Posted on October 11, 2011 by Dr. DeahAmerica the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments. It was a special screening sponsored by several eating disorders organizations: La Ventana, Ocenaire, Center for Discovery, Reasons, and a fundraiser for The Eating Disorders Resource Center (EDRC). I entered the theater confident that I would be part of an audience that “knew all of the words to the same songs that I knew.” What I didn’t know was whether the film would strike the familiar chords and cover the play list the audience was hoping for. After all, making a documentary about the extraordinarily complicated interrelationships among food, weight, health, eating disorders, and dieting, is no easy task. Meet our protagonist, Darryl Roberts, a man who loves food and hates exercise. Darryl is visiting a doctor for the first time in ten years and is hit with a cyclone of bad news; his blood pressure is high and his heart has some irregularities. The doctor, following medical protocols, prescribes two blood pressure medications and sends a deflated Darryl, on his way. But the storm only worsens and he is hit upside the head with the news that the medications have (im)potential side effects. Finding this a hard, so to speak, pill to swallow, it dawns on him that he isn’t in Kansas anymore. And so, we are invited to join our not so little “Darryl Gayle,” as he sets off to find the Wizard of Weight Loss. This wizard will be great and powerful, will grant his wish to be healthy and bestow upon him a more uplifting way to avoid the stroke that is surely lurking around the next bend. Darryl's journey has all of the required elements of a classic odyssey; a trip tik of funny, tragic, and outrageous run-ins with good and evil witches, fierce flying monkeys, and fellow truth seekers…aka a realistic sampling of well-meaning but sometimes insidious members of the diet, medical, eating disorders, nutritional, and fitness industries. And because it is Hollywood, Hollywood, (with more connections than Dr. Deah’s Hollywood), there are some riveting cameos including: Deepak Chopra, Secretary of Health, Kathleen Sebelius, and the Arch Bishop of New York, Timothy Dolan. (Unfortunately there is no Dr. Oz, although the irony of that would NOT have escaped me!) This passionate star studded supporting cast speaks their truths about weight loss, health, and diets and add to the intrigue of Mr. Roberts' quest. But perhaps what makes this film so successful is the accessible like-ability of Darryl Roberts. He is a down to earth man ,we cannot help but identify with; as he attempts to stick to a 28 day regime of organic raw food and colon cleansing during which time we find out that his heart is NOT the only part of Darryl’s world that is irregular…if you catch my drift. We are in the kitchen with him as he eats his “last hurrah” meal before the diet. Standing up, as binge eaters frequently do, we are co-relishing in what is certainly, in that moment, his last piece of chocolate cake, EVER. We are walking side by side with him as he finally snaps from one too many tofu kebabs and dives into the comfort and greasy satisfying joy and “joyness” of fried chicken. I do not think I was the only one champing at the bit to run to his defense when a diet doctor shows disdain for fat people by admonishing them for staying fat because they are too lazy to stay on a diet. Dr. Shapiro opines and challenges Darryl to dispute the fact that deep down inside everyone, if honest, wants to be thin. As his quest continues, he establishes our solidarity with survivors of weight loss surgeries and eating disorders, taps into our empathy for the obsessive exerciser who would rather workout than have a relationship. (She is emphatic that her happiness would inevitably lead to weight gain). He opens our hearts to the boys who are members of an eating disorders group and a woman struggling with anorexia. As the movie progresses, he ignites our anger by deftly connecting the dots and illustrating that the reinforcement we give and get for losing weight and working out can backfire; and what begins as a spark of disordered eating billows into the raging fire of a fully fledged eating disorder. Roberts recruits our activism when his questions about government subsidies for corn and the possible connection to obesity were not responded to by Kathleen Sebelius, Director of Health and Human Services who ends the interview by remarking that she doesn’t know about eating disorders or the diet industry. As he explores the over inflated importance that the National Institute of Health places on BMI as an indicator of health, he jump-starts our outrage at the questionable connection between certain high profile health professionals and the Weight Watchers® advisory board. He garners our admiration for Ragen Chastain, a 250+ pound dancer, and other people who are living happy healthy lives but have to battle stigmatization and dispel the myths about fat and health on a daily basis. And finally, he conducts the audience in a chorus of sighs of relief after listening to psychiatrists and other health professionals: Dr. Norman, Jon Robison, Paul Campos, Judith Matz, Linda Bacon, and Evelyn Tribole, ( a partial list click here for the full cast) explain that according to longitudinal studies, restrictive diets lead to weight cycling NOT long term weight loss nor are they the answer to lowering high blood pressure. Instead we are offered a saner, alternative that is health focused instead of weight focused. The Health at Every Size® approach proposes that a balance of fun physical activity, in Darryl’s case bicycling, combined with mindful-eating, results in stabilized health markers and removes the deleterious co-morbid conditions associated with weight fluctuations. But that is my clinical jargon seeping out and I am wearing my Dr. Deah’s Hollywood Film-stanista hat… and as I watched the film I was purring with contentment. There I was immersed in one of those bright moments when my beliefs and surroundings were congruent. Still purring, I left the theater feeling curious about how the mainstream audience will react as many will be exposed, perhaps for the first time, to a comparison between the two self-help roads to self-health ideologies, Health at Every Size® and Dieting. They will watch a well crafted documentary filled with glimpses into some funny, some ludicrous and other truly painful experiences that living in a culture obsessed with thinness has inflicted upon many of us. They will witness how the desire to live healthy lives often paradoxically results in adopting unhealthy behaviors and attitudes. And with all of that being said, I predict (and hope) they will breathe a sigh of relief; and experience their own bright moment when they learn there is another way. We all have a choice that doesn’t require going somewhere else and breaking the bank in order to attain self acceptance and a healthy way of life. Close your eyes and think about that! MMM...YUM. I don’t want to give away the ending…but take a minute, click your heels 3 times and say, "There's no place like home." Til Next Time, Dr. Deah
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