The desperate dinnerlady

It was literally like stealing candy from a baby...

Published by: Karen Armstrong and Sharon Boyle
Published on: 25th May 2010

Shovelling out pie and chips at the Cash ’N’ Carry Cafe where I worked, all I could think about was the chocolate gateau in front of me.
‘I’ll put this back in the fridge,’ I said to my colleague, then it’d be out of temptation’s way. But as I walked into the empty kitchen with it, I smacked my lips.
‘Just one piece,’ I promised myself, ramming a slice into my mouth. ‘Mmm, delicious.’
As I licked the cream off my lips, I felt calm and happy.
‘Perhaps another,’ I whispered, and downed a second slice before heading back out to the counter.
But I couldn’t leave it there. All afternoon I found excuses to go to the fridge. Each time, I sneaked down another slice of the creamy, chocolatey sponge.
‘I can’t believe we sold all that chocolate cake today,’ my supervisor gasped when we closed. ‘That was a 16-slice, catering-size gateau, and there’s nothing left!’
Blushing, I shuffled to the coat rack, and tried not to meet her eye – I’d eaten the whole thing.
It wouldn’t be so bad if it’d been a one-off but, a few weeks later, I ate 20 portions of strawberry Angel Delight in one go.
When it came to food, I was like a druggie, desperate for a fix.
I’d always been a big girl, and I was used to being called ‘fatty’ and getting funny looks. As a teenager, I’d gorged on Mum’s hearty dinners, and piled on the pounds.
The more names I was called, the more I lost myself in sweets and choccy bars. Food was my friend… it didn’t judge me.
When I left school at 16, I weighed 16st. I kidded myself that at 5ft 11in I could carry it off. 
And then I got a job in a bakery.
Those Viennese fingers didn’t know what’d hit them…
My boyfriend Richard always told me how much he loved me.
Even on my wedding day, wearing a size 30 gown my mum had to make me, my size didn’t bother him.
‘I’ll go on a diet after my honeymoon,’ I promised myself.
But there was always an excuse not to. I fell pregnant with our twins James and Ben. Then I got the job in the cafe. The diet would always start tomorrow – but tomorrow never came.
Then I got a job as a dinner lady. I hoped walking around might help me shed a few pounds, but I couldn’t escape my cravings.
One afternoon at school, I needed a sugar fix, but where was I going to get it? I couldn’t sneak any food from the canteen because people would see.
Then I had an idea…
‘I’ve just got to check the classrooms, see if any kids have sneaked inside,’ I lied to the other dinner lady. Really, though, I was on the hunt for sweets!
‘There must be some here,’ I grumbled.
There it was. A big jar of lollies on the teacher’s desk. She kept them as rewards for the good kids. I pulled out a handful and started to stuff them in. Put the lid back on, I told myself – but I couldn’t!
Only when the school bell rang did I finally waddle out to the playground. Seeing the kids lining up, I felt awful. How low could I go? I mean, technically I hadn’t stolen from the children… but I felt as though I had!
That night at home, I cried. ‘I’m a monster,’ I sobbed. ‘I can’t even tie my shoelaces I’m so fat!’
‘I love you just the way you are,’ Richard sighed. ‘But I don’t like to see you upset. Why don’t you go and speak to the doctor?’
The next day, I went straight to my GP and told him everything. He was so nice. ‘First things first, we need to weigh you,’ he smiled, leading me to the scales. I nearly threw up when the needle hit 25st.
‘Your best option is a gastric bypass,’ the doctor decided.
‘Isn’t that dangerous?’ I asked. I’d seen a programme on TV where they removed part of the stomach.
‘In your case, very,’ said the doctor. ‘Going under general anaesthetic is risky, but you are already putting a huge strain on your body. If you don’t lose weight, you could die.’
Deep down, I’d always known I was killing myself with food, but hearing it said made it real.
Just imagine, not seeing the boys grow up, not being there for special events, never holding my grandkids…
‘All right,’ I nodded to the doctor. ‘Let’s do it.’
Richard was worried, though. ‘You don’t have to do this,’ he said.
‘I do, love,’ I sighed. ‘It’s not about being thin, it’s about being happy.’ I couldn’t recall the last time I’d walked our spaniel, Lady, or played football with the boys.
‘What if something goes wrong?’ Richard croaked. ‘What if you don’t wake up?’
‘I’m going to pull through,’ I insisted.
But, when he was asleep, I crept downstairs and found a notepad. If the worst happened, there were things I wanted Richard and the boys to know.  Please know I will always love you, I wrote, sobbing.
A few months later, after some medical checks, it was all systems go at Bradford Royal Infirmary. I should’ve been terrified but, as I went under, I felt calm.
Hours later, I groggily turned my head and saw Richard. I’d made it!
‘How are you feeling?’ he asked.
‘Like an elephant’s sitting on my chest,’ I winced. But the real agony was still to come. My stomach was now the size of a small egg, only a few spoonfuls of food filled me up.
At first, I ate more than I needed, and it just made me sick – I couldn’t cheat my new stomach.
As the weeks rolled by, I saw a massive change. ‘I’ve lost a stone in a month,’ I told Richard. I even started taking Lady for a walk.
The transformation was amazing. In just under a year, I shed 10st, and dropped eight dress sizes! To celebrate, I bought a whole new wardrobe of clothes.
‘Wow!’ Richard said, as I came out of a changing room in a size 16 red dress and slinky leggings.
‘I can’t believe it’s me,’ I gasped, looking in the mirror. Now, when I feel down, I go for a walk with Lady instead of eating chocolate.
I’ve achieved what I once thought was impossible. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be healthy or happy, but I did it for my boys. I’ll never sneak cake again!
Carolyn Hoddell, 44, Bradford, West Yorkshire