Thursday, December 31, 2009


I just finished watching Julie & Julia and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. Everyone said the movie was plotless but well-acted and kind of boring. For some reason I found it utterly compelling. I don't think it was plotless, but rather just a true story. How could that live up to Hollywood expectations of plot? But it is of course two real-life fairy tales. Each woman did something remarkable and unique, and ended up famous. Of course one person way more famous than the other.

Maybe I was just warm and happy in my basement at 5 am knowing that it was so icy that we'd all be home today and I could happily watch a movie, neither rushed nor exhausted and all alone - at least for most of it. Natasha came down to snuggle with me at the end.  Maybe I was just happy to watch a movie period. Our Netflix queue is mainly Buffy the Vampire Slayer disks (those of you who read the book will get the irony there). Or maybe the particular fantasy of a food/cooking blogger with a dead-end government temp job becoming an author and then selling the movie rights to a group of people involving Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, Nora Ephron and Amy Adams just hits a little too close to home to ignore. Either way, from the opening scenes of the Eiffel Tower I was smitten.

It's rather delightful watching the parallel stories unfold, knowing the happy ending, enjoying the sweet husbands. And I'm generally an ultra-critical, anti-sap kind of movie-goer. I hated Titanic with a passion. My favorite movie is still Sophie's Choice. I do agree the ending was kind of poorly done...and Julia Child's accomplishments were far more revolutionary than is let on.  Nora Ephron just assumes everyone knows what they are and that the very accomplishment of her getting her book published stands on its own for all that is to come. I would argue she is showing her age and that many young people raised on the Food Network have no idea about Julia Child's full impact.

But that criticism aside, Julie, Julia and I had a lovely morning curled up together in my basement. Next up, on demand re-reruns of The Biggest Loser. I decided to work-out for 30 min while watching. Seemed like a good choice.

After eschewing the very concept of the show for years, and for the entire time I was losing, I have finally come around to see some of its finer points. I still loathe it for the original reasons I found it un-watchable: the tortuous workouts and endless crying seem designed to exploit the contestants (who are  oh so willing to be exploited) and the silliness of the "game" aspect undermines the importance of the very real and serious topic morbid obesity in this country. I know I'm a kill-joy. Plus the people are kind of gross all naked with their bellies hanging out. Sorry - not a very politically correct thing to say.

Lately, after purchasing a few Biggest Loser workout DVDs and liking them I began to pay attention to the pervasiveness of both the Biggest Loser brand and the Jillian Michaels brand (Bob isn't quite as aggressively out there). Marketing-wise, they seem to dominate the weight-loss space, more than Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Canyon Ranch, Atkins, South Beach etc. Such a funny concept, as TBL didn't start out as a weight loss plan, with monthly subscription costs, but rather as a tv show. But now, due to aggressive marketing, licensing and merchandising, it's hard to escape that hokey logo and Jillian's admonishing scowl. They have an online club, a resort, music cds, workout dvds, books, cooking equipment, exercise equipment, etc.  So here is what I'm learning....
  1. First and foremost, what I didn't get when i just watched snippets of people looking like they were about to die is that the main focus is on building self-esteem through having the contestants complete extraordinary physical challenges. While I just saw this as exploitative, the "I felt like I was going to die" aspect is vital for these people, who REALLY need their self-worth brought up a few notches. For me I was able to get to an "I can do this" place in my head by reading some books and cooking a lot. But these people have serious issues and need major intervention. I mean, I always got the irony before of the title, but now I see, these people really did think of themselves as losers in the beginning.
  2. The leaders view changing these peoples' lives as an emergency, like the contestants are on the verge of having a heart attack, which I'm sure many of them are. It's not a long-term, gradual type of affair, but rather an extreme boot-camp. I originally found this unpalatable, but I see where they're coming from. Time is a-wasting and these people are in serious trouble. To the one-third of Americans who are obese this point seems to be well-taken...hence the popularity of the show and it's brands.
  3. Their program is very exercise-focused, rather than food focused. I know it's both, but they push the exercise as the primary component. I'm beginning to see why. I think some of it is physiological - building muscle speeds up the metabolism as opposed to just burning calories while it's being done. But Bob and Jillian are dealing with morbidly obese people. People who weight over 300 lbs generally have an emotional reason why they're eating and it seems to revolve around low-self esteem at some level. They all seem to have some breakthrough somewhere during the series where they come to realize they do have self-worth and are worthy of living a healthy lifestyle. So by pushing them to their absolute physical limits Bob and Jillian are building their self-confidence as much as their pecs. Probably more. 
  4. According to the doctor, who by the way is the same doctor Jackie uses in her fitness camp, TBL group claims to be the first fitness establishment (fat farm) to push obese people to undergo professional athlete-style workouts from the get go. I don't know the validity of this. Certainly they're the first people to do a reality show about it.
  5. From what I've gathered, the diet is very high veggie, many low-fat proteins, few carbs and fewer fats. I don't know how this is sustainable. I see how it results in very fast weight-loss, but I wonder what their long-term food plan is. I couldn't have lost the weight without eating lots of egg whites, chicken breast and non-fat yogurt, but I also ate a fair amount of whole wheat breads and fats as well. I certainly upped the fats after I reached my goal weight but I haven't read where they allow for this (mostly in the form of nuts and some cheese). This being said, I was not obese-far from it. My BMI was 28, with obese starting at 40. According to the show's doctor - people who were once obese have to be even more strict than those who were merely overweight, and for example, need to exercise 60-90 min/day, 5-6 days/week to keep the weight off. I would like to know why this is true.
  6. I also read that the program caused a lot of people to end up in the hospital and is way over the top/dangerous. I'm sure this is true and I still find that aspect of the show rather repugnant. I can't seem to find the original article....obviously people who are obese and willing to walk around in bathing suits on tv have issues with fame and will go to any lengths. 
This morning I watched a special that reviewed the whole show. What was telling is that every person who lost and kept off the weight seemed to have a career change and become a trainer of some sort, either full-time or as a way to help their communities. These people each lost over 100 lbs and are now really fantastic athletes. A couple of them even did full-fledged triathalons (2.5 mi swim, 112 mi bike ride, 26.2 mi run).  This is amazing.

Anyway it was a morning of watching people find a new lease on life, and success through passion. Kind of a fun way to spend an icy morning.

1 comment:

  1. A BMI of 30 is obese, not 40. Maybe 40 is morbidly obese, not sure.