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Dee - Interview 39

Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: Dee is the mother of 20 year old Alicia. Dee partly blames herself for not taking control of Alicia's appetite or giving her smaller portions. She says that Alicia feels people should just accept her for who she is.
Background: Dee is a Careers advisor and mother of one child aged 20. Ethnic background: Black British.

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Dee is the mother of 20 year old Alicia. She says Alicia was a big baby and has always had a big appetite and enjoyed her food. Dee partly blames herself and her parents for not taking control of Alicia’s appetite or giving her smaller portions. Dee sees this lack of control as being at the heart of Alicia’s problems with her weight. She thinks that Alicia feels she shouldn’t have to take control of her eating habits, and that people should just accept her for who she is. Alicia has become more accepting of herself now she has a boyfriend who likes her as she is.
 
Dee says Alicia was never really bullied, but was seen instead as looking after everyone else. In fact, Dee thinks she’s been more of a bully to Alicia about her weight and has been the least accepting. Family members also sometimes make comments and this upsets Dee.
 
When she was little, Alicia saw dietitians and Dee doesn’t think they were very helpful, and Alicia hasn’t had any other help. Dee thinks there’s more awareness about the health risks of obesity now and more help is available. Dee is worried about the consequences for Alicia’s health. She says that Alicia’s legs swell up in the summer because of water retention. Dee thinks Alicia is getting a bit more attention now because there is a history of diabetes in her family, and because her father is overweight and had a gastric band. Dee thinks it would have made a difference if the whole family had received help when Alicia was much younger. Dee thinks that it will take a health scare to shock Alicia into taking action.
 
Dee thinks that Alicia’s weight gain is due to the large portions of food she eats, rather than the type of food – which has always been healthy – because she was always an active child, swimming and doing Taekwondo and karate. Dee thinks Alicia got into a habit of eating too much and then it became difficult to eat less without feeling hungry. Dee believes Alicia doesn’t know when she’s full up.
 
Alicia lost a lot of weight after changing her eating and exercise habits, but as both her and Dee got busier, it became more difficult to fit these changes into their day to day lives, and the weight crept back on again.
 
Alicia has been through hard times and experienced anxiety and depression, and received counselling and medication. As a result, she didn’t go to university as planned, although she now has a place to do a Foundation in Medicine course.
 
Dee recommends that other parents should look at where they are going wrong and get help and support if they need it.
 

Dee wonders if she should have stopped her daughter getting into the habit of eating too much.

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I think she was always a big girl, I mean she wasn’t a big baby, she was only what 7lbs 10ozs, that’s not huge, I mean it was huge for me because I’m quite small, but I know she was a caesarean birth and she was too big for me, but within the first six months of her life she’d gone up to about a stone.

She just was greedy really, she just drunk and drunk she just, you know, always filled herself up a lot, as it were, so she was always big. And I think I personally, I don’t think I got it under control I think I probably should have done a lot more a lot sooner in terms of her weight, I should have had a bit more control over it, but I think we always thought, “Oh she’s only a baby she’ll grow out of it, it will be fine, she’ll be okay”, and that, so we just fed her and we just continued to keep, you know, feeding this big appetite that she had, not thinking that actually we were actually fuelling a big problem for later on.

We allowed her to eat too much right from day one and so I have to hold my hand up to that, we did allow her to eat too much and so therefore she’s got into that sort of pattern. She was already brought up on that pattern of overeating and of filling herself up in that way, not having any sort of restrictions put on the amount that she could actually sort of, you know, nobody saying to her well actually you don’t need that much you know, nobody needs that much, stop eating that - she was never told that.

 

Dee says that using words like ‘big’ just ‘beats around the bush’.

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Well, I actually think if you’re fat, you’re fat and if you’re skinny, you’re skinny, if you’re obese then it’s a medical term isn’t it? And it means that you’re obese, it means your body mass index is over a certain amount and you’re obese as it were, so to me it’s just a way of describing the sort of way that the person is without being very ‘right on’ as it were I suppose.
 
If we say that a person’s ‘big’, it’s probably just a slightly softer way of saying it as it were. But if someone’s fat then, you know you’re fat aren’t you? You’ve got excess weight, no matter which way you look at it it’s the same thing, it’s fat, it’s excess weight. You’re big, you know. ‘Big’ doesn’t always describe it anyway does it really? Because you can be big, but you can have big feet or big shoulders, or you can have big thighs or something like that, but you might still be the right proportion for your height, but just big in certain areas as it were. But if you’re fat, that kind of describes that you’re overweight, that you’re overweight. But it’s not very nice, people don’t like it I suppose... and I suppose it could be seen as being derogatory in some way, and that, but I don’t see it as derogatory.
 
Just like when people tell me I’ve got a fat belly and I have got a fat belly, but it is a fat belly, there’s no other way of describing it, it’s fat - you know - it’s excess as it were but I don’t know - maybe I’m not ‘right on’. I try my hardest not to be [right on] actually because I get a bit fed up with it because it beats around the bush and everybody knows what everybody’s trying to say really but they’re sort of not saying what they want to say - just trying to sort of protect the other person to some degree. 
 
 

Dee’s daughter was fed man-sized portions of West Indian food by her grandad.

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Her Granddad used to take her down to [city area] and they’d buy West Indian provisions and things like that and she’d learn all about them and cook them and all that, and he’d feed her sort of man-sized portions, and that, so she got, you know, and then my mum sort of would buy her bags of crisps you know so she’d end up with like, she’d come home from nursery and her grandmother would prepare her sort of sausages and mash, with onion gravy and that, and she’d have that straight after nursery, having had, she’d collect her from nursery with a bag of crisps or something to have on the way home, to walk home with. When she got home she’d have her sausages and mash then when granddad got back they’d have their evening meal, which was rice and some sort of you know, big meal so she’d get used to eating loads and loads of food, really healthy portions, as well really big portions.  
 

Dee says that her daughter has always struggled to control her eating and was treated for depression and anxiety.

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I mean we just didn’t get it, you know, I take my hands up to that we just didn’t have any control, we didn’t have control, my parents didn’t have control, we allowed it to happen, and that, and then when it did really become a problem for her. I suppose it wasn’t until she was much older really because she wasn’t the sort of child that got bullied, she never got bullied at school, she never really had any... you know, she was always seen as the ‘big fat mama’ sort of thing, you know, and people quite liked the ‘big fat mama’ and she was, you know, sort of the other kids used to sort of if they’re with her at least she would look after them and she was always very supportive and motherly and that. But I think as she got older and she didn’t want to be seen always as the one that was there to look after everybody else and to be sort of, you know, the protector, and she sort of wanted to be sexy [name] and she wanted to be the one that people were attracted to and not the one that people came and spoke to about their problems you know.
 
And then it started to become an issue but then it’s always been a problem of control, and that sort of part of her thinking.. “I want to be, I want people to accept me the way I am” and so therefore not wanting to sort of take control because she’s sort of feeling, “Why should I? This is who I am and people should like me for who I am”. And then another part of her sort of recognising that actually “I should do something about it really because it’s unhealthy” and it is hard, it is much harder, and she’s always sort of struggled with those sort of two extremes really and she still continues to struggle with those two extremes. Now she’s in a position that she’s got a boyfriend so she’s feels comfortable, she’s got someone that likes her for who she is. She’s happy doing the things that she’s doing, and that, she feels, because there was a point were she did start shortly after, I can’t remember whether it was before she did “Transformed” or after, and that, but she developed sort of anxiety problems, and that, so she was suffering quite badly from depression and anxiety and she was on medication and she saw counsellors anyway a lot of it was put down to sort of, you know sort of weight issues and just not really facing up to things I suppose not really taking control, but she seems to have worked her way through that, she seems to have got over that. Because she’s very bright and I think she was, you know, she had a road set out for herself and I think she feels quite bad that she didn’t go to university at the time she was meant to go to university and follow that journey that she was meant to follow because all of a sudden everything came crashing down on her and she just couldn’t cope with being in a classroom situation, she just couldn’t cope with other people, she started to really, she wouldn’t even get on a bus at one point, and that, she got really, really, so I think she feels really hurt that that happened to her and she had to go through all of that.
 

Dee and her daughter used to end up arguing whenever they went clothes shopping.

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Oh it was a nightmare, it was a complete nightmare. It was okay up until she was probably, because she’s always been big so she was always had clothes that were sort of a few years older than her age group. But up until about eleven, twelve that was fine and that but it was the teenage years that were the hardest, the teenage years were a nightmare because you’ve got, because you’ve got all these shops that sell, like Evans and ‘Roger Roger’ (there used to be a Roger Roger which was Jeffrey Rogers or whatever he’s called) their big shop, but the clothes are all for much older, they’re for sort of, you know, people in their thirties and above as it were and of course she wanted to wear all the teenage stuff because she was a teenager. She wants to wear all the young clothes and of course the young clothes don’t fit, you know, so it was really quite hard and that and if they do fit they don’t look right, as it were. So we ended up, you know having to go to shops and sort of buy stuff and then she sort of said, “Oh, you know, I look like I’m 40, sort of thing. I don’t want to look like I’m 40,” and that. So then she got into, so she created her owns fads as it were, so she became a ‘hat girl’ and so she’d have loads of different hats, all sorts of different coloured hats, and then she’d accessorise them with scarves and handbags and so it was a handbag-scarf sort of thing.
 
So she found her own way of sort of dancing up her outfits and things, she did it herself, she was quite happy with that but no , I was really glad actually I used to hate going shopping with her because it would always end in an argument. Always end in some sort of argument because it would always be, you know, that there wasn’t anything there that fitted her or if it did fit her I wasn’t happy with it so… you know. And she’d want to find, ”At the end of the day you are my child, you know, and I don’t want you to be walking around sort of wearing a belly top with big rolls hanging, you know, it just doesn’t look attractive.” “Oh you don’t like me the way I am”. “It’s not a question of me not liking you the way you are it, you’ve got to accept the fact that you’re too big. It’s too small - the top’s too small. You’re too big and it doesn’t look right”.
 
So it would always end in a big fight, so I hated it, absolutely hated it, and so I’m quite glad now that she can go and do her own thing, I don’t have to get involved.
 

Dee’s daughter enjoyed some aspects of the 'Transformed' programme, and learnt to cook new foods, but didn't manage to stick to the changes after a holiday.

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Meeting the other children, she kept in contact with friend, you know, two of the kids… I think she thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I think she really did, but I think whilst she was doing it… she was really into the sort of, you know, losing weight and that, afterwards we kind of, it, spent ages trying to cook the foods and to do all the bits and pieces and we went all organic which was costing me a fortune and she was kind of, she learnt how to cook some of the foods but for some reason it just didn’t fit into real life, you know, as we started to get busier, as she started to do more, and that, she just couldn’t keep it up, she couldn’t keep it up at all, and that, and then she’d miss seeing friend at the gym and then that sort of seized up. And we went on, we went to Jamaica that was it, we went on holiday, we went to Jamaica and we were in an all inclusive hotel and that’s when she actually gained quite a bit of weight although she was swimming and everything else every day. 
 
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Dee says parents should be honest with themselves about where they are going wrong and be ready...

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I think they need to be honest really, I think honesty is important. I think you need to really look at where, as a parent, you might be going wrong, where you might be actually contributing to the child eating too much. You need to also try and understand the child as well, I would say try and understand their thinking and where they’re at with it all, and get help, you know, get help and I would say try and do it, you know, definitely whilst the child is young, don’t wait for them to get… you know… as soon as you recognise there is an issue, deal with it, as it were, don’t leave it, you know, because it just gets worse and worse as they get older. 
 
So I would say go and get the help early and, and be honest. Yes, honesty pays you know, because I think we have got a lot as a parent, we have got a lot to answer for, as well because, you know, the kids, they’re our kids - they’re nobody else’s children - they’re our kids and that, and when they’re very little they don’t choose what they eat, we choose it for them, we do all the sort of, you know, and so if we’re making the wrong decisions it will have an effect later on, so we do need to bear all those things in mind.
 

Don't have preconceived ideas and stereotypes in mind when you try to treat different families and children; everyone is an individual.

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And what sort of messages would you give health professionals?
 
Well, I think, you know, to try and to try and understand, I think it’s actually trying to work with where the young person, and where people are at and trying to sort of really understand their situation and understand kind of what’s going to work for them and that’s going to be a very individual thing, it’s not going to be the same for everybody. So certainly sort of a dietitian giving everybody the same diet sheets or whatever, or get them, it’s not going to work for every child, as it were, you need to understand and, you know, the psychologist or whoever it is, I don’t know, that they see, you know, you need to understand where the other person, where that family is at and try and work with that family at their level and that. And sort of taking away, as we were saying, sort of like the ethnicity and the class, you know, try and not have the pre-conceived ideas and judgements and stereotypes and all those sorts of things and just see a family as an individual and the children as individuals and their situation as unique and deal with it that way.
 
So what recommendations would you make or suggest to services?
 
Ooh, suggestions for the services. I suppose it’s that, isn’t it? I suppose it’s identifying the problems early, working with the families, sort of in a very individual sort of unique sort of way and trying to sort of help the families and the young people and everything, set goals and targets and that sort of thing but it’s getting into it earlier rather than later, as it were.
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