EMMA Holmes could be the next Incredible Shrinking Woman. For she’s not only lost 15-and -a-half-stone in weight in less than 18 months, but she’s lost three inches in height too!

No wonder the 41-year-old shop assistant from Wimborne St Giles is almost unrecognisable.

“Even people who have known me for years don’t realise it’s me at first,” she laughs.

“I used to be nearly 5ft 9ins and now I’m just 5ft 6ins because I’ve also lost the fat between my vertebrae!”

But it’s not just Emma’s appearance that has drastically changed – her life is transformed too. Emma spent 30 years trying to lose weight before having bariatric surgery in November 2008.

“You name it I tried it,” she says. “Every diet, every slimming club and even slimming pills but I would always lose weight and put more back on then I would get depressed and eat even more – it was like a vicious circle that I couldn’t seem to break.

“It wasn’t so much what I ate, but the volume of food that I ate. I could eat anything – I just never felt full.

At her heaviest, the mother of three weighed 27st.

“If I went to a restaurant I had to choose a chair without arms because otherwise I’d get stuck. I often got wedged in chairs. I can laugh about it but it was horrendous at the time. Everything was such an effort. It was embarrassing going anywhere as people would stare and I remember needing an extension belt on a plane journey – it was so humiliating.”

But it was a doctor’s visit that saved her life.

“He told me that unless I did something about it I probably wouldn’t be here in 10 years’ time. I had high blood pressure and no energy at all. He recommended a gastric bypass – I didn’t know anything about it or what to expect.

“It’s a big operation but I was only in hospital a few days and all I had was six little scars on my stomach.”

Following her operation at Streamline Surgical, Emma now weighs 10st 7lb and has shrunk from a dress size 28 to a 10.

“My life is so different – it’s opened up a whole new world. I can actually wear the clothes I sell in the shop and I’ve bought myself a sports car because I could never get in one before!

“I’d recommend the operation to anyone in the same situation. It literally saved my life.”

Christiana Clogg, owner of The Good Surgeon Guide said: “If people are considering weight loss surgery they could be suffering from low self-esteem, when people can be blinded by low prices and technical language. You must feel confident you know all the information, and that the surgeon has a great record.

“Looking at all the options including losing weight through a healthy active lifestyle and diet is important before choosing potentially irreversible surgery.”

Belinda Dart is the Bournemouth team leader for the British Obesity Surgery Patient Association which runs a support group for anyone who has had, or is thinking about, gastric surgery. Meetings are every second Sunday in the month. Contact Chrissie Palmer on 08456 020 446 or email chrissie@bospa.org.