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Supersize vs. Superskinny

TV Show Review

By Gary F. Zeolla

Supersize vs. Superskinny is an interesting show on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). I first saw the show when OWN aired a "marathon" of episodes on Labor Day 2011. I DVRed all of those episodes and set my DVR to tape new and repeats since then. So I have now seen quite a few episodes. New episodes air on Monday nights, with repeats at various other times during the week.

Premise and Set-up

The basic premise is simple. Take a "supersized" (i.e. morbidly obese) person and for five days have him or her switch diets with a "superskinny" (i.e., a very thin) person. The obese person has to live on the miniscule portions of the skinny person while the skinny person has to try to stuff down the ridiculously large portions the obese person normally consumes.

The show starts with each participant being weighed and measured. The show is produced in Britain, so the bodyweights are given in "stone" plus pounds. A "stone" is 14 pounds. So if a skinny person weighs 87 pounds, it will be said he or she weighs "6 stone, 3 pounds." This can get a little confusing, But just remember the conversion of a stone being 14 pounds, and you can do the math as needed. Usually, the superskinny is 10-30 pounds underweight, while the supersizer weighs at least double what he or she should weigh.

Body parts measured are usually waist, hips, upper arms, and thighs. These are in inches, so there is no confusion there.

After the measurements, the two polar opposites meet, dressed just in their underwear, so you can really see how opposite they are. They will often compare their extremities, and sometimes the overweight person's forearm will be larger than the skinny person's thigh.

Then Dr. Christian Jessen will come in and take the two into a room with two vertical, transparent tubes. The tubes are about 8" in diameter and about 6' high. A week's worth of each person's food will then begin dropping into each tube, starting with the skinny's person diet.

First will be dropped what he or she eats for breakfast, if anything. then lunch, then diner, plus any snacks. Usually, the tube barely has anything in it. The food only reaches up about a foot or so. This helps the skinny person to visually see how very little he or she is eating. It also usually scares the overweight person, seeing how little he or she will be eating over the next five days.

An announcer will then state how many calories a normal diet should contain. If it is a male, that would be 2,500 calories a day, while a woman should average about 2,000 calories a day. But the announcer will then state how many calories the skinny person is actually eating.

Usually, it is between 1,000 – 1,500 calories a day. The announcer will then state how many days under-eating a week this figures out to be. In other words, if the person is a female only consuming 1,000 calories a day, then she is only eating half of what she should be consuming, and thus it is an "undereat of 3-1/2 days a week."

Then it is the supersizer's turn. The tube begins to fill, and fill, and fill. Usually, it gets about three-fourth's full, though a couple of times it has almost overflowed from the immense portions the overweight person is consuming. The number of calories is usually two to three times what a normal person should be consuming, in other words, 4,000 – 7,500 calories a day. The announcer then puts this in terms of days of overeating per week. So if a woman is consuming 4,000 calories a day, then she has an "overeat of seven days a week."

This little scene helps dispatch a common myth--that many people are skinny because they have a fast metabolism, while overweight people are so because they have a slow metabolism. That simply is almost never the case. People are underweight because they eat too little; people are overweight because they eat too much. It is as simple as that.

Now I know that most everyone will say they know a super skinny person who seems to be able to eat anything but never gains weight. But if you were to keep track of what that person actually eats over a period of time, you will probably find they eat too little.

Meal Exchanges

The two participants stay at the "feeding clinic" for the next five days. The supersize and superskinny exchange diets by preparing what they would normally eat for a meal and then handing their meal to the other person. Many times for the supersizer, this will entail a trip to a local take out fast food joint to pick up some food. They then sit down across a table from each other and eat what is normally the other person's meal.

This is where the show gets very interesting. The skinny person will almost always choke at the amount of food laid before him or her. They simply cannot believe they are supposed to somehow scarf down that much food, while the overweight person will grimace at the meager portion of food they are given. Sometimes that portion is nothing if the skinny usually skips that meal, such as breakfast.

Initially, the skinny person almost never is able to finish the overweight person's meal. He or she will look stuffed after eating just a portion of it. This enables the overweight person to see how ridiculously large their portion sizes are. And while the overweight person is gripping about having too little to eat, the skinny person is learning how very inadequate their portions are.

For instance, one time they exchanged hamburgers. The superskinny gave the supersizer half of one burger, while the supersizer gave the superskinny two double burgers, which the superskinny didn't come close to finishing.

Many times, not only is the superskinny not eating enough, but what they are consuming is very unhealthy. For instance it is common for a superskinny to eat just a candy bar for breakfast or lunch. And interestingly, the overweight person will gripe about how unhealthy the food they have to consume is. They are the ones who point out how a candy bar is not a proper breakfast, even if they often eat much candy at other times of the day.

Needless to say, these meal exchanges are not teaching either person what a healthy diet is. But it is entertaining to watch, and, as mentioned, it does help each person to understand how poor their diet is, either by being too much or too little food.

To go back to the last paragraph of the previous section, one meal that a superskinny prepared for his overweight opposite was ten jelly donuts. Now that sounds like a lot of food. And if you saw a super skinny person eating ten donuts at one sitting, you'd say that person must have a fast metabolism to be able to eat so much food without getting fat. But in this case, what the superskinny served the supersizer for breakfast that day was nothing; same goes for lunch, In other words, those ten donuts were an entire day's food intake. This was also the only large meal the superskinny served the supersizer the entire five days. So when you see a skinny person eating a large amount of food at once, realize that food might be all they have eaten all day and out of the norm for their weekly intake.

In any case, as the week progresses, the skinny person usually begins to get used to the overly large portions, and might even finish a meal or two before the week is over, while the overweight person begins to be somewhat more satisfied with their meager portions.

Driving Home the Message

During the show, Dr. Jessen will take steps to drive home to each participant how unhealthy their diets are and what they are doing to their bodies with their poor diets. For the superskinnies, pictures of them are taken. These will then be blown up, framed, and hung on a wall. The skinny person is then brought in and shown the pictures. Emphasis will be given on showing them places where they are so skinny their bones are sticking out. Most important is showing them their back, with the vertebrae of the spine being clearly visible. This is something they of course normally don't see in the mirror. It is also pointed out how unhealthy their skin looks. It is usually, dry, blotchy, and scaling. And even their hair is sometimes very thin and brittle and maybe even falling out. Besides these visible problems, other dangers of being overly underweight are explained to them, such as the risk of osteoporosis and heart problems.

For the supersizer, they are often taken to visit a person who is even heavier than they are. In one case, the super heavy person they visited was so big she couldn't take care of herself, including not being able to dress herself. So she had to hire someone to come in and help her get dressed, along with all of the other normal daily duties. But for the episode, the supersizer was the one who had to help her get dressed.

In another case, a super heavy woman pulled out a shopping bag of pills she had to take to control all of the health problems she was causing herself by being so overweight. She said she took over 50 pills a days. Later in the series, another supersizer visited the same woman in the hospital as she was being prepared for gastric-bypass surgery, hearing all of the risks and restrictions that surgery entails.

Mini-storylines

Within the main storyline of the meal exchanges, there are usually one or two mini-storylines being shown each episode. One follows Gillian McKeith. She used to have a show on BBC America, You are What you Eat. I'm not sure if repeats are still being shown of that show or not, but follow the link for details of what it entailed.

But for this show, Gillian is followed as she promotes her "Ban Big Buns" campaign across the U.K. For each episode she is on, she takes a group of about 15 women and measures their hip/ buttocks. She then gives them the total and average size of their rears. Then she has them try out for a month some gadget that is advertized as helping to reduce the size of a person's rear end. The participants have used a machine that mimics riding a horse and another mimicking surfing. They have rubbed what looked like mud on their rears and even done farm work,

After the month, they are re-measured and their total and average buttocks size loss is given. The exercise that produced the greatest reduction was the surfing machine. But what shocked this writer is that the mud concoction actually worked, reducing the buttocks more than any other thing tried. Exactly what it was, they show did not say.

Two other mini-story lines are by Anna Richardson. The first is her group of "Flab Fighters." This is a group of 6-8 overweight women. Anna will have them engage in an hour of some strenuous exercise, such as hiking up a hill or rowing. They are then told how many calories they just burned. They are then given the option of "banking" what they have burned for weight loss or eating the equivalent amount of calories in the form of some junk food.

For instance, the rowing was said to burn 450 calories. So they were given the choice of eating 4-1/2 "biscuits" (a Briticism for cookies). The idea is to show how much work it takes to burn what is actually a very small amount of food. In almost every case, each woman chooses not to eat the food but to "bank" the calories for weight loss.

The second storyline is Anna investigating various "fad" diets. She herself is only slightly overweight, but she seems obsessed with finding an "easy" way to shed her few extra pounds.

In one episode she tried the "apple diet." This was promoted in a tabloid and was said have been how a TV star lost a ton of weight. The diet is simple; eat nothing but apples. You might lose weight, but after three days, Anna couldn't stand to look at another apple, so she pitched all of her remaining apples and gave up on it.

Another diet was the "maple syrup diet." Again, a simple diet. Simply make a "tea" with hot water and maple syrup, and that's your entire meal. But again, after a couple of days, Anna couldn't stand to drink any more of the sugary drink, and she poured it down the sink.

Then she tried diet pills. She took a trip to the local health food store and found over 50 kinds of diet pills. Some were diuretics, some were laxatives, some were supposed to keep you from absorbing fat, some were supposed to raise your metabolism, and some were supposed to reduce your appetite,

She visited two women who were taking a combination of caffeine and ephedrine, which is supposed to increase your metabolism. What it did was make the women very "hyper" which was obvious from the interview. They were fidgety and talking very fast.

But before trying any of the pills, she talked to a doctor. He told her that none of these products are regulated by the government, and there are potential side effects. The ephedrine can lead to heart problems, which it is banned in the U.K. (and the USA). But it still can be ordered over the Internet.

What she ended up taking was Hoodia, an appetite suppressant. And it did work. She said it reduced her appetite considerably. She no longer had cravings for junk foods. However, the fear of side effects scared her off of continuing to take them, so she flushed them down the toilet.

The Finale

Back to the main storyline, after the five days of diet switching, Dr. Jessen gives the two participants a notebook with a personalized diet plan to follow for the next 12 weeks, and they are sent home. Sometimes, the show airs clips of them following the meal plans.

They are then brought back to the feeding clinic for a final weigh in and measurements, and the two participants are re-united. After three months of eating healthy diets, both just look much better. Big changes can most obviously be seen in the superskinny. His or her skin no longer looks blotchy and dry. And their bones are not as obviously sticking out.

But in most cases, the skinny person has only gained a few pounds. But it's not just the weight gain but the change in what the person eats that makes a difference in their looks. Eating a healthy diet simply makes a person look healthier.

The supersizer will usually have lost anywhere from half a "stone" to three stone. Up to 42 pounds in just 12 weeks is impressive. But the difference might not be as obvious as for the superskinny given how large the person was to begin with. But it is a good start. And again, with eating healthier foods, the person just looks better. And both report feeling much better,

That is why I emphasize in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book that it is both what you eat and how much you eat that matters when it comes to maintaining a proper bodyweight and in being healthy.

Conclusion

There are many TV shows about helping overweight people lose weight. But what I find so interesting about this show is that it is the only TV show that also is about helping skinny people gain weight. Being overly skinny can be just as dangerous as being overweight, so this is an important show.

Moreover, seeing the skinny person trying to stuff down a supersizer's food portions is just plain interesting. And the interaction between the two participants during their meal exchanges is intriguing.

Supersize vs. Superskinny is the only show I've ever watched on Oprah's new network, but it is worth watching. So check it out if you get the chance.

Supersize vs. Superskinny. Copyright 2011 by Gary F. Zeolla.



The above article was posted on this Web site September 23, 2011.

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