A Kiwi mum who dropped 80kg in two years after a weight loss operation says it was the biggest challenge of her life.

Toni Rielly, 33, is speaking out about her dramatic transformation in a bid to change the negative stigma attached to gastro surgery.

"People think surgery is the easy way out but it's not. I had a food addiction, similar to a drug or alcohol addiction.

"Food was my way of cheering myself up and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't stop eating, sometimes to the point of making myself sick," Rielly told the Herald.

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Gastric bypass surgery involves reducing the size of the stomach to a small pouch and putting in a bypass that shrinks the small intestine by about a metre, which restricts food intake and makes patients feel full after eating small meals.

In December 2018 the Upper Hutt mum underwent a mini gastric bypass surgery at a private hospital, which she paid $25,000 to get.

Source: Auckland Weight Loss Surgery
Source: Auckland Weight Loss Surgery

At the time her husband Anthony was waiting for a kidney transplant and she didn't know how long he was going to be around for. She ended up getting the surgery two weeks before be got the call for a kidney and has now never been better.

"My doctor told me if I kept carrying on the way I was there was a chance I might not be here in 10 years so I had to get healthy and at that point surgery was the only way."

In two years, her weight has plummeted from 144kg to 65kg - but she says it wasn't easy.

Two years ago Toni Rielly, 33, weighed 144 kg, now she's 65kg. Photo / Supplied
Two years ago Toni Rielly, 33, weighed 144 kg, now she's 65kg. Photo / Supplied

Before getting the surgery she had to stick to a liquid diet to lose 6 to 10kg over a three-week period to help shrink her liver in order to perform the surgery more safely.

After getting the operation, Rielly said she had to learn how to eat again.

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"To begin with I could only eat two teaspoons of food per meal and that was the most bizarre thing, not feeling hungry or full and trying to judge what's right."

The biggest battle was the mental aspect, she said.

Toni still has a lot of excess skin but says it doesn't bother her to the point of putting herself under again so has learnt to embrace it as a reminder of where she has come from. Photo / Supplied
Toni still has a lot of excess skin but says it doesn't bother her to the point of putting herself under again so has learnt to embrace it as a reminder of where she has come from. Photo / Supplied

"I would go to a family event and there would be all this nice food, like a pavlova, and I couldn't eat any of it - I've definitely had a few cries over it."

Prior to getting the surgery, Rielly said her diet was "disgusting".

"It is just mind blowing now the amount of food I could eat. It was just all about how well it tasted and I had no limits.

"I would get takeouts all the time because I was tired and couldn't be bothered cooking. I was buying my lunches every day and in the evening I would secretly eat a packet of biscuits."

Rielly said growing up food was "quite scarce" so whenever there was food it was like survival mode and then she would always sneak extra or want the bigger portion size.

"I've always had an issue with my weight. I remember mum taking me to the dietician when I was 7 and the shame I felt, it was just an unhealthy cycle because the worse I felt the more I'd want to eat."

"It was really quite daunting realising how much of my life revolved around food once it was taken away."

One of the side effects from the operation is dumping, which causes the body to react badly to sugar. If Rielly eats sugar, she gets nausea and will either vomit or get diarrhoea.

Post surgery she says her lifestyle has "completely changed for the better".

Toni and her husband Anthony had a 10-year wedding anniversary photoshoot to celebrate their new healthy life together. Photo / Scarlet Rose Photography
Toni and her husband Anthony had a 10-year wedding anniversary photoshoot to celebrate their new healthy life together. Photo / Scarlet Rose Photography

"It's incredible, for the first time in my life I feel at ease and so much more confident. I say yes to everything and the impact it's had on my family life is amazing. Every night we take the dog for a walk and I have so much more energy to spend with my daughter."

Rielly said people did treat her differently now she had lost weight.

"People will hold the door open for me which they never did before."

But she said the positive response she gets from people often bounced off the happy energy she put out because she did feel more confident in herself.

The young mum stressed the surgery was just a tool to help her lose weight and it could easily be put back on again. Rielly refuses to let that happen to her and has managed to maintain a weight of 65kg for the past 10 months.

"I don't care about the negative comments. I did this for me but people should be kind and show empathy because until you understand what it's like you shouldn't judge."

Each year about 1200 bariatric surgeries are performed in New Zealand. Of those, about 500 to 600 are publicly funded.

The cost of the surgery privately is roughly $20,000. Publicly it's about $15,000.

Back in 2018, bariatric surgeon Dr Richard Babor told the Herald the perception that bariatric surgery was an easy way to lose weight was wrong.

"It sounds so intuitively true. [But] it's just biologically incorrect. For people who have a BMI greater than 35, there's really hardcore scientific evidence that shows that diet and exercise doesn't work."