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.


  1. Oh, I can already tell that you and I are going to get along just fine! :)
    Love your take on these things; you see with crystal clear glasses and are spot-on with your observations. Putting you in Google Reader!

  2. Hi Ellen,

    Welcome on board! A pleasure to meet you!

  3. New Year's resolutions for weight loss ultimately fail because it's easy to be motivated on the heels of excess. Once the memory of that excess fades, so does the motivation.

    I lost 5-7 lbs. in the last month, so, like you, no gains here for the holiday. I had cake and cookies, but as always in small portions that were factored into my overall diet. I experienced neither deprivation or longing, nor excess. Small treats on a daily basis with an overall balanced diet still do the trick for me.

    My losses have slowed, but only because I have lost 47% of my initial body weight and things slow down as you get smaller (and not because I have eaten more). This slow-down (and continued slowing of loss rate) is expected and doesn't trouble me. It's as things should be.

    Happy New Year!

  4. Well I gained 1.8 lbs over the holidays, but if y'all had seen the loads of goodies my devoted clients bring us each year (you name it: candy, cookies, cakes, pies, tamales, etc) - you'd actually be congratulating me for not gaining MORE ;-) !!!
    At least I'm not stressing about it as in years past, when I'd get caught in that downward spiral of "bad choices" & typically gain 5 - 10 lbs...