Lawrence Okolie's Story
British professional boxer Lawrence Okolie, shares his struggle to stay healthy as a teen amongst a sea of unhealthy options and how young people can be a powerful force for change.
"I grew up in east London. Every day after school we’d run straight to one of the chicken shops at the top of the road. A few minutes later we’d be buying four wings and chips for just a £1 or 8 wings and chips - they were only £1.50!
Going there wasn’t really even about the food; it was a social thing; a chance to catch up with my best friend who was in another class. We would finish school, and head for food. It brings people together, and gets everyone talking about what they’re having. You get the time to socialise as you’re walking home and eating. Sometimes you're not even hungry, but it's there and it’s easy!
At college I started getting into boxing. I liked watching fights and I enjoyed training, but I wasn’t taking it seriously yet. At that point I still thought I would go to uni, maybe to become a social worker. But the London Olympics changed everything. I realised, hold on, you can make a career out of this. With Team GB’s boxing success it was clear there was going to be investment in the sport, so I thought ok, if I could get onto the GB team, I could get some of that investment. And I went for it.
Boxing is my motivation to stay healthy. I love food; the taste, the feel. I love sitting around the table with friends eating food, or on dates. I just like food all round. But now I feel like I have wised up to some of the things companies do to get you to eat stuff that isn’t good for you.
There's always a healthier alternative to what you’re craving, but you might have to look beyond the ads or the promotions to find it. I'm in a sport where you have to make weight, so what you eat is extremely important, in a way that forced me to stand up to the tactics. It helps me that the better the food you eat, the more of it you can have!
Fast food is also just marketed so well. There’s no brand of banana saying "buy this, buy this one", it's just bananas are bananas and apples are apples. You see the advert for "succulent, crunchy chicken..." and your mouth's watering, but there's nothing that comes up to counteract that telling you about a delicious crunchy apple.
So I do want to share stuff online about that now that I have a platform, but I’m not trying to preach to anyone about health. I try to share the good days in training, and the bad days - I just want to be real. It’s a problem for me when or people we look up to, especially online, seem to be living lives that are just unattainable. If someone looks in the mirror and their final goals seem so far away that they’re unreachable, they won't even start their journey. If you have a platform, you have an opportunity to bring people along on a journey.
Recently, the kids at my old school decided among themselves they didn’t want to be eating that kind of fast food all the time, and they thought the way it was being constantly marketed to them all the way home was unfair. One of the chicken shops on the street ended up closing and re-opened selling healthy Turkish food.. So you see? We can change things. You have the power. Use it."