It’s a new year therefore, it’s a new you! That’s what the grand majority of the country thinks anyway. It’s a fact that a lot of people (myself included) have promised themselves that January is the start of the diet or at least the start of a proper healthy eating regime and if their lucky then they’ll get to February because they’ve remembered how fucking tedious it is to be healthy from the last new years resolution. The average time it takes to forget how horrible it is to be healthy is about 11 months because that’s when the new year rolls around again along with the false hope and the empty promise that you’ll create a new you.
As of 2018, The United Kingdom is the third fattest nation in Europe with Malta coming in at second and Turkey topping the chart. It’s no secret that we are a tubby country and it seems that we are competing with the Americans to see who can fattest the quickest. At the rate we’re going, we won’t have to worry about the rising sea levels wiping us out, the entire country will be pushed underwater by the sheer mass of our wobbly population.
It’s this reason and the ‘new years’ thing that I’m going to talk about a specific genre of reality television that I hold dear. Rest assured, the only thing I binge on is these kinds of programs. These programs are of course, dieting shows.
Just so you know, I’ll be sticking to the UK side of my top four picks so I won’t be doing American shows like ‘My 600lb Life’ on TLC although that show is brilliant.
It’s a shame because in recent years, dieting shows seem to be missing off the schedules and all my favourite ones have gone off the air.
A prime example is my first choice, ‘You Are What You Eat’ which was broadcast on Channel 4 and lasted for 4 series between 2004 and 2007. This one is probably the most well known as it’s hosted by Gillian McKeith who’s appeared on various reality TV shows over the years. Readers may remember her memorable appearance on ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’. The format of this show is fairly simple. In any given 30 minute show, Ms McKeith helps out an obese person to lose weight via a ‘healthy eating regime’. A bit obvious but this show has a gimmick. McKeith is dubbed a ‘Holistic Nutritionist’ so she identifies key areas in the subjects body and creates a unique eating plan with various vitamins that will help. For example in one episode, the subject has cuts on their tongue which means they are low in a certain vitamin so Gillian offers some green stuff that is high that vitamin.
If this review is sounding a little bit lax in the facts, then that’s because full episodes of this show is virtually impossible to get a hold of besides taped copies that are thrown on YouTube. A lot of this is from memory.
To be honest, going in the ‘holistic nutritionist’ angle isn’t really necessary. The audience gets a good look at what the big person eats in a week and of course it’s filled with booze, fry-ups, curries, pizza etc and when the ‘new regime’ is unveiled, it’s all green. Of course their going to lose weight.
Speaking of, there have been… questions… about Ms McKeith’s credentials over the years. For example, the school where she received her Doctorate is a non-credited school in America (American Association of Nutritional Consultants) which ‘runs no checks on the qualifications of it’s certified members’ according to their Wikipedia page and even according to their own website, the association is ‘dedicated to preserving the right of unlicensed nutritional professionals to provide nutritional education to individuals to improve their overall health and wellbeing’. The key word that I and I hope everyone reading this took away from that latter quotation is ‘unlicensed’.
Meaning pretty much anyone can apply to be a member of this organisation. Apparently, some people have had fun with signing up their pets. Technically, I’m an unlicensed nutritionist even though I’ve never eaten a vegetable in my life and don’t plan to any time soon. Why would you? I mean, my mother always told me not to eat food off the floor so why would I eat something that comes out of the ground? It doesn’t make sense. But for the low, low price of $400 plus an additional $70 for domestic membership ($80 for international membership) plus the price of some text books that are on sale on their website and 11 examinations that are mailed right to my door to be completed within a year, I could have a Doctorate of my very own. Sounds easy. Why wouldn’t you go for that? Do you know how much medical school costs these days?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that Gillian McKeith is a fraud. She’s clearly got her heart in the right place and wants to help these people who have given up in helping themselves. All I’m saying is, you don’t have to be a doctor to know that feeding green stuff to a 20 stone person who’s lived off takeaways and lard for their whole life is going to make them lose weight.
‘Holistic’ isn’t really my thing. I’m more of a science gal myself and ‘calories in vs calories out’ is definitely the best way to approach weight loss which is pretty much how this show approaches weight loss. This show’s main claim to fame is the ‘poo-watching’ which makes sense because the facts are covered up in a load of ‘mumbo jumbo’ bullshit… which is actually very organic.
The second show is ‘Supersize VS Superskinny’ which also aired on Channel 4. The format of this show is not what the title suggests which makes it sound like there’s some kind of ‘grudge match’ involved. Instead, the show takes one overweight person and one underweight person and have them swap their diets for a short time.
The show is presented by Dr Christian Jessen, a proper doctor who went to medical school, ‘London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’ to be specific.
The idea behind the program is to fix the nasty eating habits that are prominent in people at both ends of the scale. We get a short introduction to both participants in the form of a little film and they get to tell their side of the story. There’s no denial going on in any of these people as they’ve applied for the show in seek of help. For the Supersizers, there isn’t much explanation as to why they got big but for some on the Superskinny side of the table, their reasons are many.
There are some Superskinnys who are too lazy or too busy to cook a proper meal for themselves. Then there are the ‘tea addicts’ who substitute their meals for the UK’s most popular hot beverage. There are the fussy eaters who don’t want to try new things because they’re afraid they won’t like it (I’m definitely in this category) and the ‘health freaks’ who won’t eat anything but salad and protein and are therefore wasting away. I seem to remember one woman who was skinny because she was allergic to everything so she was on a fat-free, gluten free, lactose-free diet and even though her diet was full of fruit and veg and healthy things, she was lacking a lot of the essential vitamins that her body needed.
Because this show is a whole 45 minutes long, there is too much time to focus on the diet swap and so other segments are added in to fill the time. In the first series, Gillian McKeith made an appearance with her ‘Ban Big Bums’ campaign where she used various techniques with a selection of ladies from different areas of the country to see which technique was the best for slimming down their rear ends.
Another segment that was carried for a few series involved Journalist and ‘serial dieter’, Anna Richardson as she tried a load of weird diets. The first episode that I remember was the ‘Apple Diet’ which consisted of the above mentioned fruit and absolutely sod all else. I can’t even imagine how horrible that was but she was a trooper and after all that misery, she only lost a pound. That’s got to hurt. Ms Richardson also did strange Hollywood diets like the mysterious one about water, maple syrup and cayenne pepper and don’t even get me started on the ‘baby food’ diet because that one is just plain strange.
Later on, Richardson left Britain and travelled to Los Angeles, California to enrol herself in a weight loss training group type thing, took tips from a Hollywood personal trainer and tried working out alongside Mums with babies. Back in Britain, Richardson even went so far as to have quick liposuction on her arm which didn’t go to plan.
You can definitely see that the show was starting to become a bit obsessed with America in later series. It would start with Dr Christian going to America to see how the medical system handles dealing with obese patients and talks to a few doctors to see how they perform Gastric Bypass surgeries on larger patients, etc and then they would have large Americans record a motivational message for the Supersizers back in Britain. Then it was taken a step further when the Supersizers were flown to the US to meet the big Americans and get a sense of what their life could be like if they keep getting bigger such as mobility issues and numerous medical problems including Type 2 Diabetes, Sleep Apnoea and Lymphedema.
Other segments included in the later series followed a small group of eating disorder sufferers as they work with a Dietician to confront their issues around food and their own body image so they can gain more confidence in themselves and gain a healthier relationship with food. Fortunately, in the ‘follow-up’ episodes, they caught up with a few of the participants of these segments and they were doing much better. Happy and healthy.
In doing research for this article, I decided to have a look at some of the other reviews of this show in particular to see what other people think of it and I was surprised to find that they were mostly negative. It’s probably obvious from this site that I am quite cynical and shows like ‘Supersize VS Superskinny’ are exploitative given that these people with serious issues around food to the point that they’re damaging their own health are being paraded around on prime-time TV. But then again, this is reality TV. It’s all exploitative in some form or another. However, I must believe that there is some good in humanity and Dr Christian and co genuinely want to help these people and I think they do.
Another criticism that has been presented was about the diet swap and how giving a thinner person massive takeaways and a larger person a banana isn’t going to solve their problems. I totally understand your view point however, what the diet swap is designed to do is show the Supersizer that they can feel satisfied with a smaller portion and the Superskinny that they can eat a little bit more and in some cases, widen their culinary ranges a bit. The diet swap is also designed to show them how bad their diets are by handing it to someone else. One person’s perception of reality can be distorted, it’s only until somebody else is experiencing how they have been living that their diet and lifestyle can be put into context. Shock tactics are also used to really bring the message home such as putting a months worth of pizza cheese into a tub to show the sheer volume or mixing up a load of doughnut ingredients into a concrete mixer. By the end, they both realise that their diets are bad for them and at the end of the diet swap, they’re both given a healthy eating plan to steer them onto the right course.
Despite all the criticism, to me, the show is trying to promote a healthy way of living which can only be a good thing, right?
Time for number 3. This third show is probably the one with the most interesting concept. It’s a dieting show but with a twist. Secret Eaters.
Whilst with ‘Supersize VS Superskinny’, it was obvious why the Supersizers were putting on weight, the participants of this show have no idea where the extra pounds are coming from. Presented by Anna Richardson, she calls at the house of the couple/family who are oblivious to the reason as to why they are getting heavier. To find out the truth, the participants agree to having cameras placed in their house 24/7 but what they don’t know about are the two private detectives following them everywhere they go.
Interesting and I would just wish that this were the main part of the show but sadly, one trait that was passed over from ‘SS VS SS’ was that it was 45 minutes long and therefore is broken up into segments. And it’s a problem this time. In ‘SS VS SS’, watching 45 minutes of two people swapping meals would be endlessly dull so the other segments were there to keep things interesting. With ‘Secret Eaters’, the ‘other segments’ are things to be skipped. They mostly compose of experiments with a food psychologist which try and explain why people eat more than they should and a lot of them are patently bloody obvious such as if you serve food on a smaller plate, you’ll have a smaller portion. Duh.
In the later series, the team set up cameras around buffets and it was basically showing people eating food whilst Anna Richardson makes cringy one-liners in voiceover.
You might be thinking that if you’ve seen one episode then you’ve seen them all since all of the participants are in the same boat but you could not be more wrong. The best part of the show comes when the participants are led to a seemingly innocent place whether it be an organised meeting place, a cafe or a London apartment. All places lead to the ‘Incident Room’ where the participants are faced with what they’ve really eaten and footage of them eating it in the 5 days they were being watched. Bear in mind that the participants believe that they have a balanced and healthy diet so of course when the door opens, the tables are creaking under the weight of pies, takeaways and sweets.
I’ve seen some real food sights on this show. I’ve seen shepherds pie on a pizza, I’ve seen a meat and potato pie inside a bap and I’ve seen Sunday roasts that would make a carvery display turn away in shame. It’s really incredible to see if not the naivety then almost certainly the blind delusion that’s going on here. The rule of the show is, ‘to lose weight, you have to be honest about what you’re eating’. I remember one woman who said that she had cut sugar and salt out of her diet but a PI caught her going to a McDonalds where she took home a large coke, a large fries, a large chicken sandwich, two double cheeseburgers, a portion of onion rings and over half a dozen sachets of sauces and dips and the best part is that when she’s confronted with this, she says ‘I have that all the time’. Fantastic.
The above is an extreme example but not the most extreme example on the show. The question that I would ask is, how can you not know how much food you’re having? It’s easy to forget the odd snack here and there, maybe you can underestimate how much you’re dishing up at dinnertime but forgetting you’ve eaten whole meals?
What’s even more bizarre is that the participants fill out food diaries the week before they are being filmed. I’ll open this to the crowd. If you had to write down everything that you’d eaten for the whole week, wouldn’t you realise how much you were having? It’s easy to forget if you’re not recording every little detail but they have to for the show.
Here’s my problem with this show. It may have worked well in the first series but when the second series came around and people started applying, wouldn’t you watch an episode or two of the first series? Just to know what the format is? That may or may not be the case because I’ve never seen it on TV, only online.
I think that one thing that this show does highlight is the blatant miss-education of the British public when it comes to food and nutrition. I’m no ‘weight-loss guru’ but I know what’s good and what’s bad for me. For example, there’s one brilliant gentleman who thought he was starting the day with a ‘healthy’ bowl of a popular brand of fibre rich cereal. This bowl was four times the recommended portion labelled on the box, topped with semi-skimmed milk, a splodge of jam, a banana and 1500 calories worth of double cream. His whole breakfast came in at 2500 calories. And that was to start his day. And he believed he was healthy.
It’s not just this gentleman, all the participants believe they are healthy but it’s not all their fault. I myself was surprised by the calorie content in some of the meals that were shown and the basic consensus with a lot of these people is that it’s all the little things that will add up. Even really healthy stuff. There was one lady who was making a conscious effort to eat better and she was snacking on seeds and fruit but the problem was that the fruits that she was eating were full of calories. Like coconut. One plate of coconut that she had (and it was a healthy portion) had over 400 calories in it. That’s just not fair.
So that’s Secret Eaters, I don’t think they’re making the show any more even if it’s shown on TV but a good chunk of the episodes are available online.
When I decided to do this article, I was originally only going to do these three and call it a day so this last show is a fairly late entry but I feel it worth mentioning as the presenter of this show has popped up recently on breakfast shows to talk about obesity in the UK.
The final show is ‘Fat Families’ that originally aired on Sky One and was presented by Steve Miller who is a ‘weight-loss expert’ and helps families across the UK lose weight. Fair enough, it’s a format that we’ve all seen before but to stand out from the crowd, this show needs a gimmick and that gimmick is Steve himself.
Anyone who’s seen him in interviews will see that he has a ‘straightforward’ talking style and won’t dance around the issue. His ‘straight-talking’ style has gotten him in trouble. He’s comfortable with calling people ‘fat’ and advocated NHS staff wearing badges saying, ‘Be Inspired, I’m Fat but I’m Losing It’.
The show’s format is just like any other except that Steve tends to stay with the family for one day and eats exactly what they eat in order to get a sense of what exactly the problem is but why he does this, I don’t know because the consensus is always the same. They all eat a lot of food and don’t do enough exercise. From there, the show is fairly standard with the shock tactics and the ‘eat less, move more’ approach to dieting. Steve transforms one room of their house by removing sofas and placing gym equipment and some motivation such as a pretty that is a few sizes smaller, etc. That’s for about the first half of the show. The show continues after Steve leaves and shows the participants working hard and then sometimes, the novelty wears off and Steve has to come back in and get the family motivated once more. They end with the family having a makeover and some nice clothes picked out for them and they stand in front of a full length mirror and be proud of what they have accomplished. All this sets them off on a road to happiness and healthiness.
What surprised me in doing research for this article is that when I looked up Steve Miller, he specialises in Hypnosis as a useful tool for weight-loss which is strange because I don’t remember him ever talking about that or using any Hypnosis techniques in his show. I remember a lot of motivational tactics which is fair enough, but the Hypnosis thing completely passed me by. In fact, according to his own website, he is a ‘Distinction Graduate of The London College of Clinical Hypnosis’ and a member of the ‘The British Society of Clinical Hypnosis’.
Once again, ‘Fat Families’ is very hard to get a hold of and is only really available online which is a shame.
So there you go, there’s my top 4 dieting shows here in the UK. There’s been a lot spoken about obesity here in the UK in recent times and my thought is that shows like these highlight the effects of obesity and even some of the reasons behind what causes someone to become obese and how they can avoid that. In summary, it’s a great shame that these kinds of shows are not around so much any more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to order a new computer chair. For some reason, mine keeps breaking.