Weighing In On A+E's HEAVY - The Fat Lady at the Circus
I've been fired up recently about A+E's new show called HEAVY. Each episode follows two people on a six month weight loss journey and aims to hook its viewers by promising that we will witness their "transformation".
Each reality star begins their "transformation" by staying at camp for a month, followed by four months of "monitoring" and one month of working "on their own", ending with a triumphant weigh in at the end of month six.
True to TV melodrama, the month at camp features grueling workouts, lots of yelling by Personal Trainers, and lots of crying. In a rare moment we see what there is to eat - a few pathetic leaves of lettuce, a tiny portion of fish and a stray carrot or two. Tonight's stars are tortured and starving.
If they fall off track or lose weight loss momentum after the first month of camp, they have to return to the facility to be beaten back into submission. On their own, they are expected to keep up with 6 days at the gym and a mystery food plan.
It's all very emotional, of course. Family members and friends are enablers, pushing plates of cake, conflicts arise, marriages go on the rocks. It's all soooooo well, HEAVY.
Finally, at the end of 40 minutes the "transformation" has occurred. Our stars will "never go back" to who they were before, they have "lost the weight for good", "learned so much", have a "new lease on life". The Personal Trainers offer big hugs with their big biceps, pats on the back, more tears and off the stars go... to... Healthy Lifestyle Shangri La.
And the take away message comes in the formula we gobble up. Ordinary Americans overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in six months or less, change their lives for the better so there is hope for you too... If they can do it, you can do it - right?
Here's the thing. Six months does not a healthy lifestyle make. Those of you who have worked with me for the past ten plus years know - building a healthy lifestyle is a lifelong process - not something you achieve in 180 days. Weight loss? Sure. "Transformation"? Not so much.
Here's another thing - no one needs a Personal Trainer 6 days a week to lose weight. No one I know can afford it. No one I know has ever lost weight that way, and I know a lot of losers...:). Increasing physical activity is good, necessary, and challenging. But it is not good or necessary to cry, grunt, groan and risk injury by beginning a physical activity program that is way beyond your capacity to begin or to sustain. In fact, when starting a physical activity plan, it should be relatively easy to accomplish and fun!
And one more thing - and this is the big one! The fundamental behavior that has to be addressed for any real "transformation" to occur is eating. In the three episodes I watched, the one thing that was glaringly absent was the What To Eat! HEAVY promotes the same old diet myths - eat less ice cream, broil but don't fry the steak, choose one processed cheese food over another. Really?
I get that my idea of Weight Loss TV probably wouldn't rate. Who wants to see people walking in the park with friends, shopping at the farmers' market, chopping veggies with the kids? Who wants to know how long it takes for families to change their traditions and build in more table time? Who wants to hear endless conversations about old habits that die hard, the toxicity of our food environment, and problem solving this week's challenges?
In this case REALITY doesn't really make for good TV. So here's a few facts for good measure:
68% of Americans are overweight and obese - putting them at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, joint problems, sleep apnea, depression, and PREMATURE DEATH (that's the attention grabber reality TV gets right).
Small lifestyle changes like eating more fruits and vegetables and taking a daily stroll make a big impact on health risk factors. And yes, if someone can do this, anyone can do this!
Weight loss TV is too far from reality and it promotes a mythology that is not only dangerous - it's just plain wrong.
So I have to wonder - if there are few facts in weight loss "reality" TV then is it all just for our entertainment?
I finally arrive at what works me up the most about HEAVY and other programs like it. I object to the Fat Lady at the Circus. I object to the objectification of obesity. Do we need another show that sensationalizes the desperation of a man who weighs 650 pounds? Of course he is sweating as he walks down the street. Of course he is eating 6 cheeseburgers at a go. Of course he is desperate. He is in need. Of treatment. Of lasting solutions. Of professional support. Of Compassion. He needs a culture and a community that sees something wrong with this picture and is motivated to change it. Do you think he needs an audience?
Should we have cameras in emergency vehicles so we can watch EMTs shocking someone's heart back to beating? Would it be fun to watch someone try on wigs because her hair has fallen out from chemo? Amusing to watch someone learn to walk after having a diabetic foot amputated? Is the cultural bar so low that watching someone battle a chronic disease is entertaining?
I think we need less HEAVY and a lot more light shed on the simple how to's of better health and weight management. Many of us just figure it out day to day, balancing our families and our jobs, shopping, cooking and getting in our Physical Activity. We do the unglamorous work of managing our weight and health successfully year after year - Where's our show?
... Jane Doe, BMI 23, doesn't gain or lose 100 pounds over the course of her lifetime by eating her veggies and doing yoga every morning! ... coming this fall to Ho Hum TV.
The fact is that right now in America Jane is in the minority and by 2030 Jane will actually be the circus freak.
A+E adds HEAVY to the weight loss TV lineup that includes other nonsense like The Biggest Loser and I Used to Be Fat. And once upon a time we could easily see the difference between documentary and drama. But as "reality" TV has blurred our vision I think it's worth asking ourselves what are the dangers of dramatizing weight loss for our entertainment? When the life expectancy of our children is less than their parents for the first time in recorded history, the health care system is about to collapse, and not one state has reversed the trend toward increasing obesity rates, are we laughing in a House of Mirrors as the Big Top goes up in flames?
So what... Maybe it's just TV... Maybe I just need to lighten up? What do you think?