Angela has had weight problems from a young age. She has tried many diets, and has lost and gained weight at various stages of her life. Angela has used food as a source of comfort, and feels her weight is very much tied to her emotional health.
Angela is 51, and works as a Digital Communications Manager. She has one adult son, and is British Indian.
More about me...
Angela has had weight issues from a young age. At school, Angela had to deal with the difficulties that came with being overweight, and being Asian in a predominantly white environment. She had negative experiences of being told off for having second helpings of school dinners, but was also discouraged from joining the athletics club when she wanted to improve her fitness. At the same time, Angela did not have much support from her family around her weight issues, and her weight was a source of tension and teasing at home. At this time, Angela turned to sweet foods for comfort.
Angela has tried multiple diets, and her weight has fluctuated over the years. Angela went on her first diet at 18. Through restricting calories, Angela lost over a stone and a half in 3 weeks, but put this weight back on. Later when she met her ex-husband, Angela went on a high-protein diet and lost two stone in two months; yet found that her weight loss caused tensions in her personal relationships. To maintain her weight, Angela continued this high-protein diet for 3 years. However, Angela put the weight back on when she got pregnant with her son. After he was born, she was criticised for her weight gain by colleagues and ex-in-laws. Since then, she has lost and gained weight several times through various weight loss support groups and dieting programmes. Some of her diets have been successful, but Angela has found it hard to maintain her weight loss, especially at times where she has faced stress in her personal and professional life. Indeed, there have been periods of family illness or relationship breakdown where dieting has been particularly challenging, and Angela has returned to snacking on sweet food. Indeed, Angela feels her mental and emotional wellbeing is very connected with her weight. She sees this as a cycle, “emotional health is governed by weight and vice versa”. Indeed, Angela describes her unhealthy eating habits as a “dormant volcano” that erupts at times of difficulty.
Angela has not received much support from healthcare professionals around weight loss. In the past, she has been offered obvious and generic advice which has not helped. Angela believes that a more “personalised approach” is needed. When planning diet programmes, people should be treated as individuals, and their dieting histories taken into account, alongside their personal, professional and social lives. Angela also feels that the amount of choice and food available poses another barrier to healthy lifestyles; children should be educated on nutrition from a young age. Angela believes that people cannot lose and maintain weight successfully unless they deal with the psychological issues behind their weight, “I think until you figure out what’s going on in your head, you know, what the emotional issue is, whatever you cut back on, whatever miracle diet, whatever surgery you have will not work”.
Currently, although she feels happier in aspects of her life, Angela has not lost as much weight as she would have liked to. She has made some changes to her diet, such as cooking from scratch, and limiting her sugar and carbohydrate intake, and hopes to lose some more weight for her Master’s graduation. However, Angela finds it hard to be positive about her chances of losing weight permanently, and feels that she will always be in a cycle of weight loss and gain, “as night follows day, I’ll be back on a diet again”.
Angela felt fat and insecure and just wanted to be loved.
I just wanted to be loved to be honest. I wanted, I could see like people around me going off, getting married, having children and I think that’s what I wanted. I wanted to, I wanted to have that and I always felt, in those years, I just remember feeling insecure and I look back now and I think, ‘Why did I feel that. Why did I think I was fat then? Why was I with this person who was just telling me I wasn’t good enough?’ you know, because I think when you’re locked into that kind of relationship, it doesn’t help, you know.
Angela was discouraged from joining the athletic club. In the 1970s at school the fact that she was one of only three Asian girls attracted more attention than her size. Her father’s comments about her size hurt.
I remember being eight or nine and wearing a size sixteen, having to wear a size sixteen skirt and I remember my mum took me to Tesco and bought me a skirt and came back in and said, “Oh, show your Dad your skirt.” And he was like, “That is a woman’s skirt” which is not really helpful when you’re a child because you’re at the mercy of your parents to source you with clothes that fit, fit you.
But it, they, what they were saying was really unhelpful and obviously I’m saying it now as an adult but at the time I was just kind of, “Oh I’m sorry, this, I’m sorry I’m a size sixteen.” But there is no concept of weight loss or…
So, you thought it was your fault?
I thought it was my fault, yeah. I just thought, you know, this is my lot in life and, you know, at school everyone was thin apart from one girl, I remember this girl [name] who was, you know, a white girl, obese, I mean there were very few Asians in our school and there was like the two or three that were, that were there, everyone thought we were related because that’s how it rolled in the ‘60s and ‘70s [laughs].
So, I remember this girl [name] was obese and everyone used to take the piss out of her but because I was Asian that was the first thing they’d take the piss, my colour and then it would be the fatness. So, you know, at least I had this going on and then that. So that was the fall back.
But no there was just absolutely no concept and I remember in the, it’s now, I don’t know what they call it now, Year 6, but then it was the fourth year, so when you’re ten going on eleven, what you could do on a Friday afternoon was choose whatever activity you wanted to do. So, there’s crafts, there was, you know, pottery or there was, you know, and there was an athletic club and I thought, I actually thought to myself, maybe I’ll do that so that I can get better at this. Just, you know, whatever, and it was all boys and one girl, [name], who was quite fit and I didn’t, when it came to dishing out choices, I didn’t have anything. So, I went to the headmaster and said, you know, because he said, “Why haven’t you, why haven’t you been assigned anything?” and I said, “Well I wanted to do athletics and he said, “Yes but your teachers thought you wouldn’t be good at it.” And, you know, think about that now, a ten year old girl, fat person trying to want to improve themselves and they just kind of cut you dead, and it’s just horrible when you think about it.
When Angela looks back, she realises she lost weight to win other people over. Her main reason now is to please herself by fitting into nice clothes.
But when I look back and think, I was doing a lot of the dieting and this, that and the other, trying to better myself for you. Not for me, you know, but then I started liking somebody else but I, I felt I was doing the same for him as well. Trying to be thin for him so he would like me and he’d already told me that actually I’ll only just be friends with you. But I thought, ‘Maybe I can win him over. Maybe I can win him over.’ It was just silly little things and I’ve had that throughout my life, of this winning over. ‘If I’m thin, I can win them over,’ you know and it’s mainly down, it’s not if I’m the best writer in the world or if I’m, you know, the happiest person in the world, I’ll win them over. It’s if I’m thin, I’ll win them over.
And what are the reasons for wanting to lose now?
To fit into my, at this stage in my life, I’d say to fit into my clothes that I’ve got. I’ve got, you know, I love buying nice clothes and I’ve got some 12, size 12 and 14s that are absolutely lovely and I want to wear those that I’ve never worn. They are my main reason. It’s not to sashay past people to say, ‘Look at me,’ or to attract anybody, I would say it’s mainly to fit into nice clothes.
Angela managed to get within 4 lbs of her target weight with a weight management programme but still felt like she had failed.
So, you maintain, sort of you lost weight and maintained weight for how long roughly?
After, when I did that slimming diet, not for very long. Not for very long at all. I think it gradually started going back up. I think, the key thing there was I’d got down to 8 stone 10 but my target was 8 stone 6 and I could not lose that four pounds, so they would not give me that, that certificate to say, ‘Yes well done, you’ve lost the weight.’ So just from them I went back up, up, up, up.
Was the certificate very important to you?
Yes, at that time it was my target, yeah because that’s the first time I’d ever been to a, you know, a club like that and I, I needed to have that. It was like doing your degree and if you don’t come out with your [laughs] certificate what was the whole point.
So, it was almost like, you know, I dropped out.
Were they kind of places where you have to go once a week and be measured?
Yes, you had to go to the group. You had to be named and shamed or, you know, praised for your, you know, and it was always, [claps hands] “Oh yes, Angela’s lost three and a half pounds. Ooh” and there was always, “Oh, you’ve gained some.” Frown, frowny, frowny face at you. But it was, it was almost like your confessional there.
In hindsight what do you think about it?
I went to a few more after, after that because I joined Slimming World after that and Weight Watchers didn’t do that confession thing, I’ve noticed that. I mean my most recent club that I’ve been to is Weight Watchers and they don’t do that. They don’t name and shame you which I thought was really good but the last time I did Slimming World was three (years), when I did the Horizon documentary, I went to Slimming World there. You do go round the class and name and shame and it’s just horrible but you kind of almost apologetic to everyone in the group, “Sorry” and the teacher, “Sorry, sorry for not….” but you’re not kind of, “Well actually I was hungry that day that’s why I overate or I went to a party that day.” This sort of thing happens in life.
Okay, do you think that kind of way of doing things - in hindsight, how do you see that now?
I think it’s, I think it’s a difficult one because, you know, you’re not beholden to yourself, you’re beholden to the group. You’re not actually doing it for yourself. You’re proving to others, ‘look at me, I’ve lost this weight,’ and you, you start off going there for yourself and to lose weight for yourself, but I think it is, it gets competitive. It gets silly, you know, and you look at other people that are similar size to you and you think, ‘How come they’ve done that? How come they’ve lost weight?’ and then people will talk about what they eat and I think, ‘how can you possibly eat that, that’s so boring. How can you have a small piece of toast in the morning, you know, when a normal, you know, that’s not going to satisfy anybody.’ It just, like, you must be doing something else, there must be a secret.
Okay. So how did it make you feel when you were…?
Just like a failure. I’m never going to get this right. I’m never going to be able to do this thing, you know.
For Angela, it would be better if the programmes “treated people as individual not as the group” and listened to their history to understand why losing weight hadn’t worked for them in the past.
Okay so any other kind of downs from this or things that these programmes should improve. You don’t need to mention any programme in particular but I mean ideally what would be a good programme, a good diet?
I don’t think, what a good, the best diet I think if you treated people as individual not as the group, you know, that is just the thing because I will compare myself with other people. I mean the last time I went to Weight Watchers nearly coming up to a year ago, I remember talking to somebody and they were saying, “Okay, well you’ve done that now. So you draw a line under it and you just carry on, yeah, because that’s what I would do.” I think, ‘Well, I’m not you. I’m not you.’ And, you know, a lot of the time I think, ‘Okay, because I’m from an Asian background, I will go home and make curries and okay they’ll be fat free and whatever, but they are tasty. Now what a native English person might eat won’t be spicy or garlicky. They will, they’re happy with steak and jacket potato and whatever. I wouldn’t find that satisfying, you know, we’re all different people. So I’d say a bit more personalised approach but that’s not going to be possible for these commercial programmes.
Because it’s just so much investment. Imagine the amount the client would have to pay to get that service. Actually, may be that would work [laughs] that would work, you know.
What would they need to have in order to provide that individual kind of service if you want?
I think exactly what you’re doing today, asking me my history, you know, they want, you need to know what, what’s gone on before and why they haven’t worked, why the programmes haven’t worked and what are the things that trigger me off, you know. It could be the slightest thing, it could be the biggest thing, you know, if for example, my son moved out a year ago but when, you know, if you’re living in a family, you’re catering for everybody else, it is not practical to make different meals for different people.
So, yeah, and the social aspect as well. If you’ve got a good social life, you know, you’re going out a couple of times a week, you know, how do you manage that?