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  • Writer's pictureDawn Ford

"It's Your Fault I'm Fat"

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

July 2019

This Channel 5 documentary series takes a close and very honest look at why a handful of obese teenagers feel that food was the only way to cope, when they found themselves struggling with life, for whatever reason. This particular episode focussed on 18 year old Ellie, a very overweight and terribly unhappy teenager. She lives in Yorkshire with her mum Paula.

"I turned to food for comfort - it took away the hurt".

Ellie started 'stress eating' after her parents split when she was 12. And this is so common. This need for us to 'numb' our heartache (whatever the reason or cause).This need to 'bury' the pain with alcohol, drugs, retail therapy, keeping busy, self harm and in this case with FOOD.

In the Grief Recovery Method we call these 'coping' strategies STERBS - short term relieving behaviours. Short term these cruxes are necessary, we do need them to 'let off steam', to make the suffering 'manageable'. Long term though, as with Ellie they get out of hand. They can lead to addiction, to 'burn out', to a life of obesity and all the health (mental and physical) concerns that accompany it.

FOOD is a complex STERB as we either comfort eat, which can lead us down the path to obesity.

Or we can binge eat, which can lead us down the path of bulimia; Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa) is a serious mental illness. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background. People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called bingeing), and then trying to compensate for that overeating by making themselves sick, using laxatives or diuretics, going long periods without food, or exercising excessively.

Or we can develop a negative relationship with it, which can lead us down the path of anorexia; Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa) is a serious mental illness where people are of low weight due to limiting their energy intake. Like any other eating disorder it can affect anyone of any age, gender, or background. As well as restricting the amount of food eaten, they may do lots of exercise to get rid of food eaten. Some people with anorexia may experience cycles of bingeing (eating large amounts of food at once) and then purging (exercising excessively).

With Ellie, like with most people, there is need to ask "What happened?" and she reveals that her struggles began with her mum and dad splitting 6 years earlier. The split hadn't affected her other siblings in the same way as it did Ellie and I often see this with clients. Because we are all individual, we all have different personalities, different needs, different coping strategies. We also all have unique relationships with the other person - even if Ellie had had a sister with the same parents, her relationship with her dad would have been different to the relationship between her sister and their dad. We frequently make the assumption that 'we know how you feel'. In reality it couldn't be further from the truth. No two relationships will ever be the same. Even twins wouldn't have the same relationship with a parent.

It was eye-opening too to hear Ellie say that even though her and her mum are close, they never have heart-to-heart discussions about her weight. And this got me thinking... I know as a parent we can all have concerns and worries and we frequently avoid the ISSUE, 'the white elephant in the room' , but why do we do this? We often feel afraid of upsetting the other person - but as this documentary demonstrates.... our concerns need to be aired, shared and listened to.

"I used to self harm because of the bullying and thoughts of suicide because of the pain I feel".

In her video Ellie made for her mum, she blames her for the lack of discipline, of not being able to cook, of her mum being far too soft on her. She also tells her mum, which was so devastating to hear, that she had self harmed and had even had suicidal thoughts. This was uncomfortable to hear and see, the shock and pain was raw, private. BUT it does open our eyes to the REALITY. That Ellie and other teenagers like her, are often battling in secret.

Ellie talks of 'bottling' up her emotions for far too long, and realising if she is to lose the weight and gain back some confidence something drastic has to be done. It was TIME to TALK. It was time to be truthful.

Her mum did take some responsibility but she also said that Ellie needed to take some responsibility too. And she was right. Ellie does need to take responsibility for her actions too. For her choices. For the food she eats and the exercise or lack of it. With the Grief Recovery Method we ask you to take at least 1% responsibility. Without that 1% you won't see change, you won't find a different future.

Ellie tells us how her weight and body image has led her to live a reclusive life. Again this is very common - to want isolation. She has heard critical remarks from people when out and about. If she isolates herself - she can't be seen - she can't hear these damming comments.

The documentary had genuine depth - they looked 'behind the mask', of food in this case and found heartache and the struggle that pursued Ellie's parents' split. They encouraged Paula to teach Ellie to cook (there has never been a more poignant and necessary time for cooking lessons to be compulsory in schools - surely the education system needs to take this fundamental life skill seriously). I was shocked to hear that Ellie was 18 and having her 1st ever cookery lesson. Ellie and Paula also both seek out the help of a personal trainer.

Finally there was another interesting twist to this documentary - Paula, Ellie's mum admitted that she used to eat everything in sight, when things got tough for her. " I used to reach for the bun or the chocolate bar".

And a lot of the time our 'coping strategies' are learnt behaviour from our parents. We watch, we learn, we more often than not copy. Not always but frequently their coping strategies, the alcohol, the food, the retail therapy, the isolation, the hoarding etc become ours too.

If any of this content resonates with you or anyone close to you please do get in touch. The Grief Recovery Method enables you to revisit painful times and accept (as opposed to deny) the heartache they caused you. And then ..... there is this incredible opportunity to apologise and to forgive, to share your feelings in a safe 'space' where you will always be heard, without any judgement and in confidence too.

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