I found myself having to make myself eat food.”
He continued: “As each month has gone by, I’ve found more and more clothes are too big. I’ve just about binned an entire wardrobe.”
Within 18 months, Craig lost virtually half his body weight, and currently weighs 13st 10lb, and has a 32in waist.
Previously an average day for him would start with eight slices of toast and jam, before he would enjoy a sausage sandwich for lunch, a rib eye steak with all the trimmings for dinner, and a cheeseburger with two chocolate bars for a snack.
But now, he has ditched the junk food in favour of healthy, protein-packed options, like porridge with banana, or chicken and vegetables.
Despite curbing his appetite, he remains full of beans.
“If I woke up from a coma, I’d honestly think I was 21,” he said.
“Instead of coming home from work and raiding the fridge before passing out on the sofa, I’ll ask Leanne if she wants to go for a walk,” Craig continued.
“People will come up to me and say, ‘You look incredible – you’ve lost so much weight.’
“Customers I’ve worked with for years will literally walk past me without recognising me. I’ll be shouting their name saying, ‘It’s Craig, it’s Craig!’”
He continued: “I’ve been told my body weight will plateau and I think that’s what it’s done now.
“Doctors have told me that the operation cannot be reversed and my body has adjusted to having this size stomach.”
As far as Craig is concerned, his surgery has virtually paid for itself, as his weekly food bill has dropped from £200 to £120, meaning he saves more than £4,000 a year.
But, more importantly, he knows he will be alive to see his precious grandchildren grown up – something that is priceless.
He concluded: “I was heading right to the pearly gates, all because I couldn’t admit to myself that I had a problem.
“I’ve got three precious grandchildren, and now I know I’m going to be here for them as long as I can be.”
He continued: “To anyone else out there, especially blokes – you might joke about not being able to tie your shoelaces or put on your socks, but it’s anything but funny.
“Only you can help yourself lose weight.”