After the first episode of Heavy, A&E’s new documentary series best described as “Intervention” for fat people, I’m already hooked. Like the aforementioned “Intervention” and “Hoarders,” Heavy follows two dangerously overweight people through a six-month regimen of weight loss, counseling and medical & nutritional advice, or “reprogramming” as Jodi, one of the two clients in last night’s episode (The other is Tom.), called it. The regimen begins with one month at “the facility,” a place where Jodi and Tom can get away from the stresses of life–no family, no cookies, not even cell phones–and focus on their weight loss. Then they return home for another five months of workouts with a personal trainer six times a week, check-ups with doctors and check-ins from the nutritionist and the hard-bodied personal trainers of “the facility.”
The first episode begins with Tom, a former high school football player who steadily fell into depression after dropping out of school and is currently weighing in at 638 lbs., and Jodi, a married mother of two who just suffered a minor stroke and is weighing in at 363 lbs. Both are 37 and live in Houston, TX. Apparently, there are quite a few clients in this season’s episodes that are from Texas. I guess making an “everything-is-big-in-Texas” joke would be too easy.
Tom seems gung-ho about losing weight from the get-go. He could barely make the walk to and from the pool house (described by Tom as “a marathon” and Jodi as “the other side of the earth” due to the length of the walk), but even though he had to stop every one-to-two minutes and sit down, Tom didn’t give up. He made the walk, and like his personal trainer told him: you did it once; now you know you can do it again, which is basically the first step in losing weight, believing that you can actually do it, something I can totally relate to considering I vomited nearly everyday for a week when I first began my plunge into exercise in January, 2002. I didn’t have God or friends or family; food was my belief system, and losing weight is truly about reprogramming yourself, putting that faith in oneself and not in the six double bacon cheeseburgers and three orders of spicy chicken tenders, as Tom did each day. Trust me–it’s harder than you think.
This was Jodi’s problem: she didn’t believe in herself. Before she left home for “the facility” to begin her six-month regimen, she was honest about the limitations her weight has placed on her life, remarking that being heavy was “the only thing I’ve ever allowed to stand in my way from doing what I want.” Jodi’s husband had threatened to leave her. She didn’t have the energy or stamina to keep up with her two kids. As she put on the pounds, Jodi became more self-conscious and could no longer perform as part of her band. Singing was her love, and she had to give it up because she thought people were making fun of her while she was on stage. Her mother was no help, saying about Jodi’s musical aspirations, “They want to see Madonna–not Jodi.”
Once Jodi made it to the facility, she was broken, crying, arguing with the trainers and finally giving up. But the trainers didn’t give up on her, and through counseling, she began pinpointing the triggers for her addiction to food, mainly her mother (Hey, me too!) and her lack of control over everything in her life except what she put in her mouth, specifically loads of processed foods (When she went to the grocery store with the nutritionist, Jodi told her she doesn’t buy meat from behind the counter because “it’s more expensive.”) and two pints of my mortal enemy Haagen-Dazs. (In my teen years, I spent most weeknights watching movies and killing two pints of Haagen Dazs in a sitting, and this was after I ate a whole dinner.)
But Jodi bounced back (No pun intended, I assure you.), began coming to terms with her addiction and making real progress. When Tom and Jodi were released from “the facility,” they basically reversed courses–Jodi established her belief system and kept at it while Tom, lacking a support system and overwhelmed by life, began binging again and gained about 20 lbs. (Been there, done that.) But the trainers caught up with him quick, and Tom was back at the facility again, rekindling the fire he had when he first arrived there. When you’re heavy, the urge to quell stress and anxiety with food is always there–even after you’ve begun losing weight. Again, it’s reprogramming. When stress comes on, we have to learn coping mechanisms that don’t involve Haagen-Dazs or six double bacon cheeseburgers. (They are oh-so-good though; I know, I know.)
After the six months was up, Tom had lost 162 lbs., weighing in at 476 lbs., and Jodi had lost 77.4 lbs, with a final weight of 289.8. The first episode was a success. Tom put it best when he said, “No food tastes as good as skinny feels.”
Not every part of “Heavy” was a success though. After just one episode, I already absolutely hate the physician. When Tom came in for his final check-up, he weighed almost 150 lbs. less, and the doctor didn’t even congratulate the guy. Instead, he harped on Tom’s BMI, which is perhaps the most bullshit barometer for weight loss and fitness because it presupposes everyone that’s the same height should weigh the same without accounting for heredity, body fat percentage or muscle mass.
For example, my favorite football player Ray Lewis is 6 ft. 1 and 250 lbs., and his BMI is 33, which is definitely in the “obese” category. Look at the man though. He’s a fucking physical specimen. (I have more to say about BMI, but you’ll have to see my show, “Fat Fuck,” to hear more.)
Anyway, back to the physician, what he should have said was, “Tom, you still have a long way to go, but I’m proud of the strides you’ve made in the last six months. Keep it up.” Something like that.
Losing weight isn’t easy. All we heavies need is a little encouragement.
Brian McGuigan is a writer, performer and arts get-shit-done-er working on a one-man show about his own struggles with weight loss entitled “Fat Fuck.” He’ll be blogging weekly about A&E’s new docu-drama “Heavy” on his blog brianwithani.com.