Through August the BBC followed up their series on the food industry, The Men Who Made Us Fat, with a series on weight loss, called The Men Who Made Us Thin. It turned out that they weren’t all men and they haven’t really made us thin – but nobody wanted that to get in the way of a good title!
The one-hour documentaries covered an extraordinary range, moving quickly through the history of diets, exercise, diet-food, and government legislation – or lack of, to be more accurate. Watching all four episodes again, I became confused and quite overwhelmed, and it took me a while to figure out why.
One way of explaining my reaction is that, although the series seemed to be educational, it was really much more like entertainment. Which is fair enough, given that this was TV. There was a great deal of fascinating information, but it didn’t lead us anywhere because the programme didn’t take a clear enough stand on anything at all. Dieting and exercise were emphatically shown not to work, but there were no alternatives offered that anybody could use – not even a glimmer of hopeful light at the end of a long tunnel. So the end effect was to contribute to the very gloomy notion that successful, long term weight loss is an unrealistic goal that only provides benefit for those who make money in the ‘weight-loss’ industry.
It was this that left me knocked back, and the hopelessness about it was so strong I even started to wonder if I had in fact dropped three dress sizes and maintained that for decades. Was I kidding myself? How in the world did I do that?
There were clues in some brilliant points made over the four hours, but they were expressed in fleeting seconds, and then we moved on to something else. Then, instead of building on the helpful insights, the programme ignored or even contradicted them.