When she weighed in at The Biggest Loser finale in 2008, Sheridan Wright had lost nearly half her body weight, dropping from 136kg at her heaviest to a healthy 75kg.
But while the numbers told one story, for Sheridan the true battle was just beginning as she struggled with two equally confronting problems: what to do with her excess skin and why she had got so fat in the first place.
‘The Biggest Loser was like a kickstart but the year-and-a-half afterwards has been the most challenging,’ says 29-year-old Sheridan, who featured in season three of the show.
‘It was like pulling a tiny thread on a jumper and unravelling a huge ball and not knowing what to do with it.’
Speaking exclusively to New Idea after undergoing body lift surgery eight weeks ago, Sheridan’s very personal account of her struggle to make peace with her body shows that weight loss is a far more complex issue than numbers on the scales.
As she slips into a bikini for the first time since she was three, this beautiful, smart, funny woman admits she was terrified about having her ‘seams taken in’.
‘My excess skin bothered me a lot. It was uncomfortable when I was training, and when I dressed
I had to wear some miracle “hide it all” underwear or fold my stomach into my jeans like an origami paper crane,’ she says.
Getting intimate with a boyfriend was even more confronting, especially when all that sagging skin masked the new taut, trained muscles underneath.
Yet Sheridan only consulted a surgeon after she had addressed the psychological reasons for why she had grown overweight.
Being date raped when she was a teenager had triggered her comfort eating and as she hit her 20s she used food to cope with loneliness, boredom and stress.
‘I had five months of counselling after The Biggest Loser because I needed to deal with the underlying issues,’ she reveals.
‘I ate when things were going badly and I didn’t believe I was attractive or intelligent. But I also ate when something good happened, almost as a form of self sabotage because I didn’t feel I deserved it. I’ve started to fix those patterns and I’ve learnt to feel genuinely confident instead of putting on this false bravado.’
Although Sheridan spent a year hoping her skin would spring back naturally, eventually she consulted plastic surgeon Richard Bloom in Melbourne.
‘I’d lost 60 kilos, the size of an average woman, so there’s a reason why I had excess skin!’ she says. ‘Mr Bloom told me he wouldn’t have to use liposuction because my skin was empty enough of fat. He also didn’t need to put stitches in my stomach muscles, which they sometimes do if you need them pulled tight to give a better line.’
She describes the body lift, also called circumferential abdominoplasty, as ‘a bit like ringbarking a tree’.
The surgeon cuts out the belly button and pulls the excess skin down like a blind. The skin is then stretched out and reattached below the hip bone so that the scar is covered by underwear. Finally, a small hole is cut in the stomach and the belly button is reattached.
About 6kg of skin was removed from Sheridan’s back and stomach during the five-hour, $18,000 operation.
‘When I woke up it wasn’t painful but I did feel uncomfortable, as if I’d gone to Christmas dinner in jeans four sizes too small,’ Sheridan laughs. ‘The first few days I walked around bent over like a nanna but after that it was hard keeping pants and a top on me. I wanted to walk round with nothing on because I was so excited.’
Sheridan was thrilled with the results and was back to her job in human resources within two weeks. She’s now planning the final stage of her transformation with a thigh lift later this year.
‘The scar doesn’t bother me at all and I can even wear a bikini, which is pretty exciting. I’m just so happy in my skin.’
After being celibate for seven years because of her size, Sheridan has embraced new relationships since a short-lived romance with fellow contestant Michael Sandford on The Biggest Loser.
‘I’m writing a book about my romantic experiences and I’m calling it Feast because when I lost weight I tried to order everything off the menu when it comes to men,’ she laughs.
‘I could have looked at it as a series of disasters and heartbreaks but I prefer to see them as learning experiences.’
Sheridan is now seeing someone and, because he’s a nurse, she’s been relaxed about talking to him about her surgery.
‘It’s very early days but he’s kind, thoughtful, funny and slightly mad so that suits me well.’
These days Sheridan weighs 75kg but says her trainer has hopes of getting her below 70kg. She exercises four times a week and wants to challenge her body to some serious triathlons.
As she looks back at the photos of herself weighing 136kg when she was maid of honour at a friend’s wedding, Sheridan knows she’s finally said goodbye to that girl.
‘I feel sad that I used to be that big but I now understand the problems,’ she says. ‘I won’t ever be that fat girl again. I’ve done that.’
Sheridan's surgery diary
January 28, 2010
It’s D-day and I am back on the diet wagon. There are 10kg that need to be gone before I go under the knife and finally complete my journey. Considering surgery is making me sort out what bodies I like. The bodies I chose surprised me – Monica Belluci, Beyonce, Nigella Lawson and Ricki-Lee Coulter. I’ve always loved curves. I don’t want to look like Kate Moss but I want to leave the fat girl behind. Every time I dress I’m reminded of the emotional luggage and the layers of skin. I want to be rid of it and start fresh. Me and my body a team instead of constantly at war.
March 5, 2010
It’s seven weeks to go and my weight isn’t where it should be. Am I doing a bit of self sabotage? It feels like the way I used to operate when I was my biggest and most unhappy. I call the four most important women in my life.
1 Mum says I’ve done it before and will again.
2 Trainer Michelle Bridges from The Biggest Loser sends a text which is like a slap to the head: ‘You are amazing when you believe.’
3 My trainer Lucy from when I came off The Biggest Loser locks me in for a 14km run.
4 My friend Susan, who adopted me after I had a party flirtation with her son (don’t ask), says she will nurse me back to health after surgery.
March 9, 2010
Today is my 29th birthday. It’s tradition to celebrate another year by pouring enough wine down your throat to kill a small Greek god but not this year. I celebrate by walking up hills with my mum, a fish and salad birthday dinner
with my housemates and a polo lesson… yup, on horses. Before I managed to get myself to the point where I looked like I had eaten my entire family I used to be a madly passionate rider. Despite saying on The Biggest Loser it was the first thing I’d do when I got under 100 kilos, I still haven’t been back.
March 23, 2010
I’ve forced myself to watch the operation on YouTube. I have to strip off to have my ‘before’ photos and try to switch off as I show the surgeon’s assistant the bits of me I have become very good at hiding. In four weeks I will have a new shape. It makes me want to dance.
April 22, 2010
It’s crept up on me. By this time tomorrow I’ll be in a drug haze and without about 6kg of skin that is currently squashed into my leggings like a Christmas ham.
April 23, 2010
Pre-surgery For the past few months I’ve been referring to surgery as ‘getting my seams run in’, and as Mr Bloom draws black lines and shading on my skin with his permanent marker, I truly do look like a dressmaker’s pattern. But I start to worry. Am I going to get the sense of relief I desired or will I be left with a body more scarred and broken than before?
Post-surgery I’m waiting for the pain, but it doesn’t come. It’s just uncomfortable. My legs are elevated and I’m sleeping almost sitting up. I run my hands down my sides to feel compression bandages holding in a much narrower hipped area. I can’t believe it. It’s really gone. Forever. It will be days before I can see the work properly but I already feel this sense of relief I didn’t think possible.