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Impact of Food Poverty social media project - Lawrence's story

For our impact of Food Poverty social media project we asked people to give their views on what holds them back from eating a healthy diet.

Here’s what Lawrence had to say:

“I guess I’m not what people would perceive to be the typical person who would struggle with life issues, and therefore need to use a food bank, but things happen to us all – how often do we hear about celebrities struggling?

Coming from a successful career in business management and finance, a few years ago I found myself with difficult mental health issues after several life problems hit me – I had a terrible unexpected break up, was seriously assaulted leaving me HIV+, and a friend and his partner conned me out of my life savings, leaving me penniless, severely depressed, and thinking there was no future.  It can happen quickly, and to anyone. I don’t want sympathy, but it is important to understand how life can hit you.

I did find some amazing help – I live in Islington. Staring with Icope, I went to various organisations – the best was probably Single Homeless Project. Some good courses, but also having one to one with a key worker that genuinely appeared to want to help me, was a blessing. I just wanted to get better and have a life. Naturally that takes time, and you have to live off benefits – which itself is very stressful.

It feels like people are judging you very much, that people think you are happy sitting on benefit, and just don’t want to work. Well, I am on Universal Credit - £317 a month – that is for everything (electric, gas, water, travel, tv licence, wifi, phone, mobile, food, clothing, toiletries, etc). I can assure anyone reading this that everyone I have met, who is receiving benefit, wants to work, be independent, and have control.

I am also trying to get my own business off the ground, and that has taken money from me, leaving me poor most months. And that leads to sacrificing things, which has led me to food banks, which I have had to use a few times. This can be embarrassing, and make you feel rotten inside, as you think “I can’t even feed myself”, and can lead to major stress and anxiety.

Healthy Eating is important. To me, good nutrition is a basic need. I know, from researching, that if you are unemployed, or going through mental health issues, one of the first behaviours affected is nutrition – you tend to eat more takeaways or processed foods, as you do not have the energy or desire to cook.

You don’t think about the protein, carbs, fats, sugars, vitamins and minerals you need to consume daily to stay healthy and energised. If I feel I am progressing, I tend to think more about cooking, and not having so many of the so-called 'bad for you' foods.

Mood, finance, and feeling hopeless, all affect my decision making when it comes to how I look after myself. Even poor sleep, lack of exercise, and loneliness can make me make poor choices. It is a fundamental human desire to have realistic targets, dreams, and happiness, but I also need to feel I am moving in the right direction.

Funnily, a lot of people believe eating healthy is expensive, and cannot be done on benefits. That is rubbish. Yes, you probably cannot buy Salmon and such like. But if you shop around – which itself can help lift depression – and prepare recipes in advance – it is not difficult to be healthy. It may mean sacrificing some food products while you are sorting your life out.

Again, a lot is down to mental health, and not allowing life issues to overwhelm you.

We are inundated with various pieces of advice around nutrition. As a nation, we are getting fatter – research and studies clearly evidence this. It does not help when we are told one day that certain foods are bad for you, then the next day they are good for you.

We need better advice from professionals, but also more opportunities to discuss this, get people together, and share knowledge and awareness. It’s okay to be told to eat better, but provide some sessions where people can join up, interact, and you can learn much more that way. Giving people leaflets around healthy eating will do little – and the same goes for Apps and Online (will many of the people in real poverty and real need use these?). It needs a lot more face to face action, a more proactive intervention.

I am happy to say that I am in a much better place now, mentally and physically – although not financially. For the last four years I have been fervently setting up a project around Mindset, Health, Fitness and Nutrition – developed and designed empathetically from my own experiences, with a pioneering fresh unique approach to delivery on mental health.

That has kept me focused, and through research I have learnt so much about myself, and life. It is called Healthy Minds, Healthy Bods, and we are passionate about helping others, especially after going through my own problems. We want to provide opportunities for people to be more active in a group, have fun, but also improve their mindset.

Funding is our only problem. We have done voluntary programs in Islington, Hackney and Haringey – everyone loves us – I had my MP Jeremy Corbyn sit on my sofa and tell me it could bring “significant benefits”.

We need sponsorship for our free fitness session and healthy walks – naturally we have overheads like insurance, marketing, travel, and website costs ( www.hmhb2016.org.uk ) . Part of what we do is talk about nutrition – and feedback is extraordinary. We are desperate for some sponsorship/funding – please email us at hmhb2016@outlook.com if you can help.

Thanks for reading my story. I hope it may help someone else.