Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Let Them Eat Fake

Of all the really crap diet/nutrition and exercise/lifestyle-oriented programs aired on UK TV, perhaps the most moronic and banal is Supersize vs Superskinny.

The basic premise of the program is this;
  • find an morbidly obese candidate and a chronically undernourished candidate.
  • undress the candidates to their underwear, weigh them and then drop each of their weekly food consumption in to a transparent cylinder
  • make fat-person eat the skinny person's diet for a week or two (in a 'feeding' clinic) and vice versa the skinny person's diet is fed to the fat person.
  • erm...that's it
All this is done under the eerie gaze of the creepy Dr Christian Jessen. I am not one for ad hominen attacks but there really is something of the night about him. I am sure he is a great doctor but looking at him reminds me of an embalmed corpse - you know the way they put make up on the dead, but it still looks like a dead person?

The weekly food consumption dropped into a glass cylinder is particularly pointless. Whose weekly diet wouldn't look pretty unappealing sloshing around all together?

What I would like to draw your attention to (your still thinking about dead people aren't you?), is that penultimate line in the list above "make fat-person eat the skinny person's diet for a week or two (in a 'feeding' clinic) and vice versa the skinny person's diet is fed to the fat person".

Now I am not a nutritionist nor a doctor, but even I feel qualified to ask "on what basis do you feed a diet that has resulted in morbid obesity, to a borderline anorexic?". Oooh wait a minute, I feel a second question coming on, "on what basis do you feed a diet that has resulted in undernourishment, to an obese person?". Baise moi!

The simple answer is that you should be giving people nutritionally complete meals. End of. but just when you think the program cannot get any worse, they role out the pooh-sniffing Dr Keith McGillian*

Calorie and Starving**
Now if you want to find out more about Dr Keith McGillian, or to give her her full medical title, Keith McGillian, you could do worse than to go to Ben Goldacre's Bad Science website. (Goldacre is likely to be the person to bring down mainstream journalism in the UK - and that can only be a good thing)

What irked about McGillian's appearance on the show was that she was mincing around a bowling alley followed by three semi-naked bodybuilders each of whom carried a tray of party snacks.

The objective was for members of the great unwashed to determine how many calories each platter contained. All under the watchful and disdainful gaze of McGillian. She howled and hooted, tutted and huffed as each aspiring individual piped up with a guess, "2000 calories", "1700 calories"....

Let me just ask you two questions:
  1. Could you really look at a range of foods and genuinely estimate the calorie content with any degree of accuracy?
  2. Is it 'normal' to do this (never mind to be able to do this)
In a word. No!

I cannot think of anything more dull and pointless than being able to look at food and accurately estimate its calorific content - apart from perhaps practising the ability to be able to look at food and accurately estimate its calorific content. To do so would border on obsessive.

More importantly, if you are hungry enough (and let's be honest, calorie counting leads to hunger), you are going to eat food regardless of its calorie content.

This is before we get to the actual practicalities of keeping a daily or weekly running total of calories consumed. A latte here, a pastry there, a smoothie or an apple - all would have to be meticulously measured on a daily basis and total allowance adjusted for. This is NOT workable.

Deep Breaths...Asclepius
For sure, you know what I am going to say now, about how we should simply follow our paleo-compass. It is not quite as controlled as the dietary GPS/SatNav above, but it gets you to where we have come from - and that is no bad place. There is not hunger and no counting. It is nutritionally complete and offers variety in taste and texture. It is underlined by REAL food and will deliver REAL results without drama and tragedy, nor struggle and pain.

But that does not make for good viewing does it?


*Dr Keith McGillian is a soubriquet as she, ahem, I mean he, is notoriously litigious.
**Extra points if anyone guesses the pun I was trying to work in here

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