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Huw - Interview 09

Brief Outline: Huw, 17, said that he has had a problem with his weight for as long as he can remember. In the past he followed different dieting programs to tried and lose weight but didn't make much of a difference. Recently he did the total food replacement programmed and had lost two and a half stone. After the interview he has lost a further two and a half stone. Ethnic background: White British.
Background: See 'brief outline'.

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Huw, 17, is a student in sixth form and is hoping to go to University next academic year. He currently lives with his parents and siblings. Huw works as a volunteer youth worker and at the time of the interview was busy organising a fashion show to help raise funds for some youth projects in the city where he lives.
 
Huw said that he has had a problem with his weight for as long as he can remember. In his early teens he tried Slimming World but said that he ended up heavier than when he started. He found the counselling side of the program good but said that there was not much talk about portion control. This program was followed by WeightWatcher’s for about 18 months but again it didn’t work for him and he didn’t lose any weight.
 
Recently, his GP suggested he did the total food replacement program and he lost about two and a half stone. Huw said that he was the one motivating his GP to help him lose weight. Huw describes the total food replacement program as a drastic one. He was allowed to have two milkshakes-type of drink a day and nothing else except water. He greatly appreciates the support he received from his family and friends particularly while he was sticking to this program. Huw said that it is difficult doing it alone. What he also found helpful was the support and advice he got from the pharmacists. Currently he is on the maintenance stage of the program and he continues to be supervised and weighed every week. He finds that reassuring but wishes the person who is supervising him was a bit bigger, he thinks he would find it better to talk to.
 
Huw describes the Body Mass Index chart as ‘a bit unrealistic’. According to BMI calculations he should be about 15 stones but he says that even his ‘thin’ friends who are similar in height to him, are over 15 stone. Also it doesn’t distinguish between men and women so he finds it a ‘bit general’. Huw thinks that it is more important to aim for a healthy weight which in his case is 17 or 18 stones. He is aiming to get to a healthy weight through eating the right type of food and exercising at the gym. But says that he lately is only managing to go to the gym once a week because he is busy with school work and youth clubs activities.
 
Huw felt that his mum has quite a lot of influence over what he eats by preparing all the family meals and preventing him from snacking. He said that he has a very healthy diet at home but the problem is when he is out and about with his friends. Moreover, he finds it hard to moderate his food portions. Because of this he is a bit concerned about the possibility of putting on weight when he goes to university next year and start living a more independent life.
 
Huw thinks that the images that are presented in the media about ideal weights are healthier for men than for women. He says that while men are portrayed with six pecks and muscular, the images of women are those of unhealthy, super skinny images.
 
After the time of the interview he had lost a further two and a half stone.
 
 

Huw says that when you are big you 'stick out' and it makes you feel unattractive.

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Body image. I think that’s quite, that’s a major one, which makes you feel pretty bad, just wanting to fit in really. Because that’s what everyone, everyone wants to fit in with crowd. And although that’s less, less of a problem now because now I’m becoming comfortable with who I am, and so I really, I mean I don’t fit in who cares? But before, like when younger years, when I just wanted to fit in, just wanted to be part of the crowd and not to stick out like a sore thumb, that’s why and what else, that’s about it.
 
And this sort of wanting to fit in, that was because you wanted to be the same size, or look the same as other people or?
It wasn’t as much fitting in as just not sticking out. Because sticking out, when when someone sees the person who looks, who is bigger than quite, most of them, almost everyone there, that makes you feel really bad. And, it ‘cos you stick out, sometimes you just want to like become invisible and just blend into the wallpaper. But never gonna happen.

In primary school it was probably that, but towards secondary school it was more me thinking it, not cos, at secondary school I got more and more who cares about, I don’t care what anybody else thinks. So to work out I, what I think about myself. I, it was all came down, my self image, I wanted to be smaller and I wanted to be able to shop with my friends, and I wanted to like go out and have and have fun with my friends without thinking that, and I wanted to have more money instead of spend less money on food. Yeah.

I’ve got some friends who although as being as skinny as anything, keep going to me, “Oh I’m so fat, I’m...,” sometimes you just want to punch them, right in the face because if I were to go like, “Oh well that’s nothing,” I mean it makes you feel really bad ‘cos if they’re going, “Oh I’m too fat,” how’s that supposed to make, supposed to make you feel ‘cos when you’re like twice the size of ‘em? So it’s more body image as in like feeling good and feeling attractive, that kind of thing ‘cos it’s just really hard ‘cos when everyone else is getting boyfriends and girlfriends, you’re just like, “Oh that sucks.” 
 
 

Huw explains why he doesn’t accept that the BMI is relevant for him.

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Okay, well for one, I think the BMI is a stupid, because I think it’s so unrealistic because if you want to be a healthy weight, surely a BMI’s is what aim for, but it’s a bit unrealistic. I mean ideally I would want to be about 18, 17 or 18 stone, which is probably a bit optimistic, but it’s a lot better because my BMI said I should be about 15 I should think, which is a bit, which is way too optimistic. I mean I couldn’t get down to 15, most of my friends weigh more than 15, and they’re stick figures, so I think the BMI is just stupid to be honest. It doesn’t take into account anything. I think so, that’s what I’ve qualify as a healthy weight, and it’s more just...
 
Sorry, which one do you qualify as being a healthy weight?
 
The one, the one I’m aiming for, the...
 
Okay, so that’s 17, 18.
 
17, 18, rather than the 15, 16. So I think it’s more like toning up because you see body builders who are very, that’s why it’s overweight because it’s muscle, so I want to get rid of the fat and change it to muscle which is why I’m doing a bit of weights in the gym because, of the cardio, of the cardiovascular burns the calories, it’s no good if you’ve, it’s harder and sometimes you just want to tone up the fat your body’s got, which is quite nice.
 
Can you tell me what BMI is, and what your understanding of that is?
 
Okay, the BMI is the Body Mass Index, which is a way of determining how heavy you should be according to your height, but it doesn’t distinguish between men and women which is one of the problems, and so I find it a bit general I think. You can’t have one for everybody - everybody’s different. 
 
 

Huw says being labelled according to the BMI is horrible.

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I was diagnosed as being morbidly obese before I started this diet, and I’m now super obese, which I really hate, because it makes you feel so horrible about yourself, I mean, it’s a shock to the system and it makes you want to do something about it, but it’s just labelling someone, it’s like labelling someone as like, I don’t know, diabetic or something. And it’s of, but its, with less you can do about it. If you, if you’re not doing anything and you’re living a lifestyle where you are home takeaway five days a week, you don’t cook from first, from, you don’t cook from first principles, and it’s that, that then that that would be shock you’d need to cut down and actually do something about it, but when you’re already doing all that, and you’re going to gym and you’re trying to lose weight, and you have been trying to lose weight for years, that’s not what you need. You don’t need to be labelled as morbidly obese, because that’s so depressing, and you’re just like, well I’ve been trying, why bother.
 

Huw is trying to lose weight to prevent poor health.

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I mean have you been experiencing any problems with your health?
 
Not that I can directly attribute to the size I am. I think my immune system sucks, but apart from that I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s any that I can say is just to do with the weight. I mean I don’t have high blood pressure, and I’m quite lucky when it comes to that kind of thing, and its,
And its, so it’s nothing seems to be happening but it’s wanting to pre-empt it and stop it from happening at all.
 
What are you concerned about happening then?
 
Oh you hear about too much heart disease going round, and doing it for, I’m doing A’ level biology and so we’re doing all things on and like narrowing of the arteries and heart disease and it makes you feel really quite scared to be honest, and, it’s just, it’s not as much physical health it’s more mental health as well.
 

‘Cos I think mental, the mental health is well, way, way, way underplayed and like, over, it’s like it’s like underrated really because that’s the major thing that, that happens when you’re over weight, your mental health suffers incredibly. Your physical health, your, that that that’s bad, but your physical is not going to bother you unless you live long enough to let it bother you, which is where your mental health comes in, you need, you need to be happy, and no-ones in the position to lose weight unless they’re happy with themselves.

 

Huw says the media promotes low self-esteem. He thinks there are more interesting 'large' role models around.

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And it, it’s more going down to the whole shallowness of today’s society kind of thing, where everyone’s just like, ‘Oh celebrities’ and just really, and there’s so much emphasis on it now and there’s so much like going around about it, and in young people it’s just everywhere. Everywhere, everywhere everyone wants to be like a model, who eats barely anything and size zero, and it’s like, I think it’s decreasing now, because I’ve got quite a lot of friends who really don’t give a damn, and look amazing whatever they wear, but it’s more, it’s that it’s more that kind of thing where society says you need to be attractive to do things, it sounds really stupid but it’s like, if you have a look at some newspapers and magazines, their sent to make you feel really bad, because beauty magazines promote low self esteem.That’s what, that’s all they do really.
 
Queen Latifah, my idol, I love Queen Latifah, and Dawn French, I love Dawn French. Dawn French - my favourite person in the world. So there is an increased number of people who are not stick figures, it’s people who aren’t really, they really shouldn’t be like celebrities, like I don’t know, models or old fashioned celebrities where they think to be famous they have to stick, stick thin like everyone wants to be like. And I think that’s what’s really bad, because new one’s they realise that they don’t care whether they’re bigger or not.
 
Do you think things are changing then?
 
Changing very slowly, but nowhere near enough.I think it needs a lot more work.And a lot more to get away from the, “Ooh she’s put on a bit of weight, or ooh she’s lost a bit of weight.” That, that kind of thing where everyone’s just being slandered because that’s just make's you feel crap. 
 

Huw ignored verbal abuse until it got so bad he challenged the bully.

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Primary school kids are really harsh when it comes to that sort of thing, it looks really stupid now cos, I mean I don’t I don’t get bullied anymore, I do get cheeky comments remarks, comments around school when I’m walking around school from the younger years, but really you just learn to block them out.‘Cos they don’t, ‘cos they don’t matter. You have to learn that because it just doesn’t matter.
 
I mean bullying is the hardest thing that anyone has to go through, but you just have to remember what, why should you take any notice, they don’t matter. It’s when it comes to people your age group and your friends, that’s when, that’s when it gets really hard, and that’s when you actually have to, you actually have to pull them over and say, “Actually that really is, it hurts my feelings.” ‘Cos otherwise they’ll sort of carrying on doing it and you’ll make, and you’ll feel worse and worse and worse.
 
Has that happened to you?
 
Yeah, ‘cos everyone in my age, well, my age group, we always take the mickey out of everyone else, like saying oh someone’s lanky as anything, and to the other person, and it’s just, it’s almost like a sign of friendship but there is a place where it can become too, over the line, like you cross the line, and but they don’t know that unless you tell them. So it’s no sense in saying “Oh,” or going off and sulking about it, you need to tell them, otherwise they’ll carry on doing it just, if they’re really you’re friends they’ll like, “Oh, we’ll, sorry, I was only joking.” And then they’ll know not to do it, but it’s when you don’t, well, don’t pick them up on it and they carry on doing it, and it gets worse and worse and worse.
 
And so you actually did confront somebody did you? Yeah. And it hasn’t
 
Said, “I actually I actually found that quite offensive, so”, but he apologised quite quickly.
 
Right, and it stopped? Do you want to say what, what he said?
 
He said, I think, well he was taking the piss out of my size and well its, it sounds stupid, but it’s just like saying, “Ah, I think you could fit like five people into one of Huw’s coats,” and, that it’s just the kind of thing where you’re just like, “Oh that’s so immature, but it gets to you after a while. One or two comments is fine, but when it’s like quite regular, that’s when you need to pull it over, otherwise it becomes even more regular and it just like knocks, well chips away at your self-confidence and self-image that you’ve built up.
 
And so I mean that’s something you’ve learned to ignore but, could you always do that?
No, it’s more, to be quite honest it’s a steep learning curve, because it’s kind of, you kind of learn, at first, first couple of all times it really gets to you, and it’s gets to you and gets to you, and then you tell the teacher, and then something happens and then the bullying gets worse in some ways after you’ve told the teacher.

Because the person’s like, “Oh you told Miss.” And I was just like, “Mm.” And so you kind of… it reinforces that you shouldn’t tell anyone, which is obviously what you’re not supposed to do. But then again, compared to some people my bullying hhasn’t been serious. I mean some people you hear about being beaten up quite regularly, and the really vicious verbal abuse, ‘cos mine’s never been really vicious, and so it’s just a different situation really, ‘cos I know ‘cos I I feel that I’ve learnt that you can’t really complain about everything that someone says, you just need to grow a rather thick skin and once, when someone says something vindictive enough to get through that thick skin, that’s when you tell someone. And plus that’s, as well I’ve got all my friends, ‘cos I mean if someone says something to me which I found really, really offensive, and doesn’t take it back, I’ll talk to my friends, and then they’ll talk to him, so, I always use my friends as like a teacher because, teachers have enough going on and although bullying’s hard by the age of, by year 13 you’re just like, “Just grow up.”

 

Huw finds clothes shopping 'demoralising' but luckily doesn't care much about fashion.

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I want to get to a healthy weight because that’s what matters, but I don’t want to be a stick figure. I think getting slim is being optimistic, I think I just want to cut down to be honest. It would be nice to go clothes shopping, because clothes shopping is the demoralising thing, I mean we’ve got a new mall, lovely clothes shops to go in but none, none, in my size, and I have to watch my friends and then I have to go and shop in like other places which have bigger sizes, which is so rubbish sometimes, and makes you feel crap when everyone else is wearing fashion. Well luckily I don’t give a damn about fashion, so it’s all fine. I don’t have any money anyway.
 

Huw says that being attractive depends on your confidence and mental attitude.

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When you don’t see yourself as attractive it’s kind of hard, because if you don’t see yourself as attractive they won’t see you as attractive, which is why it’s called the self confidence kind of thing, ‘cos if you’ve got self confidence and you’re just sort of like, “Wow I look really good tonight” then I’ll get that kind of message out to everyone else, and so there’s bound to be someone. And so it’s quite important - I wish it wasn’t - but it’s important to young people because it’s so commercialised and it’s so in your face really, ‘cos it’s everywhere you see people but there’s, it gives you hope in some ways, ‘cos you think so well there’s bound to be someone. But it’s just the fact that you see people who you classify as attractive going through boyfriends or girlfriends at a rate of like knots, so that’s quite depressing, because when you can’t even get one, and they’re going, and they’re like, if their relationship lasts a week, you’re just like, “Wow, oh my goodness you’re a Lord.” Oh, a couple of my friends are like that.
 
So do you think that you can be a bigger size and still be beautiful or attractive?
 
Yeah.You can. I think it’s all down to like your mental, your mental picture of yourself really because, again, going back to this friend who has an awful lot going on in her life, but she prides herself on looking - she cakes herself with make up - but it makes her feel beautiful. And if you feel beautiful, people will see you as beautiful, and she wears the most outrageous clothes and she’s so bubbly and it’s lovely, and that’s so, that’s such an attractive thing to have. But it’s when you’re like, “Oh I feel so bad and ugly today.” That, that’s when you become really bad, and so size isn’t the thing, it’s more the mental, mental, what you, what you, it’s the way you act, if you act like all closed and in a corner and not socialising, then I mean attractive is someone who is the life and soul of the party, dancing in the middle, having a good laugh, and so it, yeah it does all come down to mental, ‘cos I mean you can lose weight as much as you want, but no matter how much weight you lose you will still have that mental, mental image of you being bigger than everyone else, no matter how much you lose, even if you’re the same size as them, if you’ve been bigger than them, you know how it feels and it’s so hard to like shed that mental image. 
 

After every dieting effort failed, Huw’'s doctor recommended total food replacement therapy, which needs close medical supervision.

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Recently I took something quite extreme with my diet, I did total food replacement thing, which was a bit, it was recommended by the doctor, because she can understand that I’d been, I’d tried everything else and put my effort into it, and I mean to lose a bit to start and then slowly put it back again, end up heavier which is very demoralising, and so I decided to try a bit of drastic action, which is of course supported by the pharmacy, so it was all safe, and I managed to lose about, just under two and a half stone in a month, which is very good. It’s not something I could do very often though because it’s so difficult, but in some ways it’s easier saying no to everything than no to, no to most things. So I mean you don’t have to, you have the, “Oh”, it’s not, “I can eat that, I can’t eat that.” It’s a, “I can’t eat anything.” Unless it’s a drink of water.
 
What was it called again?
 
Lipotrim.
 
Lipotrim, okay. So that was a meal substitute?
 
Yeah it was a total food replacement, replacement course, on a diet. That’s when it had sachets of milk shakes which are made up by the pharmacy, and so it contains everything that I needed in a day, all the calories just without any, without a large amount of calories.
 
And so it’s it kind of it took away the option of eating, so I wasn’t allowed, so I had two shakes a day, and that then, that was that was it.
 
And, but tons and tons of water.
 
And those shakes contained all the protein, carbohydrate minerals, and all that kind of thing that I need, and that we get in food, but they just didn’t have the sugar, the sugar, the fat or the calories.
 
And so although being incredibly drastic it was very well controlled. I went into see them every week and so it wasn’t, it wasn’t just, “Here you go, have this.” And go at it, it was very well controlled, because otherwise I wouldn’t have done it, because it’s it was so hard to do.
 
Because it’s so, ‘cos I wouldn’t say no to everything and I could only manage a month before I decided I’m going to step off the bandwagon before I end up cheating. But you’re under a process called Ketosis when you’re body starts eating itself instead of eating food, which although it sounds horrible it’s what you need, and that’s when the weight comes off, and you don’t feel hungry which is quite surprising.
 
And how soon does your body enter that phase?
 
It varies because, but for me it’s about a week, and so you get a week of feeling, “I’m really hungry,” and that’s the hard, that’s the horrible thing because all it takes is one chip and you come out of ketosis, and you have to do that week again.
 
And that’s a, that’s such motivation not to cheat. Because it’s like, “Do I really want to go through that again? No.” 
 

Huw likes going to the gym but still goes through periods where he just can’t work up enough...

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Sometimes you feel like, “Oh I just cannot be bothered.” But you’re doing it for yourself, and I sometimes feel, “Oh God, I’m really bad eating today, I need to get to a gym and burn.” And that’s because you think, it kind of like doesn’t make up for it but it makes you feel slightly better about it.
 
And I would go and do it more often but as I haven’t got any time, and some people, some people use that excuse and by saying that I haven’t got any time, and then end up nothing or, even worse, eating. And I, when I’m bored I tend to eat, and so I keep myself as busy as I can doing like youth work and so I think I do something involved with youth work five days a week, and so I try to keep out, but that cuts down the gym time. At one point I went to the gym about five days a week, and that was really good.
 
I’m now sadly down to about one, but and even then it’s a struggle, but that’s only in the time, it’s not due to lack of motivation because although sometimes when my Mum says, “Okay, you can go to gym today,”  I’m like, “Oh yeah, I guess.”  But it’s more, more acceptable to the idea because I think it’s doing something really positive, and dunno, as long as, as long as I have my ipod with me – because I mean, doing it without music is the most boring thing you can do.
 

Health professionals should worry in equal measure about the mental and physical health of overweight young people.

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Physical health is not the only thing that they should be worried about with overweight teenagers and children, it’s the mental health they should be worried about, because without mental health, mental health being sorted you can’t start with the physical health.
 
And so they need to do a lot more work with young people and a lot more counselling services, when you actually talk about their experiences, like, something, something like this, but in a professional environment where you can actually feel and talk about what’s going on in your life. Something it’s so great to do, and it’s so important that behind, behind the smile something could be going seriously wrong, and everyone, everyone has a mask they use at some point to hide the way they’re really feeling, and teenagers seem to have theirs on almost all the time, and it’s adults you need to see, you need to find out what’s going on, going on behind that mask. And that’s generally young people generally, but it can be, it’s even, it can be even worse when your self image is distorted and you feel depressed about yourself and about everything else going on. You can, don’t even start trying to help them with the physical health and not trying to help them lose weight, because you can’t unless they feel happy and they’re going to comfort eat, or they’ll do something else, and they’ll feel really bad, and it’s a vicious circle. You need to help them to break out of the vicious circle and you can’t do that, until they’re feeling happier.
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