Weighing in on “Heavy”: New TV Reality Show

I’ve watched four episodes of “Heavy,” A&E’s new entry into the weight-loss reality TV genre, and I have some thoughts … some of them are bleak, a few are hopeful.  The show does a great job of putting a face on obesity and of showing the struggles an individual faces as they make a thousand choices to be healthy or a thousand choices to fail and remain obese.

“Heavy” looks at two individuals as they talk about how they got fat, what are the triggers that send them to the fridge or the Fryolator, and what their actual life expectancies are.  Each episode follows different people whose weights have ranged between the high 200s to just below 600 pounds.  There is a visit to an MD, an obesity specialist who issues dire warnings, and then 30 days at a “fat farm,” a rather posh resort on the shores of Lake Austin with two tough love trainers who show their clients the ropes.

It’s refreshing that the people featured on the program are treated like clients, not contestants.  There is nothing to win here except a new lease on life, and that one you have to earn on your own.

Here’s what I like about the show …

  • The clients are frequently in the pool, taking the heavy load off their joints while they exercise.  Yay!
  • They get 30 days on a “ranch” and then five months at home with lots of support.  This way they learn the skills they need and can apply them for several months, with assistance from medical staff and trainers.
  • They push people to an appropriate point for their level of fitness.
  • They show the problem a lot of people with obesity have: their environment promotes obesity.  Often times several family members are obese, some struggling with real issues such as alcoholism, sudden loss of a loved one, etc.  “Heavy,” in a heart felt way, addresses the reality that obesity is part mental, part genetic, part environment.
  • Two hunky, adorable trainers who are buff, beautiful on camera, and yes, know what they’re doing.  How about that “Biggest Loser”?  It is possible …

Stuff I don’t like …

  • I wish the doctor was more harsh with the patients.  Maybe he is off camera, but what they show during the episode is “You’ve got to deal with this now,” and “This is a serious issue; you’re looking at a shortened lifespan.” Eh, that doesn’t do it for me.  I want to hear “You’ve got diabetes, you’re a heart attack waiting to happen, you’ll be lucky if you see another five years.”  I want to see the medical community strike a little fear of God into them.
  • I’d like to see more behavior modification.  There’s a lot of whining and too often the staff lets the client whine away without a lot of diffusing, redirecting, or just calling them on their bad behavior.  You get to 600 pounds by eating 6,000 to 10,000 calories per day; you can’t just throw some steamed veggies and fish on a plate at someone that size and expect them to “get it.”
  • I’d like to see them cooking at the ranch.  They worked with a dietitian but there was no mention of cooking classes.  I’d like to see these folks learn some snazzy new dishes to take home to their skeptical families.

The issues raised by “Heavy” are the same ones I struggle with every day in my studio and on this blog.  I am passionate about working with obesity and what I saw on this show is that you can give someone every opportunity, every tool, and they will still fail.  We, as a fitness and medical community, have been very good at looking at how and why we become overweight.  This show highlights that we still have a long way to go to work with people on how and why to become healthy.  Pulling someone back from the precipice of morbid obesity is no easy feat.  Our medical and fitness community is failing Americans right now.  We need to do better.

What do you think?  How hard do you think it is to come back from morbid obesity?  Have you been successful doing it?  What helped you and what didn’t?  I would love to hear your thoughts.