I watch a smattering of reality TV, although I’ve never seen quite a few of the well-known shows since I don’t have cable (and if I ever went out of my way to watch those online I’d think my life had reached a new low). Anyway, although I’m not a regular viewer, I’ve occasionally watched pieces of the network weight-loss programs. These shows invariably make me cry – and I’m not being sarcastic.
I believe addictive and compulsive behaviors, no matter what they are, spring of the same sources, i.e., emotions. Many addictions and compulsions can be hidden to a certain degree, but a food one is different. It’s different because the evidence of it is obvious to others and because, unlike other addictions, we all have to eat.
The participants on weight-loss shows are undeniably vulnerable and exposed. There is no hiding, not emotionally or physically. The things many of them say completely pull at my emotions. It isn’t pity but empathy I feel. Not because I’ve been in their situation but because no matter how orchestrated the show might be, there is no denying the authenticity of another human admitting to their deepest shames and needs, nor the actual physical and emotional demands placed on those who undertake significant weight loss on such shows. Yes, for adults (less so children), they got themselves to that unbalanced position in the first place, but it takes guts to want to turn things around.
Admittedly, I also feel glad I’m not in their shoes. Someone who loses and keeps off significant weight has to change almost everything in their life, everything they relied on, and in the process trust strangers – trainers, nutritionists, doctors – even when it seems like the people who are supposed to be helping are coming off mean or aggressive. That is a lot to ask. If someone was yelling at me about doing “one more pushup!” and not being a “quitter” and worse, when I am sweating and heaving and feeling like I’m going to die (or would prefer in that moment to be dead), I really don’t think I’d take it well. Not to say, all the folks on the receiving end DO.
I cry when the women get to try on and wear cute clothes for the first time in years or ever. When a woman says now she’s no longer afraid she won’t be alive to attend her children’s weddings or see her grandkids grow up. When a man stands a little taller and can’t stop grinning. Or feels he may now be more attractive to his wife and can stop withdrawing and withholding from her. When a child feels like he’ll be able to keep up and play with the other kids now and maybe have friends. It all gets to me. Because again, no matter how manipulative or even exploitative shows of this type are considered (by many?), the emotions are real. The person’s reality is genuine. When they succeed, it makes me vicariously happy. I’m excited for them.