Sometimes, I’ll tune into Extreme Makeover – Weight Loss Edition. If you’re not familiar with the premise of the show, a trainer works with an individual over the course of a year to transform the individual from seriously obese to a much slimmer version of themselves.
The last episode featured a woman who was struggling with losing weight. During the course of the episode, she made several comments that really made me a) feel sad for her, and b) wonder what type of expectations this show sets for people trying to lose weight in everyday life. Here are a few comments that were made (forgive me if I’m not getting them word for word here):
- “He’ll eat them, he loves them. I love them too I just can’t have them” (She was out at her husband with dinner when the waitress asked if she should take the chips and queso off the table)
- “Here’s our Christmas table, and there’s one of the things I can’t have, the bread.”
- “I can’t indulge in this kettle corn, probably for the rest of my life.”
There are a couple things I want to address here. First, notice the presence of “I can’t” in all three of these comments. Interestingly, I watched this episode shortly after I’d read some information on a new study that came out in the Journal of Consumer Research. This study shows that people who say “I can’t eat ____ (insert item)” are less likely to resist temptation compared to those who say “I don’t eat ___.” Why? Saying I can’t conjures up feelings of deprivation and the notion that you must sacrifice items you love. Yet saying “I don’t” gives you more power in the situation – you are making an active choice to not eat the item; you’ve moved from deprivation to determination. You’re an empowered decision maker.
Second, and perhaps the bigger issue, is the constant theme of deprivation that this woman seemed to be experiencing. I get that this is a show that aims to shock – if people lost weight at a healthy rate of a pound or two a week, they’d drop 50 to 75 pounds over the year and the “transformation” wouldn’t be quite as impressive. But the way that this woman was viewing her diet was that she couldn’t eat any of the foods she wanted to eat.
In order to make sustainable life changes, a healthy meal plan and exercise routine needs to be flexible and you must feel comfortable enough that you can sustain it over the long haul. If you feel like you can never again eat a brownie (or kettle corn, bread, and chips in this case), you’re probably not going to be very happy about sticking to the meal plan and will likely veer off track pretty quickly.
Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that creating a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be filled with more misery and deprivation than happiness. Let’s shift the focus away from “you can’t eat this” to “look at all these wonderful things we’re going to add!” Empower yourself to make healthy decisions and work with someone who can coach you through setting reasonable goals. And remember that all foods can be included in a healthy diet – some definitely less than others, but you shouldn’t feel like you can never eat a food again.
What are your thoughts? Do you find shows like this to create unrealistic expectations? Or are they inspirational to you? Do you think their on-camera lifestyles are sustainable? Share with us in the comments!