Thursday, July 15, 2010

Too Fat for 15

I came across a reference to the BBC documentary, "Too Fat for 15", on a fat acceptance site. The impression that I got reading about it was that there was something wrong about encouraging the young girl in question to lose weight. So, I felt it was worthwhile taking a look for myself.

You can find the whole documentary on Youtube, chopped up into 5 10-minute segments. The format is a bit annoying, but I found the documentary itself to be very moving and not at all exploitative.

While many people are mildly overweight in our society, due in great part to a sedentary lifestyle and a lack of basic nutritional knowledge, the morbidly obese often have a "back story" of emotional pain and suffering that explains their seriously dysfunctional relationship with food. This is the case for Georgia Davis, who at 15 weighs a touch above 460 pounds. Still grieving her father's death nine years earlier, she is the sole caregiver for her mother who is herself severely overweight, suffers from arthritis and has had two heart attacks.

The documentary follows Georgia through a year at a boarding school for overweight teens in the States. (She was there on a full scholarship.)

At first, I was somewhat put off by the "fat camp" feeling of the school, with the obsession on every single thing the student ate, the compulsive journaling and the blanket identification of certain foods as intrinsically "bad" under all circumstances and at all times. Although I sincerely believe in a healthy diet (and by that I mean the food we eat rather than a weight-loss plan), labelling certain foods as "bad" and untouchable sets us up for failure. (I could and already have talked at length about this and will no doubt explore the topic further in the future.)

But despite the discomfort I felt with certain aspects of the school's approach, I was profoundly touched by Georgia's journey--in particular, the psychological elements of her road away from compulsive eating and towards a more healthy relationship with food, her body, her mother and her life in general.

To date, Georgia has lost almost 170 pounds. It's a moving story and worth watching.

The only unfortunate thing is that now the Style Network will be launching the US version of TFF15. I fear it will have all the depth and intelligence of "The Biggest Loser". But that's just my opinion.


  1. I think many, many overweight people have underlying reasons why they compulsively eat, and ignoring that fact is something America seems to do particularly well. Rather than look at the emotional relationship, they only look to character flaws - laziness, stupidity, self-indulgence. They do this because it allows them to judge and abandon compassion for overweight people.

    I can understand why some "fat camps" (or schools or whatever) are strict with people. Part of the reason is that they probably feel that they have to push new habits hard in the limited time they have access to the students. I haven't seen this documentary, but I'll try to track it down. I want to see if they address her other issues. At 15, however, she has a chance of escaping her problems without serious introspection because she hasn't been so deeply conditioned at this point in time. The more years you spend with your issues, the harder it is to divorce yourself of their effects.

  2. the mother - health problems because of being overweight? if yes, what a shitty situation to put her daughter in.

  3. As someone who suffers from arthritis, and as the daughter (and main caregiver) of a mother who had arthritis, I can tell you that it's really, really difficult to maintain a healthy weight with this condition.

    Furthermore, arthritis is often hereditary, so I wouldn't be too quick to jump to the conclusion that her arthritis necessarily comes only from her weight.

    My mother was well ahead of her time when it came to nutrition (perhaps not the case for Georgia's mom, from what I saw in the documentary) and she kept virtually no junk food in the house, we only ate whole wheat bread and ate lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Problem was, she could barely walk. We didn't have a car (she wouldn't have been able to drive even if we did), so getting out to a pool was virtually impossible. Even putting on a swimsuit would have been hellish for her.

    So I think it's important not to put all the blame on the mom--although I hope that what Georgia learnt about good nutrition is having a positive effect on her mother too!

  4. Have you seen the preview for the American version of Too Fat for 15? It actually looks really well done. Here's the preview on the Style site:

    I don't think it's meant to be a competition as much as just following how the kids do at the school. At least that's what I'm hoping...

  5. Now it just sounds like an excuse that the mother didn't have to be responsible in teaching the daughter good nutrition because of her own health problems.

  6. Cindy, That's not at all what I was trying to say. It looks like the mom didn't know squat about healthy eating, but when you have severe arthritis, keeping your weight at a healthy level is very hard, even when you eat healthy already.

  7. I saw that documentary on cable a while back, and I loved it. I agree, it was moving and not exploitative. Really cool to watch the changes she goes through. Cool kid.

    Hey, I recently discovered your blog, and I like it a lot. I got an award, and am passing it to you, if you do those things. Here's the link If not, I understand. Best wishes.