“Being healthy is overrated. I’d just rather lose weight,” says 16-year-old Marissa.
Jackie: I can relate to that statement. In fact, I said it once or twice myself in my youth!
I’m watching True Life on MTV. The story is “I’m on an extreme diet” They are following two young people who want to look good.
One, Marissa, pours over fashion magazines and longs for a body like the models in the magazine. She longs for thigh gap, protruding hip bones, defined collarbones, in her quest to have “a perfect body.”
She’s warned that she could be damaging her health; she doesn’t care.
What’s her extreme diet?
She read about the chocolate diet through social media. The dieter eats nothing but chocolate candy. It can be a variety of chocolate, but she must stick to just chocolate for 3 – 5 days. She reveals her stash and indeed, she got all kinds of chocolate candies – all kinds!
Jackie: I understand the appeal. Chocolate tastes good. She gets to eat something she loves and she loses weight because she can’t eat enough chocolate to add up to the calories she normally consumes daily when she’s not on a diet, although that changes with subsequent chocolate diets.
No counting, no tracking, just freedom to eat only one food she loves to lose weight. At first it worked. She lost 20 pounds. Then she went back to “eating like normal.” When she notices that she’s gaining weight she returns to her chocolate diet.
Marissa believes something to the effect that “the body can’t get nourishment from chocolate so that’s why chocolate dieters lose weight.” She says that’s what she’s heard through her social network that explains how the diet works.
Jackie: That isn’t true. A diet of candy isn’t the most nutritious way to eat, but the body can be sustained by chocolate. If there is a calorie deficit she’ll lose weight, If too much chocolate is consumed and more calories are consumed than burned weight gain will result.
Her pattern is to do the chocolate diet until she drops some weight, then she returns to her normal eating behaviors.
Her boyfriend doesn’t endorse the behavior and gives her positive messages about her weight and her body.
Jackie: Her mother nags her. Yup, I said her mother is a nag. I understand that her mother is concerned for her safety and health. The nagging comes from the best of motherly places, but it can’t be called anything except what it is, and that’s nagging.
Mom almost whines as she pleads her daughter to end the chocolate diet. She warns her daughter that she may end up in the hospital. She asks her questions about when is she going to stop this dieting? Would she stop if she damaged her health and was hospitalized.
Marissa, isn’t worried about what might happen. She’s not sick now; she’s not in the hospital so what’s there to worry about?
What’s more, Marissa confides to the camera, even going to the hospital wouldn’t stop her as long as the chocolate diet makes and keeps her as thin as she wishes to be.
Marissa’s mother makes an appointment for Marissa to see a dietician.
Jackie: Based on what I’m watching I doubt this is a registered dietician with a MS, RD degree. I suspect she may not. I think her background isn’t science, it’s acting. The consultation is ridiculous. Who knows how MTV produced it and ultimately edited it. Maybe that’s why the dietician appears to be so uninformed.
She asks Marissa to describe the details of her chocolate diet. Marissa says she’ll eat 3000- 5000 calories a day in chocolate.
Jackie: Whaaaaa!? Wait a minute, Ms. Dietician! Did you hear that 3000-5000 calories a day? Why aren’t you telling her that she won’t lose weight eating that many calories unless she is training like an Olympic marathon runner?
The dietician says, “there is “no protein in chocolate.” That’s false; there is protein in chocolate. The dietitian then asks Marissa how she feels when she’s on this diet.
Marissa claims to get migraines but she can work through them because losing weight is more important than the pain of a headache.
Jackie: I’m thinking it’s not the chocolate that causes your migraines, it’s your mother’s nagging!
Finally after a bunch of meaningless questions, replying with bad science, the dietician suggests Marissa see her doctor for an evaluation to check for nutritional deficiencies.
Jackie: That was the only smart thing the dietician said. I’m certain that Marissa checked out healthy because there wasn’t any talk of her being unhealthy or suffering from any nutritional deficiencies. The doctor instead says she has an eating disorder. I think the diagnosis is wrong. She clearly displays disordered eating and it could become an eating disorder.
Marissa seems slightly concerned about an eating disorder. Mom goes right back into her favorite form of nagging, “what happens if …….”
Jackie: Oh, and check out mom as she pleads with her daughter to take care of herself to avoid unwanted medical consequences. Yup! that’s a cigarette in her left hand. She’s also overweight which might affect her health negatively, but there is no mention of mom’s weight. I actually think the cigarette speaks much louder for mom’s disregard for her own health while she tries to lecture her daughter.
Jackie: You’re probably wondering how it ends. Marissa says she won’t do the chocolate diet anymore. No duh! It wasn’t working! That’s why she is done with it; not because she cares any more about her health than she has ever cared. She claims to trying to lose weight by making healthier food choices, but she still thinks she is too fat to wear a bikini in public. She is working with a counselor to address her body image issues!
What can a viewer learn from watching this episode of True Life? Nothing about dieting or healthy weight management. The lesson is MTV should go back to playing more music videos and fewer phony reality documentaries.