Teenager Holly Young tells Diane Parkes how she decided to shed weight after discovering obesity really could be a matter of life or death.
WEIGHT loss was brought home as a matter of life or death when teenager Holly Young’s mother lay seriously ill in hospital.
For Holly, from Dickens Heath, Solihull, was told that her mother would have died had she been overweight.
That persuaded Holly that she herself desperately needed to shed the excess pounds she was carrying.
But it was far from easy – Holly had never been a skinny child and ate for comfort, tucking into treats whenever she felt unhappy.
“I would eat huge portions and I was always eating sweets, crisps, chocolate,” she says. “I always had lots of potatoes with my dinner and I ate a lot of bread. I would eat sandwiches before my dinner. I ate all of the time. I would even get up in the night and eat in my sleep.”
But Holly, a hairdresser in Wythall, was being made miserable by the results of her excesses.
“It was horrible being in the salon as I was surrounded by mirrors and I hated looking at myself,” she says. “And I wouldn’t want my picture taken. I saw pictures of me at my 18th birthday and I looked horrible. All my arms were just hanging down.”
Then her mother, Lisa Abercrombie, 43, suffered complications eight months into the pregnancy of her youngest child Oscar.
Medics at Solihull Hospital carried out an emergency Caesarean and resuscitated the baby, who had been born dead.
“They told us that if mum had been overweight she would have died,” remembers Holly, now 19.
Oscar is now a fit and healthy two-year-old and Lisa and her husband Andrew, a 45-year-old company director, also have four-year-old Saffron.
When she was well enough, Lisa knew it was time for Holly to sort out her food problems once and for all.
“Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind and I told her she was losing her looks and it could be more serious,” she recalls.
So Holly went to her GP.
“I told him how unhappy I was and he referred me to the clinic at Heartlands Hospital,” she says. “At that point I weighed 16st 9lbs.”
The Specialist Weight Management Services clinic looked at more than just what Holly was eating.
“I had tried all of the diets - Weight Watchers, Rosemary Conley, Slimming World but I couldn’t stick to any of them,” she says.
“But at the clinic Dr Taheri and I spoke about the psychological reasons of why I was eating so much.
“He helped me see that a lot of the reason I was unhappy was because of the problems I had with my dad who left us when I was six.
“Then I met the dietician Adrian Brown and he talked about the fact I was comfort eating.
“I had to keep a food diary and Adrian asked me what I would eat in a typical day but I actually lied to begin with and pretended I was eating less than I was. I don’t know why, I think I was too embarrassed.”
Lisa had also agreed to pay for a personal trainer so Holly enlisted the support of Marcus McDonald of Inspiring Fitness who, initially, came to the house three times a week.
With all this support, Holly found she was finally able to kick her habit.
“Food for me was like an addiction,” she says. “I would comfort eat. Whenever anything was upsetting me I would eat.”
But when she could identify the fact that eating did not actually make her feel any better, Holly was able to make dramatic changes.
“I cut out all the snacks, the chocolate, the crisps, the fizzy drinks, the extra sandwiches,” she adds.
“And I was doing the exercise with Marcus so I soon started to lose weight.”
In the past year Holly has managed to drop to 13 stone and is still going, aiming for a target of 11 stone. And she is experiencing the benefits.
“I feel totally different,” she says. “I am so much happier and I feel much more confident.
“I am glad I did this naturally. It means I have changed my whole lifestyle. I will never go back to it.”
Holly’s journey has been televised by Channel 4 for the series The Hospital and will be screened at 9pm tonight. She has already watched the programme.
“When I saw it there were some moments which were a bit cringey but I did the programme because I don’t want anyone else to feel like I felt. I thought I was stuck in a rut and couldn’t do anything about it but with the right help I have. You just need to push yourself.”
And her mum has this final word.
“Holly talks all the time about all the help she had, and she did. The NHS was really shown at its best. But it was her who did it. I am immensely proud of her.”
Holly is just one of 2,000 people on the books of the Specialist Weight Management Services clinic at Birmingham’s Heartlands Hospital.
The team has had to expand to meet the needs of a population with expanding waistlines and head clinician for weight management Dr Shahrad Taheri says it is now the foremost centre in the country. He says each patient is an individual and needs to be treated as such: “Everybody has different issues which contribute to how and what they eat – that is why it is so important they are treated as individuals.”