Thursday, January 22, 2015
Review of Some Weight Loss Shows
As many of you know I've been trying to slowly lose weight. Nothing drastic, just eating less, eating better and exercising more. Over the last six months it has worked out well and I believe I've lost around 7 or 8 kg. Many people have noticed that I lost weight, which is always encouraging. I'm sure thanks to two weeks convalescing at home that I had gained some weight but I hope it's not too much.
For some inspiration (and to pass the time) I went to YouTube and started watching episodes of weight-loss reality shows. Not the American stuff, I'm familiar with those already, instead I was watching British shows that I had never seen before. I actually find them more interesting than the American ones and learnt a few things along the way.
Supersize versus Superskinny
I found this show amusing. Fairly simple concept, the doctor pairs up a supersized person with an underweight person and over the course of a few days the two swap meals. The show hopes to use shock tactics to make the overweight person realize that they can get by on less, and to make them realize just how out of whack their portion sizes and food choices are by seeing the skinny person struggle with their meals. On the flip side the skinny person will hopefully get a wake-up call when they see just how little they eat and learn to eat larger portions and eat a variety of foods.
The struggles can be amusing. Obviously the skinny person can rarely believe the amount of food that they have to eat and most of them soon realize, once they come to terms with the overweight person starving because of the little food they get, that they need to change their ways. Similar revelations occur with the overweight person.
Surprisingly I tended to be more appalled by the skinny person's diet. So many of them were not only undereating but what they were eating was typically junk food. Many of them were using coffee/tea/energy drinks as meal replacements, or just eating a lot of sugary foods just to give them the energy to get through the day. Occasionally the overweight person wouldn't even be able to finish the meals because of how messed up they were (something like breakfast – coffee, lunch – coffee, dinner - fries and two chocolate bars). One lady was a vegetarian yet her diet didn’t contain any vegetables. Some of the skinny people would soon get really apologetic about the lack of food they were giving to the overweight person.
While the program did have some long-term successes I'm not sure if shock tactics are really going to help if there's a more fundamental problem. If the skinny person has a bona fide eating disorder then they need therapy, swapping meals with an overweight person for a few days isn't going to cure them. Likewise if there are emotional issues or food addiction involved with the overweight person then I'm not sure this show will be able to get them to change their lives for good.
Either you've said it or you know people who've said it, “I eat a healthy and well-balanced diet and yet I am still putting on weight. I just don't understand why I can’t lose weight.”
Well some of those people have volunteered for the show Secret Eaters. They provide the show with food diaries (which show that they typically undereat or are eating the right amount of calories), have interviews to discuss their eating habits – then allow the show to set up cameras throughout their home to try to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on.
What the subjects didn't know was that the show also hired private investigators to track their movements when they are out of the house.
In the end it's discovered that the people are eating way more calories than they think and of course are eating more calories than they should be and so are gaining weight. It seems to come down to a number of factors:
Denial -- some of the people in the interview swear they eat healthy then surveillance shows them get take-out burgers or Chinese food dinners 1-2 times a day. I know that most people watching the show figure that's exactly what is happening with every contestant but in truth it was not always the case.
Simplistic assumptions – “For lunch I only eat a sandwich”, “Some meals I only eat salad.” We appear to make quick assumptions about the healthiness of a meal based on its title. It's a salad so it's healthy, right? It's just one sandwich! But not all sandwiches and salads are created equal. One person did just have a chicken and vegetable sandwich for lunch, but the chicken was fried and had barbecue sauce, there was a lot of cheese, and it was on a high-calorie flatbread. The one sandwich had just over 1000 calories. Another person's “one sandwich” was essentially a huge donair kebab (kebab meat, fries and cheese rolled in a pita), and well over 1000 calories. One person’s salad had so much tahini sauce it looked like coleslaw -- and had over 600 calories. And they went back for seconds. It’s just salad, right?
Not noticing the little snacks -- that biscuit with a cup of tea, that couple mouthfuls trying out other people's food, the nuts or chips that were sitting in a bowl that you reached for once, it was all adding up. When the people found out just how many calories they been consuming through these invisible snacks it was probably one of the biggest shocks. You just don't notice these things. Cutting these out could probably be one of the biggest changes a person could make towards losing weight but I think the only way to really do it, because you tend to not notice when you're eating them, is to just make sure you never buy them and bring them into the house. Don't keep things like biscuits and chips hanging around.
Not counting the drinks -- people really, really, underestimate the amount of calories they get from alcohol and sodas. Not only do they underestimate how many calories are in those drinks they underestimate just how much they are drinking. One lady's food diary noted she had four drinks over the course of the week, and on the first night of surveillance had at least that many or more. Another guy figured he had a couple of beers a night, which turned out to be more like 3-4, and on a weekend night out with friends he would have more than a dozen. Another guy turned out to be eating just the right amount of calories he needed, but it was topped up with over 1500 calories a week of soda. If you're trying to lose weight you need to seriously cut back on the drinking. Go with diet soda if you can't kick the soda habit (I'm trying to kick it myself but still have the case of diet soda), but in the end you’ll be better off cutting soda out altogether and drinking water.
But for people who are morbidly overweight there is another option, surgery. Which leads us to the third show . . .
More like a documentary than a reality show, a morbidly overweight person is scheduled for gastric bypass surgery and the show follows the journey. They have lengthy interviews with the person before and after while the surgeon also explains some of the underlying issues and problems with this type of procedure. The show doesn't pull punches and always shows scenes of the doctor doing the surgery.
A lot of people see surgery has a magical way to simply lose weight but it is a major surgery and has a lot of risks. One of the people didn't recover and died in hospital a few days later (that episode really surprised me). Occasionally a person's heart, already overburdened by the obesity, just can't handle the stress of a major surgery.
I really liked the doctor on this show, he seems to really care about his patients and does not believe this is simply an issue of how fat people should just eat less to lose weight. He talks a lot about the problems surrounding food addiction, yo-yo dieting, and why it is that psychologically so many people struggle with losing weight. He doesn’t think shaming fat people helps at all, in fact it tends to drive them further into comfort eating. He and his fellow doctors at the clinic also host a garden party every year and invite all of their former patients so they can catch up with them and see how they're doing (and so can the viewer, the show has run for multiple seasons so you get to see how people from previous episodes have been doing). Everyone discusses how the surgery was truly life-changing for them and allowed them to get their lives back together.
So if you're thinking of losing weight maybe take some time to go on YouTube and look these shows up.