I’ve had too much time on my hands. I’ve been coughing and lounging for days. I’ve been recovering and in my lax state, I found another reality television show that quickly sucked up too much of my attention and thanks to my heady mix of personal experiences and traumas quickly became a time sink that I have come to deeply regret. My 600-lb Life is a show that capitalizes on the trauma and poor coping skills within all of us and focuses on the morbidly obese of the United States who are ain desperate need of weightloss surgery to stay alive. The show is led by a small little foreign man who goes by Dr. Now and a revolving cast of people who desperately need help getting their weight under control. The show is mostly set in Dr. Now’s Houston clinic but does feature a decent amount of back and forth between the home of the patient in question and the Houston clinic.
There are a lot of things I wanted to cover as I sank myself further and further into this, let’s be clear, problematic as hell reality show but there was one thing that kept circling around and that was the finances and economics of weight loss and dieting. Maybe next time we can talk about my personal trauma when it comes to morbid obesity or the horrible framing of the show.
It started with an observation: many of the people on the show are living in poverty; that isn’t a judgement, it’s just a fact. And if the patient of the week is not indeed in abject poverty they are a part of a large family with a single breadwinner and several children/dependants that rely on one paycheck. Listen, eating healthy is expensive and Trader Joe’s aren’t all over the place. Food deserts are places where it’s hard to find healthy or fresh food in a neighborhood; besides if you have 20 dollars to feed a family of four: you’re going to McDonald’s, not Panera. Junk food is just more cost-effective. I remember being raised by vegans back in the early 2000s before it was cool and there is a reason Whole Foods Market is not-so lovingly called Whole Paycheck. In theory, you can shop there on a budget but everything there is indeed more expensive because you are paying for the luxury of organic and small-batch.
I say this because I noticed how often that participants of the show had a hard time buying healthy, not just because their minds and bodies had been conditioned to love junk food but because of the expense. Many work so fast-food is the only option to feed themselves or their families and even though in theory every fast-food establishment should have some options that are in theory healthy but even as a short-term solution; grilled nuggets at Chick-Fil-A does not a meal healthier make.
There were a few cases that particularly struck me: the ones where medication and money were involved. James K. is a patient who despite being very easy to mock and jeer at because of horrible framing faced quite a few financial issues during his journey to Houston which is a vital part of the show. That’s right, folks, you have to uproot your entire life and move to Houston: a hell swamp with miserable traffic and no memorable skyline. And you don’t even move to Houston immediately, though some do. Many have to make hours long trips across states just to visit a small man who is here to mostly berate you about your lack of weight loss. I’ve been on long trips: they are expensive, time consuming and I can’t imagine having the commitment to anything that isn’t anime to do so for one man who can’t even promise a solution. If the patient does not lose enough weight, they will be denied for surgery and while the show frames that as a lack of will and while my personal inner goblins do, too; we have to see food addiction and trauma as serious issues and realize that there are at times major psychological factors that lead to food addiction and not being able to work out. Another patient, a mother, could literally not afford to feed her family with the frequency of trips she was taking to Houston and she dropped out of the program and continued to lose weight on her own. Dr. Now vilified this action because he has to make money somehow and we the audience are thus told that driving yourself into poverty and letting your children go hungry are worthy sacrifices for weight loss and weight loss surgery.
My mother was obese and she developed a pretty serious case of agoraphobia because of it. She felt constantly judged by a world too small for her and while I wasn’t always the most caring child or teen about the issue as an adult I can now understand why such things are easily traumatizing and can lead to more complex psychological issues. I never knew what was the root of my mother’s obesity: what the inciting incident was that led her to turn to food rather than therapy but maybe it’s for the best that I don’t know. I think my mother’s own lost journey with food addiction, obesity and diabetes puts a lens on the show: it makes it doubly conflicting to watch: one part reliving the trauma of having a chronically ill parent and one part bitter anger at the lack of good personal choices made by seemingly everyone involved.
I could go on about this show, and I probably will considering how much real estate it now takes up in my mind. From the awful framing to the considerable pressure and toll that is put on caregivers I may touch on this show again but for now, cost was the most important factor to discuss. And while in theory TLC does offset some of the costs and participants are said to be paid; with many of the numbers not adding up it seems that Dr. Now and the producers are still asking too much and refusing to budge for the sake of patients that find it simply too expensive to try to save their own lives.