This is the firsthand account of someone who is still recovering from the trauma she suffered at the hands of a local Weight Management Service as a teenager. She has understandably chosen to remain anonymous and I have changed the names and details to protect her. For this reason, I have decided to rename the company GLOW.
Content warning – dieting, eating disorders
In the beginning
I first became aware of GLOW through a friend who really raved about it. It appealed to me as I had always struggled with my weight, although looking back I feel sad because I was actually perfectly fine. I was bullied a lot because of the way I looked, so when I heard of GLOW it appealed to me because it seemed like a child friendly WW or Slimming World. I must have been around thirteen or fourteen at the time so I thought it was great, which is sad in itself.
I can’t remember the in’s and out’s of what would happen, but it was each weekend on a Saturday or Sunday. We would talk about food and nutrition and go on walks together and do exercise. I remember there were raffles and all the prizes were related to losing weight. I won a bowl once that had lines on it showing where you should go up to for different foods. They also had one of those plates with the sections on for fruit and veg/carbs/protein etc. You could also buy these things too.
I remember the first time I had a weigh in, I thought I’d done so well. I think it had been about 6 weeks and I’d lost about half a stone! I was so impressed with myself, but when the woman weighed me and did my measurements she didn’t seem that impressed. So I thought I must have done badly, and I needed to lose more weight and faster. I felt so disheartened.
Luckily, I didn’t hang onto this mindset too much at that point, and after a couple of months, I stopped going.
When doctors get it wrong
Skip forward a couple of years, when I was around fifteen or sixteen, and my parents took me to see my GP for the second or third time over concerns for my mental health. I wasn’t talking to them or anyone else, I was completely withdrawn, I was always tired and I just felt incredibly unhappy. In the appointment, I don’t believe I mentioned anything about my weight or how I felt about my body. Even though I had experienced lots of bullying for how I looked by then, it wasn’t the main issue. My main issue was just feeling really deeply unhappy and unable to talk to anyone.
However, after talking to me, the GP referred me to GLOW to lose weight. Other than one other occasion when I was essentially fobbed off with leaflets about mental illness, that was all the support I got. And I just thought what’s the point? I wasn’t really able to access any support through the NHS for a number of years, and I sometimes wonder if I had been taken more seriously and my symptoms hadn’t been dismissed with a simple weight loss referral, would I be in a better, healthier place 10 years on?
I can’t blame GLOW for all of my body image issues and food problems, because it’s complex and comes from lots of different areas. But I know that it really didn’t help me. It was the first time I went on a proper diet, and it was something that only continued from there. Diet after diet that, of course, haven’t helped me mentally or physically.
The long lasting damage
As a result of all these issues and being introduced into the world of dieting in such a heavy handed way at an impressionable age, I entered into a cycle of binge eating and bulimia. I developed significant issue with food and how I feel people view me. Again, I can’t 100% blame this on GLOW, but they did play a very real role in creating all of these issues in my life.
I also feel that the experience of the GP referring me to GLOW really made me distrust doctors from then onwards. I still feel constantly judged by every medical professional, even if they haven’t said or done anything to make me feel that they are judging me.
I recently asked my mum what she remembered about GLOW. She described it as being “quite cult-y”, and felt I was pulled into it by someone who had done well with it. She felt they didn’t go into emotional reasons to attached to food, and it took place in a poor area where education isn’t so great so it felt like they were really taking advantage. Basically we were told not to eat too many carbs and focus on just fruit and veg.