A new TV diet programme, same old format
Dr Michael Mosley’s current Channel 4 series “Lose A Stone in 21 Days” has been met with criticism from two quarters. One from people whose concern is that the very low 800 calories a day diet will trigger people into disordered eating. The second from people who are tired with the TV-diet-transformation format and simply bored.
Dr Stephanie deGiorgio, A GP with a special interest in obesity tweeted:
“Would quite like to make a proper science based programme on obesity and overweight and the scientific reality.
Kinda bored of programmes telling people how to lose weight, that’s the easy bit. Keeping it off long term is the issue.
And why we get fat to start with”
Absolutely Stephanie – and I hope you get to make this.
And then in today’s Guardian, Lucy Mangan vents how she feels about programmes like “Lose a Stone in 21 days” as “incredibly boring”, “grinding tedium” and talks about the laziness of the format. Yup.
So what would the alternative look like?
In the past I’ve thought of pitching an idea for a programme about changing how we eat, which would be something of an antidote to the go-on-this-highly-restrictive-diet-for-a-while-and-we’ll-watch-you-suffer-from-the-comfort-of-our-sofa format.
But my ideas haven’t made it beyond the drawing board because of a mixture of not knowing who to pitch to (17 rejections of my book before finding a publisher makes me balk at the idea) and fearing that people would nick my ideas. But with Stephanie and Lucy’s comments spurring me on I’ll throw caution to the wind and suggest how a psychologically informed series might look.
The tone of the programme
I’d be radical – really radical – with the tone.
It would be more Carpet Slippers than Bootcamp in style. Kindness (not cruel to be kindness) would be the watchword. Making people feel bad does not help them change.
We’d hear people’s stories of how their relationship with food developed, which would paint a picture of the complexity of why we gain weight.
We’d emphasise that most people’s problem with food is not an information deficit. They know what and how they “should” be eating but find they can’t put what they know into practice. This is for sound psychological and biological reasons, and our new programme would mine the wealth of clinically relevant research on eating and appetite to show people techniques and strategies to help viewers change how they eat.
It would be compassionate, gentle, scientific and joyous.
The goals of the programme
Weight loss would be one of the possible desired outcomes for participants (there would still be real people with real eating-related issues they want to change). But only one. The others would be:
- Increased sense of agency, self-confidence and self-esteem
- Feeling flexibly (not rigidly) in control around eating
- Feeling fitter
- Health measures such as changes in physical symptoms like heartburn
- Quality of life
- Enjoyment of food
The content of the programme
We’d start from the premise that people’s eating habits develop for good reasons and that changing your weight permanently will mean changing your eating habits permanently.
We’d talk about maintenance from the get-go. It’s not helpful to wait to think about maintenance until you’ve got to your goal weight – sustainable eating patterns need to be the focus from the outset. We’d make sure that at each step we’ll be working out how you’ll stick to that particular change.
We’d talk about the very simple basics of human digestive biology which evolved over millions of years and mean that we are suited to meals with gaps in-between. We’d talk about the evolution of our body’s natural hunger and fullness signals and how modern life in the west leads us to ignore or override these signals. We’d show how you can re-learn to tune in to these signals, or use other ways of eating in tune with your body.
We’d talk about foods that stimulate rather than satisfy our appetite and the massive challenge of how to handle them in a world where the big advertising bucks are stacked up behind them.
The contributors to the programme
I’d get talking heads clips from some of the thousands of academic researchers who work on the psychology of eating, appetite and behaviour change.
I’d get experts (scientists, clinicians and people with lived experience) to explain
- habit formation and habit change
- Working Memory and why it’s so important to changing how you eat
- how chronic stress impacts reward sensitivity
- the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on metabolic health
- what it feels like to live with obesity and the stigma that comes with it
- how to maximise the pleasure you get from eating
- what does and what doesn’t change when you lose weight and keep it off
Each programme in the series would have a “How-to” corner in which we’d cover, with specific, do-able techniques…
- Increase your motivation
- Enhance your willpower
- Delay gratification
- Increase your self-belief, self-esteem and self-image
- Deal with pressure from others around eating
- Deal with eating out and takeaways
- Enjoy fast food (if you do) whilst maintaining your new weight
- Overcome binge eating
If you commission TV programmes for a living, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
If you don’t commission programmes but like the sound of the approach, my self-help book “How to Retrain Your Appetite: Lose weight eating all your favourite foods” is published by Collins and Brown.