Two families who have been on the Zest programme in Sheffield say that it has really helped them to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
Mum of three Donna Womack, who lives in Parson Cross, Sheffield, with her family, was worried about youngest daughter Georgia.
She said: “We used to say it’s baby fat, it will go. She likes her food and it’s difficult to say no as a mum. We do struggle with that with Georgia.”
Pharmacy worker Donna said that going to Zest was also a chance for her and Georgia to have some extra time together.
She said: “With her being the last one, they don’t get as much attention. You seem to take on more hours at work. She’s left to her own devices a lot of the time and struggles.
“We kept having bits when she was feeling down and got bullied at school.”
Donna said it took a while to get referred to Zest via the doctor, so the new scheme where parents can contact the organisation themselves is much better.
Eventually they joined sessions held in Shiregreen: “We used to go there on a Monday for two hours. For the first hour they’d talk to you about sensible eating. It was never to do with it being about weight loss, it was healthy eating.
“We used to sit and have talks and contribute to what we thought was healthy. For instance we learned that so-called healthy snack bars are never really healthy. You don’t realise how much salt and sugar goes into them.
“In the second hour we used to do exercise and play games to get them active and running about. They didn’t realise how much energy they were using.
“They did bring the parents into it, which helped. If they saw you doing it, the kids would do it.”
Donna added: “It did show Georgia what’s right and wrong and what’s healthy to eat. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s really worried about their children. Some of the kids there weren’t what I’d consider obese. One of the boys’ parents said the nurse said their child was obese.
“I don’t think the public are aware that there is help out there. They were really, really good. They never made you feel not welcome, always welcomed you in.”
She said at the end of 12 weeks Georgia had lost weight and felt healthier, which boosted confidence.
Donna has already lost four stone at Weight Watchers, so the Zest sessions encouraged her to continue with healthy eating, “not just a quick-fix bag of crisps”.
The advice Zest gives also helps families to make better choices when shopping.
Donna said: “Pizzas were a quick fix. We might have had them three to four times a week. I can’t remember the last time I had a pizza now!
“We eat more veg and things, instead of having pie and chips, we’d do pie and veg. It does help. I’m not saying we’re angels and we don’t cheat. We all have to have a treat but I’m a bit more cautious.”
Georgia, aged 13, who goes to Yewlands School, said: “It was just fun with people of all different ages. Some were my age group.”
She said the sessions had helped a lot. “I enjoy PE more now. I felt like people were always judging me when I went out, making comments. I feel more in control. It made me less worried about what people said and I feel happier.
“If someone is wondering whether to go to Zest, I’d say do it. You get to meet new people. It’s a bit of fun and you feel you’re not alone.”
Mum Asha Jarma, from Firth Park, went along to sessions with her daughter Rahima Abdi, aged 12, and sons Yahye, aged nine, and Yasir, seven.
She said: “We learned a lot and still keep doing some of them. They stick to it. When the children are eating they eat in small portions. When I give them the food, they say ‘not too much, mum’.
“When we go shopping I always look at the labels for things like ketchup and mayonnaise. I see if they’re introducing sugar or fat.”
She said that the family are struggling a bit to take regular exercise but the children understand that activities like cleaning their rooms, running around the house and playing little games are good ways to stay active.
She said: “I speak to a lot of parents who had a family problem and told them about Zest. It helped my children emotionally.
“They didn’t know a lot of things they know now about activity your body needs every day and what they need to eat. They learned lots of things.”
Asha added: “It was really helpful for me. Before I didn’t know anything about lifestyle, just cooked the food and sorted out the children. Now I know a lot of things. It has really helped me as well.”