Age at interview: 56
Brief Outline: Shirley’s weight has fluctuated since her teenage years, and she has tried many diets and programs to manage this. Although in the past Shirley has found it hard to maintain weight loss, she has recently lost 2 stone after joining a weight management group on the advice of her doctor. She hopes to continue to lose weight for health reasons, and is trying to change her attitude around food, finding a more flexible food plan that suits her, and seeing healthy eating as a lifestyle rather than a diet.
Background: Shirley is 56, and works as a learning support assistant in a local school. She is married with 2 adult children, and is white British.

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Shirley’s weight was quite steady as a child. This changed when she was 13, when her mother encouraged her to go to a weight management class, “I think that’s where it all started because then I became very aware of food and my weight just went up and down like a yo-yo”. When she began working, Shirley started to gain more weight as she “ate what I wanted”. Since then, Shirley’s weight has fluctuated. Over the years, she has tried several diet and meal replacement plans, from slimming tablets to hypnotherapy, to food replacement shakes. Shirley finds that whenever she loses weight, she gains it again, partly because she finds it hard to sick to healthy choices, particularly over holidays.

Several years ago, Shirley was told that she had high blood pressure and cholesterol. Her doctor mentioned her weight as a cause of this, “they basically said, ‘you know what to do?’”. At this time, her weight was also making her “quite depressed”. This prompted Shirley to join a weight management program with a friend, where she lost 3 stone due to the “freedom” in the meal plan, and how it makes use of “every day food”. However, Shirley did not enjoy these classes as they were too big, and she found listening to other people’s experiences “depressing”. Although she tried a different weight management group, Shirley went back after putting weight back on. Since then, Shirley has started to lose weight again, and hopes to lose a further 3 stone, partly for her daughter’s wedding, but principally for health reasons. Shirley is particularly concerned how her weight could affect her health and mobility as she grows older, “I don’t want to end up with my kids having to look after me and obviously hopefully grandchildren will be arriving in the next few years and I want to be around for them”.

Following her weight management program, Shirley has made some changes to her eating habits, such as having smaller portions, limiting carbohydrates, choosing low-fat options, and cooking from scratch. She finds the “psychological thing” of knowing she is going to be weighed on a certain day motivates her to eat well. Although the feeling of losing weight is “absolutely brilliant”, Shirley has found that there have been times when she has felt “disillusioned and in “despair” after not losing as much weight as expected.

Shirley has found that although she can follow a diet plan, she has episodes where she goes back to eating unhealthy foods, especially when feeling emotional. Shirley finds it hard to balance healthy eating with having treats, when she decides to have a treat, “you just go mad”. She is trying to overcome this by having one day a week where she eats what she wants, which seems to be stopping her cravings. Shirley is currently trying to change her approach to food, seeing healthy eating not as a diet but as a “lifestyle”, “the dieting word is when you start really feeling deprived and you can’t have this and you can’t have that…I’ve just got to get it into my lifestyle every day and when I have a blip…It isn’t the end of the world”. Although in the past Shirley had found socialising to be difficult, this attitude also makes it easier to eat out, “I want to have fun because we don’t know how long we’re on this earth for, and if I keep saying no to everything I’m…never going to enjoy my life,”.

Shirley feels that weight problems are partly due to the price and availability of fast food, “it’s too easy for people to keep doing that rather than finding healthy, healthier things”. She feels obesity in children is a particular concern, as worries that a lack of education is stopping them from making informed choices about food. Shirley feels that educating children on nutrition could help this problem, “they’re not being taught what is right, what is wrong”. She also feels that health professionals should take a bigger role in helping patients manage their weight. Shirley believes people should be given clearer information on the causes and consequences of being overweight. She suggests that nurses could hold clinics where people could be weighed and receive support around their weight loss. Shirley plans to ask her doctor for advice on whether her diet plan is suitable for her specifically. She recommends that others should do the same, as it could help people “find out if there is something out there that might help you”.

Shirley thinks the numerous cheap fast food outlets in her village have contributed to poorer diets and people being overweight.


Do you have any more general ideas about why more people are overweight these days?

I think it’s fast food. I think fast foods got a lot to do with it. I think even though people say they haven’t got money it’s ridiculous, because I’m not a McDonalds fan or whatever, but I have been in recently and thought, ‘How cheap?’ Like, 99p for a burger and fries and if people can buy food that cheap they’re more likely to go to get them and the variety, it’s, I can remember going back to the supermarket and probably years ago with Mum and having, I don’t know, about four types of crisps and now you go in and it’s like, rows of them, and, you know, and again, special offers on stuff. It’s ridiculously cheap and I think it’s too easy for people to keep doing that rather than finding healthy, healthier things. I think perhaps now you’ve got the Aldi and Lidl, they’re probably helping people that haven’t got as much. But I, I don’t know people that seem to not have money and are overweight tend to go for the rubbish food rather than I know you can get stuff quite cheaply now in supermarkets, so I find that quite odd. But yeah, I think fast outlets are quite a, because if you look in our village you’ve got three pizza places, a chip shop, and a Kebab place, all in that village and three coffee shops and that’s just in small, small village like ours so I think it’s all too readily available these days.


After feeling depressed listening to other people, Shirley decided only to stay to be weighed and not for the discussion part of meetings.


So 9 out of 10 times I go but I don’t stay. So I just go in, weigh in and come out. So I’m not getting the whole what they call image therapy where you talk about things. But I just find it, and again my friend we just found it so, a bit depressing because you’re just listening, you know, you’re listening to people that have said, “I’ve eaten chocolate this week and I’ve lost three pounds.” You know, you’ve stuck to the plan and put on a pound and you’re thinking, ‘You don’t need to hear...’ because in your head you’re thinking, ‘Well why’s that happened?’ It’s just the negativity and how, I think how a person works, their mind is, ‘you want a result,’ because my husband can never understand why I get so upset about results on the scales every week. He says, “but it doesn’t matter.” I said, “No, it doesn’t matter to you, but I’ve worked hard.”


Shirley describes what it felt like not to lose weight in spite of sticking to the rules.


Okay and when, how do you feel on those occasions that you are kind of dieting or doing things that Weight Watchers or Slimming World is telling you to do and you are not losing the weight, the weight, how do you feel, sort of from week to week?

Quite disillusioned actually because you sort of think, and I think that’s the trouble with some, some of the classes because you think, ‘I’ve done it. I’ve been on it a hundred per cent.’ I know I’ve been good and I’m the first to admit when I’ve done something wrong but when you know you’ve been good and then you get on the scales and they tell you and if, I’ve printed my story off for you actually, it will tell you in there how I have felt. Like I think there was one week I went to a different class because of circumstances and I’d put on two pound and that was over an Easter period. I’d had no Easter eggs, no hot cross buns or anything nice and I came out of there feeling so disillusioned because you think, “Why?” There’s nobody can answer and your consultant, like you say hasn’t got the time or the time, but you feel really down.

Whereas I stuck with it and then the next week I lost three pound and it was just sort of balanced it out but if you don’t get that it can send you in to complete despair because I think, ‘What, what shall I do?’ And even with this [name group] that I went to, I was losing half a pound. I went for a whole month where I only lost half a pound a week but because I was losing I kept going with it and then every now and again, I’d get a big weight loss and I think that’s how my body is. But again, you don’t get told that, you don’t get told, “Some weeks you could stay the same for three or four weeks and then get a big weight loss. Some weeks you could, you know, do the right thing and gain.” You don’t really get any of that explained to you because they don’t want that negativity. I think that’s the thing. They don’t want to say, “Some weeks this is going to happen.”

Whereas I think if they were honest from the beginning you’re prepared for it. But you’re not, when you think, ‘I’ve done it for hundred, I’ve been on it a hundred per cent and I’ve managed to lose two, I’ve gained two pound. Why?’ And that’s when you can get on a real and there’s girls on there, there was a girl this week who’s lost six stone and she gained this week and she was ready to give up just after that even though she’d lost six stone because she’s got no rhyme or reason or why because our bodies are weird. Because my husband did a thing. He weighed him every day for a week and he said the difference in what you’ve eaten the day before to what your scales weigh the next morning. But he said, “but nobody tells you that at Slimming club do they?” So he said, “That particular morning you’ve got on those scales and weighed two pound could be because of something you did the day before,” and I went, “Yeah, but nobody explains that to you.” You don’t, and you don’t want to hear that at the time but, yeah. Yeah, it is, it is hard, very hard.


Shirley was one of several colleagues who were all on the same weight management programme.


Can you talk to your friends and family about issues to do with weight management or diet or things like that?

Yeah, I’ve got, I’ve got, family are fine. At work, I’ve got three or four girls, we’re all on the Slimming World, which is quite handy because you have got that awful staff room that ends up with biscuits in it and whatever, and you do get people like, because one or two of us are doing it, you know somebody could walk in. So yeah, I’ve got work colleagues that you can, I’ve got, actually one friend that I do work with that is a teacher, she’s never dieted in her life and she said she’d never ever get on that bandwagon because she said, “I know, but I think I balance my week out,” she said, “because I would never get..” and I look at her and I think, ‘No, you don’t need to.’ She’s not ultra-skinny but she’s not overweight either. So she’s got the right balance in her week where she enjoys her food, but she doesn’t have to, and I sort of look at her thinking, ‘Wish I could be like that.’


For Shirley, using an app was quick and convenient for calorie counting.


Do you use any applications on your mobile to check things or to do with diet or..?

No, I tend to use their online app so every day I fill in my food to tell me what, what I’ve had, and you can, it does meals now so that’s better. So you can just put a whole Slimming World meal in. You haven’t got to sit and work it. It’s got, the one thing I’ve learned it’s got to be something quick. I’m no good at counting calories and weighing stuff too much because that’s too much time. I haven’t got the time to do that. So I’m better off, I know I can pick up that. I can have that potato, that’s fine and just sort of keep it like that. So, yeah, I do use that one online but not anything on my phone.


Seek advice on what to do from a doctor or nurse is Shirley’s recommendation.


What would you like to tell other people about kind of changing sort of weight maintenance or trying to reach a healthy weight?

Yeah, I think going back to what we were talking about earlier, finding the right plan for yourself is key. Not making it too restrictive. You’ve got to find the thing that suits you best. I think if I’ve learnt one thing from talking to you this morning is perhaps go and have a chat with your doctor and your local nurse and find out if there is something out there that might help you. Don’t perhaps go for Slimming World and Weight Watchers because you don’t know that they’re right for you. But perhaps have a chat with your doctor and see whether they could recommend something. I’m, I am going to go down and ask even though I’m doing Slimming World, I’m still going to go and find out if there’s something else that I could get some more information because if I can’t go in a few weeks when I’m not probably going to have the money, I’m going to want something else and I don’t want to fall back and hopefully they’ll be there but I would definitely go to your doctor first and your local nurse and see if there’s somebody you can have a chat with and just get some advice on what track to take first rather than jumping around from one thing to another, I think that’s, that’s probably been my worst thing I’ve done is jumping from one diet to another and not sticking with one thing and finding out what suits you. That’s got to be the key.

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