Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Village on a Diet episode 3 recap: Nobody yelled!

This week on a Village on a Diet....

Food wise they're finally weighing in, and just like with fitness, it's food boot camp. Apparently you have to give up everything that's bad for you. Nothing about moderation, calorie awareness/consideration. Nope, instead Chef Jonathan, hands out bags of fresh vegetables and then later in the show has participants show up at a community centre to learn how to cook with them. During the cooking segment the CBC impresses upon us that they want Canada to think Taylor's a community of rubes. Chef Jonathan holds up some fennel, asks the room full of folks if anyone knows what it is, and the CBC then cuts to a few very confused faces and pipes in the sounds of crickets chirping.

So other than being given a bag of vegetables and standing in a gym sized room while a chef cooked up front did Taylorites learn anything about healthy eating, healthy cooking, or the interaction between food and weight? Well they learned about "portion control". No discussion of calories, just the same old, "servings" that confuse everyone and help no one. Energy density (calories per gram) makes servings a rather useless measure as identically sized servings of foods with different energy densities will clearly impact differently on weight. They might have even learned other things, but there wasn't much time in the roughly 25 seconds they gave to dietitian Maria Thomas. Later in the show trainer Garfield encouraged Taylorites to eat frequently.

Lastly Chef Jonathan heads over to the pizza restaurant and asks the owner to change her pizzas and at least this week, she seems on board with the proposed changes (though I sure wish they'd have done a nutritional breakdown of the recipe they used).

All in all, a fairly uneventful episode.

I've got a few nagging questions about the show.

What percentage of the Village is involved? If it's a village of 1,300 folks and if overweight and obesity are in the 70% range, that'd be 910 eligible townsfolk. Given that there's 2,000lbs in a metric ton, that'd mean each of those folks would have to lose 2.19lbs in 3 months if all were involved. As blog reader Martin Collis very rightly points out, the Hawthorne Effect ought to cover that and much, much more alone - and that's something which in my mind should obligate the CBC to make an unannounced return to Taylor 6 months or a year after filming to see how the town's doing without them.

Why did the CBC decide to make the townsfolk seem more stranded and helpless than they are? According to a comment left on Dr. Sharma's blog, the closest grocery store is 12 minutes away from Taylor - hardly far. The same commentator also noted that the walking trail VOAD suggested was never utilized is used plenty. It doesn't take isolation or a lack of facilities to struggle with weight - Canadians struggle with it everywhere. Why the pretence?

Most importantly, what is the CBC's ultimate aim with VOAD? If it's to inspire people to try to improve their fitness, I think they'd be far better off promoting SMART goal setting than boot camps. If it's to help people manage their weight, they've got to put more of a focus on food and also more of a focus on the "whys" of excess calorie consumption. Ideally I'd love to see VOAD explore eating patterns and help to educate Canadians. Explore macronutrients and educate Canadians about the importance of protein and the challenges of refined carbohydrates. Explore the examples parents set for their children. Explore the difficulties of finding time to make home cooked meals when working long hours or not even knowing how to cook. Explore the umpteen dozen myths about food and weight and take advantage of their gigantic soap box to help bust them.

What do you think the CBC's aim is with VOAD? Is it spectacle or support?