By: Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD Date: 8/2/10
Life at a fat camp seems an odd subject for a television series, but these days anything about weight seems to grab the spotlight. "Huge", ABC’s new series about that life, shows insight into and even encourages empathy and compassion for the angst of weight-struggling teens (which by the way appears to be much the same angst of any teen, weight struggling or not.) What it doesn’t show, however, is good sense when it comes to what one might think is the series’ focus – fat.
I have a number of problems with fat camps. A primary one is that they supposedly offer an experience in healthy living. Therein lies the rub. If the camps promote the same approach to eating and physical activity that's portrayed in "Huge", nothing could be further from health.
Drawbacks of the "Huge" approach
The popular idea in "Huge" and fat camps is that any fat person – adult or kid – needs to severely limit their consumption of “fun” foods -- those considered less nutritious -- and work out insanely in order to achieve a healthy weight. You know, "Biggest Loser" style. Sure enough, in the first episode of "Huge", the rebellious Will is almost thrown out of camp for running a black market in candy. Another scene has the teens painfully jogging through the woods. When one boy drops out, he’s pushed mercilessly to keep going.
It is true that many people lose weight when they cut out all their favorite foods and really ramp up the exercise. But how many keep the lost weight off? And when they regain, it’s often more than they lost. The bottom line is that our 50+-year history in this country with that approach doesn’t speak well for it. More people are struggling with weight than ever before, and research shows the more we embrace extreme approaches, the more we set ourselves up physically and emotionally for weight and health struggles that compound as the years go on.
So the idea of a fat camp like the one portrayed in "Huge" being a health camp is a bit incongruous. It doesn’t bode well for the health or healthy weights of teenagers to start these kinds of weight-loss efforts (or maybe any weight loss efforts) so early in their lives.
Health At Every Size
It may seem odd that I take this position as I own Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s healthy weight loss program which some people have called an adult fat camp. But there are several major differences between what we do and the "Huge" premise:
o Women come to us of their own accord. They’ve found us in their search for a different way to deal with a problem most have struggled with for years. They’ve tried the approach espoused in Huge time and time again, only to fail time and time again.
o The different way they find is how to eat what we love and enjoy moving our bodies in a way that makes us feel well, not forbidding foods or working ourselves to exhaustion and injury. Enjoyment is good medicine, and if we enjoy something, we’re much more likely to keep doing it. We also help women feel good about themselves now, regardless of their size. If we hate our bodies, and by extension ourselves, how can we truly take care of ourselves?
o We work to change the focus from weight to how we feel, i.e., our health. Healthy weights aren’t about numbers but about how we live. When we’re too focused on numbers, we often adopt behaviors that end up shooting us in the foot. Such as severely restricting calories, only to binge when hunger wins. Or working out so hard we injure ourselves, and end up defeated about the idea of staying active.
Our program is based on the principles of Health at Every Size, an approach that promotes and sustains health and healthy weights. It’s an approach that’s gaining momentum as people wake up to the realization that if we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always gotten.
Sadly, the writers of Huge, a television series with great opportunity to show a more sustainable way to healthy weights, don’t appear to have woken up yet. Or maybe they have, but feel the pressures of providing entertainment that people can relate to. It’s doubly sad that it’s viewed as entertainment.
Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, is program director for Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s residential healthy weight loss program in Vermont.