Looking back at photos from her youth, Jennifer Free can pinpoint the exact moment her body changed, starting a battle with a disease that was diagnosed half a decade later.
“I look at photos when I was 13 and I have these skinny little legs, and then in photos from when I was 15, I’ve got big fat legs and I’ve had big fat legs ever since,” the Huntingdale resident said.
Ms Free’s problem wasn’t a lack of exercise or a food-based failure, despite decades of doctors telling her to diet and exercise.
Rather, she was unknowingly suffering from lipoedema, a disease that impacts 11 per cent of all women.
Lipoedema is a long-term health condition that is characterised by abnormal fatty deposits and swelling of the legs and hips caused by an accumulation of diseased fat and fluid in the tissues under the skin.
It took a massage on a cruise in 2013, more than 50 years since she first noticed the change in her body, for her to realise she didn’t just have “big fat legs”.
“I dieted, I exercised, and I got smaller but my weight never changed and my legs never slimmed down.
“I went on a cruise in 2013 and a Japanese massage therapist said I had lumpy-bumpy legs, she said fat was smooth and my legs were not smooth.
“I went to several GPs who said diet and exercise, like I hadn’t heard that enough, but I got an official diagnosis in 2014 and I felt like a weight had just been lifted off my shoulders.
“It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t anything I was doing, the fact it was a condition was such a relief.”
Switching to a low-carb diet and switching out gym sessions for lighter exercises like line-dancing and water aerobics, Ms Free’s quality of life has improved dramatically.
With June being Lipoedema Awareness Month, Ms Free is urging women who struggle with weight to get checked out.
“If this only helps one person, then it is absolutely worth it.
“It’s a progressive disease but the earlier you know, the more you can do to slow that progress.”
A free event to raise awareness is being held on June 25 at South Perth Community Centre.
For further details and to register to attend: https://lipoedema-awareness.eventbrite.com.au