Age at interview: 85
Brief Outline: Tommy has always been large, but gained weight due to a culture of drinking after work and eating unhealthy foods. Tommy was advised to lose weight by his GP for health reasons. He tried different strategies to do this, but found the support of an NHS program and a local organisation particularly helpful. Tommy exercises regularly and has changed his diet in recent years, losing some weight. Tommy emphasises the importance of exercise for weight loss.
Background: Tommy is 85 and is white British.

More about me...

Tommy has always been overweight. He grew up in a deprived area, but being the youngest of 9 children, was always fed well. When he was 18, he was called up for National Service, a period he describes as the “pinnacle of my health”. However, after leaving the forces to work at an engineering factory, Tommy started going out drinking after work, and eating unhealthy food. Over the years Tommy gained weight, and has developed health conditions including high blood pressure, arthritis, sleep apnoea, and angina. When he reached 27 stone, his doctor warned him, “you’ve got to do something. You’re not going to live a full life if you carry on in this way.” As well as due to health concerns, Tommy wanted to lose weight to improve his appearance, and fit into clothes.

After a warning from his doctor, Tommy tried to lose weight by cutting down his alcohol intake. Where previously he drank up to 10 pints on a night out, he started drinking soft drinks before 9.30, when he would switch back to alcohol. Whilst this had a small impact, “it really wasn’t getting to the cause of the problem really”. Tommy also joined a weight loss support group, where he gained tips on what foods to eat, and how to manage social situations on a diet. Through this, Tommy lost around 3 stone. However, after a couple of months, he felt that paying each week to be weighed wasn’t worthwhile. After he stopped going to classes, Tommy started gaining weight again, “that really was a mistake because by going every week it was keeping me watching me weight”.

After developing arthritis, Tommy was told by his doctor that losing weight would improve his condition. He was recommended pills to burn fat, but stopped taking these as they had no positive effect. Tommy’s GP then suggested exercise, and Tommy started jogging and also joined the gym. Through this, his weight dropped to around 16 stone. However, around this time Tommy retired, and found it harder to access sports facilities. His weight started to increase, and he developed angina. Because he lived near a swimming pool, Tommy started swimming. It has been 25 years since then, and Tommy swims almost every day. Tommy also goes to a weekly tea dance, which he enjoys as it “gets you out of the house”.

To manage his weight, Tommy was also referred to an NHS program by his GP, which included classes on exercise and nutrition. Through this, Tommy was introduced to a local organisation, where a member of staff came and spoke to him about his eating habits. He then took him shopping, and over the next 12 weeks taught him to cook food he enjoyed. Although this ended, Tommy still attends monthly meetings as part of the NHS program, where he can talk about any problems he has. Tommy finds this encourages him to be mindful of his weight, “I still feel focused that I must watch what I eat”. Over 12 months Tommy has lost 2 stone, and is now 19.5 stone.

Tommy has changed his eating habits in recent years. Tommy drinks more water, and has started eating fruit, which “just takes the edge off the appetite”. Although he allows himself occasional treats like fish and chips, Tommy has completely cut out certain foods, including sausage sandwiches. He has also made small changes like swapping white bread for seeded, and not frying his food. Tommy now pays more attention to the nutritional value of foods when shopping. He also makes sure not to have foods like biscuits in the house, though sometimes finds this hard when entertaining guests.

Since he has lost weight, Tommy’s health has improved, particularly his arthritis. Tommy emphasises the importance of exercise for weight loss, “Try and get that attitude towards weight loss…It is, it’s so easy to throw the towel in.  But yeah, exercise first and diet second but certainly in conjunction with each other”.

On Christmas Day Tommy decided to swim a length for every year of his age. He swam 85 lengths.


I couldn’t swim much at first, couple of lengths and that sort of thing but like the jogging, it develops, and it develops, and it develops. Now that swimming started round about 60, early ‘60s. I’m now 86 so I’m going back twenty-five years.

And now I swim every day. Every lunchtime, not today. Every lunchtime I go for the swimming in the local baths and from that, beginning where I said I did the length and maybe two lengths. At Christmas that had just gone, the bath, normally the baths aren’t open now for adult swimming so you can’t do an awful lot but at Christmas they were open all the time.

And I, and I just went in and I thought, ‘I’ll see how many lengths I can do.’ I was by that time, by last Christmas, in the habit of doing about thirty or forty lengths in an hour. About a minute a length, you know, that, that sort of thing, which quite pleased with it. But on this particular day at Christmas of last year, I’ll see how far they can go and believe me or believe me not, I swam a length for every year of my age. In other words, I swam 85 lengths….


….and I was so proud of that.


Tommy has lost three and a half stone. Aged 85, his goal is to have a healthy lifestyle rather than to worry about the Body Mass Index (BMI) chart.


No, you have lost three and a half.

Is it three and a half?

Three and a half stone.

Yeah, yeah, right, right. Yeah, yeah. I mean people have noticed. People tell you and that’s always, that’s nice too when people say, “Are you losing weight?” and, you know, it’s nice when they say that really, you know.

Okay. So for you the aim is not to lose X amount of weight. For you is to change and to adopt a more healthy lifestyle?

Yes, yeah because going back to what, I keep repeating myself on this, there’s no way I’m going to get down to, well I don’t know, I shouldn’t say this but in the past there’s no way I’m going to get down to sixteen stone which is the, you know, that, that graph thing. So it, it’s important going back to the GP, to keep battling at it, to come down, come down, come down at a nice gradual level because you’re not going to do it, such a large amount.


And I haven’t, I haven’t got the years to go, I’m 85, I don’t know how long I’ve got, you know, but I’ve got no long term plans put it that way, you know.


Tommy feels much more comfortable and less self-conscious now he has lost weight.


So what is your main reason for wanting to keep, to carry on with this healthy lifestyle?

Well it’s helping, physically it’s helping that. That is a good reason but also, it’s well- being. You feel better. You do feel better. There’s no doubt about it and your clothes, you know, you feel comfortable in your clothes and you appear, you know, if you’d have seen me, if I’d have realised I could have got some old pictures out there and you’d have think, ‘My God,’ you know. So, you appear so much, you feel you appear so much better.

Are you, now do you feel more able to go out and enjoy activities and join activities?

Yeah, I’m not as conscious of my weight, although I’m still overweight, I don’t, I don’t forget that. But I’m not as conscious, when I met people for the first time, I was very conscious of being obese, very conscious and I’m sure most of them couldn’t care less but I, I was conscious. It’s like being bald. Being bald, people think, I’ve been bald since I was twenty and people think you get used to it, but you don’t, it’s funny about baldness. I’m conscious that you see me as a bald-headed person and I’m sure that you’ve not even realised.


But I feel that you have, you know, like, the baldness, sort of thing. So, I think with your weight, it’s, it’s, you want to appear, you know it makes you feel much more comfortable.


Tommy learnt a lot from Slimming World but made the mistake of thinking that he did not need to keep going ‘just to get weighed’ He stopped going and his weight blossomed again.


So, then I decided to, to join Slimming World. Slimming World were very good. I learnt an awful lot from Slimming World.  But what happened with Slimming World you, I forget what I paid at the time but let’s say it was something like £10 to join and £3 each visit you made and I found that after several, well several, couple of months or something like that, you were going there on a Monday night and you were paying £3 just to be weighed because you’d heard all the stuff before. Each Monday there were new people coming to join the club and the, the, the tutor said, “Well, you need to do a, b, c,d and you’d heard it all before and I was as I say, paying £3 just to be weighed and I thought, ‘No, no I’m not going to, this is ridiculous just to get weighed.’

So I stopped going and that really was a mistake because by going every week it was keeping me watching me weight. Once I stopped going then my weight blossomed again, I started putting weight on and again I tried myself to try and cut it back but I just didn’t seem to have the willpower to do it and then I developed angina, pains in the chest.

You said that you learned, what did you learn from Slimming World?

Slimming World was the fact that with the other students, you sort of learnt how they were going on, how were they combating how to sort of cut down on the wrong sorts of food and when they were tempted how they overcome this sort of temptation. That was one example going to a party and sort of doing it that way and I think generally just watching what you ate and you ate the correct food, it, it was, I wasn’t a porridge man for instance and suddenly started eating my and enjoying porridge.


Tommy describes the NHS group support he has received, including a home visit, an accompanied shopping trip and personal advice about how to cook healthier versions of the foods he enjoys.


And then the doctor recommended ABL, ‘A Better Life.’ It meant me attending this, this class every week for two hours. There was about usually ten or twelve in the class and what they did was they described for instance, when you go shopping, what do you sort of buy? “Well I have this, that and the next.” “Do you ever look at the labelling, the, the, the orange, the green and the red?” “Well no, I’m afraid I don’t.” “Right, you must start doing that.” And they teach you then just what things to sort of look for so that you select the right food. The other thing they talked about was, how do you, Say I’m going to a party tonight. Now you go to a party it’s a buffet, all the foods there, it’s very inviting and you dive in.

You eat the meat pies and all the rest of it. They said, “Look, before you go have something to eat so that when you get there, you’re not hungry that you want to sort of do this thing and then I, after we had an hour of this sort of talk and each one said what their failings were and all the rest of it. We did an hour’s exercise. Now it wasn’t chair based exercise, but it was similar to that. You sort of did walking round, press ups against the wall and legs and all that sort of, so as well as the talking about how to select foods it also gave you the exercise and from that I was introduced to an organisation called BUZZ - B-U-Z-Z. And what happened there was I had an interview with this health chap and I went through more or less what I’ve gone through with you, background and that sort of thing. So, he said to me, “Do you mind if I have a look in your cupboard, what, your, what food have you got?” Yes, right, I had a look. “That’s all right Tommy. Don’t have that, that’s all right. Don’t have that. That’s all right.” Then he said, “Next week, I’m going to meet you at the supermarket and we’re going to go shopping and I’ll help you select….”, all for nothing, you don’t have to pay for this, you know for the advice.

So, I went to the Tesco’s and he said, “Now you see Tommy this label says…” and they introduced me to all that sort of information and then the following week he says to me, “What, what’s your favourite dish, what do you like to have?” “Well, spaghetti bolognaise, fish chips and that sort of thing,” and he said, “Right, get these ingredients in and I will show you how to cook it.” And he did that. Now that went on for twelve weeks and it was abso- not only did I get good advice as to what was the best foods and how to cook them to, to sort of benefit from, from that but he was teaching me how to cook. Now that like all good things come to an end. That finished.

I’m still with ABL, A Better Life. Again, that has to finish, this, this, this weekly visit where you did advice and exercise, that’s now gone to a monthly visit. Just an hour where they keep you on the ball. “Have you any problems, Tommy?” “Well yes I went...” “Why didn’t you?” and that sort of thing and I think where as I said earlier, I left Slimming World, that was keeping me tied down, £3 or not, that made me make certain I put weight on. Once I stopped going then it put the weight on. With this, I still feel focused that I must watch what I eat because you need so much help. It’s so easy to fall by the wayside and at the moment, come back to my weight, I’m actually, I was, when I joined this ABL, I was twenty-two stone and now I am nineteen and a half stone.

So that in say twelve months or so, I shed a couple of stone off and that’s where I’m up to today.


Tommy emphasises the importance of exercising to lose weight, and being patient before expecting to see results.


Do you have any message for other people who are interested in losing weight or in maintaining a healthy weight? I mean you can direct the message to people your own age group?

Yeah. I think it’s, as well as dieting, I know that is the main thing, you must watch what you’re eating and the amount you’re eating and all like that, but I do think if I’ve got to choose between the two I would say exercise, I really would say exercise, whether it’s in the form of swimming as the elderly person or in the form of dancing. I would encourage people to exercise, even if it’s only chair based. You sit in a chair because of your problems and you do that and you do that [moves arms].

I would encourage that and then, I know it’s in close conjunction but do be very selective of what, what you’re eating and the amounts that you’re eating and they say to lose weight you’ve got to change your whole attitude to food. Well, yeah, they’re, they’re probably right but it’s a bit frightening that if you’ve been used to, I say to people that they want to lose weight, yes, you’ve got to eat sensibly but gradually. Overnight you’ve not got to dispense with all you sort of like and that. But it, to repeat what I said earlier, it’s taken a long while to come off and it takes, to come on and it takes a long, you mustn’t be too overly, like weighing yourself every time you go to the toilet type thing. You mustn’t get into that category but be patient and, and you will make mistakes and you will do the wrong thing but get over them.

Don’t let it say, ‘Oh well it’s too late now I’ve put half a stone, what’s the point?’ That’s another thing, and you just give up. Just say, ‘Right it’s another day, it’s another chapter.’ Try and get that attitude towards weight loss, you know, because it’s so easy to, to throw the towel in. It is, it’s so easy to throw the towel in. But yeah, exercise first and diet second but certainly in conjunction with each other. Where possible, the exercise.

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