You Are What You Eat

There’s this show on Channel 4 called You Are What You Eat.  The basic premise is you get two fat people with disgusting eating habits and a bossy nutritionist tells them what they’re doing wrong.  She leaves them with an eating plan and returns 8 weeks later to find they’ve lost weight, and HURRAH! Two reformed fatties are released back into society!

This show simultaneously fascinates and appalls me.  They have scoured the British Isles to uncover the most truly extreme cases of poor eating.  Last week’s couple would put seven sugar cubes in each cup of tea, and had a separate freezer just for their ice cream supply.  The folk on the week before fried their eggs in two inches of oil and each drank two litres of Coke a day.  The week before that was a family who had processed meat and ketchup sandwiches for lunch and take out for every dinner.  Their cupboards were stuffed with chocolates, cookies, cakes and crisps.  It was truly horrifying.

Dr Gillian McKeith is the bossy nutritionist in question.  She barges into the houses of these apparent freaks, ransacks their pantries and expresses her shock and disapproval at the complete lack of nutrition in their diet.  Then they get a table and lay out the food these people have eaten in a week, so they can be visually shocked by their own gluttony.  One family had gone through four litres of oil in a week.

Now that the fatties have been thoroughly chastised, Dr G gets them to poke out their tongues so she can tell them they’re lacking in all sorts of vitamins and must have no sex drive and raging PMS. She then gets them on the floor, shirts lifted, so she can prod their towering bellies and tell them their digestive systems are in crisis.  Then she whisks them off to a clinic for a colonic irrigation, where each week we’re subjected to their pained expressions as their crumbly fecal matter whimpers down a tube.

And that’s just before the first commerical break.  When we come back we get a shot of the couple in their bathing suits, the camera on the floor looking up as to make their bodies look as wide as possible.  Then Dr G sits them down to tell them, "Your poos are terrible! I’ve never seen such terrible poos! You have no fibre in your diet!".  When the fat people look suitably ashamed, Dr G says, "When I’m finished with you, your poos will be so great you will gather your family round to look at them!".

Just when I am ready to vomit we get a beautiful shot of another table full of food, this time all the wholesome stuff they will be eating for the next two months.  It looks gorgeous, oodles of fresh fruit and vegies and lentils, seeds.  Many of the couples have been prescribed vegetarian diets, while some had chicken and fish included.  In another piece of champagne televison, they always have footage of the fatties being spoonfed some lentil mush or pureed quinoa and cabbage (whatever).  They and always they gag and moan and exclaim, "I ent gonnae eat tha’!".  Then you’ll see them wrinkling up their noses at Dr G’s menus, complaining about the exercise, whatever makes them look the most pathetic and ungrateful and a reinforces the stereotype of fat people being miserable lazy bastards.

(Observation – have you noticed how Fat Brits on television are always portayed as prickly and defensive?  Compare and contrast with our large friends across the Atlantic.  Fat Americans will break down and cry on the shoulder of a TV psychologist and say, Yes! I am fat and weak and I had a terrible childhood. I surrender, please help me! — whereas Fat Brits on telly tend to be cranky, proud of their beer/lard diet and full of hiss and crackle when Experts try to tell them what to do.)

Next up we have footage of the people muddling through the week and generally cocking it up, all accompanied by a smarmy, condescending, Hehe Get A Load Of These Hopeless Fatties voiceover.  Then Dr G pays a "surprise visit" to see how they’re doing and give them a patronizing lecture in her bossy Scots accent, "If you don’t do what I say, you will have no sex drive and/or YOU WILL DIIIIEEE!". 

So then they make a begrudging effort and find themselves actually quite enjoying their new diet.  There’s all of thirty seconds dedicated to this part of the process, then you get magic wand noise and voila, it’s Week 8, and look at them now! 

Dr G drops by to see how her minions are doing.  "Oh my GAWD!" she trills, "LOOK at you.  You’re a whole new PERSON!"

Cue the former fatties, awkwardly spinning round and grinning into the camera. They almost always seem to have lost two to three stone (about 30-40 lb) and look fantastic.  The makeover and new hairdo courtesy of Channel 4 certainly helps their cause.

"So Mrs and Mrs Fatty," chirps Dr G,  "Eight weeks ago you were staring death in the face.  But look at you now! Do you feel good?"
"Oh we feel GREAT.  We have SO much energy."
"And your sex drive?"
"Oh we fuck like rabbits, at least twice a day."
"And your poos?"
"Solid as a rock."

Dr G asks if they will continue with her regime and of course they chime in, "Yes Dr G".  Satisfied, she hops back onto her broomstick and disappears down the dingy suburban street in search of her next victim.  Roll credits.

Now like I said, I tune in every week.  And I like her diet plans, they are reasonable and full of delicious food.  They’re not extreme, they’re something you could follow for life.  I admire her attempt to try and help Brits eat better while simultaneously flogging her book.  I think her heart is in the right place.  I just worry about what happens to these people once Dr G is out of their lives.  Has she really taught them anything?  Has their mindset changed?  Do they know how to carry on this new lifestyle without her spontaneous checkups?

They look so pleased with themselves, all brimming with optimism and growing confidence, but they worry me.  When asked if they’d keep the new regime, one lady said, "Of course.  But not as strict, like Dr Gillian.  I’m really missing gravy…"

And another episode, where a fat family was apparently reformed, they asked the kids how they were coping.

"I miss McDonalds. And Burger King."
"And KFC," chimed in another kid.
"I think we should just have it once a month."
"Or once a week, maybe."
"Yeah."
"Or maybe just once a day."
"Yeah"

I worry what happens when the cameras have gone away.

I’m also troubled by the extreme cases they show.  When you see the list of what these people ate in a week scrolling down the screen (6 packets chocolate biscuits, 20 loaves white bread, 10 hamburgers, 12 litres soda), the average viewer at home is squealing, "Oh my god! That is disgusting! Well, at least I’m not that bad," then reaches for their own bag of chips.

By showing these extremes I think many people will think they’re off the hook.  I know I’ve done it myself. I know a lady who’s a bit of a serial dieter. She’s dumped Weight Watchers and now she’s on Atkins.  She was blabbing on about how Atkins really works and she can eat her roast peppers and beef for lunch and no carbs.  So I look at the "meat" she is eating and it is some processed schnitzel type thing, coated in some hodge podge of crumbs, sugar, spices and E numbers.  Carb free, my arse.

Of course, I am all smug there with my salad roll and thinking, "Well jeez, I’m not that bad," and ignoring the fact I ate half a block of chocolate the night before (albeit dark) and slept in and missed my Pump class.  It’s all very well to be horrifed by someone else’s eating habits, but one really needs to watch what you’re putting in your own gob and what it’s doing to you.

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28 thoughts on “You Are What You Eat

  1. I hate to say it, but I could probably be on that show. But I’d be the one blubbering and asking for help!

  2. This entry had me cracking up!!! I could completely picture the tables of food and the cranky Brits. But I agree with you – how many of those people will actually stick with their healthy eating plans? And how many of us slip because we say, ‘Hey, at least I’m not THAT bad’? I think that when it comes down to it, the only successful diet is not a diet but a lifestyle change, and the only comparing we should be doing is that of our old selves to our new, healthy selves.

  3. jude – she’s been living in america for quite awhile! i think a lof of the scots has been knocked right out of her 🙂 just something about the way she says POO!

  4. and i wouldn’t mind being on that show too. well i’d like it if you didn’t have to actually be on the telly. i would just like to be harassed by a professional. hehe.

  5. I understand the tv ratings game, but it saddens me that shaming people into changing their lifestyles is considered an acceptable thing to do. I think it would be better to send these people to school.

    My mom has type 2 diabetes and we went to see a nutritionist in the beginning for some education about fibre and carbs and how fibre counteracts the level of sugar carbs dump into your blood. Fascinating stuff. I asked the nutritionist if her education has changed her life. She said totally. She can’t put anything into her mouth without first weighing the pros and cons of eating it. She said she still ate junk food, but just knowing what it does to your body on such a basic level really makes her think twice about overdoing it. And I must say that the nutritionist had a great figure and great skin. So she clearly practiced what she preached.

  6. And lest I sounded a bit high-and-mighty about shaming people, I totally would watch that show if I got it here. I’m not too good to partake, or anything. 😉

  7. Sometimes I just don’t get it. You Brits get all the good TV. We just get half-assed “American” remakes, which are never as good as the originals. Even BBC America can’t make up for it. I’m such a sucker for trashy tv…

  8. I can’t believe she examines, and then talks about, their poo! That is icky! Of course, if it was on over here in Oz, then I’d be all over it like white on rice…

  9. Dudes.. I’m sure ch. 9 will be putting this show somewhere in their schedule. That stations loves prickly British shows (Can we all say “Wife Swap?)

    And I’ll be watching, naturally 🙂

  10. How foul. That is typical diet guru shit. Hit the extreme cases and leave the rest of us feeling quite justified that we eat healthy. I really enjoy your works of journalism legendary diet girl and can’t wait for the next entry

  11. That’s hilarious! I always look forward to your writing, but this one had me laughing out loud – at work!

  12. YES! YES! YES! I watched it tonight as well where the woman went thru HALF A TUB OF BUTTER A DAY! And the doctor going ON AND ON about how she just must have the itchiest thrush! My god, doesn’t it just make the whole nation feel like saints? But I do think Doc Gillian might have a bit of a fetish with feces. I have to say, when they show the ‘tube’ during the colonic, I have to turn away. I’m all for gratuitous entertainment but even *I* can’t stomach that. Another laugh out loud entry… brilliant 🙂

  13. I watched last night’s show as well – for the first time after reading dg’s entry. I would love to have Dr G come and try to sort me out but I’m not extreme enough to be on the show. I looked at Channel 4’s online application for the next series and they want people who eat in extreme ways – lots of fat or only jam sandwiches or 10 bowls of coco pops a day (quotes from the form!).

    I hear what you say about feeling saintly about our own eating but it just makes me depressed. I KNOW something is wrong with my food intake because I am 20 stone – like that woman last night. But I don’t eat half a tub of butter everyday. I don’t have cupboards full of crisps and fudge. I don’t eat fried food. I don’t want to be one of those people who makes excuses and pretends I’m not doing anything wrong – but geez I wish someone like Dr G would come and tell me what I am doing wrong. I will admit I’m not perfect. This week my partner and I shared a large bar of chocolate two nights running – but this is not a regular occurance and I couldn’t tell you the last time we had chocolate at home prior to those nights. (I was seduced by a 2 for £1.80 deal at Tescos.) I have a sweet tooth and have to battle the urge to eat chocolate every day but I take that one day at a time and resist more often than not. I use the no-fat grill or dryfry (no oil) meat when we have it. Last night we had steamed salmon with baby potatoes and broccoli (no butter or anything else added). I’ve cut out sugar from tea and coffee.

    I feel cheated because I really have made changes and I expect my weight to be decreasing evn if that is a slow reduction. Last week I was 3 pounds heavier than I was 15 weeks ago when I started Rosemary Conley (again). I’ve given that up in disgust because I’m just wasting my money at the weigh-ins.

    I really don’t know what I’m doing wrong. So I watched that programme last night and felt bad because it was obvious what that couple were doing wrong and the solution was equally obvious. I’ve always wanted my changes to be life changes – ones I could live with – but I don’t know where to go next or what to do now.

  14. I havent read your diary in a long time and I know feel that Ive missed it.

    I also love shows like that. I hope that one channel will buy it and show it here.

    But I must admit that I only like shows like that when Im behaving myself. When Im pigging out it makes me feel horrible and I cant stand it cause I feel like even more a failor. That I will end up there too.

    Ive been doing the same as you lately, lost some and then gained the same over and over again. Im still about 10 kg heavier then you but hope that Im not on the right track and going to start loosing again. I so want to be under 100 and it is not far away.

    Saw on one episode that you were going to go to Scandinavia. Im in Sweden and now going to read all your old entries to see if I see where you went. If I would have known I would have loved to give you some tips for your trip but maybe you already had lots of information.

  15. I actually like the show and think it’s pretty educational. Yes they do have to dress up the entertainment value – by the “look at these apalling fatties” tactics you mention. But people really talk about the show, at my work – I know several people (not necessarily overwight people, but who want to improve their diets) who have really re-examined what they eat as a result of seeing the show. I think more people are apt to think, yes I must do something about my own diet -rather than just laughing at the excesses of the people on the show. I actually bought the book. And the book has no “look at these fatsos” stuff in it – just good nutritional advice.

  16. rhiannon – i think you’re right in many cases. some people at work are so horrified they have gone off white bread. there is merit in shock value! does the book have any of the recipes she has on the show? there were a few last week i’d like to get hold of

    clazza – i saw that link on your blog just now, that CV sounds a bit dodgy eh? hehehe…

  17. Very good comments on this page. My hat goes off to anyone who loses weight and keeps it off. I have struggled with my weight all my life and sometimes people have a problem accepting you as you are. It was with that in mind that I launched a new dating website for the “not so slim”. It is called http://www.trulyplumptious.com

  18. Since my partner moved into my house I have been subjected to a whole vista of programmes outside the realms of Men and Motors and Discovery Science, this little gem being one of them. I can only say that it really is compulsive viewing, and has made me look at my own eating habits – not necessarily for weight loss, but just to eat more healthily.

    Like you, Diet Girl, I have often wondered about the “What happens when Witchy Woman flies off?” thing, and I believe our questions will be answered on Wednesday (09/02/05). The lady that had the butter “fetish” that someone mentioned is being revisited by Dr McK in true “6 months later” stylee!

    Is this where we find that she’s now lost 240 lbs in 6 months, and NOW has to apply to “Extrmeme Makeover UK” to remove all the excess skin?

  19. I know someone who interviewed her last summer, and she said that for the first series Channel 4 wanted people who would have a “miraculous” turnaround. She said she was currently arguing for the 2nd series, to have people who were less extreme, that viewers at home would be able to identify with more easily, but wasn’t convinced that would make “good TV”.

    Like do you think the freaks who go on “How Clean is Your House?” REALLY live like that?

  20. TO BE HONEST FOOD MORE THAN MEDICINE CAN CURE A LOT OF NASTY ILLNESSES DR GILLIAN IS JUST DOING HER JOB/ WHEN PEOPLE ARE ILL OR OBESE THEY NEED TO EAT WELL NOT SHIT.

  21. TO BE HONEST FOOD MORE THAN MEDICINE CAN CURE A LOT OF NASTY ILLNESSES DR GILLIAN IS JUST DOING HER JOB/ WHEN PEOPLE ARE ILL OR OBESE THEY NEED TO EAT WELL NOT SHIT.

  22. Pardon my language, but christ, how I chortled at this one! It’s so right-on. They make it look sooooo easy. Yeah, I would have made a lot more progress if I had someone chicken-hawking everything I was eating.

    P.S. Since I’m reading this so far after the original post date, I find it additionally funny to see someone else referred to as “Dr. G.” 😀