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You Are What You Eat

TV Show Review

By Gary F. Zeolla

Is your fridge stocked full of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats OR is it full of fat-filled, overly salted processed convenience foods and abandoned take-out containers? If we truly are what we eat, what do your eating habits say about you?

The above is taken from the Web site for BBC America. It is from the page describing its show "You Are What You Eat," shown on weekdays at 4 p.m. ET. The page further describes the show, "Holistic nutritionist Gillian McKeith works with unhealthy eaters to break a lifetime of bad habits in just eight short weeks."

The Set-up

The "unhealthy eaters" in the show are usually adults, sometimes single, sometimes married. Sometimes just one of a married couple is an unhealthy eater, sometimes both. But almost always, the unhealthy eater is significantly overweight. The most interesting couple was one where the husband was 29 and skinny as a rail, while his wife was 42 and weighed twice as much as him! Needless to say, she was the one who needed help.

Close-ups are shown of the unhealthy eater with very little clothing. The shots are often from the ground up to really emphasis the person's "pot-belly."

An overview of the person's eating habits is then given. They are usually shown lounging on the couch in front of the "telly" gorging themselves on a wide variety of junk food. Also, they are often shown driving through drive throughs for some "take-aways."

Then to really drive home how very unhealthy the person is eating, the person keeps a food log for a week. Although, sometimes this is done by a concerned spouse or parent who secretly records what the unhealthy eater is consuming. In this case, usually it is the concerned spouse or parent who contacted Gillian in the first place.

Either way, the first gimmick Gillian uses to drive home how very much of an unhealthy diet the person is following is to have all of this food placed on a table, or two. It truly is eye-opening to see everything someone eats for a week laid out like that. Of course, to lay out everything anyone eats for a week and to see it all at once would seem like a lot of food. But the amount of food these unhealthy eaters consume really does look excessive.

One guy ate so much that his home did not have enough table space to lay it all out. So they had to go to a banquet hall where several banquet tables were filled with food. It looked like the preparations for a large wedding reception, but it was only the one person's weekly food intake!

What is most interesting are the comments of the person who eats the food. Usually the word "disgusting" is used. Think about that, this is the person who actually ate the stuff, but seeing it all laid out, even they think it looks disgusting.

Another comment is usually "boring." By this is meant the color of the foods are all about the same, pale brown being the most common. That is of course the color of fried foods and of the crusts of refined bread products, staples in the diets of the unhealthy eaters. Completely lacking are any fruits and vegetables to give color to the display.

Also very common is for the unhealthy eaters to be partaking of excessive amounts of alcohol. So everything they drink for a week is also laid out on a table or two. And you could get drunk just looking at it!

Statistics are also often given as to how much of various unhealthy foods and drinks the British consume each year. This shows that the person being featured is not unique. Their unhealthy eating pattern is very common throughout the UK.

Briticisms

The mention of "telly" and "takeaways" in the preceding sections are examples of the Briticism the American viewer with have to figure out during this show. These are of course the British ways of referring to TV and take out foods.

The most important Briticism to note is that the weights of the unhealthy eaters is usually given in "stone." I had to look this one up. A stone is equal to 14 pounds. So when it is said the person weighs say 17 stone, that is 238 pounds.

Also commonly mentioned on the show are foods I have never heard of. But it can usually be figured out from the context if these are referring to healthy or unhealthy foods.

Other Briticisms pop up from time to time, but they can also usually be figured out. But two Briticisms are important for the second gimmick used to drive home how unhealthy the person's diet really is. They are "loo" and "pooh" (toilet and poop, respectively).

Checking the Pooh/ Farts/ Blood Tests

On her first visit to the person's home, Gillian always tells the person to, "Go the loo and give me a sample of your pooh." The reason for this is a person's stools can be an important indicator of their health. And what you eat directly affects the make-up and smell of the stools.

One thing Gillian is looking for is undigested food in the stools, which she usually finds in the unhealthy eater's stools. This shows the person is eating too fast and thus not chewing their food sufficiently, eating too much, and/ or eating hard to digest foods, like fried foods.

Also very telling is the smell of the stools. If it stinks excessively as it usually does for the unhealthy eaters, it's an indication the stools have been "fermenting" in the intestines for too long of a time. This means there is too slow of a transit time.

Optimal digestion includes optimal intestinal transit time—the average time food takes to go through (transit) your body. Healthy intestines contract about 12 times a minute, which propels food in its digestive journey. This should optimally add up to 24 to 30 hours from mouth to rectum (Berkson, p.12).

The cause of slow transit times is usually lack of fiber in the diet. Lack of fiber can also lead to insufficient volume of the stools. One 18 year old woman who ate 16 take-away burgers a week only produced one very small stool. Gillian explained to her, "All of that saturated fat you are eating is clogged up inside of you."

Gillian also explained in one episode, "When use the loo, there should be just a mild odor that dissipates within five minutes." If it smells any more than that, it is a sign of improper digestion and an unhealthy diet.

The look of the stools is also important:

Good digestion should result in stools that are large, round, medium to dark brown, do not float, are not bubbly, are somewhat soft and mushy, and do not frequently exhibit undigested food. You should not need to strain. Passing stools should not hurt or burn, nor should they have a noxious odor (Berkson, p.12).

As this quote indicates, the ease of elimination is also important. The frequency is important as well. "You should eliminate at least once a day" (Berkson, p.12; italics in original). But some of the unhealthy eaters report only having a bowel movement a couple of times a week, and they usually report it is very difficult to go. One lady even said, "I hate using the loo as it hurts and stinks too much." However, going too often is not good either, such as one guy who said he went 10 times a day.

Also a sign of improper digestion and an unhealthy diet is excessive gas. As Gillian told one couple, "If you don't kill your kids with fatty food, you'll finish them off with your farts."

A blood sample is also usually taken. It is sent to a lab for analysis. There is then a scene of Gillian talking to the doctor doing the test. He explains any abnormalities that are found. These usually include high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood sugar, and nutrient deficiencies, like the person being low in zinc or iron. The doctor then explains the problems that these abnormal readings can lead to.

Needless to say, the show can get pretty blunt. Gillian pulls no punches in trying to get the unhealthy eater to realize how very much his or her eating habits are ruining their health, and in the case of parents, how they are instilling bad habits into their kids as well.

The Turnaround

The next step is for Gillian to get the person to turn their lives around. She starts by lying out on a table all of the "new" foods the person will no be eating. This display is completely different from the first.

At first glance the most notably difference is the wide variety of colors in the display. This is from the wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. There are also usually beans, nuts and seeds, and fish, among other foods. The person is also given a cookbook with instructions on how to prepare all of this new food.

The show then chronicles how well the person follows the new eating plan over the next eight weeks.

At some point, exercise is introduced, with different exercise methods being used to encourage the person to start exercising. Belly-dancing, boxing lessons, rugby, and various other such exercise methods are often used, along with more traditional exercises like walking, bicycling, and gym workouts.

Surprising, the person always seems to stick to the new eating plan and exercise habits rather well. They might show the person faltering once or twice, but they always seem to get right back on track. If they don't, Gillian really chews them out. One guy even began referring to her as "the evil one" because she would yell at him if he ate any of his old unhealthy foods.

The Results

The gimmicks and Gillian's "encouragement" always seem to work. At the end of the show, close ups of the person are again shown. They simply look much better and healthier. And they almost always have lost 2-3 "stone," that's 28-42 pounds in two months!

What is most important about this weight loss is the focus of Gillian's new eating regime is not weight loss. She never even mentions counting calories, cutting carbs, limiting portion sizes, or any other methods that are usually used when a person is paced on a "diet." That is because this is not a diet; it is a new eating plan.

I discuss this concept in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book. The main focus of my book and of this TV show is to get people to follow a healthy eating plan; it is not weight loss. However, as I mention in my book, one "side-benefit" of following a healthy eating plan is often a loss of body fat. Very often, this is all an overweight person needs to do to lose body fat, change from an unhealthy to a healthy eating plan.

Another benefit of a healthy eating plan is increased energy. This is an improvement that is almost always mentioned in the show. In one episode, the person's twin daughters (who were about five) commented, "Daddy's so much more fun to play with now." This was because rather than lounging on the couch all day long, he now had the energy to actually play with them. The cute little daughters also observed, "Daddy doesn't have a belly anymore."

As for the "loo" problems, the former unhealthy eaters usually report that they are now "going" on a daily basis, are able to move their bowels more easily, and their pooh doesn't smell near as bad as it used to.

Final Comments

Since I already follow a healthy eating plan, the main thing I personally got from this show is that I needed to eat slower and chew my food more thoroughly. That really can make a big difference in digestion. But it's hard to do. I've had to set aside more time for my meals, and I have to concentrate on almost every bite. But eventually, I am sure it will get to be second nature.

That said, this is an interesting and very needful show. The eating habits of Great Britain are shown to be truly atrocious. But of course, American is just as bad, if not worse. Gillian's methods might seem a little shocking to some, but they are necessary to jar people into realizing what they are doing to their bodies.

Following someone for eight weeks gives time for significant improvements to be made. But long-term results are even more important. So in one episode they revisited someone whom Gillian had worked with two years before. And he was still following the healthy eating plan and excising. And that is the main point of Gillian not putting someone on a diet. As I say in my book, a diet is usually something someone goes on for a period of time, but then goes off of. What is needed is a change of lifestyle that lasts a lifetime.

The eating plan that Gillian has the person follow is very similar to what I present in my book. Lots of fruits, vegetable's, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and fish, along with an avoidance of all kinds of processed foods. But where we might disagree is other than fish, her eating plan seems mainly vegetarian. One person even commented that the only thing she really missed from her old diet was meat. But this is not necessary as poultry and red meat can and should be included in healthy eating plan.

Gillian's bias towards a vegetarian diet could especially be seen in one episode where the blood test showed the person was deficient in zinc. I discuss in my book that by far the best dietary source of zinc is red meat. But Gillian could not bring herself to suggest the person eat lean red meat. She instead had him eat pumpkin seeds and whole grains. I discuss in my book that you would have to eat a lot of such foods to equal the amount of zinc found in just one serving of meat.

Being mostly a vegetarian plan, Gillian also has the person eating a lot of soy, usually in the form of tofu. But I discuss in my book the potential problems with soy.

But those two caveats aside, there is no doubt that someone following Gillian's advice in this show will end up with a much healthier and trim body. You ARE what you eat. And a show like this just might be what it takes to get people jarred into a following a healthier lifestyle. And my God-given Foods Eating Plan book can provide further incentive and directions on how to go about doing so.

Bibliography:

Berkson, D. Lindey. Healthy Digestion the Natural Way. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.

You are What You Eat: TV Show Review. Copyright 2007 by Gary F. Zeolla.



The above article was posted on this Web site March 1, 2008.

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