Welcome to my new blog series! Here at the end of my pregnancy, I find myself watching more TV than I have in years. And since I'll be housebound with a newborn for much of the next several months, that trend is apt to continue. That's why I bother to pay for cable these days.
Don't get me wrong, I've always loved me some good TV. Even having eschewed cable for so many years, I've exhausted much of the critically-approved, highfalutin fare via video rental ("The Wire", "Freaks and Geeks" and my current obsession, "Deadwood", to name a few). But now that I have access to 200 channels of mostly crap, I'm sometimes surprised by what entertains me. There's plenty I don't like - home-remodeling shows or true crime stuff, for example - but it turns out there's plenty I do. And I'm going to tell you about it, because frankly, I don't have much else going on right now.
"I Used To Be Fat" on MTV
"I Used To Be Fat" is a reality show in which obese teens set ambitious weight loss goals that they try to meet with the help of a professional trainer. In the episode I watched last night, Michigan high school graduate and once-accomplished dancer Terra decides she wants to revisit her hobby and also lose 96 pounds. But, she's thwarted by her family's poor eating habits and her mother Janey's unsupportive attitude. Terra needs an at-home intervention from trainer Jimi to help keep her on track.
I would never have watched this show if not for the fact that Jimi is the brother of an old schoolmate. It's not often I get to say, "Hey, I know that guy on MTV!" (It doesn't matter that I haven't seen Jimi in well over 20 years, it's still cool.) And being a reformed fitness-phobe who's made modest strides toward wellness through the assistance of trainers, I was also interested to see how he would inspire this young woman to meet her lofty objective.
OMG, this show blew my mind! More than ever, I feel like great trainers are right up there with great therapists in the pantheon of Earthly angels. But even the best of these people are no good without a diligent client, and Miss Terra is certainly one. What a remarkable young lady.
At the start of the show, Terra talks about the troubles that led her to this challenge - wanting to dance again but not being so light on her feet, the years of bullying, not liking her body - but she isn't self-pitying. She's just very self-aware, especially in her recognition that emotional eating is the way she bonds with her sister Janecia and their mother Janey (to mom's credit, she also acknowledges that she sets that model for her daughters).
When Jimi arrives at Terra's home, they discuss her goals for the following 90 days. Then he inspects the kitchen. He quickly disposes of the cookies, snack cakes, ice cream and the contents of their cheese drawer (which actually surpassed mine in quantity; this says a lot, even for a family of four). Relatively slim father Jerry calmly removes the bulging trash bags to his truck. Janey is obviously pissed.
Terra's first workout is almost enough to make her quit as she is nearly overwhelmed by the pain. Jimi invokes an impressive paradigm shift - "Pain is weakness leaving the body." Whoa! Terra doesn't give in. But by way of montages and periodic weigh-ins, we learn that despite her hard work, she is not dropping pounds at a pace to meet her goal. Clearly, the food is the issue. Here's an example: just a few days into the program, Terra gets ready to host a graduation open house that Janey and Jerry want to cater with their typical deep-fried meaty/swimming in mayo/cheese-encrusted fare. As Janey dictates the shopping list, Terra wonders why they might need four tubs of Cool Whip (banana pudding, duh!). Janey pauses from list-making with a dramatic, hands-gripped-to-the-migraine gesture and says to her daughter, "The whole day is about you. The decision you have to make is, which 'all about you' do you want it to be about?" But like, no pressure, right?
Terra chooses to go with the flow and allows the open house menu to represent her old habits. She heroically sticks to salad and doesn't eat any cake. But over the following weeks, Janey and Jerry restock the kitchen with all the same crap that Jimi disposed on day one. Eventually, Jimi figures this out and offers to talk to the family on Terra's behalf. It does not go well. As Jerry weakly, almost silently tends to his grill and the five types of meat upon it (including a vat of deep-fried something - yes, he's deep-frying on the grill), Janey holds court in her lawn chair and chuckles about smothering Terra's shrimp in melted butter. Jimi suggests using a marinade instead, to which she snaps, "Jimi... No! Food tastes better with stuff on it." (Quick, someone explain to Mom what a marinade is.) Then, when he asks her what she thinks of Terra's weight-loss difficulties, Janey whines about her daughter using the car to go to the gym and says she can't wait for the summer to be over.
Now, being that this is reality TV, that would be the moment when you want Jimi to flip Janey out of her lawn chair and flat on her face. But, it isn't his job to blow up their family, as incredibly satisfying as that might be. He just needs to get them to help Terra stick with her plan. So he takes the smarter approach and talks to Dad and Sis when Mom isn't around. He convinces Janecia to go to the gym with her sister, if only to give Terra the company she needs to make exercising more enjoyable. And it works! Terra's lovely, sunshiny face lights up when she feels like she's setting a good example for her little sister, and I have to stop writing about it or I might cry. Witnessing that sort of moment, when a loving sibling steps in where a parent failed, almost makes me want to have a second child.
But Jerry winds up being pretty cool, too. He learns how to make salad into an entree and talks to Terra about maintaining her diet when she goes to college. And in a really awkward moment, he tells her that he's proud of her. Even though it was weird and sadly unprecedented, she appreciates it.
At the end of the 90 days, Terra has lost 30 pounds. Though it is way less than she intended, she's nevertheless thrilled and determined to lose the rest of the weight. She asks her mom, "Do you think I can do it?" Janey responds with baffling trepidation, "Yeah... if that's what you're gonna do." Terra smiles and says, "I'm going to."
In the epilogue, Terra goes off to college where she makes nice friends, goes to the gym regularly, eats responsibly and loses even more weight. She gets a sassy new 'do before a weekend reunion with friends and family at home. When Jimi sees her, he's glowing with pride. He tells her that she looks great and asks, "Are you where you wanna be?" She thinks for a moment and says, "With my weight and how I look, I'm not where I wanna be. But how I feel? Oh, definitely!"
Now that's some profound shit for an eighteen year old. It reminds me of psychologist Daniel Kahneman's theory about happiness being defined by the remembering self and the experiencing self. If someone were to ask you if you're happy, chances are you would consider the story of your life before you answer that question. Have you accomplished your goals? Are you making as much money as you'd like? If you died today, what would be your legacy? But that's just the happiness of the remembering self, and it's only part of the equation. Consider this - how do you feel right now? Are you having a good time? Those questions pertain to the happiness of the experiencing self. Fitness is such a wonderful and worthwhile endeavor because it combines both types of happiness. You need to set objectives to measure your progress and I think most of us who come from a place of unfitness find meeting those marks incredibly difficult; that just makes success all the more satisfying. But the trying makes you feel good, too, not to mention all the tangible side benefits like better breathing, better mobility, better sex. Yeah, we all want to be stronger and skinnier, but you get so much out of the journey in addition to the goal.
For coming to that realization fifteen years earlier than I did, Terra is my hero of the day. And that's pretty cool, because we pronounce our names the same way.