Edward - Interview 08

Brief Outline: Edward, 18, is a medical student. He does lots of exercise to try to achieve what he considers to be the ideal male body image. Ethnic background: White British.
Background: See 'brief outline'.

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Edward, 18, is a medical student. He does lots of exercise to try to achieve what he considers to be the ideal male body image – which for him is a toned, muscular look. He lost the “baby fat” from his stomach when he started exercising. Edward says he does a lot more exercise than his friends do, he swims for an hour three times a week, does sit-ups, squats and press-ups most days for 20 minutes, goes running three times a week and does a martial art once a week. Edward says it’s difficult to fit in sometimes with university work, but he finds he can fit it in between things – they’ve just become a habit now. Since he started university, Edward says he doesn’t exercise as much as he used to. Before, he did martial arts 3 times a week and he used to run more often, but now it’s more difficult because he lives on a busy city street - there’s nowhere to run because there’s too many people and the traffic is dangerous. He also thinks these days there are fewer opportunities for exercise, because people drive everywhere.
Edward likes running because it’s free, but he pays to go swimming and to do martial arts. He doesn’t think it’s expensive to do these activities, but he saves money by budgeting and not drinking alcohol and eating less meat than he used to. Edward’s main reason for swimming and doing the martial arts is for stress management and relaxation, while the other exercises he does for his body shape.
Edward says reading magazines like Men’s Fitness can make you feel inadequate and depressed, but he realises that the images are unrealistic and edited. He’s noticed that men’s magazines, unlike women’s, do not have articles about how to feel comfortable being curvy.
Edward loves cooking and often cooks from scratch, but he says it’s difficult to avoid high amounts of salt and fat if you buy processed foods or ready meals. He tries to eat his five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and worries if he doesn’t. Edward says he follows a healthy diet because he thinks it will help his mental health but also will help him look healthy. As his local shop doesn’t stock fresh foods, Edward has to walk 20 minutes to the supermarket. When he’s buying food, Edward looks at the nutrition wheels on the packaging which use the traffic light system to know how much fat or salt foods have got in them (red means high levels; green means low levels).

Edward says he is not overweight but has always wanted the 'perfect' image.

Body image, what can I say. I was never ever fat but you always wanted sort of that perfect image so I used to do sort of gym work and I did martial arts, and I still do now. And you always just wanted the sort of ideal image which you assume for a man is sort of the six pack, large pecks, muscle, but not, not body builder gigantic, more just sort of that you look slim, but underneath you looked quite sculpted and toned so to say.
Body image issues as well, when I started losing my hair at 16, that was quite a big body image issue as well, and that makes you realise a lot of things too, which you never think about, often acne as well, that’s a very big body issue thing, and teenagers as well, although, the fact of acne sort of starts to wear off, well not so much the actual disease itself but the the psychological effects of acne, once you’ve had it for so many years, and I’ve had it for about six years now, and you just kind of, you actually almost forget sometimes, that you’ve had it really.
I would say height can be an issue with body image too, but that depends on confidence really. Before secondary school and I wasn’t so confident I used to not like being so tall ‘cos I’d stand out from the crowd, now I actually like it ‘cos it’s a big beneficial thing. That’s all I can really think of start off with for body image really.
I would never say that, I mean, I used to have a small amount of what you would call sort of baby fat on the stomach, but once I started doing exercising on a proper level, i.e. through martial arts, that went. And that was sort of a transition, but you always worry about being quite skinny as well. When you’re going through puberty, especially around 14 then sort of the working out with the arms sort of comes in, it’s like who can have the biggest biceps, say, who can have the biggest triceps, say. I’m not amazingly into that, but obviously, you know, you would always be sort of quite in awe of people who, who’d worked out quite a lot with weights and so, I’ve never ever been fat, so I’ve never ever had to worry about that, in fact loads of people just say I’m skinny. Which is fine for me because I’ve never seen that as an offensive thingy whatsoever. But some people do find that… a problem, I think it; I think men can get away with being fatter than women actually. I think although that doesn’t mean to say that obesity is less of a problem with women, I just think women worry about it more. 

Edward has become more suspicious of food packaging since realising that a product can claim to be healthy but have high sugar and salt content.

Since starting my course it has to be anatomy, physiology text books give you a fair bit. Other good places are Wikipedia, NHS Direct. NHS Direct is actually really good at just laying it out simply. That’s, you know you don’t, to be honest even I find it a bit boring learning about the ins and outs of things like that, it’s so much easier just to have it presented to you quite simply. And I would say stuff like NHS Direct, leaflets as well, ad campaigns, the NHS I think most of the information I’ve ever acquired on sort of diets stuff like that has come in one form or the other from the NHS, be it a doctors’ surgeries, leaflets, health education seminars that kind of thing. I wouldn’t, I think  often, I used to think that, you know, that you could rely on company’s packaging sort of saying like, “Oh it’s low fat, so it’s good.” Or something like that, or, you know, it contains protein or something like that, but you now realise studying at university that although they may be true in some cases, it’s often very clever sort of re-wording stuff like that and ignorance of other things like salt,  sorry, salted peanuts, say high in fibre, high in protein, that’s true but they’re also very high in salt, which they refuse [er] to really put on the package. So  that’s been quite a good thing, those  nutrition wheels you have, which says, you know, the traffic light systems? Those are very very good actually, you start to realise how much crap is in your food basically.
If there are two products next door to, lets say we’re doing baked beans, one of them is full of red traffic lights and one’s full of orange, I will go for the orange one, nearly always. So in that respect yes. I wouldn’t say necessarily I would drop the product just ‘cos it’s got one red thing, or, you know, it’s not all green, but it is very, it is very important I think to know what’s in your food. A lot of people are ignorant and that’s just the easiest way to show it really to be honest. And you start to realise as well and I realised this more when I was looking at Uni, there is a ridiculous amount of salt in every product ranging from sort of lasagne sheets to  Marmite, everything. I think that’s a serious, serious, serious problem we have on our hands for heart disease and high blood pressure. So that’s the probably the biggest thing that made me realise and wake up to stuff. ‘Cos even if you’re quite thin you can still have too much salt in your diet and it’s not necessarily a good thing at all. 

Edward thinks a healthy diet is important for reducing the risk of getting serious conditions such as diabetes.

And do you think it’s important to be healthy?
Very important. Very important. If you don’t have your health it’s very hard to have anything else, or appreciate anything else so to speak. If you’re ill it doesn’t really matter how much money you’ve got because you won’t appreciate it because you’re ill. [Um], you know a typical example is the sort of “Fresher’s Flu” which nearly Uni student will get, once you have it, it’s horrible and you can’t really learn that much because you just feel like crap. That’s pretty much an example of how being ill will affect your life. So by being healthy you can really avoid a lot of the consequences, and when I used to do a lot of voluntary work in say hospices or mental health care homes, you realise that diet is, I don’t want to be a reductionist and say it’s responsible for everything, but by having a healthy diet you really, really do reduce your chances of a lot of diseases to very, very, very small numbers, so that’s why it’s a very important thing I think. 

Doctors should go into schools to make people aware of the health risks involved in being overweight.

I’m not sure what more doctors and nurses can do really, I mean it’d be nice to see a few more doctors in schools. I haven’t seen, I don’t remember, I’ve never seen a doctor in school actually, only nurses, if them. And that would be a really good thing I think if more GPs just came, just, well not even GPs just say a gastro-intestinal surgeon came in just for an afternoon, say “I’m doing,” you know, “This is what I do. Dah dah dah. The so on and so forth.” And just make people realise this is what will happen, ‘cos I’ve never had a doctor in school in my life, never ever, ever, ever, ever had one, not in, can’t remember from the age of 3 to the age of 18, ever seeing a doctor. First time I met doctors in the learning room was here.
But you very rarely will see doctors. I know they may think sort of that it’s more important for them to treat people but prevention will, you know, will really cut down your waiting lists in years to come I’d say. 
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