The power of reality TV came home to me in April, when I attended a special taping of the Style Network docu-series Too Fat for 15: Fighting Back. The stars of the townhall-style session included Ruby Gettinger, making an up-and-down journey from nearly 500 pounds when her Style show began in 2008 to 360 pounds now, and several of the inspiring teens who have been featured on Too Fat for 15.
They converged in the West County YMCA in Chesterfield (along with celebrity moderator Allison Sweeney from The Biggest Loser and a panel of doctors, chefs, trainers, nutritionists and even a Rams football player) to talk about the childhood obesity epidemic. Dozens of overweight and obese children feeling the epidemic first hand were in the audience, and their emotional testimonies and heartfelt questions brought tears to my eyes many times over the course of the afternoon.
Had you asked me ahead of time what I thought about reality TV following a bunch of teenagers struggling to lose weight at a boarding school, I’d have said it felt voyeuristic. Wouldn’t being in front of the national viewing public just magnify their troubles? But as I listened – and shared my purse-pack of tissues with the mother and daughter squeezing into the seats next to me − I discovered that the audience members who had the most weight to lose also took the most comfort in seeing these seemingly-impossible weight loss stories.
Take Tanisha, a 17-year-old who started out at more than 500 pounds. On her arrival at Wellspring Academy, she could barely walk, and (as someone near me whispered in shock) she had fat everywhere, even on the back of her neck. When she came on stage in April, 150 pounds lighter and counting, she radiated joyfulness.
Two of the other teens from the Too Fat series, Rachel and Carsyn, were at the taping with their moms, which opened a discussion about influences at home. Fourteen-year-old Rachel admitted to sneaking food when she came home from school, so although her family made a commitment to eat healthy and shed pounds, Rachel’s weight climbed to 250 pounds. And Carsyn’s reserve toward her perky-former-gymnast mom hinted at how disharmony can remain even when a child has made drastic lifestyle changes that her family approves of whole-heartedly.
The townhall show is loaded with tips for overweight kids – about eating healthy, getting exercise, and maintaining a sense of self-esteem. It was also realistic about how incredibly hard it can be to shed pounds. The simple formula “calories in versus calories out” doesn’t capture the daily struggle. Ruby’s show last season, for example, documented a weight gain of 60 pounds rather than a loss – though she is still merely half of where she started (700 pounds) before her show.
The Style Special, called Too Fat for 15: The Obesity Crisis, airs at 7 and 10 p.m. Central time on Monday, June 27.
By Amy De La Hunt, Health Blogger for SmartParenting
Amy De La Hunt is a journalist and editor who lives in the St. Louis metro area and works across the country as a writer, copy editor, project manager and editorial consultant on everything from fiction books to monthly magazines to blog posts. When she's not chauffeuring her teenage sons to activities, Amy is an enthusiastic amateur cook, landscaper, Latin dancer and traveler. Follow Amy on Instagram @amy_in_words
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