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"I Used to Be Fat"

TV Show Review
By Gary F. Zeolla

"I Used to Be Fat" is a reality TV series on MTV. New episodes are shown on Tuesdays at 10:00 pm, but repeats are seen at other times. Repeats are also sometimes shown on LOGO cable network.

The Premise and Overview

Being MTV, the show usually features a teenager, most often a graduating high school senior who is overweight. He or she wants to shed their extra pounds before starting college in the fall.

Their goals are often very lofty, sometimes looking to lose up to 100 pounds over the summer. That amounts to wanting to losing about a pound a day. That is much more than is generally recommended. It's the type of numbers only seen on weight loss shows, most notably "The Biggest Loser." Most experts tell people that it is best to lose weight slowly, more like 1-2 pounds a week. That gives the person time to adjust to a new way of eating and their bodies a chance to adjust to the new, lower bodyweight. Rapid weight loss very often leads to just as rapid weight gain. But follow up episodes of "The Biggest Loser" show that at least some can lose weight that rapidly and keep it off.

But be that as it may, back to "I Used to Be Fat." On the show, the teenager is given a personal training, and train they do, usually several hours a day. The personal trainer also teaches the teenager about healthier eating habits.

But that is where things can get tricky. Being teenagers, they are not the ones who usually do the cooking or food buying in the family. That is usually the parents. So the only way for the teen to really be able to change his or her diet is to get the parents on board. They need to agree to purchase healthy foods, get rid of unhealthy foods, and to prepare healthier meals. But that is where there is often a problem.

The parents often do not support the teen in this regard and still bring unhealthy foods into the house and cook as they always did. And that lack of support can derail the teen's weight loss goals.

            But despite the obstacles, more often than not, the teens do lose a significant amount of weight during the summer, although, they rarely reach their original lofty goals. But still the transformations can be dramatic, with some of the teens losing dozens of pounds in just a 12 week period.

            The show then often shows the teenager a few weeks later in college. And most often, they have not only managed to avoid the "freshman 15" but have continued with losing weight. So once on their own, they seem to have learned their lessons in terms of how to lose weight, and continue to eat healthy and to exercise.

Family Influence

            The most interesting part of this show is the focus on the family dynamics. It shows how losing weight really needs to be a family affair. It is very difficult for one person in a family to try to lose weight when everyone else in the family is eating unhealthy foods. It is especially difficult to sit down to dinner with your family and only have unhealthy, high fat, foods being offered. And having junk food laying around the house makes the temptation to go off of the diet very great.

            But this is not to say that it is impossible to be the only one in a family who wants to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle. The fact remains is that as a teen, he or she is ultimately the one responsible for what goes into his or her mouth, and the teen is the person who is responsible for working out or not. If we were talking about younger children it might be a different story, but teens generally have plenty of independence to eat and exercise as they seem fit. But it does make things much harder if the family is not on board.

The Holidays

            Given that this show generally follows the teens over the summer and into the fall, it does not show the teens having to deal with holiday temptations. But given I am writing this in early December, it hard not to wonder what happens to these teens when they come home from college for Christmas vacation. Most likely they will be faced with many temptations, with lots of Christmas cookies and other holiday sweets and junk foods abounding. One can just hope that they have learned their lessons well enough to keep from overindulging the holiday treats.

            This of course, is something that everyone has to deal with this time of year. And it can be very difficult. But I have found that eating just a small "sample" of holiday treats can be enough to satisfy cravings and curb the temptations. There's just no reason to gorge on cookies to be satisfied with them. Just eat one or two and try to focus on conversations with family and friends rather than on the food.

            Of course, this again, is where it would help if the whole family were trying to eat healthier. If there is not so much junk food around it would make things a lot easier to stay away from it. At the least, the conscientious host should have healthy, low calorie options available.

Emotional Eating

Another aspect of weight loss that "I Used to Be Fat" brings out is the issue of emotional eating. Very often the teens have gotten overweight because they have turned to food for comfort, to cover up a lack of social life or other emotional scars in their lives. And this again is something that many people deal with.

            It is very easy to turn to food for comfort when feeling lonely or depressed. But that is a habit and pattern of life that can be very self-destructive. It can lead to not just being overweight, but eating disorders of various kinds. This is when the personal training almost has to become a counselor and discuss these personal feelings with the teen.

            And this is true for anyone who eats emotionally. To break the habit often requires some outside help in the form of a professional counselor or physiologist. If we are talking about a true eating disorder, then some professional help is almost certainly required.

This is also again where family help can be needed. But unfortunately, families often seems oblivious to the fact that their teenage daughter or son has an eating problem. This is often because the parents have the same emotional eating pattern. But this is where an "outsider" can often help all family members to recognize their dysfunctional attitude towards food.

Social Eating

            Friends can also have a dramatic impact on the eating aspects of teens. But in the show, this isn't shown as often. Maybe it's because they are following teens after high school graduation and thus the teens aren't hanging with their old friends as much as they used to. Or maybe they just don't have the permission from their friends to film them while they are socializing over food.

            But socializing over food is a big part of not just teens but many adult's lives as well. And if this socializing includes "pig-out" sessions of junk food, then that can be a big contributor to weight problems.

            But what a person needs to establish with their friends is that they are serious about losing weight and can no longer gorge like they used to. And then prove this to their friends by not doing so for a few outings. After a while, if they are really friends, they won't keep pushing you to eat foods or quantities of food that you have explained to them that you no longer want to consume.

Thoughts

            As stated, it is generally best to lose weight at a slow pace in order to give time to adjust to new eating and exercise habits, to give the body a chance to adjust to the lower weights, and thus to give the person the best chance to keep the weight off. But the teens on "I Used to be "Fat" are in an unique position and time of their lives.

            It is a once in a lifetime event to graduate high school and to have a summer off before starting college in the fall.  And if the teen is not working long hours, this might be the only time of their lives when they will have about 12 weeks with the time to exercise several hours a day and thus to make a dramatic change in their bodies. Also, the prospect of "starting over" in college with a new body image can give them the incentive to stick with such an arduous program. And the loss of weight will give the teens more self-confidence when starting their new lives in college. So the premise of this show is not that far-fetched.'

            That said, the teens rarely reach their full weight loss goals. Most fall somewhat short, but they usually make dramatic loses, losing dozens of pounds. Only a couple of times have the teens fallen far short of their goals. And those were the times when they did not have their family's support.

            Once in school, trying to maintain their new habits is where the real challenge starts. But since they are starting over in their social lives, it actually makes it easier to establish from the start with their new friends that they are dedicated to maintaining an exercise program and following healthy eating habits. Their new friends will just assume that is their "normal" way of living, and hopefully, will not try to derail it.     And as said, updates show that the teens do seem to be able to maintain their new habits in college.

            So maybe for someone who is very overweight, setting aside a few weeks to try to make some dramatic changes in your weight could be a good idea for adults as well, if the opportunity should permit itself. Time is of course the biggest constraint. And that is why most who set off on a weight loss program need to be content with "only" exercising an hour a day and a 1-2 pound weight loss per week schedule. But still, that is 52-104 pounds in a year. So dramatic changes are still possible, it will just take longer for the average person.

Conclusion

                "I Used to be "Fat" is just one of many weight loss shows that can be seen on TV. But it is an interesting one, especially I would guess for the younger crowd. It is on hiatus as I write this in December, but hopefully, MTV will air new shows after the New Year, or at least repeats on MTV or LOGO will be aired. So check it out if you get the opportunity. Additional tips on eating healthily, starting an exercise program, and weight loss are given in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book.

The above article was posted on this Web site December 3, 2011.

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