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MTV’s addition to the growing catalogue of weight loss programs hits close to home.  “I Used To Be Fat” features teenagers that weigh over 200 pounds.  Each episode focuses on a student during the summer months between high school graduation and freshman year at college.  In 90 days, with the help of a personal trainer, the teenagers make drastic physical and emotional transformations, but I don’t think the show tells the entire story.

I used to be fat.  At 250 pounds, the four years of high school were incredibly uncomfortable for me.  Like the teenagers on the MTV show, I didn’t date, didn’t go to prom, and didn’t participate in the fullness of the high school experience.  I decided to lose weight in college, after one day at work at Scottsdale’s Fashion Square mall, a customer asked me how it felt to be so fat at such a young age.  The experience was humiliating, and it reminded me that a heavy person’s body is public property.

I have been a person of average size for the last ten years.  Maintaining my weight requires a great deal of discipline and lots of mental reconditioning.

MTV’s program, like many others — “The Biggest Loser,” “Losing It with Jillian,” “Shedding for the Wedding,” to name a few — focuses mostly on the body:  we witness strict diets, rigorous workout routines, and constant trips to the scale.  I applaud the shows for the kind of attention they bring to size issues, and for highlighting the benefits of healthy habits, but I would ask them to tell the mental part of the story, too.

Losing weight is not only a challenge on the body; it is also a challenge on the mind.  For 21 years, I was heavy, and my weight was definitely part of my identity.  After weight loss, though, I went into a form of depression:  who was I as a thin person?  And while there were people who encouraged my weight loss, there were just as many others who discouraged, challenged, and ridiculed my efforts.  Most cruel of all, a heavy person never completely stops seeing the self as anything but a heavy person.  My experience leaves me wondering how the teenagers on MTV’s “I Used To Be Fat” feel about their new identities after 90 days of drastic resizing.

A&E’s show “Heavy” is closest to getting it right.  Over six months the show tracks adults who are dangerously obese.  The usual scenes are there — the diets, the trainers, the workouts — but the show includes visits to therapists who help the subjects unearth the roots of their weight problems.  Sometimes the show also exposes the struggle after weight loss:  how the family and home environments can be detrimental to the goals of the weight loser.  The new weight loss programs show us that losing weight requires a great deal of strength.  MTV’s teenage-focused addition could follow A&E’s example, and create a more responsible program that would address the strength required for both the teenaged body and the mind.

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