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."
"Or maybe just once a day."
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.