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Wednesday, November 8

Too Big To Walk?

I'd like to self-confessingly declare myself the sort of person who is quite likely to get a slap while watching TV for making sarcastic remarks about the subject of the program, the way the program is made, the quality of the writing, performing, whatever. I sometimes can't help myself. In much the same way, I couldn't help myself while the Simpsons was on last night - I laughed very long and hard. I don't hate TV, I just sometimes despair of what people choose to put on it.

Anyway, last night I watched an episode of Too Big To Walk. This is a programme with a simple subject. Take some very fat people. Give them advice on how to eat healthily, and send them on a very long walk. Walking about 10 miles a day, they will try to get from the south coast of England up to Edinburgh.

The Times review of this for Monday's show was exceedingly negative:
People who are overweight have become the new pariahs of society. This disgusting series will merely reinforce that prejudice. Eight overweight people, who each weigh well over 20 stone, set out to walk from Devon to Scotland. They are in shocking physical condition, but all recognise the challenge as an opportunity to start anew. After only six miles of enforced waddling, their old habits reassert themselves. They squabble, whine, bitch and stuff themselves with junk food. The programme doesn’t bother to address the underlying reason for their addiction or suggest they change their diet from the outset. It is cheap television at its crudest, laziest and most hateful.

Perhaps Monday's programme was very negative, or perhaps the reviewer missed the point. I was quite captivated by this programme. It's a short series, covering something like 4 or 5 weeks in total. There is very little in the way of judgement on the part of the programme makers and the process of learning about the effects of obesity, its causes, and how this grand adventure might kick start the road to recovery is left to the participants.

This is a form of extreme staged group therapy. From the show I saw last night, it appears to be working. The fact that it's a group exercise means that some people are acting more strongly than they would and some more weakly - that's group dynamics. The fact that there is an opportunity for people to talk to camera (or at least they're told to) means that they have to come to terms with what they're doing right and wrong and say it out loud on their own terms.

There are some devices in the challenge to make matters more extreme. The coach is winding them up to walk faster, eat on a scale they're simply not used to, and lose what amounts to ridiculously large amounts of weight in a given week. But, when they get used to the fact that the walking doesn't help them if they're troughing huge quantities of junk food, they are able to get the rewards that their efforts deserve, some of them losing over a stone in a given week.

It's good to see them gleeful in their success. It's touching to see them desperate in their inability to refuse junk food, regretting it, but continuing as though programmed. It's interesting to see how other personality attributes may or may not be attributable to the cause of their obesity.

I think I act as though I think that fat people are lazy and greedy individuals with no self-control. I do that because that is, in many ways, how I see myself. I don't honestly believe that obesity comes from being a victim of something, and it's more probably that the fat person will assign some sort of victim status to themselves to absolve themselves from the blame of being so overweight. At the end of the day, these guys have proved something which I've proved to myself time after time: if you eat less, ensure you eat more healthily, and exercise a bit, then your weight will probably drop. Fast.

One of the characters in the programme nearly touched on one of my feelings about obesity. He was talking about overeating as an addiction in the same way as alcoholism or drug addiction. I think I agree. A lot of my own overeating habits are behavioural, rather than anything else. I mentioned a couple of posts ago how I sometimes feel myself willed to eat something I don't really need to or want to. I just kind of do it. My trick for weightloss is to condition myself not to eat certain things which I find myself conditioned to eating and which are quick to pile on the calories. Instead, I end up snacking on something else - a lower calorie/lower fat substitute... but I'm still doing it. This is better, but imperfect. The fact that my weightloss programme is temporarily (honest) stuck in a rut is a testament to this problem.

However, the missing link here is not just that overeating is an addiction, it's that you can't give it up. If someone's alcoholic, you could reasonably suggest to them that they change their life in such a way as not to bring themselves into contact with a drinking culture. However, how can you suggest to someone that they don't bring themselves into contact with eating. We need to eat to survive. Some people don't have the switch that tells them that they've eaten enough. Some people see food as an opportunity - something to be eaten. "Oh, that's left, well, let's not let it go to waste..." or "Oooh, I like that smell, I want some...". As one of these people, I don't know if it's ever possible to get to a stage where I can truly rely on myself to regulate my intake of food. Yet who wants to be on a diet for the rest of their life? By definition it seems to be a prison.

I didn't make any remarks about the fatties on display. I didn't find it sick. I found it frustrating in places and uplifting in others. Basically, I felt like it was about me. Though I don't weigh way over 24 stone (any more) and my waist size enables me to buy clothes from Gap (yikes... only just) and my top half is a single XL, rather than several XLs (I've worn 4XL before, though that was very big)... well, I know what it's like.

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