Health and weight

Healthy eating

The most important lesson that the young people we interviewed have learned is that there is no ‘quick fix’ solution when it comes to losing weight. It can take many months or even years to achieve a target weight so patience is required. In this section, young people talk about their experiences of trying to lose or maintain weight and what has worked for them as an individual.

The young people‘s experiences suggested that weight loss and keeping a healthy weight required them to change their eating and lifestyle habits. 
Lifestyle changes that had helped young people lose weight included:  

• Spending less time in front of the TV or computer
• Being more active by walking to school, for example
• Taking regular exercise (see Exercise)
Changes to eating habits that helped included:

• Eating breakfast everyday
• Eating more fruit and vegetables
• Having smaller food portions
• Eating more slowly 
• Cutting down or avoiding food high in saturated fat and sugar
• Healthy snacking (like a piece of fruit)
Why is difficult to change eating and lifestyle habits?
Every young person we talked to accepted that changing old habits was not easy. There was always the possibility of slipping back, particularly when excess weight didn’t drop off as quickly as they hoped. This tended to happen when:
• Friends continued to eat the food that they were trying to avoid
• Working for school exams
• They were the only one in their home/family trying to eat different and healthier food

But some young people were so scared of ending up ill because of their weight that they stuck with their new, healthier lifestyle and eating habits (see Health problems associated with being overweight).

For the young people who found it difficult to make these changes by themselves, the following helped: 

• Joining a weight management programme
• Learning about nutrition
• Support from family and friends
Weight management programmes
A diet that promises massive weight loss in record time  is short-term and usually leads to temporary results. A weight management programme aims to help people to lose weight and keep the weight off by permanently changing their eating habits and lifestyles.
We talked to young people who had just started a healthy eating programme and also to those who had finished it. Both groups reported a steady but gradual reduction of weight and size. Young people talked about setting up realistic targets on a long-term basis. Those who have been managing their weight for a long period were pleased with the results; one person had lost six and a half stone in two years and another about four stone in one year.
Being on a weight management programme was described by Duncan, as a ‘rollercoaster’ experience. His weight fluctuated up and down and some weeks it stayed the same which he found confusing. Those who joined a weight management programme especially designed for young people found that meeting others of similar age and with similar experiences (e.g. being bullied) helped them a lot.
Learning about nutrition
Understanding the basics of nutrition helped young people to take responsibility for eating more healthily. Community-based weight management programmes for young people such as SHINE (Self Help Independence, Nutrition and Exercise), Watch it! (a programme delivered by Leeds Primary Care Trust and MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition… Do it! Programme) taught health and nutrition. This gave people:

• The ability and confidence to read and analyse the nutritional information on food packets
• An understanding of the importance of a balanced diet; including food from the four food groups
• An understanding of calories in terms of the amount consumed and amount burned
This helped young people to both stick with healthy eating and to make progress toward achieving their target healthy weight.
Support from family and friends
Support from family and friends is crucial in helping young people succeed in achieving a healthier lifestyle and reaching their target weight. Many talked of how their mothers no longer cooked with cream or butter; how they included healthier options in the family shopping and allowed the young person to cook in a ‘healthier way’ for the whole family. In several cases a mother or father did a weight management programme alongside their son or daughter. But not everyone we spoke to felt they had the support of their parents (see Food and eating).
Parents felt that it was their responsibility to provide a healthy eating pattern but found it very frustrating when their children did not agree with their food choices. It could also be upsetting to see children try to lose weight and not succeed.  Community-based healthy eating programmes were found to be very useful by parents too.
The experience of losing weight made young people confident in their ability to manage their weight both in the present and in the future.

Last reviewed July 2017.


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