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Meeka

Age at interview: 66
Brief Outline: Meeka started gaining weight in middle age. Because there is a history of heart problems in Meeka’s family, and she has suffered a heart attack herself, Meeka is very aware of maintaining a healthy diet. Meeka manages her weight through counting calories and following a meal plan, although she tends to put weight on during the holidays. Meeka hopes to lose just under 2 stone in order to reduce her chances of suffering further health problems.
Background: Meeka is 66, and is a retired prison service education manager. She is married with 2 adult children, and is white British.

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Meeka had a heart attack at 55. There is a history of heart conditions in Meeka’s family, and none of her relatives have lived past 70. Because of this, Meeka is very aware of her health, “So, at sixty-six, I am more than conscious that I need to do everything that I can which includes weight issues to keep myself as healthy as possible”. Although there have been times when Meeka has lost weight, she finds it hard to maintain weight loss. She attributes this to older age and complications with menopause, as well as lifestyle factors. Meeka finds she often gains weight around holidays and celebrations, where she strays from her usual eating habits. On a trip to the United States, Meeka gained weight rapidly, due to the “enormous portions”, and fat and sugar content of foods. For Meeka, bad weather is also a trigger for weight gain, as it becomes harder to exercise, and she can feel demotivated. Meeka describes weight gain as a cycle leading to low self-esteem, “The more weight I put on the more difficult it is to do, and then the less I do, then, of course, the more weight I put on, so I get caught in this cycle”.

Although it is “time consuming”, Meeka follows a strict diet plan, counting calories and planning her meals in advance. She eats lots of vegetables and eggs, and has cut down on carbohydrates and sugars, only buying foods she needs. Whilst there are times, such as family meals, where Meeka doesn’t restrict her calories, she has developed other strategies to manage these situations, “I don’t count the calories when I go out with family and then I’ll have a couple of really low calorie days of fasting to try and make it up during the week”. Meeka also avoids supermarkets at times she knows she will be tempted to buy unhealthy foods, such as Easter, shopping online instead. When Meeka finds she has gained weight, she goes on a “fat attack fortnight”, which she describes as “a radical 1200 calories a day where I apportion 200 to breakfast, 300 to lunch, 400 to an evening meal and then 200 for my calcium”. She sometimes does the 5:2 diet alongside this. Meeka has recently lost 13 pounds through this method.

Meeka seeks information about diet and nutrition from books and magazines. In the past, she joined a weight management group online, but was concerned by some of the advice they offered. When she was younger, Meeka also tried “faddy things”, such as the banana diet or the cabbage soup diet. Meeka now condemns these diets as “nonsense”, “I actually think they can be quite dangerous to your health because if you’re not aware of basic nutrition for your body and you’re restricting calories… then you get bad tempered and your self-esteem goes down because you’re not coping with it and your blood sugar’s all over the place”. Meeka feels that children today are unaware of what they are eating or the nutritional value of foods. She is also concerned how fast food chains market themselves to certain groups, including young people and those in social housing. She tries to educate her grandchildren on nutrition, and feels young people in general should receive more education around food, before they learn bad eating habits.

Meeka is reluctant to talk to her doctor about her weight due to demands on the health service. She would like to see clinics set up for certain age and gender groups, which focus on health and wellbeing. She feels nutritionists would have a lot to contribute in general practice settings, “they could look at you as a person and take into consideration, your age, your health, your exercise level and also your preference for food and your alcohol and build it in and have a look and, and say, ‘Yes or no’, and ‘have you thought about this’”.

Meeka currently aims to lose around 2 stone for health reasons, “I’m learning, trying to get myself past that magic seventy in our family that people don’t seem to be able to get beyond”. Whilst she plans to continue her diet regime, Meeka also emphasises enjoying life, “life is not long enough to become obsessed with it…I’m enjoying my family.  I’m enjoying our meals out and that’s fine”.
 

When Meeka was a child it was rare to see anyone who was overweight.

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The obesity. Didn’t surprise me. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it from being little. When I was little, most people had difficulty getting enough food. Certainly, when I was growing up there wasn’t any wastage in food. There weren’t the supermarkets when I was growing up. Your food, you went with a basket and you bought it. My grandfather used to go to the market to buy the meat on Saturday and bring vegetables home and it was, it was cooked food. The only thing we had in tins were peaches for Sunday and carnation milk that went over the tinned peaches, so everything was fresh. And we were outdoors a lot more and moving a lot more, so I didn’t, I don’t think I even knew or heard the word obese when I was little. I don’t, you know, and, and if there was a fat person, you were shocked. You were taken back by somebody that was really overweight. It just, wow, we wouldn’t think that they’d got that way with eating. We thought they must have a medical condition, okay. So it never occurred to us because there was very, there wasn’t that much food around that we thought anyone could get fat off it to be truthful, so it wasn’t an issue.

 

Meeka notes that fast food outlets are often sited in low income areas

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Politically, look where McDonald’s are placed. In the middle of housing, often social housing, there’s a lot of social housing round here. Where you have the supermarkets, there will be McDonalds and these places are open 24/7 and when they start cooking and you’re out in the garden in the summer, you can smell the burgers cooking, and of course, the kids can smell that too, and smell will entice them to go down.

If they go down shopping or whatever, or they go down to see about their iPods, or whatever they’re going down to the shopping centre for, it’s right there in front of them and they will go in and they will buy the McDonalds.

 

Meeka had a heart attack at age 55. Eleven years later she explains that her diet regime is focussed on getting old healthily.

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I had a heart attack at fifty-five whilst I was working. Both my parents had heart conditions, and both died from heart-related issues. We have a family history of heart issues and I’ve yet to reach past seventy. No-one in our family actually gets past seventy, okay. So, at sixty-six, I am more than conscious that I need to do everything that I can which includes weight issues to keep myself as healthy as possible. In fact, my doctor and I have got a pact that he will get, try and get me to eighty at least, so we’re on a mission.

So I’ve accepted that this is my shape, that I need to lose the fat, so that it doesn’t accumulate around my heart and clog up the cholesterol in my, in my, in my blood and cause another blockage. I don’t want to have to go in for another stent. That, one’s enough [laughs]. I don’t like hospitals at the best of times.

Okay, so for you is your long term life project is to have a healthy weight…

Yes.

….. and to be healthy.

Absolutely, absolutely.

Okay.

Yes to give my heart and my cardiovascular system the best possible chance of getting old healthily. So that’s, my diet centres around my heart and, and the fat and things. Not so much the diabetes, although what I’m doing is good for reducing the chances of getting diabetes. But that’s an aside. It’s, my regime is aimed at keeping my heart and cardiovascular system healthy and also, I have osteoporosis in my thighs, so calcium take on and exercise and it’s centred around that and to some extent, the brain, you know, I am my brain. I’ve always been a brain type person and disciplined brain person so, I have to eat and try and keep that healthy. So, I’ll eat my salmon and my oily fish. I have two lots of fish a week and build that into my calories.

 

Meeka was motivated to lose weight after reading a book by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

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So, it’s having something to motivate, to kick start that and as I said, I read the book, ‘In pursuit of Joy,’ when my mood was low in January and that got into my head, you’re eating out of gluttony not nutrition.

Okay.

Where’s your nutritional value? How much nutrition do you need for the level of activity that you undertake, the age that you are, the health condition that you have? And so, I thought, ‘Right, I’m on a mission now.’ Got something to work for.

 

As she has gotten older, Meeka finds she gains weight faster, with Christmas and holidays key times she puts on the pounds.

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When you start gaining on weight on those occasions that you have gained weight…

Yes.

…is it gradual? What…?

Yes, I think it is, but as I’ve got older the weight’s gone on quicker. So, whereas in the past it would take me maybe six months to put half a stone on. I can now put, well I did over Christmas, I can put a stone and a half, two stone on in two months. Boom. Just like that and then it will take six months to a year to lose it. I’ve got records of my weight going back to about 2008 and I can chart up and down and it’s taken me so long. It can take me a year to lose a stone because it goes off, comes on. Goes off, goes off, comes on. So, I’ve always got to watch, and I weigh myself every week. Sometimes it will be every two weeks. If I go away on holiday, I won’t weigh myself and I, one of my faults is we go away all inclusive and that’s another issue. I always come back with putting on at least half a stone in a fortnight. Okay.

Okay.

My husband, he’s very good, even on holiday. He will just more or less try and eat very healthy. Me, if it’s there and there’s a cake stand, and a dessert stand and that’s my holiday, I paid for it, I’m eating that dessert [laughs].

[Laughs]

And I’ll deal with the consequences when I get back [laughs].

You’re not the only one, yeah [laughs].

Because I’m going away on holiday and a holiday is just that. It’s a break from routine.

 

Meeka finds she puts on most of her weight in the winter months, when it is harder to get out and exercise and her mood starts to drop.

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Holidays. But also, it’s bad weather here.

Without a shadow of a doubt. Without a shadow of a doubt. That’s when I put most of my weight on. Starts in November. It’s the winter time and it’s harder to exercise because you can’t even get out sometimes. I can’t go out if the temperature drops below I think -2 or 3, because of my heart. Okay, so I have my cross trainer upstairs and sit and watch QVC, stand and watch QVC, sorry when I’m doing that. But because I, my mood starts to go down, I get fed up of doing that as well. So I then put on some more weight and it just by the end of time Winter comes, I think, ‘Eight that’s as low as I go.’ There’s a point that I reach, and I say, “That is as low as I’m going,” because I won’t go into depression. I know when I’m getting low and know what’s wrong. It’s lack of sunshine and I take the multivitamins and do all that. Take the extra Vitamin D, but as soon as I’ve reached that point, [husband] and I say to each other, “Right, we need some sun.”

 

For Meeka, food is tied up with emotions and appreciating food makes her happy.

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And I’ve also learned picking up bits of advice that I’ve done from all over the place to concentrate on my food, to appreciate it. Eat more slowly. When I was working, I used to eat very, very quickly and I used to eat watching the TV. Just try, try and get it down and then I’d carry on with some work in the evening from work while smoking cigarette. So if you’d asked me at 9 o’clock what I had for my dinner, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you because I was just, you know.

So it is. Now I’m retired, I slowed down appreciate my food. I look, I try and eat the rainbow. I know that perhaps sounds a bit silly, but I love different colours on my plate. So, I will have different colours peppers and fish and salads, so it looks appetising. So, I appreciate how it looks and I’ll eat slowly and appreciate the different. I like different textures. So, I’ll have a nice crunchy salad leaf and I’ll have some salmon with it or maybe even a small piece of ham with it, so there’s different textures. I may sprinkle a few crushed walnuts on the top to give it a crunchy feel and then I’ll take my time and appreciate it, which, so that’s, it is tied up with emotions and that makes me happy. It really does make me happy. I’ve always loved food, sometimes the amount of food. Now is not the amount. It’s everything else, the taste the smell that is good. It makes me feel good inside and it’s also now we’re both retired, we’ll both cook together in the kitchen.

 

Meeka says the doctor has never spoken to her about diet and heart disease during her annual check ups.

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The doctor has never spoken to me about nutrition and heart-related issues. Never. Even, I’m called in every year for what they call a heart check for a heart check and they take blood pressure and they take your bloods to see what your cholesterol’s like and if you, you know, if you’re online for diabetes. So, they do those checks and you’re in there for a few minutes and they never ask you questions. They don’t even ask you how you are. They say, “Oh right. Come in. Have your bloods done. Check your blood pressure. Right, come back to the doctors in ten days and discuss your results.” So, go back to the doctor, “Yes, it’s fine or it’s not.” I have a problem with fatty liver.

You have a problem?

With a fatty liver, so there’s that as well. They do that, and they tell you, “Yeah, this is up, that’s up. Just be careful with this, be careful with that.” And sometimes people try and increase some medication and I say, “No,” to that. Like he wanted to double my statins last time I went. I said, “No, I’ll deal with it through nutrition.”

 

Feeling under stress at the GP’s surgery can make it hard for Meeka to get her words out in the allotted ten minutes she has with the doctor.

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This is another thing I find as we’re getting older. A ten-minute appointment, it takes us that long sometimes to think. I also have, suffer from tremors sometimes and dithers, what we laughing call ‘the dithers,’ and sometimes it’s hard to get my speech out, thinking from brain to mouth and I can sit there in a doctor’s surgery and if I’m feeling under stress or intimated, it will often take me five to ten minutes just to try and get out what I’m thinking and, and it, it’s hard and then I feel embarrassed, which adds to the stress, so it’s not a successful interview. It’s not like you and I sitting here now where I feel perfectly comfortable, you know, we’re not time poor and I can relax and, and talk about things and that’s how it should be. I know there isn’t the money for the doctors to that. I appreciate that, but perhaps if we took the emphasis away from curing illnesses to prevention, that in the long run this would be money well spent because people would be healthier in the long run. Seniors would be healthier.

 

Meeka would like there to be specialists for seniors as well as for men and women.

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Okay and do you have any messages for health care professionals who want to help people with weight control?

Yeah, be more active with it. Try and lobby the government to give you more money, so that you can, there can be more of you that reach more of us. And also if possible, could we have a specialist in certain areas. I know that’s difficult when money’s tight. But I’ve talked during this interview about having a senior, you know, having someone that just deals with seniors, so if we could, even make it a little bit more specialist again. A senior that deals with, sorry, a senior specialist for women as opposed to a senior specialist that deals with men. You could have another one that deal with men, so that men could feel comfortable and go down and talk about what’s going on with their bodies at their times of life where they can feel relaxed and comfortable. So, I know that in this very politically sensitive time we shouldn’t be splitting the genders or things, but I think there are occasions where, particularly for seniors, we feel more comfortable talking to a female about female issues. That’s my perception. So, I would be gender-specific.

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