'Dear Fern, you look fantastic, but...' Anne Diamond warns of the physical and emotional trials of having a gastric band op

My first reaction on seeing the photographs of you looking so svelte at an awards ceremony this week was: 'Well done!' You looked fabulous in that sleek black shift, but most importantly you looked healthy and radiant.

Do you remember Fern when we were both slim young things working as television presenters in the Eighties? It's wonderful to see you inhabiting the shape you once had. I know, from my own experience, how fantastic it feels to recover the figure you thought you'd lost for ever.

At my slimmest, when I was presenting TV-am, I was nine stone and at my heaviest, three years ago, I weighed 15 stone 10lb.

Slimmed down: Anne Diamond warns Fern Britton of the emotional trials ahead from her experience of having a secret gastric band operation

Slimmed down: Anne Diamond warns Fern Britton of the emotional trials ahead from her experience of having a secret gastric band operation

As a yo-yo dieter, I have lost and gained four stone three times over and I can honestly say I hate being fat.

Although we have never talked about it together, I suspect you feel the same way. I have yet to meet anyone who is happy being fat.

You are clearly brilliant at your job, a wonderful mother, have a strong marriage to Phil Vickery and always look happy but, if you are anything like me, then happiness came despite being fat.

Like you, Fern, when all conventional weight loss attempts failed, I secretly turned to gastric band surgery, which reduces the size of your stomach by placing a band around it and restricts the amount of food you can eat before feeling full.

And just as you were found out in May, I, too, was exposed and ousted from Celebrity Fit Club in 2006, accused of having an unfair advantage, even though it wasn't working for me.

Living through that miserable experience of having something so intimate and personal made so very public, and criticised for being a 'cheat', my sympathies are completely with you.

Why shouldn't we keep something so personal private? As you have pointed out, would anyone expect you to share something as personal as an operation for haemorrhoids?

And seeing the way I was pilloried for having the operation no doubt put the fear of God into you.

However, my congratulations to you, Fern, are tempered by the fear that other people with weight issues will take one look at the new, slimmer you and think 'I want some of that', and rush off to have gastric band surgery  -  hoping it will be the quick and easy solution to all their problems.

They should be warned that it doesn't work for everyone.

Fern Britton, The Hampton Court Flower Show, Britain - 03 Jul 2006
Fern Britton

Big difference: Fern Britton pictured in 2006 on the left and on Monday looking  slimmer

I can say this because I speak from bitter experience: my own and those of others for whom gastric band operations have not proved to be the holy grail of weight loss. Of those I have spoken to, around 40 per cent say it's the best thing they've ever done, while for the rest it's either been hard work or a complete failure.

Some, like myself, are still a work in progress, having reached a plateau at which they frustratingly stick. Others have even put on weight because high-calorie foods such as ice cream and chocolate can slip very easily through the gastric band without restriction.

The body adapts amazingly well when it is programmed to store fat, so I would point out the operation works only for 'volume eaters', who prefer bulky foods rather than those who prefer smooth, high-fat, high-calorific foods.

And then there are others who, after undergoing gastric band surgery, have simply transferred their addiction to food to other substances, such as alcohol.

I met some very sad people in the U.S. while researching my new book Winning The Fat War who have discovered that, without radically altering their lifestyle, new problems simply replace the old ones.

Some people even have their gastric bands loosened for a couple of weeks, so they can fully enjoy food on holiday or at Christmas, for example, having it tightened again when the festivities are over, while others discover the only way to lose weight is to opt for the far more serious gastric by-pass surgery.

Knowing what I know now about gastric band surgery, would I still have gone ahead? I think the answer is 'Yes', but sometimes when I remember back to the day in 2005 when I jumped onto the Eurostar to Belgium to have an operation in a foreign country, without telling even my closest family, I ask myself: 'How could I have done that?'

Anne Diamond

Anne Diamond in 2003 (left) and in 2006 on Celebrity Fit Club which she was ousted from for the unfair advantage of her secret gastric band operation

All I can say is that I was desperate to lose the weight which had crept on over the years. It so easily happens when you are a busy, working mother, spending time in the kitchen preparing meals and turning to food for comfort or relaxation in times of stress. 

I liked being slim, and motivation and willpower were no problem for me because I managed to lose four stone three times through dieting and exercise. What I found impossible was keeping the weight off.

It was as if my body, having been allowed to grow fat in the first place, went into a default obesity setting every time I went back to a normal diet.

And, of course, once you put all that weight back on, you start to think: 'Sod it, I'll just be a fat old lady!' You tell yourself that if you can't be slim, you may as well enjoy your food.

But I was miserable about being fat. This was the one area of my life over which I had no control, and I felt as though I should be ashamed of that.

My self-esteem plummeted and, like many yo-yo dieters, I blamed myself every time I failed. Instead of thinking 'Well, that was a silly diet which doesn't work', I'd think it was all my fault that I couldn't keep the weight off.

By the time my weight reached 15 stone 10lb, I had never felt so bad about my body. I remember going onto my computer and Googling 'jaw-wiring', telling myself that I would simply have my jaws wired to stop me eating. I was that desperate to lose weight.

Then a friend told me about a gastric band operation she'd had in Belgium. She'd been obese as a child, as a teenager and as a young woman and for her it had been a huge success. The weight had dropped off so easily, she told me: 'I wish I'd had it done 20 years ago.'

My mind was made up. Why Belgium? For one thing the operation cost £4,000, compared with £8,000 in Britain, and there was something appealing about having the procedure in a foreign country, where no one knew me and I could keep it secret, because it is shaming to not be able to control your weight.

But the reality is that it is terrifying undergoing a general anaesthetic in a foreign country and being cared for by nurses who cannot speak good English.

It is frightening returning home, wondering how you are going to manage your new life and being hundreds of miles and several hours away from the surgeon should anything go wrong.

Fern Britton on This Morning last month  looking slimmer

Trim: A slimmer Fern Britton on This Morning last month with co-presenter Philip Schofield

And, as we are becoming increasingly aware, things do go wrong and the NHS often has to perform corrective surgery on those unfortunate people for whom it does. My surgery in Belgium, although I went to a respectable surgeon, was an unedifying failure, not a success.

Yes, I lost 10lb in the first four weeks, which delighted me, but that was because I was eating soup and yoghurt as recommended and my appetite was curbed following the surgery, but there was no feeling of restriction in my stomach.

Once I started eating normally again, I put the weight back on in a matter of  weeks. In fact the £4,000 I spent would prove to be a complete waste of money because I would later discover that the band had been put in the wrong place, at the base of the oesophagus  -  instead of round the stomach  -  where it could not be properly tightened.

Putting all that weight back on made me feel upset and, quite frankly, silly. I'd gone all that way and spent all that money on an operation that hadn't worked.

People have asked me 'Why didn't you go back to have it corrected?' or 'Why didn't you sue?', but it all boils down to a sense of shame again. I felt it was my fault it hadn't worked.

I didn't want people to find out, and for a bright light to be shone onto this one part of my life I felt I couldn't control  -  I'm sure you felt the same, Fern, which is why you decided not to tell anyone.

Six months after the first failed procedure, I underwent a second gastric band operation in a private

London hospital and immediately noticed a huge difference.

This time, when I ate I felt full quickly and I physically couldn't consume any more. I would sit in a restaurant and happily watch the waiter take away my plate after I'd eaten just a quarter of my meal, knowing I couldn't force down another morsel even if I had wanted to.

The weight dropped off and I was thrilled. I dropped a dress size a month and lost about three stone before my weight reached a plateau, and I'm having to work hard to keep the momentum going.

One of the biggest problems, which I hadn't anticipated, is occasionally how resentful you can feel at not being able to eat 'normally' like other people, and there are times when the calories creep up.

Because I felt full quickly, I would eat only a quarter of what I ate before, but instead of having three meals a day, I would find myself constantly grazing on small amounts through the day  -  and if you are taking in the same amount of calories then you don't lose weight.

I have no doubt, Fern, that you are also working hard  -  despite having had a gastric band operation  -  to keep the weight off, or perhaps you are one of the lucky ones for whom it has really worked like magic.

One thing I am certain of, though, is that  -  like me  -  you wanted to be healthy more than anything else.

Everyone knows the health risks of obesity. The risk of colon cancer increases the heavier you are, and within six weeks of having a gastric band operation and losing weight, the risk of diabetes type 2 can also be obliterated.

Yes, I hated being fat, but more than that I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to live long enough to see my children get married, and I wanted to enjoy my life.

And for all those people who criticised you, Fern, for not being open about the operation initially, I am sure that  -  like me  -  you have received many more expressions of support.

Besides, anyone who saw those pictures of you looking so fabulous and healthy the other night can see that it is you who has had the last laugh.

Congratulations again. A gastric band may not work for everyone, and I urge caution, but it seems to be working for you.

How bands worked for other stars

The XL Factor: Sharon Osbourne before and after

The XL Factor: Sharon Osbourne before and after

Band of God: Diego Maradona cheated his way to slim

Band of God: Diego Maradona cheated his way to slim

Raising the Barr: Roseanne lost an incredible 14st

Raising the Barr: Roseanne lost an incredible 14st

... And the medical dangers

• The most common problem is the stomach slipping back through the band or the band tightening over time. If this happens, the patient needs an operation to put it right.

• There is an extremely small risk that other organs surrounding the stomach can be damaged during surgery.

• The access port used to inject saline into the band to adjust it may develop a leak and require minor surgery to put it right.

• Some will require many adjustments to loosen or tighten their band, meaning repeat visits to the clinic or hospital.

• If a band is not correctly fitted or adjusted, patients may regurgitate food from the upper pouch, causing chest tightness or heartburn.

• The opening between the two stomach pouches can be blocked by food. It is rare, but requires an operation to unblock it.

• In the first four weeks after the operation, the patient has to follow a strict liquid-only diet. This can often make the patient feel weak and ill.

• Anyone who loses weight quickly  -  for any reason  -  is at risk of gallstones. The lack of food causes the gall bladder to contract less frequently, causing stones to form.