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Weight loss shows belong in the past: Operation Misinformation

Weight loss shows belong in the past: Operation Misinformation



Don't be fooled by Operation Transformation's makeover – it's full of bad advice, belongs in the past and the Irish government should know better.

Oh dear, is it ‘new year new me’ time already? You know, that time when celebrities used to push their new weight loss DVDs. It’s also time for a new series of Operation Transformation, which – just like DVDs – should be consigned to the past.

Airing on RTÉ, Ireland’s public broadcaster, its premise is that it’s helping to lead a country of people tackling overweight and obesity problems to better health. Not only does it fail at this, the recent changes its made in response to bad press have simply added more terrible advice. And the fact it is so heavily government-backed while at the same time promoting outdated and ineffective solutions is a double strike against it.

It’s a diet and extreme exercise plan but with voyeurs

Diets don’t work long-term, and never have. Being overly restrictive about which foods to eat simply stores up unhappiness for later, and as soon as the diet period ends, so does the weight loss. Exercise also plays less of a part than OT says. Countless studies have shown how much more important dietary changes are to the success of a weight loss programme than grinding at the gym, yet the main focus of the show is doing pushups and running and cardio until they’re exhausted.

Man out of breath on stairs.

It’s not real, but it’s convincing

Reality TV needs drama. It needs stories told by characters, including heroes and villains. It needs conflict, tears, joy, novelty. It needs to be watchable. That’s why weight-loss-reality-shows shouldn’t exist. A TV show about a sustainable weight loss process would be dull. It would be about someone gradually changing their habits and making hundreds of little decisions every day that contribute to them burning fat and improving their health. No throwing out all your food, no exercising until you cry and no aggressive reprimands from condescending judges who are very disappointed. In short: no drama. But who’s going to watch that?

When I was obese I always thought I’d have to go through some kind of punishing, sweaty movie montage experience that created a less heavy version of me. So I procrastinated, naturally. But these TV shows normalise this kind of thinking. Eventually I lost 22kg, but there was no magic eye-of-the-tiger sweat-fest. I carried on my normal life and even gave up going to the gym in favour of walks and 10-minute workouts in my pyjamas.

This season the show has had an overhaul in response to backlash. It’s plain to see a conscious move away from humiliation and shame for contestants – gone are the tight lycra and topless weigh-ins. But some of the changes are going to teach the audience some absolute nonsense instead of being helpful.

It's one thing having contestants go through a process, but another to set these contestants up as 'leaders' who are supposed to guide the people of Ireland when they're getting bad advice and meal plans.

Metabolic age

They’re hiding the truth and it’s confusing

OT’s makeover is an attempt to take the spotlight off weight loss — despite that being the single most obvious change everybody is focused on. They’ve dropped the scales from their logo and avoid going straight to weigh-ins. The second a weight stat is shown on screen, they seem to promptly cut to a dietician disclaiming their use of weight and stressing “it’s only a number”. They seem to be doing as much as they can to try to soften their use of excess weight as a problem in response to whatever criticism they’ve faced and the result is idiotic. some of the health markers they use instead don’t even make sense.

They’re spreading misinformation

In an effort to look less like a weight-loss show, OT is concentrating on more snappily named, positive and scientific-sounding ‘health markers’. The worst of these is metabolic age and their expert’s explanation of this absurd metric is nonsense. “Metabolic age is very simple. It tells us your muscle, your fat – relative to the average for your age group.” It’s a term that has been popularised by body-composition devices, such as the really expensive one you’ll see with logo and product proudly displayed through the show. It’s not something health experts should be using, it’s a catchy feel-good/bad device meant to help sell smart scales.

Before and After Litton copy

The illusion of reality TV gives people false hope

Reality shows are not the way to deal with a serious health problem that is affecting an increasing number of people all the time. We all know the ‘reality’ portrayed in reality TV is an illusion, but the storytelling format is so engaging that we all-too-easily suspend our disbelief. What happens on screen is controlled because someone is making a television show and it’s got to draw viewers.

In reality TV, producers and story editors do the jobs writers would normally do for a TV drama - directing the narrative and shaping an interesting and watchable TV show. This ensures they don’t just end up with a load of boring footage of people just going about their daily lives. It's a staged experiment that people can't recreate by themselves.

Public money should be put into things that work

Obviously reality TV is not to be trusted, so why is the Irish Government pouring public money into one and telling people that it’s the best and most cost effective way to educate and motivate the public into better health? TV isn’t real life, dieting is an outdated and sometimes harmful activity, and you can’t out-exercise the food you choose to eat. Especially when the government is helping RTÉ tell you to eat sugar for breakfast in an attempt to lose weight.

The Irish government is famously failing to deliver on its plan to tackle obesity. The country’s on track to have the most obese population in Europe by 2030 and it’s no surprise when Healthy Ireland’s advice is so misguided. It’s happily using an outdated model to tell people they can eat as much sugar as they want as long as it’s fruit and this advice is the bedrock that the show’s guidance rests upon.

Pouring money into disposable entertainment is surely working against the government’s struggle to reduce obesity in Ireland.

Let’s hope it’s the last season

Operation Transformation has softened itself up in response to years of criticism and concentrated on X Factor style emotional storytelling to position itself as a wellness show. In doing so, it’s just making weight loss even more confusing for people. In my opinion the show can’t transform enough, no matter how hard it works out.

When I was obese I always thought I’d have to go through some kind of punishing, Operation Transformation experience. I didn't. I lost 22kg after I quit the gym. Sustainable transformations only happen through long term habit change.