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Emma - Interview 31

Age at interview: 19
Brief Outline: Emma, 19, was bullied throughout primary and secondary school, and although it was hard for her at the time, she believes it's made her the person she is today. Emma believes the hardest part about losing weight is maintaining it afterwards. Ethnic background: White British.
Background: See 'brief outline'.

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Emma, 19, is studying for a maths degree at university. She was bullied throughout primary and secondary school, and although it was hard for her at the time, she believes it’s made her the person she is today. The bullying involved name-calling, threats, hitting and stealing. Even Emma’s brother used to bully her about her weight (although he could also be quite supportive at times too). Emma says that being bullied made her feel useless and bad and made her eat more – although she also ate out of boredom. Emma admits she used to use food as a way of coping, but says as she’s gotten older, she’s learnt new ways.
 
Emma says her weight problem began when she was small, and that she was much bigger than the other kids. For example, she was in size 16 clothes when she was 12. Emma puts her size down to not getting enough exercise. She says she didn’t want to exercise because she wasn’t confident and worried about people laughing at her. Rather than playing with friends, she would stay at home and do her schoolwork. In general, she says she avoided sports or anything that involved mixing with other people.
 
Emma’s Head of Year told her about a weight management programme, but Emma only agreed to go if her friends did too. When she did go along, she refused to go in on the first day, and then didn’t speak to anyone for 3 weeks. She says she felt worried about going out of her comfort zone and about what would happen if she lost the weight. However, once she realised that the other young people there were in the same situation and she wasn’t on her own, she felt more confident and started getting involved in things.
 
Emma believes it was the small changes she made in her life that helped her lose weight, like walking more, changing what she was eating and drinking more water. She remembers that it was hard making those changes, especially because her brother seemed able to eat what he wanted without gaining weight. She says she used to think to herself that she was doing for herself and not for anyone else, and that helped her to feel stronger and more confident. Emma felt that it was her responsibility to do something about her weight – because she was the one choosing her lunches at school. Nevertheless, she thinks making those choices can be hard because of the pressure of everyone around you being able to eat what they like, especially if you don’t feel confident enough to be different.
 
Emma believes the hardest part about losing weight is maintaining it afterwards – she struggled at first because she continued to lose weight when she didn’t want to. Her ideal weight was when she felt she looked right.
 
 

Emma says that bullying, lack of exercise, no self-esteem and comfort-eating have all caused her to be overweight.

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How do you explain your weight problem? I mean what do you think caused it?
 
I think it was sheer the lack of exercise, that just spiralled and spiralled. Obviously because I weren’t going out in primary school and running around like the other kids and playing games like other kids were and things. It were just the sheer lack of me wanting to get involved and do exercise because even as a kid I was never the really confident person that a lot of primary school kids are when they mix with each other, and things. I were never that confident in myself anyway. So, I just tended like from the very, very early on I tended to try and stop out of going out at break times, try and get out of doing PE, try and get out of doing other things that involved ex-, anything to do with exercise and things because I just didn’t have the confidence to be able to try and do something, and... I would, I just had the feeling that other people were gonna laugh at me if I failed.
 
Oh right. Okay. And, I mean so you think it was more about exercise and not so much about what you were eating, or how much you were eating, or…?
 
I mean there was times at secondary school where I’d get like big jars of Nutella and I’d have a little bit, and the next thing I knew I’d eaten a whole jar.
 
So there were issues like that where I would turn to food. And I would eat things that are not necessarily the healthiest option. So I have done that as well.
 
And so what was it that you got from food? How did it help?
 
I don’t know, I just think, I think sometimes it just made me, it gave me something to do.
 
Right.
 
If I, like, I wouldn’t go out so I’d bury myself in my work. But if I were bored with my work, I could always turn to food and eat. 
 
 

Emma didn’'t have the confidence to get involved in sport at school.

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How do you explain your weight problem? I mean what do you think caused it?
 
I think it was sheer the lack of exercise, that just spiralled and spiralled. Obviously because I weren’t going out in primary school and running around like the other kids and playing games like other kids were and things. It were just the sheer lack of me wanting to get involved and do exercise because even as a kid I was never the really confident person that a lot of primary school kids are when they mix with each other and things. I were never that confident in myself anyway. So, I just tended like from very, very early on, I tended to try and stop out of going out at break times, try and get out of doing PE, try and get out of doing other things that involved anything to do with exercise and things, because I just didn’t have the confidence to be able to try and do something, and.. I just had the feeling that other people were gonna laugh at me if I failed.
 

Emma's 'head of year' suggested she attend SHINE. At first she didn't want to go, but felt better over time.

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Well, I were 14, I were at school one day and I were in a tutorial session and with quite a lot of my friends and stuff and my head of year at that time come into the tutorial and actually took me out and said, “Look there’s this group where you can build your confidence and your self-esteem and lose weight, and things. I think you should go.” And at that point in time I were like, I had no confidence whatsoever, and I’m like, I’m only coming if my friends go. And there were two of my friends that were in the same situation and same boat as me, and I were like, “I’m only coming if they come as well.”
 
So I think we ended up coming together, but on the first day I stood outside on my own and I were just like, “I’m not going in.” I didn’t want to go in. I didn’t speak to nobody for like three weeks, and I just, even though my friends were there I just felt like I don’t, I just felt like that I wanted to do it, I knew I wanted to do it, but I felt like hang on a minute, it’s a different position here, it’s out of your comfort zone. What is gonna happen to me? And it were just the whole situation in your head where you get into a situation and you know you’re already thinking, “Well this could happen, this could happen, this could happen. And what will I do if it does?” And it, I think it were all that situation for me, that made me a bit wary at first, but then as I got into it, and as like I found, I know that everybody were in the same situation as me basically, and I started to feel more confident in myself, that I realised that I weren’t on my own, that I did have people that would help me, that could help me make a difference basically.
 
When I first started SHINE (Self Help Independence, Nutrition and Exercise) like obviously I spent a couple of weeks where I didn’t talk to anybody, so obviously I weren’t making friends, but then something suddenly clicked and I realised that yeah, everybody’s in the same situation as me, I’ve got no need to be the shy and quiet one that opts out of everything. And then I started getting involved in sports and things, and people, it were like people accepted me, and it were just like being accepted made me a more confident person.
 
And it, I think it were just the fact that they were in the same situation and that I were accepted here that made me like just go for it, and just like try and make the small changes that made a difference in my life. 
 

Be sensitive and supportive with young people who are dealing with a weight problem.

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I think if, if they realise that a young person’s got a weight problem, don’t just barge in and straight away and say, “Look I think you’ve got a weight problem.” Be sensitive about it, and it’d be easier for the young person to understand. And I think support the young person in whatever they want to do about it, because only they know what’s gonna work for them. It’s not what other people want and what other people think’ll work for them, it’s about themselves as a person, what they want to do, and what’ll work for them. So just support them in whatever they choose to do.
 

Emma persuaded her Dad to let her do the shopping and cooking so they could eat more healthily.

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And I once went on holiday with my Dad and my brother and ‘cos my Dad and my brother seemed to be able to eat whatever they want and they don’t put no weight on, it’s like, obviously when you’re at the seaside you have quite a lot of fish and chips and things like that because it’s the natural thing to do, innit? But I were like, there were one instance where I’d been on Shine for like four months and we went down to the caravan and that, and I said to my Dad, I went, “Dad, do you know what Dad?” I went, “We’re not living off fish and chips this holiday,” I went, “We’re gonna go to the shops, and we’re gonna buy some food, and we’re gonna cook summat.” So my Dad went “Right, if I’m going to the shops to buy it, you’re coming with me, and we’re gonna pick together.” So me and my Dad went to the shops, and we picked everything, and me and my Dad cooked it together.
 
So that’s good. And so he was quite happy then to, to do that?
 
Yeah.
 
And so what kinds of things did you make? Can you remember?
 
I made him pasta salad for the first time. I made him try pasta salad. And like pasta in sauces and things, and I seemed to have got him hooked on pasta and sauces. Which my Dad leads quite a work-orientated lifestyle. So he does quite a lot of working hours and things. So he does, he did struggle to get like healthier options in and things but, but now he’s more, he does try and like eat healthier.
 

Since losing four stone Emma no longer suffers from asthma.

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And when you were having the problems with your weight, I mean did you have any worries about your health?
 
I had, I did have asthma. Yeah, I did have asthma quite bad.
 
But, I did grow out of it when like I started looking at my weight and things, I grew out of it.
 
So was that connected to your weight then?
 
I don’t know. I don’t know what it were connected to, but I did, when I started losing weight, I grew out of it, so it probably will have been connected to my weight yeah.
 
And did that used to, did the asthma used to cause you any problems?
 
I used to struggle with quite a lot of things, yeah. ‘Cos of theasthma. 
 

Emma realised it was down to her to make changes in her life.

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I think the thing for me were seeing it as a battle with other people [which] meant that I had to take on way more challenges, like facing ten or fifteen different people, on top of what I needed to battle with my weight and things myself. Made it more of, “Right I’ve got all these battles to fight, I’m never gonna win.” Whereas when I started to think it as my own battle, that I wanted to do it for myself, it made me realise that really, it’s only myself I’m battling with. It’s only myself that can make the changes that can do anything about it, and it’s only me that’s gonna do it.
 
When I realised it were my own personal battle, I realised that people would support me, that I did have people that were gonna be there for me, and the people that bullied me just weren’t gonna change anyway. And that no matter how much I tried to change, they were just gonna either keep bullying me or find somebody else to bully. So I realised that it weren’t, it weren’t that they had a problem with me, it were just that they just had some sort of issue that they had to deal with their selves. And I think it were the fact that I realised that. So instead of taking it out on myself, and thinking everybody hates me, everybody’s against me, I then thought to myself, “Right, not everybody hates you. There’s people gonna be there for you, you go for it, and people will support you no matter what.”
 
And so I mean then when it came down to it you felt that it was your responsibility to, to do something?
 
Yeah, it did take me a while to realise it. Obviously because like I were 14, I mean I were in my teenage years and things, and basically it were down to me choosing my lunches at school and everything else. I realised that maybe if I changed the choices that I made for my lunches at school, and that if I did actually start to believe in myself then it would make things easier.
 
Do you think that sometimes even if you feel it’s your choice, and you have to make you know certain choices to do the right thing or whatever, do you think there’s anything that can make, making those choices hard?
 
Yeah. I think it’s the pressure from everybody else around you, because like you might have friends that are of normal weight, and they can eat, they can eat basically desserts when they want to, they can have all chips and things when they want to, but you know yourself that if they’re going out and getting chips, and sweets and crisps and everything else, you know yourself that it’s not the right choice for you. But because your mates are doing it, you feel left out if you can’t do it, so you go along with your friends and do it anyway. Whereas I think it’s more of a fact that because you didn’t have no confidence you’d go along with your friends, but as you more believe in yourself then you decide to do what you want to do.
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