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.


  1. The teenage boy - boxing workout - BIG SMILE on his face - good for him!!

  2. Yes, that was one of the good scenes.

  3. This is why I quit watching Biggest Loser. Even though it is what initially got me into the gym. :)

  4. "Instead, what I read is blog after blog filled with hate, self-hate and flagellation."

    This is why I quit reading most blogs devoted to health or weight control. The ones that I found the most upsetting were the ones who felt that this was absolutely the "only" way they could ever gain control of their relationship with food or acquire good health. These are smart people, and they should know better, but their psychological issues overwhelm their intellect.

    They set aside what they really know in favor of reinforcing the negative messages that affirm their own lack of value, and then they deny that that is even the case because they think they are "too smart for that". Yeah, "too smart" to have a deep sense of self-hate that requires you to emotionally abuse yourself to lose weight, but not smart enough to realize that you can treat yourself like an adult and respect yourself and lose weight more healthily.

    I still believe that the solution to all food problems starts in the mind and that the "obesity epidemic" is a cause mainly for mental health professionals and not medical ones. Fix the minds and the body will follow in the vast majority of cases. When you don't do this, you have what we see everywhere - people who lose a lot of weight and then regain more or live in abject fear of doing so.

    The show you describe sounds ghastly for the most part, but what you said about the people helping the woman who couldn't make it was really heartening. Even if the producers don't like to show compassion, clearly some people have it.