Can a Weight Loss Show Really Inspire People to Shed Pounds?

We take a look at MTV's new program and speak with one of its stars

Weight loss shows are a dime a dozen these days, each with a slightly different tack: Biggest Loser. Dance Your Ass Off. Celebrity Fit Club, Ruby. Some employ compassion; others have been critiqued for exploiting their stars. All involve marathon hardcore workouts that are seemingly impossible to maintain post-filming. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I clicked over to MTV and watched the season premiere of I Used To Be Fat.

As it turns out, the show was an impressive mix of the best qualities of the above shows. In the first episode, popular Gabriella, 18, is preparing to leave for college. Voted Homecoming Queen senior year at her New Jersey high school, she reveals, “I am cheerful but deep down, my weight is keeping me from being as happy as I want to be.” In first grade, boys chanted "Fatso" as she walked by. The years since have been filled with unhealthy snacking, inactivity and a struggle with moderation. She’s 5’7” and weighs 237 pounds.

Enter trainer Katie, a human sparkplug who has the ability to be both hard and soft at the same time, pushing and guiding Gabriella through “the most important summer of my life.” Her goal: To shed 108 pounds in 111 days, reaching a goal weight of 145 before her first day of college. That’s six pounds per week. MTV has been criticized for promoting such rapid weight loss --  after all, shedding 90 pounds in four months (what Gabriella eventually accomplished) seems impossible. That said, Gabriella dedicated her entire summer to turning her waistline around.

I believe IUTBF did a strong job portraying the incredibly hard work necessary to lose weight without exploiting Gabriella. Check out my Q & A with Gabriella below:

On the show, your mom came across especially harsh -- purposefully leaving junk food out, daring you to eat it. Why?

“She wanted me to learn how to control my cravings. I believe she was scared. She saw me getting heavier and heavier and didn’t know what to do. She wanted me to be healthy and didn’t know what to do. When she saw me losing weight on my own, she realized she didn’t have to be in control as much as she did before. We built a different relationship and it’s great.”

Has it been difficult adjusting to your new body?

“Yes! It’s more than a physical journey. It’s emotional and mental. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, my mind tricks me into thinking I’m 253 pounds again. I still grab a bigger size when clothing shopping, but I know I’m not fat. What helps me come back to reality is putting on my clothes and realizing they’re not size 20s anymore! And I feel my muscles and get empowered because I work so hard for them. I remind myself how proud I am.”

What kind of feedback have you received from viewers?

“People have sent me so many messages of support on Facebook. I have over 400 new Facebook friends since the show aired. People ask for exercise and eating tips. A lot of them see themselves in me -- they’re overweight, eat snacks, they’re not happy. They love that I didn’t do this for any other reason than to help myself. I’ve replied to every single one of them.”

What are your favorite workouts?

“I’m still at the gym every day, still working out with Katie and eating right. It’s a lifestyle. I love Spin class and the Stairmaster and I do circuit training to tone up. Never did I think I’d enjoy it.”

Do you have any tips for parents of overweight kids?

“I think the best way to go about it is to kind of sneak it in. Suggest active activities together as a family, like going for a walk, instead of just telling them they need to lose weight. Get everyone in the family involved. Serve healthier food. Don’t buy processed foods. I still have snacks in the house but I’ve learned how to eat. Now, I see the cookies and I see the fruit, and I go for the fruit."

Bottom line. Gabriella says she wouldn't change a thing: “Most kids were out partying. I was changing my life. I gave up one summer to live the rest of my life. Honestly, I think that's a pretty fair trade.”

What are your thoughts? Are weight loss shows like I Used to Be Fat powerful enough to wake people up?

Do you think weight loss programs can truly inspire overweight viewers to make permanent life changes? Chime in below!

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