Friday, January 28, 2011

Fat Shaming

From the Biggest Loser to X-Weighted to Village on a Diet, everyone's into fat shaming. In fact, most of weight-loss bloggers hate themselves and their fellow fatties as much, if not more, that the TV shamers who, after all, are paid to ham it up for the camera (pardon the pun) and who are, perhaps, quite nice and supportive in real life.

Today's Globe and Mail ran an article entitled "Shaming the obese - with photos like these - isn't working", which dealt not only with the "headless fattie" syndrome (pictures of fat bodies with no heads) but also with fat discrimination in general. I strongly suggest that you read this article. Here are a few quotes:

Weight bias is one of the last bastions of discrimination. Fat jokes are still de rigueur when an overweight/obese person comes into view. We allow ourselves to use language and images that would never be acceptable when speaking of people with disabilities, visible minorities or other identifiable groups.

These visual and linguistic shortcuts are not necessarily used maliciously but they fuel common stereotypes – namely people who are overweight/obese are lazy, slovenly and weak-willed.


The Protestant work ethic – the notion that individuals can achieve anything through hard work and discipline – is pervasive in Canadian society and it colours our attitudes toward people who are overweight/obese. It leads us to behave – often to the point of cruelty – as if all those who are heavy need to do is pull up their socks or, more to the point, push away from the table.

If only it were that simple.

Losing weight can be tremendously difficult for individuals for a host of reasons – genetics, environment, work demands, and illness – to name a few.

Last week, Toronto was host to the 1st Canadian Summit on Weight Bias and Discrimination. I, for one, am glad that the issue of weight discrimination is being brought out of the shadows. It is abundantly clear that shaming people into losing weight does not work. In fact, dieting is a losing proposition for 95 % of those who try. The interesting (and truly tragic) thing is that an overwhelming majority of those who posted comments to this article subscribe heart and soul to the idea that overweight people are uniformly weak, gluttonous people who CHOOSE to be fat and who could lose weight if they only tried. I wanted to cry reading the venom and bile contained in those comments.

The weight loss industry continues to make billions of dollars selling books, magazines and weight loss methods and foods to desperate people who starve themselves (either literally or nutritionally) and then, out of despair, eat themselves back to an even heavier weight.

I continue to believe that we have totally missed the boat by insisting on dieting rather than encouraging people of all sizes to enjoy physical activity of all kinds and enjoy healthy, tasty food.

The desire to shame is an ugly characteristic of human beings. It is something we should be ashamed of.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Health Comes in All Sizes

How can this woman be smiling? Shouldn't she be worried to death about her weight? Doesn't looking like her spell automatic health problems and an early and unfortunate death?

Maybe not.

Before I tell you who she is, here are a few of her stats (from the New York Times):

Age: 25
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 300 lbs.
Bench Press: 160 lbs.
Squat: 495 lbs.
Vertical Leap: 30"
Flexibility: Can do splits both ways

This is Cheryl Haworth, an Olympic bronze-medal winning weight lifter.

Health comes in all sizes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Healthy Eating: Burgers, Fries and Pizza

OMG, she's lost her mind! It's all that mindful stuff that's gone to her head and now she doesn't know her (bleep) from her elbow.

Calm down. It's all good.

The Superbowl semi-finals were on Sunday. My wonderful husband usually takes care of the cooking on the weekend, but he's a die-hard football fan. Personally, I can't stand watching a bunch of men jumping on each other, then waiting around for a few minutes and then doing it all again, with the odd burst of speed from a guy who then gets tackled by six other brawny, testosterone-charged males. I guess there's no accounting for taste and since my husband is an otherwise gentle soul, I live with football.

But back to healthy food: What could my husband make on Sunday that wouldn't take him away for too long from the games? Why burgers and fries, of course!

The burgers were home made, using ground turkey, red onion, cilantro, an egg and a small amount of breadcrumbs to bind it all together. Seasoning consisted of about 1-2 tablespoons of pickled jalapenos and some Worcestershire sauce. The buns were multi-grain, quite calorie-dense so I just had a half a bun (the shame: I admit to taking into account the calories).

The fries were made with sweet potatoes, lightly tossed in olive oil and seasoned with ancho chili pepper and cumin (no salt). Then they were baked in the oven.

On Monday night, we had pizza (yes, that's our very own pizza in the picture). I have to thank Andra (via her Facebook page) for the idea. We bought a multi-grain crust but didn't use the sauce that came with it (waaaay to much sodium). Toppings were as follows: store bought pizza sauce that had no preservatives and very little sodium (one small can was enough for two pizzas), fresh tomato slices, arugula, goat cheese, red peppers, red onion (remember the burgers?) and a light sprinkling of mozzarella. Baked in the oven for about 12 minutes with a minute under the broiler and this pizza was absolutely divine.

So think again: burgers, fries and pizza can be really healthy and amazingly tasty.

One last thing, no one pigged out and the two teenage boys were delighted with their were mom and dad.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some Thoughts on Exercise

This is the response I gave to an article on Canada's new physical activity guidelines that I read on the Obesity Panacea website:

I really think the whole "problem" begins when children enter school and have to take phys ed. I am totally in favour of physical education in our schools throughout both primary and secondary school, however I think that almost immediately, kids realize that they are either "good" at phys ed or "bad" at it and that no matter how hard they try, kids who are not natural athletes will be made fun of and get low marks in this subject. From an early age, many people are therefore totally turned off physical activity, seeing it as something they just can't do well and therefore don't want to do.

Although it has been many years since I was in a gym class, I still remember how pathetic I felt compared to the other kids. I was short, dumpy and slow. I was hopeless, whether I was running, jumping hurdles, climbing ropes or swimming lengths. Of course, I was the last to be chosen for any team sports. My marks in phys ed were pretty abysmal though I was often at or near the top of the class in the academic subjects. Needless to say, I got out of phys ed the minute it was no longer mandatory.

Fast forward several decades to the discussion I had with my teenage son the other day. He is in Gr. 12 and after having dropped phys ed the moment he could do so (he too is amazingly athletically ungifted, minus the dumpiness), he is now taking it again. Why? Because he now goes to a very small, private school that is essentially composed of nerds. Although his forte lies with the pure sciences and math, he enjoys his phys ed classes because they are very small and the kids have no particular talent for athletics. They just enjoy moving and working up a sweat. He told me that he would never have taken gym classes again in the public system because it was very clear that only gifted athletes were welcome.

Doesn't this sound like "health club" culture? So many ordinary people avoid going to the gym like the plague because they feel they will be looked down on by all those toned gym bunnies. People have the love of movement drummed out of them by a culture that only recognizes elite athletes as being of any worth. They don't realize that taking a good walk every day is worthwhile, that taking public transit can be part of one's exercise routine. It's "them" (the gym bunnies or even the guys who are PhD candidates in kinesiology, ie. the guys who were welcomed onto the team when they were at high school) against "us", the ordinary shlubs whose stomachs will never be flat, no matter how many crunches we do.

By the time the current school system has finished with kids it's too late. The best thing we could do for Canadians would be to eliminate the jock culture from the minute kids arrive at school, make phys ed mandatory for everyone, right up to high school graduation and give a simple pass/fail mark based ONLY on participation. The more athletically gifted could have their own classes, just like the kids who excel in art, science or music.

Today, I do what I can to remain active despite hereditary arthritis. But it's because I've really given the issue some thought and decided to try my best and put aside the deep feelings of athletic inferiority that were instilled in me as a child.

P.S. I looked for an appropriate picture to accompany this post, but decided against using one. Virtually all the photos showed "fit", slim people and the cartoons often featured "fat slobs". The stereotypes continue unabated.

Friday, January 21, 2011

It All Starts With Hunger


I don't like being hungry. No one does. I'm not talking about "wanting" to eat something and feeling that you shouldn't. I'm not talking about a few extra bites that are probably unnecessary to your well-being. No, I'm talking about hunger: the physical feeling that makes a new-born baby cry (besides an uncomfortably full diaper), what makes you lose your concentration at work, what makes teenage girls who are trying to lose weight faint. Yes, hunger.

I know there are lots of weight loss bloggers who believe that you should embrace hunger, that it's a sign that you're on your way to weight loss. I don't agree. It's a sign that your body needs to be nourished. And as far as I know, nourishment is still not a dirty word.

Many people say they can't distinguish hunger from craving. That may be true. We're raised in a society of self-imposed feast or famine. It's Christmas! Yoopee! Let's eat until we feel sick. It's your birthday! Hoo boy! Let's gorge on chocolate cake. It's Jan. 2. Bummer. Let's live on melba toast and water all day to make up for Christmas. It's Jan. 5. Let's eat a whole pizza because we feel so deprived.

Call me crazy, but I just don't buy the feast or famine cycle anymore. And make no mistake about it: it's a cycle. The only people who succeed in constantly starving themselves are the people who've decided they want to live to at least 120 and who live cheerless, gaunt lives that seem totally bereft of joy. But hey, they're really skinny.

Most people eventually give up on constant hunger and many go back to gorging themselves. The old pendulum swinging way too far in one direction or another.

I've starved with the best of them. In fact, my first diet consisted of not eating one day a week. I starved myself down to a weight I couldn't imagine being today, a weight that I thought was still too high. But the minute I stopped starving, I gained the weight back and I didn't even have to binge or gorge. That's not my style, anyway.

In the last two years, I have started really working on eliminating the desire to starve as a method for losing weight. I reject hunger and make an effort to consistently eat reasonably when I'm hungry rather than feeling a misplaced sense of pride at conquering my body's legitimate request for nourishment. At the same time, I've also started pushing back on the spoiled-child voice in my head that would say, "That's not fair. She can eat that cake and I can't." Now, if I want the treat, I try to make sure that I'm not full already. I either leave some space for a little treat or I put it off until later. I haven't perfected this method (and since I'm only human, it will always be a work in progress), but I have at least become aware and awareness is absolutely crucial to success.

So, now that I've said no to hunger, what next?

Well, in my next post, I'm going to talk about my breakfast revelation...

I guess I'll just keep you hungry for more!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Skinny Genes

I'm stuck at the airport, trying to get to a short meeting in Sudbury. It's about an hour by plane, but the airport is actually about 35-40 minutes away from the place where the meeting is taking place. The weather is worsening by the minute and my original flight was cancelled. If the flight they re-booked me onto is late leaving, I just won't go. By the time I get there, the meeting will be over.

I also don't have much juice left in my laptop and it seems impossible to find a plug.

So here's a link to an interesting article in today's Globe and Mail. It's true, there really is a skinny gene...and I certainly don't have it!

Note therequisite "good news message": there is a skinny gene, but you can beat it...though you may have to exercise considerably more and eat considerably less than others. Fun life, eh?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Funny, Not so Funny

Thanks to Fat and Not Afraid posting at Fierce, Freethinking Fatties for digging up this commercial.

Definitely makes you think.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Everyone Deserves a Good Laugh

You'll need a kleenex to wipe away the tears of laughter after watching this:

Have a fabulous weekend!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dear X

Dear X,

I just came across your blog and to be frank, I'm concerned about you.

I read that you were flirting with a weight that really scared you and that you have decided to lose a ton of weight and get healthy and beautiful. If that's what you want, all power to you.

But sweetheart, starvation (850 calories/day) is not the key to unlocking the thin girl in you. Before you know it, you'll be back up far above the weight that scares you so much today. Think twice about the road you're taking.

Best regards,


I'd like to write her that. I'd like her to stop and look at how she's not only starving calorie-wise but nutrient-wise too. I'd like to tell her that if she really wants to cut her calories down that far, she'd better be seriously well-versed in nutrition because otherwise there will be some pretty nasty side-effects to her Biafra-style diet.

I'd like to tell her that a lot of the weight she's losing is in the form of muscle and not fat and that the minute she increases her calorie intake--even up to a meagre 1200 calories--her muscle will breath a sigh of relief and start rebuilding, causing her to regain weight. In the meantime, the fat will have just been biding its time, sticking around and hanging off her muscle-wasted frame.

I'd like to just sit down and talk to her, woman to woman, about why people overeat, about self-hate and the fears that affect women so much more than men. I'd like to tell her that not all of us are made to have a BMI of 18. I'd like to tell her about Meagan McGrath and how pictures can be deceiving.

There's so much I'd love to talk to her about.

But I know it would be just as effective as speaking to her in Swahili.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Village on a Diet and the Bootcamp Mentality

Last night, I watched Part 2 of CBC TV's "Village on a Diet", a 10-week series that follows the weight loss trials and tribulations of the population of Taylor, B.C., a small town where 60% of the population is overweight or obese.

I was hoping for something a bit better than last week's episode. I hoped in vain.

This week really focused on the bootcamp approach. Here are some of the quotes I noted:

-Narrator: they brought in "butt kicking experts" to "whip them [the population] into shape"

-Personal trainer: "it's about willpower [...] kicking butt"

-Personal trainer: "balls to the wall"

-Narrator (?): "light a fire under Brent's butt"

Hmm. There seems to be a theme here, and it's all about the middle of the body: butts (especially) and balls. I am not impressed.

Bootcamp is the fad du jour in the weight loss world. Whether you're shredding with Jillian Michaels or just cheering her on as she berates her tub o' lard charges on The Biggest Loser; whether you're an adoring follower of the blogger who insults other bloggers, considering them to be weight-loss wimps and then publishing their URLs (so others can go and insult them too? just asking...) or you're just demeaning yourself, as many of the women featured on Village on a Diet love to do (one, referring to her weight, says, "I just think it's disgusting."), hate is most definitely in.

My criticism remains the same: There are many reasons why people are overweight. The bootcamp mentality reduces these many, complicated reasons down to one simple, false and ultimately self-defeating stereotype: OVERWEIGHT PEOPLE ARE LAZY *SSHOLES WHO STUFF THEIR PIEHOLES WITH BAAAAD FOOD. Of course, the corollary of this is that slim people are by definition virtuous, have bags of willpower, exercise constantly and never, ever give in to baaaad things like eating a gram more food than necessary or indulging in a piece of full-fat cheese.

It's all self-hate, all the time out there and people just lap it up. Yes, we must all find our own way and I'm not denying that "butt kicking" might work for some. But if it really was the best way...gosh, we'd all be in such good shape and glowing with health. Not! Instead, what I read is blog after blog filled with hate, self-hate and flagellation. In my humble opinion, good health starts with good mental health and I'm not seeing much of that out there.

But let's go back to Village on a Diet:

In an effort to take a balanced approach, a psychologist has also been dispatched to Taylor. She gets participants to eat a healthy meal and to do so mindfully!!! OMG. She asks people to put down their utensils between bites, to make an effort to take their time and really taste the food. One of the participants is interviewed after this exercise (which took up about one minute of time in the entire hour) and says that it made him realize that he hates salad and fruit. Wow. Profound. Well, that takes care of the mental part of weight management...

I have to admit, there was one scene in last night's episode that I found quite touching. The village's challenge of the week was to walk up Taylor Hill, apparently a pretty daunting, steep incline. The woman who finds her weight "disgusting" was having a really hard time, but she managed to get to the top with the physical assistance of one of the personal trainers and lots of emotional support from other villagers who went back down to where she was struggling and walked back up with her. I admit, it did bring a tear to my eye.

At the end of the show, viewers saw several of the 2-week weigh-ins. The women's weight loss was minimal (0 to 2 pounds). Some of the men did somewhat better and two of the men managed losses of 11 and 16 pounds. One of the women, who had been making some serious effort (she had cut out pop, stopped smoking and started walking every day) had lost...0. She was in tears. No doubt, bootcampers are probably sneering and thinking she really didn't make an effort. I beg to differ.

Did any of the "experts" comment on the results? Of course not. The episode was over.

You may be wondering: is anything good coming out of this programme? Well, I did do some free weights and a few yoga poses as I watched the show.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pride and a Re-realization

Last Thursday, I went to the doctor for my annual check-up. In amongst all the other "stuff" weight. My weight is not an issue for my GP. She knows how hard I work at staying active and moving forward in life despite my physical limitations. However, for me, weight is still an issue.

I consider this blog to be a call to arms for mindfulness and self-respect. Two years ago, I started the blog as my own weight-loss initiative, but over time, I've realized that weight loss should not be my primary goal. Perhaps, it should not be a goal at all. My goal is make peace with food. Not to stop eating, or watch every mouthful going in or ban the bad foods and eat clean 100% of the time. I just want peace.

And yet...I would be lying to say that my weight (cue the opening music to the Twilight Zone) is no longer an issue for me.

So I got on the scale at the doctor's office (because the number goes in my file, just standard procedure) and the result was pretty darn good. I'm going to talk in percentages rather than pounds, because I'm a very, very small person. I probably weight 8-10% less than my highest weight and I have managed to maintain this loss for coming up on two years. In the best of all possible worlds, I would love to see a further loss of 15%...or would I?

(Pause for effect.)

The weight-o-sphere bloggers I admire most have all realized the importance of the mental game when it comes to one's weight although I don't think that everything revolves around the "why" of eating. I recently wrote a post about Dr. Sharma's "revolutionary" statement that when it comes to weight loss or gain, we are not created equal. There are plenty of physiological reasons for one's weight profile and they are totally beyond our control, however I still believe there is some "wiggle space" to talk about the mental game.

I am not a binger. I generally don't eat to soothe myself or to stuff down feelings. I actually think that lots of different foods taste great and by golly, I enjoy eating them. I do have to exercise a degree of mindfulness and sometimes tell myself that I've had enough and that if I really want more, it will be there for me in 15 minutes, or an hour, or even tomorrow. I think I'm generally on the long, slow and difficult road to eating the right amount for me without feeling constantly afraid of "bad" foods or food in general.

But yesterday, after getting off the scale at the doctor's office, something I've realized in the past hit me again like a ton of bricks: I harbour a real fear of losing weight and this fear is rooted in actual past experience.

The first time I lost a significant amount of weight, I was a teenager. The method I used was totally ridiculous and definitely could have led me down the path to anorexia. Once a week, I just didn't eat anything all day. I would drink coffee and tea and some fruit juice (at the time, I didn't think of drinking water and fortunately, I've never been hooked on pop), but that was it. The rest of the week, I'd be pretty careful about what I ate. I can't remember how long this went on, but I can tell you that as soon as I stopped the madness, the weight came back.

I yo-yo'ed for many years, trying various fad diets and of course failing miserably. Then one day, I realized I had been losing weight effortlessly. In fact, I could eat anything I wanted and still the weight kept dropping. I had become hyperthyroid. Medication put me into remission and the weight came back.

I went on my last fad diet a few years after my bout with hyperthyroidism, lost weight again, and gained it back as soon as I stopped following the stupid diet.

In 2003, I had surgery that failed, leaving me extremely handicapped. I got depressed, couldn't eat (even when the hunger pangs were at their worst) and lost weight. I had a second surgery, worked hard at recovery, got there and gained the weight back.

Fourteen years after my first bout with hyperthyroidism, the condition came back and I started losing weight again. Since I was familiar with the symptoms, I was back at the doctor's quite quickly, went on medication and yup, you guessed it, the weight came back.

Then, two years ago, I was introduced for the first time to intuitive eating, which I now prefer to call "mindful" eating. It has not been the miracle that I had hoped for. However, it's the best that I've found for myself and I continue to follow a mindful eating path, to the best of my abilities.

Now that I've taken you on this long ramble, let's go back to the scale at the doctor's office.

I was truly pleased with the number on the scale, as "high" as some might think it was because I realized that had it been any lower, my first thought would have been: "something's wrong...I must be it my thyroid...or something worse?" And I would have immediately tried to find some sort of proof to put a negative spin on things.

It's important to have this kind of realization, hard as it is. The fact is, for the past 18 years or so, for the most part, any weight loss I have experienced (aside from stupid crash dieting) has been due to illness. Why would I welcome something that has so often been the sign of something much worse?

I'm not a "don't worry, be happy" kind of person. Life can be very tough, no matter what your attitude. So I think that my best course of action is to be kind to my fear. To accept it. To recognize its validity and the fact that it is a part of me. And comfort this fear, like I would one of my children. Turning it away, screaming at it, would do no good. Giving it a warm, safe place inside me might in fact having a calming effect.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ellen's Hate-Loss Challenge

I have recently added a blog to my regular reads. It's called "Fat Girl Wearing Thin" and I suggest you take a look at it.

Why do I like this blog? Well, it's NOT because Ellen's lost a great deal of weight and has kept it off. It's NOT because Ellen sometimes recommends low (or lower) calorie products or exercise tips to help readers lose or keep the weight off. In a nutshell, I DO NOT think highly of this blog because it's a weight-loss (success story) blog.

So why DO I like FGWT?

I like Fat Girl Wearing Thin because Ellen is trying to go beyond the dream of thin=successful. I am particularly impressed with her current "hate-loss" challenge, which I strongly encourage you to look at and join...if that's your thing.

Please read the whole post on Ellen's blog, but if you're in a hurry or plan to read it later, here's a snippet to pique your curiousity:

During the whole month of January, 2011, I am vowing to make a resolution to have pride in myself – no matter what size I am, each and every day. January will be the month that I set in motion a healthy habit to rid my vocabulary of words that aim to destroy my self-esteem. By the end of January I hope to have set a permanent pattern as I continue to feel better about my value, importance, and place in this world.

Personally, I very rarely get on the challenge bandwagon. It's just not my way of doing things. But I will admit to having printed out the instructions because I think they're of great value--especially to women, who have an incredible ability to put themselves down at every possible opportunity. Here's a case in point: Yesterday, I was at my GP's for my annual check-up. At one point, she said to me that I was "unbelievable" or something equally positive because I just don't give up, despite my physical challenges. I responded that I really don't have the choice (i.e. giving up is just not an option). I think that a more positive response would have been a simple "thank you", perhaps followed by something like "yes, I do keep trying hard". Because yes, I'm pretty great.

Ellen's challenge is already a week old, but I'm sure she'd be happy to have you on board.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Doctor Urges New View on Obesity"

I just ran across this article, entitled "Doctor Urges New View of Obesity", via Obesity Panacea. Dr. Arya Sharma is scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network.

Here is a quote from the article:

"I think one of the biggest misconceptions when we talk about obesity in general is that obese people are obese largely because of their lifestyles and because of the way that they live," Dr. Arya Sharma of the University of Alberta, told CBC News.

Sharma points to studies where people's eating and activity are carefully monitored. They show that some people can eat an additional 1,000 calories per day and not gain a gram, while others would gain five to six kilograms over a six-week period.

"There's a huge variability in how people can cope with extra calories," he said in an interview with CBC News.

He says people who tend to pack on the pounds simply have bodies that burn calories very efficiently and store the excess as fat.

"They just take their extra calories, they don't even burn them because they're very fuel efficient, they'll just store those calories and they'll put them away."

This of course goes against the views of the dieting world, which essentially believes that anyone whose BMI is not perfect has gotten into this mess simply by stuffing their "piehole" (as one of the highly articulate commenters to the article said) to excess with junk food.

Indeed, if a visitor to our planet read through many (if not most?) dieting blogs, they would come away with the impression that overweight people are by definition lazy, junk food eating slobs.

The reason I keep my diet blog reading to a minimum is because I don't see myself in these blogs. Nor do I see the people around me in them, despite our embonpoint (a fancy-shmancy way of saying fat).

Read this article about Dr. Sharma and his revolutionary views on overweight. Then just try to eat a reasonably healthy diet in reasonable portions, take the stairs more often, take public transit instead of your car if at all possible, try to get a nice walk in as often as you can. That's all.

Then again, you might agree with the vitriol in the comments section.

Up to you.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Village on a Diet: One More Gripe

The commercials!!! I just loved having to choose between multiple viewings of the lap band surgery commercial and the one with the boy's head superposed over an obese man's body.


I'm pleased to say that I'm not the only one who thinks this series is a load of hogwash, wrapped in a thick layer of stereotypes. See here, for instance. The comments are worth reading too!

The Debate French

If there's anyone out there who understands French, there was a nifty little debate here on CBC radio (French) between an anti-diet nutritionist (sort of the French version of the Fat Nutritionist) and a spokesperson for Weight Watchers Quebec.

Essentially, the nutritionist was in favour of "letting go" and stopping trying to "control" your eating. I think she made some good points about re-learning to listen to your body's hunger and satiety signals. The most important one, in my opinion, was that it does take time to re-learn these signals. Perhaps one of the weaknesses of the "intuitive eating gang" is that their message is how easy it is. Not. The WW lady was thrilled to be selling her product to a large audience via the radio. She gushed about the new plan and insisted that WW is really a "lifestyle change rather than a diet". The nutritionist kept needling her about control.

Really, the debate is the same, no matter what the language!

For those who want to try their French out, once you go to the link above, click on: "Pour ou contre les régimes" on the right side of the screen.

Any brave souls out there??

Allô ?? Allô ??

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Village on a Diet": First Impressions of the TV Show

This being the beginning of January, everyone and their significant other is going nuts worrying about how much they gained over the holidays and how hard they are going to work, restrict, deny and hate themselves in order to repent and turn over, finally and forever more, a new leaf in life. In other words, it's diet season again.

Our television broadcasters, in their zealous pursuit of ratings, have also vowed to turn over a new leaf. To whit, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) launched a new, primetime, 10-week series last night called "Village on a Diet" (VOAD).

VOAD focuses on the town of Taylor, B.C., a small community where 60% of the population is overweight. The challenge for Taylor is to lose a tonne (2,000 pounds) in ten weeks. The show has sent a team of "experts" (doctor, nutritionist, trainer, etc.) to cajole, encourage and whip the population into a weight-loss frenzy and get Taylorites off their butts and moving.

Sounds good, eh? (If you don't know this, "eh" is as Canadian as poutine and back bacon.)

Well, I watched the show and I have a major bone to pick with it.

As far as I'm concerned, the whole premise of the show is off. VOAD is based on the meme that being slim equals being healthy. In other words, a number on the scale is the only way to judge one's overall health.

I beg to differ.

While I do not deny the correlation between overweight and various conditions (high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, etc.), to say that being overweight necessarily causes these conditions and to think they will all magically disappear once one has lost the right number of pounds is...magical thinking. However, it is a powerful misconception and "Village on a Diet" feeds into it, hook, line and sinker.

The first episode was also full of stereotypes:
  • the anguished mother, who lays total blame for her family being fat on her own chubby shoulders;
  • the woman who is convinced that she will become pregnant if she loses weight (maybe she will...we'll have to wait and see...but perhaps she has PCOS, a condition characterized by overweight, extreme difficulty in losing weight and infertility...);
  • the teenage boy who dreams of going bike riding with his dad once they both lose weight (why not start now, for crying out loud, neither of them were so obese that they couldn't climb on a bike and take a nice ride);
  • and the general air of self-hatred (how could I have let myself get this way???; the woman who can't bring herself to marry her boyfriend, even though they are already parents, because she hates her body too much to believe that she can be beautiful on her wedding day).
VOAD even features its own mean trainer, who screams at a participant to get back to exercising as soon as she finishes throwing up. In his defence, he does praise her courage at the end of the session--Jillian Michaels cannot be beat for nastiness.

Of course, the show focuses on the people of Taylor's atrociously bad eating habits: pizza, hot dogs, wings, fries...In the first episode, the show pays the absolute briefest lip service to the one fact that struck me like a tonne of bricks: Taylor has no proper grocery store. The only source of food is the variety store at the gas station. People must literally travel to another town to get fresh fruits and vegetables. In my opinion, this is at the very heart of Taylor's "problem". Even though the town has a fairly high standard of living, it is a food desert, lacking in the basic building blocks of a healthy diet. Viewers also get the impression that the population, though not financially poor, is poorly educated and ignorant of what it means to "eat healthy" (yes, there's a whole debate to be had around this sentence, but I'll save that for another post completely).

As I watched the show, I couldn't help but make comparisons with the Jamie Oliver series that ran last year on TV, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Granted, the focus of Oliver's series was healthy eating rather than weight loss, but isn't that where things should start--with what's on the plate? Even the no-salad weight loss superstar Sean Anderson radically changed his food choices as he shed the pounds (BTW Sean, you know I love you).

Now, I'm only reviewing the first episode in a 10-week series, so I'm sure that nutrition will be added into the mix, but in my opinion it should have been given star billing. Oh, I forgot: common sense doesn't make for riveting TV programming.

Watching "Village on a Diet" made me realize that I'm all for health, however using dieting as the principal vehicle to reach this laudable goal is, I believe, the wrong approach. Worse yet, given the pitiful statistics for maintaining significant weight loss, it is also one of the most self-defeating ways to go about becoming healthier.

I'm putting my bets on Jamie Oliver over VOAD.

This being said, I'll try to tune in for next week's episode and look forward to writing a review.

Oh, and by the way, I neither gained nor lost a pound over the holidays. Just in case you were curious.