Nearly half of us are overweight, and the obesity crisis is growing. Why do so many of us eat when we’re simply not hungry? asks if our problem is all in the mind
OVER the past two years, Ann Marie O’Donovan has lost an astonishing 9 stone, 3lbs. The Cork woman has always been overweight and admitted to overeating for many years until she finally found the support to reduce her food intake.
“I have always been heavy and most of my family struggled with weight issues,” says the 29-year-old. “When I was about eight or nine years old, I started to put weight on and it got more and more problematic the closer I got to puberty.
“The issue was of course that I ate too much — my mother had the ‘Irish Mammy’ thing of making sure we all ate everything off our plates and while it was drummed into me in the beginning, after a while, if it was put in front of me, I would eat it, regardless of whether I was hungry or not. I was also ‘spoilt’ by my granny who always had cookies and sweets for me when I went to see her — so it was a case of my eyes being bigger than my belly — until that got bigger too.”
Ann Marie, who runs a beauty salon in Bandon, Co Cork, says her early childhood habits carried on throughout her teens as she continued to eat far more food than was necessary.
“I think once you start overeating as a child, it becomes a pattern that is really hard to get out of,” she says. “Your mind and body get used to having lots of food and it becomes a comfort. And when I was a teenager, it seemed like there was a hole inside me that I just couldn’t fill. I started each day with a big breakfast and then would have something like crisps and a chocolate bar at my small break in school, followed by a big lunch and then a huge dinner.
“I studied home economics, so would often cook at home, following a recipe for six or eight people — there were only four of us in the house but we would always eat the lot as there was never any thought of wasting it or even putting it in the freezer.”
Although she knew she was overeating, Ann Marie found it very difficult to stop.
“I knew I had a problem but tried to ignore it,” she admits. “Whenever I went to the doctor for anything, I would be told I needed to lose weight so I stopped going there unless I really had to.
“I had so much weight to lose that the thought of doing it was so hard to imagine, so I kept putting it off. Every January I would start trying to cut down, but after a couple of weeks, I would be back where I started.
“Then one day two years ago, I had a lightbulb moment and said ‘enough is enough’ and registered with my local Weight Watchers. The team leader, who had lost loads of weight herself, was brilliant and told me just to try losing half a pound at a time and keep chipping away at it until I was happy.
“Over time, with her support, I learned to curb my eating and have lost over nine stone — I feel amazing. I always joke that while my body has got smaller, my head has definitely got bigger.”
Ann Marie O’Donovan had a troubled relationship with food