Fat Reality Shows

With Carnie Wilson’s “Unstapled” and Kirstie Alley’s “Big Life” debuting this season, I count six reality shows about fat people including “The Biggest Loser,” “Biggest Loser: Couples,” “Ruby” and “Celebrity Fit Club.” As America’s weight obsession baloons into ever larger proportions, so do Americans.

Wilson and Alley’s new programs are strikingly similar, both featuring women who famously, very publicly lost weight (Carnie with a stomach stapling broadcast live on the internet, Alley as a spokesperson for Jenny Craig) then gained it back, now returning to our screens to lose it once more.

A long article in this week’s People Magazine details Carnie’s new show. This time she will be guided by Oprah phenom and protege, Dr. Oz. After dramatically weighing Carnie on camera, Oz reported to his audience that she is “morbidly obese.”  But no worries: Oz and “his team” have  prescribed a 90 day program that includes “daily excercise and food journaling.”

Carnie tells People, “I made these beautiful, lean ground meatballs,” but Dr. Mike Rozien, Dr. Oz’s “enforcer” told her: “Dump the meatballs.” People then asks her, “Do you like to excercise?” She says: “I loathe it. I just want a big tub of buttered popcorn, and I want to lie on the couch and watch a movie.” Carnie goes on to say, “I don’t eat what I bake. I’ve never had a slice of my own cheesecake. I’ve only had a bite.”

Carnie sounds to me like a woman who has never once in her life lay down on her couch with a bowl of buttered popcorn without feeling horrible and guilty and ashamed. I’d bet the same is true for her meatballs– lean or not. And can you imagine baking a cheesecake and only allowing yourself one bite?

Carnie doesn’t have too few rules about food, she has too many. I worry about her recovery, because I honestly believe that there are more concentrated crazies in the eating disorder/ recovery world than anywhere else on the planet. Think about it– who wants to grow up and become a nutritionist? Food obsessed people. And those are the ones supposedly advising the “sick.”

I know because I was a sick one, not overweight, but bulimic. In my journey to get better, I was told by almost every therapist-expert-nutritinionist from New York to California that I would never recover, but be “in recovery” for life. At best, I could “manage my disease.” Now I think I understand why they say this. Health, to many eating disorder experts and maybe to America, means being just the perfect amount of sick; we’re supposed to be obsessed with food and dieting and our appearance; we’re supposed to have the knowledge and skill to calculate fat grams, calories, time spent excercising and BMI equations like modern day Einsteins. Understanding basic nutrition can be useful, but obsession with it– “healthy” people writing down daily food intake, multitple TV programs on fat people, a first lady’s national campaign that includes the President publicly calling his young daughter chubby– becomes unhealthy, especially confusing and damaging when it’s portrayed as it’s opposite.

Even though I was told I would never get better, I am 100%, over ten years later. What got me healthy was escaping from all the “experts” I encountered over the years; and all of their rules, restrictions, regulations, and diets they all prescribed– all different and contradictory, by the way, just like today with Dean Ornish vs Atkins vs the ever-changing food pyramid vs counting fat grams or calories or whatever’s going to be the trend in 2010– eating local? Works for me, I live in California.

When I was submerged in the eating disorder/ recovery world, I was told off the wall stuff– just like what Oz may be telling Carnie– that I was  “addicted” to certain foods (or “allergic”) like sugar and flour; these were white powders that had an effect on me just  like cocaine. I paid people $175 an hour to tell me this– that just like a coke addict, if I took one bite of any food that had white powder (bread, muffins, cereal– we’re talking wheat here) like any addict, I would lose all control, eat and eat and eat and never stop. This, by the way, is what every bulimic fears: if she starts eating, she will consume the whole planet. This is a central misconception she must abandon in order to get better; that there is, in fact, always a natural boundary, an end, a stopping.

This is how I recovered– already briefly written about in this blog but summarized here. I stopped writing down what I ate. I stopped trying to convince myself sugar and flour were like cocaine. (by the way, right when I got healthy, I did testing for food allergies, something not one nutritionist or therapist ever recommended to me– guess what? not allergic!)

I stopped thinking being thin was good and being fat was bad. I read an amazing book caled When Women Stop Hating their Bodies and went to a program called Beyond Hunger in Marin. This is what they taught me there: if you eat a loaf of bread, go out and buy more loaves. Same with a bag of chips. Fill your house with anything you’ve ever wanted in abundance and eat whetever you want and replenish it.  As I did that and for the first time in my adult life, allowed myself to eat what I wanted, whenever I wanted, without feeling bad or guilty, I got back in touch with real hunger and real fullness; my eating disorder vanished.

It’s true that I was never “overweight” but I believe obese people, so often, along with bulimics and anoexics, regulate food more than most other people, are more conscious and more knowledgable about health and fat grams and calories than the rest. Most don’t need a national campaign to educate them further.

Oz tells Carnie she “needs to break her addiction to food….she fears passing on her addiction to her daughters. That will motivate her more than a magazine.” Carnie agrees, “I have to be a teacher to my daughters. Lola started to notice commercials on TV with people who are trying to lose weight and she looks at me. She’s thinking about this stuff and its getting to her.”

I wish Carnie would learn to listen to her body and teach her daughters to do the same instead of listening to all the noise on commercials and reality shows, including, sadly, her own. People with eating disorders don’t need more instruction and facts, they need less. Food is not a drug or a moral barometer. Food is food is food. Can we have a reality show about that?

3 thoughts on “Fat Reality Shows

  1. Carnie has been using The Fresh Diet (www.thefreshdiet.com) since her DR oz appearance in January & has lost 7 pounds. Carnie has also signed as the official spokesperson of The Fresh Diet. She chose this diet as the first & only to endorse after realizing that every other FAD diet is just that, a FAD. Feeling good is about eating real healthy fresh meals. Not anything else!

  2. Cristel–

    Thanks for your comment. I think French people seem so much healthier around food.

    Your plans for your kids sound great, except I disagree with ‘eat what you are given.’ I think its really helpful for kids to learn early to get in touch with their own hunger. I try not to get my emotions (or their manners) involved in making them eat anything I’ve cooked. They are not allowed to say “yuk” or “gross” though : ) I don’t think anyone should have to eat to please other people, especially eating to appease parents.

    Check out my post on kids and food which goes into that further, here’s the link below. (It’s called “girls and food” under the category Eating Disorders on the blog.)



  3. This was a very touching post. There is something about first person reporting, or commentary that is so much more powerful than third person thinking head” arguments. Like harper’s magazine’s reporting philosophy.
    Given your mom’s totally free for all eating habits it’s hard to imagine you had an eating disorder!!! We always thought it must be paradise to have a mom who snacks on french candy in every train ride! Obviously not that simple.
    My husband thinks everyone in my French family has an eating disorder. I think he uses the term too liberally and part of the problem for Americans ( and I don’t mean the people who are morbidly obese, I actually have never met a single person in that category, which is indication that this is an impermeable class and
    geographic divide) is that they have few culinary traditions so everything is up for redefinition, all the time. It’s totally normal to think about food all the time. Food is good, without it we would be dead and our ancestors probably thought about it a lot more then we do. It is also normal to hold back from eating things that make you feel ill after the initial craving is satisfied, but you”‘ll probably never beat the craving. That is why wr have feasts. In France, my teenage friends’ family would expect sickness on the days after xmas and equip everyone with the equivalent of tums. Oh, and a lot of french folks my parents age do lent for 40 days.
    The difference is that all these eating patterns are done socially, in the company of others and that people talk about it. Now, I’m not saying no French person has am eating disorder: only that the term is used medically and not casually by peers or health professionals.
    As for my kids, I think I am going to teach them the following: 1) eat what u are given, In particular if someone cooked it for you; 2) eat in the company of others, or at least at a table with plate and silverware; 3) when you cook always make enough to share with others and invite someone to join u; 4) and I hope to transmit some love, if not respect for home cooking, which may not be obvious, cause like my mom, i tire of having to think about what we will eat today- the job never ends…

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