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Supersize vs Superskinny - the funcrunch files

May. 18th, 2011 01:44 pm Supersize vs Superskinny

Warning: I hesitated posting about this television show because I know that the issues of obesity and diet are highly controversial and emotionally triggering to some of my friends and acquaintances, as well as myself. I really don't want to get into a debate about these issues, so if you object to this subject matter please either skip this post or realize that I may not respond to comments if they become triggering for me. Thank you.

For the last several years I've had an interest in how obesity is portrayed in the media, particularly on reality television. I have not been watching these shows as an inspiration to lose weight, especially as my diet choices are normally radically different than what is dictated (which is either mainstream advice or whatever the show's advertisers demand). Nor do I see them as entertainment. In fact I finally had to stop watching The Biggest Loser and Ruby this year as the shows have virtually abandoned all pretense to helping people make health-supporting choices, and have just become about drama and game-playing (in the case of BL) and sitcom-like situations (in the case of Ruby). The new A&E program Heavy showed more promise, but ended up focusing almost exclusively on exercise, and on advertising the Hilton Head spa where the later episodes took place.

So I was intrigued to find a show from the UK, Supersize vs Superskinny, which is different in several respects. First, it focuses almost exclusively on food. The main premise of each episode is that the supersize and superskinny person live together in a "feeding clinic" (really just a house) for five days and swap their normal meals. I am not trying to be derogatory by parroting the show's own terms "supersize" and "superskinny"; they are the best I can come up with as I don't know what the weight or body mass index threshold is for inclusion on the show. The superskinny people are not anorexic and the supersize people are not immobilized by their size, but those extremes are also covered in other segments (which I'll get to in a moment). In any case, the idea is that by watching another person eat their typical meals, they can get a new perspective on how much or how little they are actually eating.

Secondly, the show has segments with small groups of people suffering from anorexia and bulimia, trying to heal with the help of a therapist. They have different activities each week revolving around food and body image.

Thirdly, the show has segments with extremely obese people in America, some of whom are bedridden due to their size. These segments are in the form of video messages to the "supersizer", and in the fourth season the UK participants are actually flown out to America to spend a day with the person featured.

Finally, the first three seasons feature more lighthearted segments with a reporter trying all kinds of fad diet and exercise schemes to lose weight. She also visits America to investigate the NYC and LA scenes.

The show also has a spinoff, Supersize vs Superskinny Kids, which modifies the original format somewhat. The kids attend the feeding clinic with their parents, and only swap some of their meals.

This program is broadcast on UK Channel 4, and free to watch over the web in that country. I found segments uploaded on YouTube so that I could watch it in the US. I've made a playlist of some of the episodes here, but there are more available. The show does contain some nudity (including in the opening sequence of the first two seasons) and profanity, and some of the scenes with the anorexic and severely obese people may be difficult to watch.

I have found this show intriguing, even though I don't agree with many of the diet recommendations. I found it interesting that in many of the episodes, both the supersize and superskinny people lived largely on junk food: sodas, candy, fast food meals. It is also interesting to see some of the different food choices in the UK versus the US. And on a more shallow note, I love British accents. :-) I am also trying to get faster at the mental exercise of converting stones to pounds (one stone = 14 pounds).

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Date:May 18th, 2011 09:56 pm (UTC)
I found it interesting that in many of the episodes, both the supersize and superskinny people lived largely on junk food: sodas, candy, fast food meals.

Fast food gets a bad rap, but I lost 20 pounds on the "eat a Wendy's burger for lunch ever day" diet. Back when I worked at Pratt and Whitney in East Hartford one of the two convenient non-cafeteria options for lunch was Wendy's. I found that a Wendy's classic single fit a couple of key criteria for me:

1) it was big enough to be filling enough to give me enough energy to last until dinner while still leaving me a little bit hungry (key for maintaining a small calorie deficit)
2) I never got sick of them.

On this "diet" I lost about a pound a week. I have yet to find another lunch option that replicates this.
Date:May 18th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
The guy in the last episode I just watched would have a burger, chicken nuggets, and fries as a mid-morning *snack*...
Date:May 19th, 2011 02:32 am (UTC)
which one? the supersize or the superskinny? or both?
Date:May 19th, 2011 03:23 am (UTC)
The supersizer. The superskinnies who ate fast food didn't eat it in such quantities; they did it for convenience. One of them had a diet consisting largely of coffee and cigarettes.
Date:May 19th, 2011 02:59 am (UTC)
Your post reminded me of this article about Malissa Jones. She is a teenager in Britain who went from being the heaviest teen in the British Isles to anorexic because of a gastric bypass operation.


I don't know if Malissa Jones was mentioned in the Supersize vs Superskinny show, but just in case she wasn't, I thought you'd find her story interesting. I find it quite tragic.
Date:May 19th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
Wow, that is depressing. She wasn't mentioned on any of the episodes I saw, but several other teens suffering from anorexia were featured, as were several gastric bypass surgery patients.