Ella, 17, is a student in sixth form and is hoping to go to University to study criminology. She currently lives with her mum. Over the past year, Ella has lost weight and dropped several dress sizes.
Ella says she was always a “chubby” child and gained weight gradually over time, even though her parents tried to limit what she ate. Her family have been encouraging her to try to lose weight for some time, and sometimes Ella would get defensive and upset if anyone tried to talk about her weight. Although Ella told people that she was happy as she was, she says now, looking back, she wasn’t happy. Ella has had a few periods where she’s felt less happy than usual and says that keeping a check on what she eats is harder at those times when she wants more comfort foods like pasta and mashed potatoes.
Ella felt that her mum had quite a lot of control over what she ate while she was growing up by preparing all her meals and packed lunches and making sure she ate healthily (a proper breakfast and five portions of fruit and vegetables a day). Ella says they rarely ate crisps, chocolate, sweets, or fast food, but thinks that coming from an Israeli background where the culture is based around food may have played a part in her weight gain. At times, Ella has found it difficult because her older sister and many of her friends are what she describes as “thin” – even though they seem to eat a lot. Ella says she can’t eat things like chocolate or cakes regularly because she would gain weight, and she puts this down to her having a slower metabolism to her friends and has had to learn that she can’t eat the same as her friends and family.
Ella didn’t experience any problems at school until she started a new school aged 13, where she felt she didn’t fit in with the other girls. Although she wasn’t actually bullied, she felt excluded and would often eat lunch alone. She changed schools and although she says she’s much happier at her new school, she thinks that because it’s a girls’ school, there will always be some pressure to fit in.
Ella decided to try to lose weight when she started to find it difficult to buy clothes from high street shops like Top shop, where sizes range from 6-16. The summer before she started sixth form, she started going to WeightWatchers – she says she was the only young person at the meetings, but that everyone was really friendly. Although Ella had tried to lose weight before, she says going to WeightWatchers helped because you can monitor your progress and you get support from other people in the same situation. She also likes the WeightWatchers points system because it means she can sometimes eat the things she likes from time to time, like chocolate and she still goes to restaurants but chooses items from the menu without cream, butter or oil. This way, she doesn’t feel like she’s on a diet. Ella says her mum has been really supportive while she’s been trying to lose weight, prepares low fat, low calorie meals for them both.
In the beginning, Ella says she lost weight quite quickly, but then it slowed down. Ella thinks she’ll always have to watch her weight and that it might even get harder as she gets older and her metabolism slows down. Ella doesn’t really like exercising, although she does go swimming, and she thinks it didn’t really help her to lose weight in the past. Ella’s advice to other young people who want to lose weight is to join a group because you get lots of tips and it helps to keep you motivated.
Ella says being a bigger size can make you feel self conscious, for example, about sunbathing, and especially about eating, because people assume you must be greedy. She feels much more confident about her body now. She thinks her appearance is more important than her actual weight and describes her figure as “womanly” with “big breasts and big hips”. She’s aiming to be a size 12 or less, but wouldn’t want to be a size 8 because she thinks that wouldn’t suit her curvy shape.
Ella's weight crept up over many years but she didn't do anything about it until she couldn't fit into high street clothes.
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Well yeah I started putting on weight sort of gradually over my childhood and that slowly built up until this summer, so this summer gone so about a year ago, when I decided to sort of do something about it. And my family had been wanting me to do something about it. And I guess I’d sort of, I’d sort of convinced myself that I was happy the way I was and so on, and but I’d got to sort of the stage where I, I wasn’t fitting in sort of high street, high street, you know like Topshop and so on, where a size 16 was sort of, you know, on the tight side, and that’s when I decided I wanted to do something about it.
I was never a sort of a skinny child like some of my friends were. I was always sort of a bit chubby, and every time I went on holiday and things like that, I put on a bit more weight and so on. And I guess it just gradually built up, and you don’t notice it as much, it wasn’t like I had a period where I put on an extreme amount of weight, I just sort of slowly put it on. And didn’t really lose it, and if I ever did sort of try and go on a diet or something then I didn’t really lose much, and sort of lost interest, so it was only really this year that I succeeded on staying on a diet as such. Yeah I mean it was, it was just it was really gradual over, over my childhood. I don’t really know, you know, when I started noticing that it was an issue for me or something.
Ella thinks that the difference between her and her sister's weight must be due to their metabolisms.
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You think it’s an issue maybe about your metabolism, maybe that’s what caused it…?
Well I can’t think of any other reason than that for if I eat so much less than for instance, my sister, we both do no exercise, and , she’s always been a very thin child and I’ve always been a bigger child. I mean I was, I was more interested in eating when I was younger than her, I loved my food, so did my brother. She wasn’t really interested, she just, it was sort of more of a chore for her, but now, I think she loves it more than me, and I can’t see any other reason why, why there’s that difference, other than perhaps metabolism.
I mean I’m not, I’m not saying that it’s only my metabolism, I just happened to learn that because perhaps I have a slower metabolism than other people, that I’ve had to eat, I’ve had to eat differently and eat less. Which I wasn’t something I wanted to realise before, so I mean obviously it’s just if you, it’s simple that if you eat more calories than you burn off, you put on weight. Yeah.
Some of the other factors that people think might be important are things like, maybe you have a genetic predisposition, or…?
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I’ve got a, yeah I think that’s definitely an issue for some people. I can’t say it is for me. My Mum was the same size as my sister until she had children and then slightly bigger but she’s very, very slim still for a woman of her age. My Dad was very, very thin until he was in, you know, in his adult years, and now I think he struggles with it a bit too. But I think that I certainly don’t have a genetic disposition towards it, but I think a lot of people do, but then I guess that it’s always the question about whether is it genetics or is it the, the environment that you’ve been raised in, and the environment that you are in. And yeah, I don’t really know.
And one of the other theories is that, maybe it’s something to do with, what your Mum did when she was pregnant with you, and the kind of things that she fed you when you were a baby, like a very small baby. And that sort of thing, I mean what do you think…?
Not particularly, ‘cos I mean I was her third child, and she did everything the same with my pregnancy as she did with my brother and sister’s, and there’s not, I can’t see anything that would explain the variance, and again she treated us, we were all quite young, I mean my brother is six years older than me and my sister’s four years older than me, so she had three kids under the age of 6 at the same time, and she did everything the same for us, so our packed lunch was always the same and so on. Things like that. So I don’t think that I was treated any differently when I was, when I was younger, than my sister was.
Ella eats when she feels upset or bored but she always feels guilty afterwards.
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The other thing you mentioned was about, you mentioned it just then as well, about comfort eating. Can you tell me what…?
Yeah, I mean I’m the kind of person that I want to eat when I’m upset. And I want to eat when I’m bored too. I sort of have both of those which isn’t nice, if I’m in here sitting on my own watching TV I’ll be really sort of tempted to have something, and I guess now what I’ve learnt is that I have to have, I can snack but I should have, you know, an apple, rather than a biscuit and so on. And I guess that as we’ve never really had sort of chocolate and things in my house much anyway, so that’s always been okay, if I want to sort of snack I can just have some fruit or a yogurt or something, and but yeah well, when I’m upset or a bit down I do just want, want to eat something like pasta or mashed potatoes, or something comfort food.
And is that like everyone gets a bit down sometimes. Has it been just times like that or has it been more sort of specific periods where you’ve been feeling quite low?
Well, there’s been periods sort of throughout my teenage years, but I don’t know if there’s been a specific one. There’s been quite sort of, there’ve been several sort of periods where I’ve felt less happy yeah, I just think that you don’t really care. You don’t really care about what implications eating will have, and you just, you just eat what you want to - so chocolate or whatever - rather than when you’re not feeling okay, you know, that you don’t want to have that. And I always feel so guilty after I do anyway, which is something I try and remember now, ‘cause I think I might want it now, but I’ll feel horrible after I do. But yeah, it’s quite hard to have self-restraint when you’re sort of in a low mood.
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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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….
Ella followed a diet that taught her about healthy eating.
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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.
Ella tried going to the gym but didn't lose weight.
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So you were saying you’re just not into exercise really?
I hate it. I mean everyone talks about this endorphin rush that you’re supposed to get after exercising but I swear I’ve not felt that at all. Just felt tired and exhausted, miserable. I go swimming a bit, which is okay. I just get really bored.
I used to go to the gym quite a bit, but that had absolutely, and that’s before I was actually losing, trying to diet, I decided to do some exercise, I used to go to the gym about four or five times a week, for a long time actually, and it just didn’t do anything. I mean I had more muscle, but I wasn’t any slimmer or anything like that. I don’t know if that was because I wasn’t doing it properly or because I’d just get bored too quickly and move onto something else, or whatever, but no, I mean exercise has just never been one of the things I like at all.
But you said you do go swimming a little bit now?
Yeah, I go swimming, I go on the occasional run, but it’s only a quick run ‘cause I have an issue with my ankles so I can’t really run for long, which is another reason I hate exercise to be honest. Yeah I’ve just never, never.. always hated it.
Ella enjoys getting compliments when she's lost weight.
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Well they’ve been really, really nice, and it was always nice to sort of, because I’ve sort of been, at first I lost weight, quite suddenly I lost 5lbs in the first week for instance, which was a lot to lose, it was nearly half a stone, you know, so obviously I got loads of really nice comments from my friends, but also, gradually losing weight, and I’m, and because it sort of plateau'd out and I’m only losing a bit here and there, and I’d get quite down about it, and think God I’m not losing anything, and sometimes when you feel like that you’re more tempted to say, oh well it doesn’t matter, I’ll you know I’ll , I’ll you know, sometimes you’re getting quite tempted to give up, not that I would ever, but it’s always nice when you haven’t seen your friends in a while and you come in and they’re, “You’re looking so skinny!” and that’s really, really nice. ‘Cos, yeah, they’ve all been really, really supportive, they’ve been lovely.
And you mentioned you were in a relationship? Are you still in that?
No, I’m in a different one. Yeah, and it’s very different now to how it was with the other person I was in a relationship with. Because before you know, I was always told it wouldn’t matter how big I was and things like that, which although it’s nice, you know, it’s probably very supportive, it’s also not, not I guess the right response because it just made me feel like I didn’t have to worry about it, and that I didn’t, that even though I was still unhappy about it, it made me feel as though I didn’t have to do anything about it which was probably when I put on the most weight. And now although my boyfriend is really supportive and says that he’ll, he’ll you know, he thinks I’m fine the way I am, he’s also really, really supportive of me losing weight. And you know at times when I’m a bit tempted to have something I probably shouldn’t, he’s quite helpful with that. And he does it in a nice way as well so, yeah it’s much better now I think that my boyfriend before was probably trying to say what he thought I wanted him to say, but I don’t think that’s particularly helpful to me.
Ella likes the curvy body she now has but is still is a bit self conscious about her looks.
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I don’t want ever to lose my curves. I mean I went down 5 bra sizes actually losing weight, which was great for me because that was always something I sort of was also self conscious about, but I mean I don’t want to ever lose my curves completely, so I don’t want to be like a size 6 and, you know, straight up and down, but, yeah I mean I think all girls, especially teenage girls who sort of see celebrities in the, in the magazines and think it would be lovely to have a figure like that, but I don’t want to lose my curves completely.
I feel much less self conscious, definitely on the beach and on holiday, I would never ever just sunbathe in my bikini, even if I was just with my family, I would sort of spend most of my time in the shade, sort of wearing at t-shirt and reading a book or whatever, and if I did sun bathe I’d have a sarong or, or something, I just didn’t like showing my thighs or my stomach and things. But I’m fine to do it now, I mean yeah, I’ll never, I wouldn’t say I was, I wouldn’t say I was very happy to, but I do, I mean I’m always, I’m still a bit self conscious but to not the same extent that I was.
And so you still feel a little bit uncomfortable maybe or…
Yeah I do just ‘cause I’m not, I’m not, you know, a size 8, or, yeah I just feel a bit self conscious but I wouldn’t, I’d, I sunbathe in my bikini, I don’t think I’d walk along the beach in just a bikini, I’d put a sarong on or something, just because I don’t particularly like people looking at, looking at me, ‘cause I just feel self conscious, like what they might think and so on. I guess that sometimes, sometimes I feel as though I’m still as big as I was.