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Health and weight (young people)

Dieting

"… that diet worked really well for me and I would’ve been able to keep it up had I had the chef to make the meals and the personal trainer to keep me training."
 
Young people we spoke to understood that diets don’t always help with weight loss in the long term because eating patterns are only temporarily changed so only give temporary results. Some young people spoke of how they have dieted and managed to lose some weight only to put it back again when they returned to their old eating habits. Several others thought young people shouldn’t diet because they might not understand the possible negative effects of low calorie diets on their bodies. They described their weight when dieting as ‘yo-yoing’ up and down. A few said they also experienced feeling ill, dizziness, lack of energy, temporary insomnia (inability to sleep) and even emotional effects when dieting.
 

Vicki became very emotional when she was dieting because her weight kept fluctuating up and down.

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Sex: Female
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Well it’s really, really difficult, especially when you’re younger. Like with the diet regimen, the yo-yo, the whole yo-yoing up and down through that 10 week period, was absolute torture for me, like I’ve just couldn’t sleep. I was terrified that I wasn’t going to lose weight, or that I was going to put weight on.
 
I was just a complete emotional wreck really, I was crying every five minutes, I became a bit of a hermit, I, If I went out I didn’t speak to anyone, it was just really hard. I was 14 years old and having so much like, being so unhappy being overweight, finally getting the weight off is amazing, then piling it all straight back on was just absolutely heartbreaking. Yo-yoing up and down in normal diets just, has just become a way of life really now. Like, being fat, then thinner, then fat and then thinner, just it gets just a pain at the back side really. It’s just like, “Am I ever gonna be able to do it like?” It just makes you really doubt yourself.

Some of the short-term eating patterns young people tried in order to lose weight included:

• Cutting down on carbohydrates or them cutting out entirely 
• Eating only fruit and vegetables 
• Having only soup or only seafood
 

Sami ate just one apple per day for 6 weeks with bad consequences for her health.

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Sex: Female
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I’ve been on every single diet known to man, for the entirety of my life trying to make myself slim, but to be honest that just makes me really unhappy ‘cos I’m always calorie counting, always looking at packets, and everybody else is just there enjoying, they can eat as many burgers as they like, I only have to look at a slice of cake or a burger, and I put on about a stone.
 
Well my most successful one which was in the deepest pit of depression was the starvation diet, where I didn’t eat anything but an apple every day for six weeks. And I lost nearly three stone doing that. But as soon as I started eating again straight back on plus more. I also did no protein diets, no carbohydrate diets, [sighs] I, my biggest weakness is chocolate [laughs] I eat so much chocolate it’s ridiculous. I quit chocolate for about a month, and I lost weight but I was incredibly unhappy. And I thought, you know, you know, I’ve got to have some chocolate, I don’t care if I’m slightly heavier, so. But the main diet for me was the starvation diet, but, you know, that does absolutely no good to your body at all.
 
And I learnt the hard way because I got serious problems with my stomach and stuff, then when I started eating again my body wouldn’t digest the food right. And I ended up with like diarrhoea and stuff like that, it was just so painful, and I used to have, I’ve got really bad stomach cramps every time I eat really heavy food now because it just got so damaged at that point.

Young people identified a number of reasons for diets not working:

• Lack of will power or motivation
• Dieting for the wrong reasons (e.g. trying to drop excess weight to please others)
• Health concerns from parents
• Lack of exercise
 

Ella's mother stopped her from following one diet because she thought it was dangerous to cut out a whole food group.

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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And your Mum thought it was dangerous, so tell me a bit more about that. Why is that?
 
Well I mean there’s been lots of reports of people being really, really ill from it. Because you’re denying yourself of one whole food group, which can’t ever be good. And also carbohydrates give you energy so you feel really tired and things, which I feel tired a lot of the time anyway, so I didn’t particularly want that on top of everything. And so I mean I cut back on my carbs which was perhaps good, but I didn’t, didn’t last for long and I didn’t do it properly so, yeah.
 
And also I mean I always think with diets that you can’t continue forever, that even if you do lose weight you’ll probably put it back on. Which a high percentage of people do do, what I like about the Weight Watchers one is that even though you might stop counting points, you’ve learnt sort of the principles, and that you, you can do that forever, which I have to say just exhausts me when I think about having to diet for ever, but I guess that’s, you know…. 
 
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Ursula's daughter has tried many diets but didn't stick to any of them for more than a couple of days.

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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Anyway then she decided to try diets. But she’d have, it, that didn’t work for her either because she’ll do it for about two days, and just say, “This food is ghastly, I just want to eat all things that I like”. So you know she’d be… eat half a fruit bowl and, and still go on and her lunch and what have you. 
 

And but now she’s twenty and I said to her the other day, “What are you doing for exercise?” She says, “Well I still do all my walking. I have a video and I’m just still trying to cut down on the food.” She said, “But I like my food and that’s all there is to it.” 

 

 
So she knows that she overeats. There was… on one occasion we went on holiday. It must’ve been about two years ago. And it was in Hong Kong we went and we were in one of the markets. And this woman actually made a comment about her and said, “Your daughter is so big, why don’t you have some of these soups, these are slimming soups?” So daughter was very receptive to that and we took the soups and she was fine. And she said they were nice. And we tried to get them when we were over here in England, but that didn’t happen. 
 
So she wants to slim down. She’s desperate to slim down. And she does try.
 
What sorts of things does she try?
 
Well, walking. She’s tried most diets. All the way from Slim fast, cabbage soup diet, starvation. And nothing lasts for more than two days [laughs].
Those who attended said that weight loss programmes had helped them understand how to eat healthily. Replacing certain food items like chocolate or cakes with commercial slimming products had helped some but others thought they were too expensive or doubted their nutritional value (see Healthy eating).
 

Ella followed a diet that taught her about healthy eating.

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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And you were saying about these principles? You’ve learnt the principles. What are those principles?
 
Yeah, for instance that you can have certain things that you like but only if you for instance eat less throughout the day, or throughout the week, or, and that you can go out with your friends to a restaurant, but perhaps only have a smaller amount at breakfast and lunch. And then choose carefully at a restaurant, like, no, you know, perhaps choose things without cream or without butter, and things like that, so I mean, yeah. That’s fine, I’ve done a lot of, sort of substitutions as well from the Weight Watcher range like rather than having a full fat yogurt I’ll have a Weight Watchers' yogurt, which is hardly anything off my points that I use for the day. And so on. So things like that have been really helpful as well because I don’t notice the difference between the two different types of yogurts.
 
Can you give me any other examples of that kind of thing? The substitutions?
 
Yeah, they have like for instance they have chocolate bars which are very small and sort of not really chocolaty at all [laughing], but the fact that you’re having something sweet and, you know, you can have, you can take a bar with you, whatever, does make you much less tempted to have a chocolate bar which is about five times the number of points so it does, they do sort of do some great products that do make a lot of difference. And you, I mean you might notice it a bit, but it hasn’t really affected me to be honest. 

Last reviewed July 2017.

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