Maria Hernandez /

By Liana Jacob

MEET the unstoppable waitress whose obesity affected her ability to stand so she underwent surgery for vertical sleeve gastrectomy and lost SEVENTEEN STONE in two and a half years.

Maria Hernandez (29), from Melrose Park, Illinois, USA, was always a heavy-set woman and loved to eat. With no one telling her ‘no’, she continued to eat and eat consuming between 3,000 and 4,000 calories a day, reaching a peak weight of 28 stone and a UK dress size of 28.
Her initial workout routine was such a struggle due to her weight that she could only attempt exercises that involved her sitting down, like the stationary bike.

Maria Hernandez /

While she was always a happy and confident woman, after graduating from university, she struggled to find any marketing jobs in clothing shops for plus size women.

Fearing that her weight was preventing her from working and getting a job, she decided to undertake vertical sleeve gastrectomy surgery reducing her weight to a slender 12 stone 12 pounds and a UK dress size of 16.

Vertical sleeve gastrectomy is the process of removing a large portion of the stomach, reducing it to the size of a banana, in order to limit the amount of food intake.

Maria Hernandez /

It can reduce the stomach’s volume by up to 75 percent and is usually performed using keyhole surgery.

She now consumes between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day. Before, Maria could only do two miles on the exercise bikes, whereas now she can cycle 15 miles in one go.

“Growing up in primary school and high school, I was never bullied. I was always just comfortable with who I was,” Maria said.

“I was blessed to have not been teased by my family or cousins and accepted by my friends. We had so many house parties, party buses, yacht parties. We went out clubbing and dancing.

Maria Hernandez /

“Mind you, I was 28+ stone and feeling carefree. Factors that I believe led to my obesity were that nobody was telling me no; I was so comfortable with the way that I looked and accepted by others that it didn’t bother me. If it didn’t bother others, why would it bother me?”

“Right before I made the decision to lose weight, I was confident that I was going to be successful with the journey I was about to embark on.

“I was in my senior year in fashion marketing school, weighing in at 28 stone. As much as I tried and tried, I couldn’t seem to find a job.

“I applied at Torrid and then I applied at Lane Bryant; when I didn’t get the job at Lane Bryant, I was completely devastated.

Maria Hernandez /

“Was I too big for the plus size industry? I panicked. It’s bad enough that once you graduate, you have to compete with an enormous amount of highly qualified graduates.

“But at this point, I couldn’t even stand for more than one hour at a time. When I worked in retail, I had to pretend to use the bathroom in order to just sit or hide in the common room.

“That’s not the future I had pictured for myself.”

Maria Hernandez /

While her doctors recommended the bypass surgery, which would shrink her stomach to the size of an egg, Maria ended up going with vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

“My appetite was reduced. I just wanted to jumpstart my weight loss journey so that I wouldn’t feel tired all the time,” she said.

“Then after losing so much weight, I had so much excess skin that I started to develop rashes. A few months later, I had a tummy tuck; where they cut off my belly button and replaced it with a new one.

“I have regained a whole new perspective of life. I have drastically changed my mentality and why I was doing or not doing the right things.

Maria Hernandez /

“Gottlieb Bariatric Center gave me all the tools I needed to understand and re-educate myself.

“Losing 17 stone 2lbs has given me so much energy and power to do it all. I cannot wait to see how my weight loss can help motivate others not to give up.

“Over the past two years, I’ve had to drastically change from overeating, to being on soft and liquid diets, then back to somewhat of a normal appetite.

“Since they cut my stomach and my appetite is suppressed, I’ve had to learn how to live a whole new lifestyle that only allowed me to eat a few bites at a time. I couldn’t eat and drink at the same time or I’ll vomit.”

Maria Hernandez /

This new lifestyle became very tough for Maria, particularly with the excess skin she had to carry around.

“I’d say the hardest thing for me was the excess skin on my stomach. I was working out so much that I started to lose weight and with the excess skin, came the torturous rashes. The rashes were so severe, that I could barely walk,” she said.

“When my family and friends see me, they can’t believe it. Some have cried. Some have congratulated me and apologised if they have ever offended me.

“It’s crazy how many people can go years without talking to you and when you see them then they see how successful you have become and all of a sudden they don’t want to become strangers anymore.

Maria Hernandez /

“I’m not a medical professional, I’m not a trainer. I had to re-educate myself on who I was, the food I ate, my history with my eating behaviour and my lack of activity.

“Track your progress on My Fitness Pal app and see a doctor. They help you more than you think. I started to go to the gym and I would keep track of how many miles or how long I would stay on the bike or elliptical.

“Even going up and down the stairs. But you have to start somewhere.”