Jenni Murray and the stigma of obesity – her frank, inspiring story

AS part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity I’m really pushing for people’s psychological relationship with food to be far higher up the NHS agenda. Too many health professionals fail to understand the role emotional eating plays in so many lives.

So it was fascinating to meet the journalist and broadcaster Dame Jenni Murray at our APPG meeting in Westminster on Monday. The Woman’s Hour presenter is very open about her own struggles with weight and I found my chat with her to be both refreshing and inspiring.

Her relationship with food is massively emotional, she told me. We had a long conversation about this element because it’s something the medical profession really don’t do enough to address as you’ll see later in the blog.

Jenni lost five stone on a diet a few years ago, but within a short time put it all back on again and went back to 19 stone.

Eventually she was driven to have bariatric surgery. Jenni admits frankly that she had no off switch before she had surgery a few years back. Now she has definitely reduced the quantity she eats but admits it’s still not perfect.

She said she really noticed her emotional eating when the kids left home and she was using food for friendship and comfort because she was lonely. This is a sad story I hear so often.

Jenni has a new book coming out in April called Fat Cow, Fat Chance (a blunt title which perfectly reflects her outspoken, no-nonsense Yorkshire upbringing).

Jenni Murray obesity stigma

Jenni addresses the APPG

It investigates the science, social history and psychology of women and weight – and as you can guess, I’ve already ordered my copy.

In the book she says that at 64, her weight had become a disability. She avoided the scales, she wore a uniform of baggy black clothes, refused to make connections between her weight and health issues and told herself that she was fat and happy.

She was certainly fat. But the happy part was an Oscar-winning performance. In private she lived with a growing sense of fear and misery that it would probably kill her before she made it to 70.

The book addresses “what it’s like to be fat when society dictates that skinny is the way to be” and she questions the assumption too many people make that going on a diet is the answer.

When she was at the APPG meeting with us, her last words were “Don’t fear food, fear too much food.” Wise words and something that the Slimpod most definitely helps with.

Does Jenni’s experience resonate with you? Please let me know by leaving a comment below. I read them all and I know that others find your comments both comforting and inspiring.

Survey results on obesity and stigma

Recently I asked everyone in Slimpod Club if they’d help with a survey that the APPG was promoting into the stigma of obesity .

I’m passing on the group’s grateful thanks to all the Slimpodders who responded to the survey. Your input was invaluable and will undoubtedly help shape future government policy.

Here’s the survey results, which have just been released.

It’s clear that stigma impacts people in school, work, leisure, with friends, with family, in personal relationships and in day to day activities.

96% of people with obesity thought there is not enough understanding amongst the public as to the causes of obesity.

90% of people with obesity said more understanding of obesity would make them more comfortable seeking care.

85% of people with obesity thought the public views people with obesity negatively or very negatively.

79% of people with obesity said stigma affects their mental health.

71% of people with obesity felt stigmatised when seeking health advice or support.

60 thoughts on “Jenni Murray and the stigma of obesity – her frank, inspiring story”

  1. I think Jenni is inspirational and brave. Fantastic that healthcare professionals are beginning to take emotional eating much more seriously than in the past. The work you’re doing is amazing, Sandra Roycroft-Davis!

  2. Andrea Jenkins

    Ah yes, I hadn’t thought that my son leaving to go to Uni, leaving me home alone is also a factor but of course it is. I am answerable to no one but myself for my self-indulgence … no one sees it but the dog! I also have a secret fear of health issues in the future and becoming a burden.

  3. cairnsmichael41

    I went to Slimming world and lost 24 lbs. Since leaving the group I’ve gained it all. I do eat for no reason so I believe it has to come within not without. Thanks.I’ve only been using slimpod for 10 days and I do feel more positive and am beginning to slowly notice a difference in my thinking. I had prostate cancer a feel I need to lose that weight again just to reduce risks of any other health issues.

  4. This really resonated with me. For five years I worked as a Lighterlife counsellor and so many of my clients had terrible stories about their experiences being bullied and harassed by both health professionals and members of the public. It’s shocking that this isn’t legally classed as discrimination. In my view most people (including myself) who are obese have psychological issues with food and eating. I am on week 5 of the Slimpod programme and am finding it brilliant. I’m losing weight slowly but permanently and love the support from you and the wonderful FB group. Until we tackle the psychological, physiological and nutritional aspects together – whilst being kind and supportive – nothing will change. Many of my very overweight Lighterlife clients had experienced serious trauma which triggered their overeating but were made to feel ashamed that they had turned to food to help them cope. Yet if they had chosen drugs or alcohol they would have been offered help and support.

  5. What an inspiration. I struggle with no off switch. But I keep listening to trevor and, although no weight loss, my attitude to food and life has positively changed. I know,I will get slimmest, trimmer and fitter , and it is not going to be. Quick.

    1. Sandra Roycroft-Davis

      Hi Edith. You can activate your off switch by really helping it on it’s way. Smaller plate, listen out at meal times and really tune in to it talking to you! Hope that helps 🙂

  6. Jeanette Millward

    I had reached the stage where I was resigned to be being old and fat. I will be the cuddly jolly granny – but I wasnt I was miserable. So once again I went to a slimming club. I lost 4 stones but within a year I had put 2 stones back on and was constantly eating. My focus had completely gone .

    Now through having discovered Slimpod I have found my mojo again
    I am doing everything recommended and feeling so good. From day one I began to feel I had taken control once again.

    The other thing that makes me feel so positive about slimpod is that this time my change in mindset will mean I can maintain what I am doing.

  7. Virginia Miller

    I really understand Jenni and at the same age (64) I am fed up with dieting and failing every single time. I will hopefully get a copy of her book when it is released.

  8. I’ve been following slimpod a year now but over the last 4 months I’ve put on about 9 pounds and I know food can be my comfort but the menopause has really impacted on my mindset. I’ve just started hrt 8 days ago and already my mind is thinking clearer

    1. Sandra Roycroft-Davis

      Ok so now is time to take back control Susi! Make it your mission to get into a size smaller! 🙂

  9. Food, and especially sugar, with its drug-like effect on the brain, is just another substance to be abused. As kids, we are rewarded with sweeties for good behaviour. As adults, we do the same, finishing a hard day with a chocolate bar or a tub of ice cream. We talk about ‘comfort food’ and celebrate or commiserate all the major milestones in life with cake. If we can treat ourselves whilst doing a sedentary activity, we will: the biscuit with the coffee with a friend; the popcorn at the cinema; the bag of sweets in the glove compartment; the nibbles while we sit at the bar. It’s hardly surprising that food and emotions are so inextricably linked. Thank goodness someone is finally recognising that the ‘eat less, move more’ mantra is way too simplistic to tackle the obesity issue. Fix the mind, and the body will follow.

  10. Jenny Robinson

    I agree with the issues involved, but this is of no benefit to me or many other who are in my position of not being fortunate enough to be able to afford bariatric surgery privately and standing no chance on the NHS. I don’t understand the significance of this for the average obese person in the UK who struggles daily to do it on their own (without Slimpod of course, which is amazing)

    1. Sandra Roycroft-Davis

      Thanks Jenny. It’s really more about looking at the emotional consequences of obesity and how people could be treated better so they’re not triggered to turn to food.

  11. I was lucky enough to hear Jenni speak at a WI conference some years ago. As I sat in the audience & watched her on the stage I thought she sounded as though she accepted her size & was content, I remember wanting to stand up & say “Let’s hear it for the big girls” her talk was so inspiring. She truly gave an Oscar winning performance that day, I was totally convinced.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if she could at last find some peace & tranquility in her personal life using Slimpod. I shall certainly buy her book, I wonder if she will do an audio version? She really does have the most mellifluous voice doesn’t she.

    1. Sandra Roycroft-Davis

      Yes she is a real performer and has the most wonderful voice. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Kate 🙂

  12. I have recently been diagnosed as pre-diabetic and this was the trigger I needed to make me try to lose weight again. My late husband was diabetic and I don’t want to go there! I am 81 and for the first time in my life I now feel positive about losing weight. I used to be always picking at sweet things, chocolate in particular. Since I started with slimpod I have not had a biscuit, cake, sweet dessert and no chocolate( I can’t believe how easy it has been to give them up). Thank you. I have weighed a couple of times and have lost 6.4 kilos. But I am more active than I was so I hope the weight will continue to lessen.

  13. I have struggled all my life, from the time I got weighed in hospital at as a 6yo, to be laughed at and have more staff to come and see this huge child… From a few really stupid and devastating issues taking laxatives and on to starving myself, and then pigging out in secret. I became seriously ill with undiagnosed diabetes and blood clots in my lungs!
    When I finally had bariatric surgery, there was no psychology to support my emotional eating, and this still slimmer, am still morbidly obese according to all the data available.
    I’m hoping this will be my crutch to having a healthy attitude to food.

  14. I believe that I have an eating disorder from so many years dieting. I’ve done WW, SW, IF, 5:2, 800 cals a day with Michael Moseley, low carb, Our Path, high fat to name but a few. I am obsessed with counting calories, the scales, my Calm App, and feel. failure and fat. I don’t want to feel like this or that I’m somehow inferior to slimmer people.

    For the first time in years, with Slimpod, I feel there is a glimmer of hope. I’m still fighting the ingrained diet mentality that is now a part of me, but I feel there is light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

  15. Gayle hughes-Davies

    Hi Sandra , yes all ofJeni’s words fit my life perfectly, I am 58 dieted all my life lost 7 stone gained 9 back spent £14,000 on two attempts at Alizonne ( Alevere as it’s now known ) to look fabulous size 10 then two years later size 20 , my endocrinologist tells me as I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis I will not be able to lose weight , maybe that is true because the scales are not moving which I find very depressing, I now don’t want to mix I’m breathless on moving and generally fed up ! And wonder if I will ever be proud and happy in this heavy ugly overcoat that I wear everyday… thank you Sandra for your wise words and Jeni you are a wonderful woman whom I have admired for years

    1. I have Hashimotos and lost weight last year. Gained some back but not all. Have you been prescribed levothyroxine?

      1. Gayle Hughes-Davies

        Hi yes I am on 75 mcg a day levothyroxine, I am seeing a functional doctor next week hoping she can help

  16. I’ve found this article hitting home in more ways than one ! I am the baggy black uniform wearer and didn’t even realize ! I’m on my 11th day on Slimpod and truly believe it’s got to come from within – I’m feeling more positive than I have done in a long time , thanks to Slimpod

  17. Julie McWilliam

    I love Jenni she’s an inspiration and I’m told when I peer over my specs I look just like her – which I take as a great compliment. She’s a beautiful woman inside and out. I’ve been podding for just over a week and I think I feel different. I dress a la Jenni but hope that will change. For me while I would love to lose weight (before starting this I weighed in at Slimming World at 18.6) it is just as important to me to accept myself at my weight whatever that might be because at 63 I’ve spent 50 years dieting and not accepting myself. Like Jenni I am confident, outgoing and, I’m told, glamorous but the fact that I put on a good front dies not stop me feeling ‘less than’. Every time I walk in a room I do a quick scan and usually confirm that, yes, I am the fattest woman there. In 50 years I have hardly had a mouthful of food (whether being ‘good’ or ‘bsd’) without assessing its impact on my weight. What a way to live. I am slimpodding to the letter and hope this brings about s real and lasting change as to be honest I’m seeing this as a bit of a last chance. I had breast cancer 5 years ago and you’d think that would have been an incentive but no. Sad.

    1. I feel your pain Julie. I am 62 and 17.5 stone and identify with so much that you have written (I’m def not glamorous though!) I wish you well on your Slimpod journey 🙂

      1. Julie McWilliam

        Thanks Jilly. I’m so pleased that this issue is being raised at the highest levels. It is definitely a mental health issue as well as physical. That do many women feel this way is more than just we are all greedy! I think I am feeling in the ‘zone’ so hopefully things are looking up. Xx

  18. Annette Hawkes

    It is my birthday today Sandra and at 58 I can recognise all the comments above and it was useful to read them. Onwards from today and it’s nice to know there are so many of us in the same situations and with the same feelings. Thank you for your blogs they are inspiring x

  19. “Don’t fear food, fear too much food” yes wise words indeed. Your program should be available on prescription!

  20. How refreshing to hear Jenni’s thoughts and experiences. I have struggled with my weight for years and find myself wanting to apologise for bring non-skinny. I work in an office with mainly younger women and it’s hrsrtny to listen to their angst about how they look it what they weigh. Slimpod is (slowly but surely) helping me to eat for my body’s sake not for food’s sake..

  21. This resonated loud and clear with me. I’ve lost count of how many times people have described me as happy, bubbly or jolly when it was actually the last thing I was feeling. I have approached GPS in the past about help with weight control and they offered either WW vouchers or bariatric surgery – neither of which are the answer. Yet if I was a smoker they’d be falling over themselves to help. Things will only improve when GPS acknowledge weight control is all in the head. Yes, ‘energy in should be less than energy expended’ but the head & mind massively affect both of those. It is not a case of simply balancing the numbers.

  22. Glenise Yellott

    I find that I am now the object of two sets of stigma!
    I find when I go to the GP (and that is not very often) I am told that the reason for my ill health is due to age (I am 68) and obesity! Well one I can certainly try to rectify (and slimpod is really helping) but I’m afraid the other is none negotiable. But why do they talk about my obesity in such a way that they sound so disgusted by my body, this obviously then has an effect on my mental health and I go home and comfort eat!!

  23. I agree strongly with all of the above. If more was done to help people with obesity, diabetes would drop drastically. As a foot health professional I see only too often what being over weight does to the body, especially feet! A small surface area to carry the body above. The poor feet struggle. Diabetes due to obesity? You then have possible issues with poor circulation, neuropathy (lack of feeling)…which can lead to trauma which the person is unaware of, then slow healing rate because of the poor circulation, which then in turn can lead to infection, loss of digits, a foot, a leg, or even a life. The government really must step up their game to help. And dealing with ‘why’ individuals feel the need to over eat is a game changer. It what stop this domino effect. Thank goodness for people like Sandra and Jenni who are willing to stand up and be a voice.

  24. I identify with many of the issues that people have mentioned. It is possible to have these feelings without being obese. I classify as “overweight” (I’m 5′ 2″ and presently weigh just above 10 stones.) I’ve lost 20 pounds since last September, and another 7 lbs loss would see me into the upper range of “normal”. This last stage has been incredibly difficult and elusive, I’ve struggled with it for thirty or more years, yo-yo ing up and down, in spite of dieting and strenuously exercising. More recently health issues have made it imperative that I get rid of this weight and stay rid. For all the emphasis that is put on staying a healthy weight, there isn’t a lot of practical help available from the health services, and I’m thankful to have found Slimpod, where it is being recognised at last that we need to be thinking differently about how weight loss is approached and ultimately achieved. I feel more serene about the whole issue than I have for all those years.Thank you for listening.

  25. Really interesting article and would agree that more needs to be invested/researched on the aspect of people’s relationship with food rather than just pushing diets on everyone.

  26. I will be buying the book, I am on the same journey, but do you know what’s interesting, I want to disassociate myself from her, I believe I am on the right path now, having learned how to maintain my weight, and finally let go, and lose the 8 stone that I need to, (I too am 19 stone).

  27. I think this is very true. I’ve been called fat in the street by total strangers! It’s none of their business when it comes to it and nothing gives them the right to say this – people in glass houses… I’ve known for many years that my mind was the problem but couldn’t do anything to help myself. I would berate myself often because I felt I should be able to lose weight. We definitely need to address the emotional problem and to help people understand it’s not their fault and that there is an answer, I eat when I’m happy, sad, upset etc

  28. It is interesting how obesity has become the social crime of our society. The feeling that being overweight is an indication of a failing of you as a person. Clothing is not easy to buy, and the reason for not treating medical conditions (ie;joints) is out down to being too heavy. Being told to return when your BMI is less than 30 is not helpful.

  29. Slimpod has given me the information so that I can make decisions. I feel the food and diet industry has a lot to answer for as I didn’t have any chance to lose weight and keep it off. I’ve tried every diet and have not been able to keep it off. The benefit for me is that I am naturally doing the IF 16:8 and my blood pressure is back to normal ranges. I don’t seem to be obsessed with food, I see it more for fuel but I do enjoy my food and my freedom to have healthy food. I got to the stage I didn’t know what was healthy – syns, ww points, low fat – the list goes on. I feel that I’m in control, I make the decision not to weigh- my cloths are baggy and I’ve lost inches and I’ve gone down sizes. I still have a way to go as the Slimpod is not a quick fix but loving the changes and positivity.

  30. Mary Cratchley

    What resonates with me is that I have lost 30lbs many times during the past few years and gained it back every time. Self-esteem hit rock bottom in December and I pulled out of all Xmas do’s to avoid seeing friends, afraid of being seen and talked about. Slimpod is helping me like myself again, inside for now and hopefully outside too once the weight loss happens, I have faith that this time it will stay off for good.

  31. I feel very let down by my GP practice and the NHS in general. I no longer visit the doctor if I have a medical problem, as I know that they immediately blame any problem at all on my weight and are unable to look past that. Despite their weight fixation, they are either unable or unwilling to offer any assistance to me in losing and KEEPING OFF the weight, other than a few weeks of free WW or SL membership. I have been to both of these organisations, of course. I am good at losing weight. I have lost huge amounts, totalling 10s of stones and been held up as a shining example, encouraged to become a leader, etc, but it is not sustainable. And why would they want it to be? These are businesses. They are in the business of weight LOSS, so they need us to keep returning! And yet an introduction into this damaging system is all that the NHS can offer. I sympathise with Jenni and if I had the money, I would have the most drastic form of weight loss surgery available without hesitation – even though I know that even this is probably not a long term solution – in an effort to escape the prison of my fat. Even though my GP, the NHS and society as a whole is prepared to stigmatize and mock me for being fat, it appears that I am not fat ENOUGH to receive NHS treatment. I have made myself fat and now I am, literally, paying the price. Shame on me for wasting tax payers’ money for being ill when it must be my own fault because I am fat.
    I don’t know what the answer is, I’m not sure that there is one for me, but I will read Jenni’s book with interest.

  32. This resonates so much with me. I KNOW I need to change my mindset but, at 67, and overweight pretty much all my life, I need help! My local authority seemed to be offering support via counselling and someone rang me to assess my need. She agreed that I needed the counselling but said I had to lose the weight first and then go back to them for the counselling…..

  33. It is.extremly likely that quite a few women with children suffer from loneliness therefore they eat to comfort themselves I have three sons who are married and I have been pushed in the background of their lives and as I have retired I don’t see much of them but I have joined a craft group which now least some of my time I hope this has helped others

  34. Really agree with food fear question. I remember waking up one day and being paralysed not knowing what to eat! I had been on so many conflicting diets I was literally scared to eat anything.
    I have been on so many diets for 45 years in total. I have been on Slimpod for 1 year and only now starting to see some weight loss I am sure that’s because I was trying to get diets out of my head. I don’t eat much carbs and try to avoid all sugar. I find if I eat either I go out of control and can’t stop. Of course this doesn’t always stop me but at least now I know what works for me when I stick to it and drink lots of water essential. Also emotional eating is huge for me

  35. nicolettepurple

    Well done Jenni for speaking out. I too had surgery, it is not the total answer but it helped and now hopefully with Slimpod I find the rest of my answer and live a peaceful life, happy with myself and positive about food.

  36. Jenni’s comment absolutely resonate with me. I have been an emotional eater my whole life. Reaching for food is the reaction to anxiety, fear, apprehension, surprise, shock, happiness, worry, change – everything! It’s a very difficult cycle to break. And to add to that I have sugar addiction. I’ve know that for years although in 80s my GP laughed when I suggested it. He said there was no evidence that sugar was addictive but I knew in my heart he was wrong.
    I felt so strongly about emotional eating that I wrote a play about it – What’s Eating Me – which I took to the London and Edinburgh Fringes. I then turned it into a novel and recently have updated it as a 4-part TV drama which I am hoping a TV production company will pick up.

    I reached the stage where I just couldn’t face going on another diet; I just couldn’t. I went to OA for a few years but in the end decided it wasn’t for me, either.

    I have been on Slimpod for four weeks. I am noticing a few small improvements in my eating but as I am moving house and it’s been a nightmare it hasn’t been as successful as I would have hoped, but there have been lots of small wins so I am optimistic it’s going to work. But as you say in your videos, Sandra, I didn’t gain the weight overnight so it won’t come off overnight. But I am grateful to have found Slimpod. Thank you.

  37. jennifernobleagency

    So good to hear that we are all searching for the same goal.I ‘devour’ all information I can on how to eat less/ move more. My problem is…. knowing something making sense and putting it into practice…I am really determined to beat this mindset of food is solace or food is reward or food is……. whatever I want it to be.But I am understanding it better so I will succeed.

  38. I look forward to reading Jenni’s book!
    Obesity can creep up on you over time. Food can definitely be an emotional comfort. Overeating becomes a habit. An imbalance of too many binge days to sensible eating days, and thoughts ‘you only live once’. This is compounded by the enjoyment of ‘social eating and drinking’, gathered round a table with family and friends for social events.

    Media, fashion and food industries and food education in schools have not helped over many years! Too many tall, skinny people on adverts, elastic waistbands and convenience foods. Thank goodness our education policy has recently changed from teaching food technology to food and nutrition in our schools.
    Dieting can be successful, if you choose a diet that can control your appetite, but it can also make you just fixated on food. – a vicious cycle! Eat to live, or live to eat!

    Mixed up in all the above is your mental and physical health. Self acceptance of who you are, as a way of coping with your emotional eating and concern over being obese and its implications on your physical health.

    It is great to hear we have an APPG on obesity. Let’s hope it can help members of our society win against this modern, common, complex ‘affliction and/or addiction’.

  39. Jackle Anderson

    What Jenni Murray has to say really resonates with me.
    I have been on and off the dieting band wagon since the age of 10! I have spent most of my life focusing on trying to live up to someone else’ s image of what I should be.
    Now I have found Slimpod it makes so much sense and I feel free to think about other things

  40. I joined Slimpod in the middle of a crisis my daughter was diagnosed with bladder cancer the day before her operation my nephew died of a heart attack aged 57 that same day his brother my godson had an accident at his work he cracked his eye socket has a blood clot behind the eye fractured his wrist. My daughters operation was sussesfull thank goodness and I was still trying to keep up with my Slimpod it was quite good as I only put on a couple of lbs because I didn’t comfort eat as much as I would have so back on track for me thank you .

  41. Kelly Thompson

    I think Jenni’s quote of not fearing food is bang on. I have only recently joined slimpod, but I have already decided that if this is going to work then for me I want to be able to learn to eat what I want when I want, but the right amount. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life eating low fat tasteless food. I want a tasty and varied diet. But to stop when I’m full and eat when I’m hungry. I don’t want to fear food any more.

  42. I’ve struggled with my weight since I was a child or so I thought. Looking back on pictures of myself I was far from being over weight, although I was bigger than my two best friends. Who if I am honest they were possibly under weight. One of those friends dad thought it was funny to call me “Big Bertha”, anyone would have looked big next to his daughter! And those words have haunted me since I was 13 years old, I’m now 53. I’ve been an emotional eater & a chronic dieter ever since, it’s amazing how one little sentence can have a lasting negative impact on your life, for the rest of your life.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This Post
About Sandra
Founder of Thinking Slimmer
Food addiction expert
Member of All-Party Parliamentary Obesity Group
Huffington Post contributor
DipCHyp HPD NLP MasterPrac
Popular Posts
Kate Butler nutrition change with Slimpod

Ease the stress of emotional eating

STRESS and emotional eating have an extraordinary effect on our food habits, and emotional eating brought on by anxiety is a major reason why more and more people are overweight. The more pressurised life becomes, the more people turn to food in a vain attempt

Read More »

Achieve and believe, great things happen

I’M bursting to show you the most remarkable pictures I’ve ever seen that show the power of Slimpods to help you believe and achieve. This is Darin with double Olympic champion Kelly Holmes at the weekend as they competed together in the Portsmouth Duathlon – that’s 5k running, 15k cycling, then 5k running to the finish.

Read More »

Experience the Slimpod magic
with a no-risk 10-day FREE trial