A while back I started watching The Learning Channel’s My 600 lb. Life. This show documents the lives of the super obese as they reach out to Dr. Younan Nowzaradan, one of the few physicians who performs bariatric surgery on patients their size.
Watching this show is both fascinating and a horrifying–like seeing a bloody road accident and being unable to avert your eyes.
The extreme nature of these patients’ condition leaves them with very limited mobility (some of them can’t even get out of bed) or quality of life. It’s simply hard to fathom having a body that size or an addiction that is so crippling.
Here’s a theme I’ve noticed while watching this show: there tends to be a “perfect storm” of factors that combine to create a 600 lb. person.
1. A genetic predisposition for obesity: Needless to say, we don’t completely understand the role genetics plays in our body weight. But most of the people featured on this show tend to come from families where obesity is a major problem. This becomes painfully apparent when the patient’s parents, children or siblings are interviewed. The patient often reports being overweight as long as he/she can remember.
2. Enablers: Even bedridden patients are able to get an endless supply of high-calorie foods delivered within arm’s length. This is one of the most fascinating (and baffling) things to observe on the show. Family members (spouses in particular) will give in to the patient’s demands for certain foods. Family members, in fact, often sabotage the medical intervention designed to save their loved one.
3. Traumatic events: Many of the 600+ lb. patients have experienced some kind of trauma that escalated their weight gain (often it’s something that happened in childhood). Some of the women featured on the show were molested or raped. Others report gaining weight after losing a family member. I don’t remember this kind of thing being a part of every story, but it was quite common.
Combine these three things and you get people crushed under the weight of their own gargantuan bodies, seemingly unable to stop consuming the thousands of calories that are slowly but surely killing them.
Bariatric surgery is not a “quick fix” for people suffering from this disease (due to the factors I’ve mentioned). I remember one patient who made virtually no progress even after her stomach had been surgically reduced in size. But it can be an effective tool for weight loss in those who would otherwise not have any hope of a normal life.
Watching these patients get the surgery and (hopefully) transform their lives is compelling. I find this interesting as someone who studies both fitness and addiction.
There’s good news for those of us who watch this show: TLC will be doing a fourth season, to be shown in 2016.