Health and weight

Gemma - Interview 03


Brief outline: Gemma, 17, has been on a weight management programme and as a last resort underwent gastric bypass surgery. Ethnic background: White British.

Background: See 'brief outline'.

Audio & video

Gemma, 17, has had problems with her weight since she was a child. Gemma thinks she gained weight partly because she was binge eating, and that it wasn’t that she was eating the wrong things, but that she was eating too much.
While at school, Gemma experienced a lot of name-calling and physical bullying because of her weight and also because she didn’t have any friends. The bullying got so bad that she had to have lessons on her own, and then be home schooled for the last few months of school. Gemma says it was difficult for her to fit in because she “was the biggest lass in the school”. At her lowest point, Gemma felt like she didn’t want to live any more. Gemma says she’s really glad she spoke out about the bullying.
Gemma feels that she never really could be like a typical teenager because she didn’t go shopping or to the cinema with friends, instead, she would sit in her room on the internet, listening to music, reading or doing her schoolwork. Gemma’s weight also made it physically difficult for her to be active and to do PE at school, but she also says she lacked confidence and didn’t want to be seen. Gemma thinks that one reason she didn’t have any friends at school was because people felt ashamed to be seen with her. Gemma believes you have to block this kind of thing out and not let it get the better of you. Now at college, Gemma says she’s moved on and made a lot of new friends.
Gemma was referred by her paediatrician to a weight management programme 4 years ago. She was upset when he told her he thought she had a weight problem because she says he used a “nasty tone” and treated her like an adult, not a child (she was 13), making it difficult for her to understand what he was telling her. Gemma says the doctors blamed her mum for her weight problem and that made them both feel guilty. Gemma gets a lot of support from her younger brother, and they have attended the weight management programme together. A worker from the programme visits Gemma at home, helping her with exercise and her diet. Gemma used to have problems following the diet sheets, because she doesn’t like vegetables, and substituted them with other foods, like chips. Gemma has found it easy to confide in the leader of the weight management programme because she works with other big people and although she is honest with Gemma, she isn’t judgmental. Gemma has also had support from a psychologist.
Gemma tried lots of things before she had surgery, including tablets – but she had a bad reaction to one of them and had to be hospitalised. She also had a (free) personal trainer at the gym, but found this difficult to fit in because it was on the other side of the city and eventually gave it up because she felt the trainer was pushing her too hard and it was making her feel worse about herself. Having the surgery was a last resort for Gemma, and she did a lot of research. Her dad has also had gastric bypass surgery, and this put Gemma off. Since the operation, Gemma has lost a lot of weight. She takes a combination of different vitamins and minerals, and an antacid tablet. She has to be careful what and how much she eats. She says she has more confidence and more energy and finds being active much easier.
Gemma used to worry about her health and her future, but now she’s focused on her career and is hoping to work with people with special needs or to be a counsellor.


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