A-Z

Health and weight (young people)

Food and eating

We asked young people what they felt about food, and how they linked their weight problems with their eating habits. Many said that they turned to food when no one else was there for them; others were in the habit of eating a lot because their families ate ‘big portions’ at every meal. 
 
Eating and emotions
Many said they got into heavy snacking and binge-eating (eating a lot of food, in a short space of time) for ‘comfort’ when they were very unhappy. Others said they snacked and binged because they got bored and had nothing better to do. A few people found it hard to resist certain foods and felt they ‘had’ to keep eating, even though they felt ‘so ill’ and often guilty afterwards.
 

Ella eats when she feels upset or bored but she always feels guilty afterwards.

View full profile
Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
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.
 
Text onlyRead below

When Daniel was bullied at school he turned to food for comfort.

View full profile
Sex: Male
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
Well there was one incident in Year 7. It was in my maths class and it was the last lesson of the day. And I had and someone like pulled my trousers down and it was really humiliating for me especially because I didn’t’t have anyone there at. I mean like it was near the end of the day so no one was around really. And then I’ve also had like things thrown at me saying, ‘Eat this’, like rocks and things. And it’s just really like mortifying when everyone looks around and laughs at you and no one actually tries to help you. And then in the school when I told my head of year, the best thing she could offer me was that he was excluded for a few days. And then as soon as he came back the same thing just happened over and over again it was just like a cycle. And it was just really annoying that they were getting away with like making my life a misery.
 
And how did it used to make you feel then when they’d say those things?
 
Well it felt like I didn’t’t really have anyone to turn to and so I turned to food as my like comfort. And that’s how I became overweight really. I mean I’ve always been a bit like overweight but this made me like more stressed out and more angry with everyone. So food was like my only option to make me feel like happy.
 

Vicki sometimes eats so much she feels ill afterwards.

View full profile
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I had this curry and these chips, and I’d shared the chips, I’d halved the chips out, and I was like I’ll have half and if I want the other half, but I just knew, because I knew they were there I was like, “Well I’m going to have to eat them.” And it just knowing that it’s there and it was my order as well, and I was like, “No I’m going to eat them anyway.” And I ate this curry and the chips and like two or three pieces of prawn toast, and God knows how many prawn crackers, and I think I had a can of diet coke as well with it and I just felt like I was going to, like literally like I was going to explode, like if I touched my stomach it would burst. And I was laying on my bed just like, I just hate this feeling so much, but I didn’t, because I ate it so quickly as well, that I don’t realise I’m full until 5 minutes after I can’t move, and I was bed bound for a day after that, I was like, “Oh.”
 
But, you know, it’s just because I’ve got into the routine of eating everything in front of me, I mean if you gave me like, on ‘Matilda’ with the big chocolate cake that Brucey has to eat, if that was put in front of me, I’d have to eat it like, and I’d probably do it all in one sitting. But the thing is I’d feel absolutely so ill afterwards, and it just makes me feel like, especially after eating a take away I always feel really greasy and like disgusting, I have to wash my hands like five times, and I feel, “ugh, ugh, ugh” and I still feel really greasy in myself, and ugh. I don’t know, like the same with like , if you go to a restaurant for a carvery or something, and all of the oil around the roast potatoes and stuff, and I’m such a sucker for a roast potato, honestly, that’s one of my downfalls, is potatoes, like anything potato wise. And but just the fact that you can feel the oil in your mouth after you’ve finished the meal is just like, “Oh, this,” and the same with the fish and chips, like you may wash your hands six times, but still have grease on your finger nails, and it’s just disgusting.
 
But I know that it’s bad for me, and I know that I shouldn’t eat the amount that I do of that, like those particular foods, but I do just because, like I have no real reason to either. Like but the main thing is like although I am a happy person, I always fight with my emotions like quite a lot, I’m a really emotional person, and I cry at the drop of a hat honestly, but when I cry I eat, but then I eat because I’m crying, but I’m crying because I’m getting bigger, and it’s just a vicious circle.  
Many felt ashamed and embarrassed about their eating habits and hated the thought of other people seeing them eating or buying food. Some said that they thought about food all the time. A few people said they binged at night or when no one else was around to see what they were doing.
 

Jess didn'’t like eating in front of anyone.

View full profile
Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I didn’t want to eat in front of people. If people knew I were eating, I didn’t’t want people to know I were eating because then that’s why you find that gives you something to have a go so when. But when I came home I’d still be raiding cupboards and stuff. I do love food but I’m not really a sweet person. It’s more cheese and bread.
 
Savoury type stuff?
 
Yeah. And again more at night if I’m just sat around doing nothing. And I sit around in my bedroom and do nothing now so I’m not near the kitchen. Because if I sit here I’ll watch telly as soon as an advert comes on I wander off in there [laugh]. And I can’t. I don’t even know I’m doing it. I just do it.
Young people with bulimia said binge eating and purging (getting rid of food that has been eaten, possibly by making yourself sick) gave them a sense of power and control (see Obsessing about food).
 

Steevie found that purging and losing weight made her feel more in control.

View full profile
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I think with the whole eating and throwing up thing it was just control. It’s just something I can do, it was also a bit of a power trip because it was secretive and when I did start, I mean I lost a few, I lost a bit of weight on that when I first started doing it more intensely, and I think people started noticing and saying nice things, and yet me and Mum were still dieting together as well, so it was almost like we were kind of both on the same level, we were both losing weight at the same time, but it was like this extra thing that I was doing, and it was just kind of made me feel a little bit more powerful I suppose. And that just made it worse, so I’d just keep doing it and get better at it, and I used to research it, and get online and see if I could do it better.
 
So how much weight were you losing from doing that?
 
Mum and I were losing about on average 3lbs a week, that was when I was about 18, and then I went, I got to 19, got into college was doing 5 A-levels and just stopped everything and I just went whoosh and just got even bigger and then, came to Uni, went the other way. I think I could binge and purge more without having to be worried that my Mum would either walk in on me in the bathroom or anything like that, or that my brother would hear because I was really close to my little brother, and he’d follow me everywhere. So I’d have to really make sure that he wasn’t around, and I think when I got to Uni it became, I just was so free I could just do whatever I wanted, do it more often, and more frequent, and the weight just, I just lost quite a lot of weight. Like when I came to Uni I was 6 stone heavier and that came off within about 4 months of being at Uni, it just came off, and I went home and everyone noticed. Everyone was going, “Oh God you look amazing.” And I remember one of my aunts that I hadn’t seen in a while, said to me, “Oh my God I can see your chin, you have a chin now.” And on the one hand it was like, “Oh my God was I that bad before?” but on the other hand it was such a power trip it just escalated, and escalated and escalated.
 
Text onlyRead below

Alex thinks she changed her eating habits to get some control in her life after her parents split...

View full profile
Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I think I tried to lose weight by like not eating during the day and then just found that I lost control in the evening and didn’t really care. Sort of eat more than I would’ve done if I had ate throughout the day.
 
And what kind of things were you eating?
 
Just like quite unhealthy things like chocolate and sweets and things.
 
You had quite a dramatic weight loss didn’t you? How did that happen?
 
I don’t know. I think I started to eating sort of more throughout the day. But not as much as I should’ve been eating, but because I was eating at regular times I sort of, I don’t know. It was more a control thing I think. In sort of I felt that I had control over that area of my life when everything else at home was going completely wrong and…
 
So you were eating at regular times? And at the same time as other people?
 
Not generally. Just sort of I think normally in the evenings with them but the rest of the day with I’d sort of stick to my times kind of thing.
 
And why was that?
 
I don’t know it just felt safe.
 
Safe in what way?
 
I don’t really know. It’s just… don’t know, it sort of felt like I had a bit of a routine sort of thing because of ever since my mum and dad split up there’s not quite often there’s not really been a routine in our house. And that was my way of putting routine in sort of to me feel like that things were a bit more structured. 
Family influences
Problems were often caused by family routines or traditions about food and eating such as:
•             Family members dishing up big portions 
•             Parents not buying fruit or vegetables. 
•             Parents keeping lots of unhealthy food in the house
•             A belief that foods like sausages and burgers were cheaper and more filling than vegetables.
 

Chelsea describes her typical daily diet before she decided to change her lifestyle.

View full profile
Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
So why don’t you tell me a bit about the kind of thing you were eating?
 
Well I’d get up in a morning and have, I could have a choice really. I could have beans on toast, two boiled eggs, or cereal. And I’d chose, I used to choose it every day, beans on toast. And it were like just repeating myself for my breakfast. Then I used to go to school and have a sausage roll. Then for my dinner at school I used to have chips, cheese flan and beans. Then I used to get home at three o’clock and I used to have some more chips. And then at six o’clock I used to have like two packets of crisps at once and a chocolate bar. And then before I went to bed I used to have beans on toast or a bowl of cereal. And it was like that every day. Until it got to the point where I was having two sausage rolls in a morning at school, and then one in my morning break, and one in my afternoon break.
So it were just getting worse and worse.
 
And the sorts of the things that you were eating, was that your that your choice? Were you saying, “Look this is what I want. I want beans on toast, and I want chips”?
 
It were like, I wanted to be my own person inside, but on the outside I used to do as my friends did. I used to copy what they had. What they did, I did. But on the inside I wanted to be myself. And it were just, I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed some support. To do it with me. And then it just got to point where I just needed to do something about my lifestyle.
 
Text onlyRead below

Holly is tempted to snack because her Mum always has loads of food in the fridge.

View full profile
Sex: Female
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

So when it comes to sort of buying food and preparing food, who, who normally does that?

It’s either me or my Mum but because she’s a child minder there’s always there’s some kind of food in, in the fridge for the children, so we’re preparing meals all day, but they are for, for the children, so, they are set aside, we’ve got a certain part of the fridge that’s kids food, certain part of the fridge that’s, that’s our things. So yeah, it’s between us that we do it. So if someone’s making something and they go, “Do you want some of this?” And, “Yeah, okay.” We’ll always offer it around, but it’s between us, yeah.

 
So do you get much, well I presume you get quite a lot of choice then in terms of what you eat if you’re sometimes preparing it?
 
There’s not always so much choice because of the childminding. We have a set meal for the whole time, so there’s always the same things in the fridge, which doesn’t really help the whole diet thing because there’s, it’s the same things around all time. It’s normally not the healthier option. Because, you know, it’s the same with the kids, they’d rather have sort of pizza and beans or something than they would have a salad for tea. But, so it’s normally there, there unhealthy options that are in the fridge.
 

Sean and his family eat more processed food now they live in the UK because it’s cheaper.

View full profile
Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I’m usually like open to other, I like to try different types of food. But at the moment I’m eating kind of unhealthy, so it’s not….
 
‘Unhealthy’? What do you mean?
 
Like pizzas. Processed food. That is not good for you. Or tinned. I suppose tins, because that is cheaper, and we do not earn a lot of money, so you have to like shop on a budget, which is not good for health at all.
 
So you think the question of money can interfere…?
 
Yes, definitely.
 
When it comes to quality food?
 
Yes. And like foods like vegetables I think it’s more expensive then like, buying healthy stuff is more expensive than buying unhealthy stuff.
 
Okay. Did your diet change when you moved from [the caribbean] to here?
 
Yes definitely. The food that I’m used to eat in [the caribbean] was more natural, like vegetables and so on. But now the food that I eat here is more processed, it’s like tins and… from the supermarket. They are already pre-cooked and packaged. So…
 
Okay so you think that the question of money comes into it?
 
Yes.
 
Okay what about time?
 
Definitely time as well. Because my family’s really busy, so we don’t have time to cook, so we cook on Sundays and that usually goes through to until Monday or Tuesday and then during the rest, the final days of the week, we’ll like we buy pizza and so on, or order food. 
Many had tried to change their eating habits and were either losing or had lost weight. Several had found it helpful when other family members supported them by eating the same sorts of food and taking exercise with them (see Community-based weight management programmes).
 

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

View full profile
Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
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.
Several parents said they understood the importance of providing a healthy balanced diet, but that persuading their child or children to actually eat healthy food was difficult. Some said their children stole food from the kitchen or bought sweets and fizzy drinks with their pocket money. Several wondered if psychologists would be more help than nutritionists and dieticians. One mother described how her father was determined to introduce his granddaughter to traditional food from the West Indies.
 

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

View full profile
Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
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.  
 
Text onlyRead below

Sara hopes her daughter will learn to wait until she feels hungry before she eats rather than...

View full profile
Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT
I would like my daughter to learn to listen. I think a lot of it’s about listening to your body and what you really want, rather than thinking, “Oh I’ve had supper. Now I have something sweet.” Or, “I’ve come in from school now I eat something.” My mother jokes about her friend and she’ll say, “Are you hungry?” And he’ll look at his watch. It’s got nothing to do with what time it is. “Are you hungry?” was the question. And I think that is what I’d like to see is that she learns to listen and say, “Well it’s only 11 o’clock but I am hungry so I’ll eat one of my sandwiches now.” Or “I know its 4 o’clock and I’ve just got in from school but actually I’m not hungry I’ll just have a drink.” And, “I know I’ve just had supper but I don’t need anything else. I’ll stop.” Or, “Actually I’ve had enough thank you. I won’t finish everything on my plate.” It’s difficult. We live in a... we’re now being criticised as a nation for throwing away so much food - we hardly throw anything away in this house as it happens - but that again is this thing, don’t waste, don’t waste, you must eat everything. And it’s about, we are very privileged. We don’t have to eat everything on our plate. What we have to do is listen to our bodies and learn what we really need and go with that and actually block out a lot of the other stuff.

Last reviewed July 2017.

donate
Previous Page
Next Page