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A Big Challenge, Part 2 - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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A Big Challenge, Part 2 [Jul. 4th, 2007|04:25 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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So. We know I hate the word fat and I hate reality TV.

Nonetheless, I tuned in again, Tuesday evening, 9pm, 3 July 2007, when ABC showed episode #2 of "Shaq's Big Challenge."

Shaq is famous athlete Shaquille O'Neal. For reasons known only to him, he decided to pick half a dozen dramatically overweight kids and get them into shape. In the first episode, he and his Doctor Trainer gave the kids the standard fitness test and they all failed.

He took them to a childhood obesity expert where all of them were found to be morbidly obese. He started them off on an exercise program, rented a gym, gave them charts to fill out, and left for training camp. He called in regularly to check on them.

The kids, ranging in age from 12 to 15, slacked off. Some came in, some didn't. They did the absolute minimum when they were there. They usually devolved into throwing giant rubber balls at each other. They fibbed to Shaq. The suspicious Doctor Trainer revealed this to Shaq, who went ballistic and felt used.

In episode #2, the kids and their parents were summoned to the gym. Shaq took a knife and started slashing all the game balls (basket balls, yoga balls, soccer balls, etc.) while the kids looked on, baffled. He then told the kids to sit on the little bleachers in the gym with their parents and he ripped into the kids.

But after a sentence or two, his heart just wasn't in it, so Doctor Trainer took over the litany of Bad Things Done.

You could tell from the kids' faces that, although they might've known deep down that they weren't doing the right thing, they hadn't confronted the thought consciously. They were miserable. They cried. Their parents got pissed at them. (Shaq, meanwhile, told one kid he was proud of him for coming in 12 out of 14 days as the boy headed for the bleachers and he murmured to another kid during the litany to keep his head up, to stay strong, stay proud. This is a man who loves kids and really cannot stand to see them hurting in any way.)

The whole thing was totally emotionally over-wrought. Doctor Trainer played the part of "the bad guy" and, as the ultimate punishment, he brought in his old friend, The Mean Trainer What Does Not Like Childrens, Mr. Tyler.

Mr. Tyler made the kids get up and do a bunch of aerobic exercises. One of the two girls had a panic attack (which looked a lot like a heart attack), but they had Doctor Trainer on hand and her BP and pulse were fairly normal - all indications were that it was a panic attack, not anything physical, but since she couldn't seem to calm down, they took her away in an ambulance. Which freaked out the other kids.

The families were dismissed with instructions that the kids were to be there every day, Tuesday through Saturday, from 4-6pm. (When they went outside, a couple of the kids got another earful from their parents). Doctor Trainer led Shaq back into the gym to talk with Mr. Tyler. As they came in, Doctor Trainer announced that he'd spent a while calming Shaq down. Shaq was freaked. He pointed out (rightly) that if the kids got hurt, it was his ass on the line, not Doctor Trainer's nor Mr. Tyler's. And he couldn't stand seeing the kids upset. The men tried to reassure him.

Next day of training was grueling. Panic attack girl didn't show up and she was missed by the other kids. The adults were worried about her.

The day after that, one of the boys told the other kids that panic attack girl couldn't come to training anymore and for him to say goodbye to everyone for her. The kids were miserable. That was the evening that one of the kids didn't attend training because he had a baseball game. They show him fly out to second, then later, driving home with his Mom. Mr. Tyler was waiting for him at his house when he got home and made him do a bunch of standard exercises (jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups) and afterwards, the kid came inside totally wiped and just cried, then dragged his sore self off to bed.

Next, the kids went back to the childhood obesity doctor for their check-in. The panic attack girl didn't go. Of the remaining 5, 4 lost at least 4-6 lbs. each. One gained 4 lbs. and was disabused of the notion that it was denser muscle replacing fat.

Now, if an overweight person lost 4-6 lbs. a week for six months, that's 104 to 156 lbs. which is about what these kids need to lose. And they lost it by changing their diets, getting support from their parents, getting attention from Shaq, messing around in the gym, getting a little sweaty, and having fun. (The timeline is tough to tease out, but I think they'd only had 2, maybe 3 sessions with Mr. Tyler versus 2 WEEKS of messing about).

But niceness makes for crappy TV.

If Shaq had hired a low-key trainer to watch the kids do their exercises... if he had given this baby-sitter the checklists, and this person had helped the kids to ramp up their workouts gradually, they would have learned the joy that is exercise. Because, once you get over the hump of the first 2-3 weeks, exercising can be pretty fun and you really start to feel the effects. You feel good. You crave sugar less. It's easier to climb stairs.

They would have learned how to pace themselves and learned discipline, which is not an overnight lesson.

Instead, we had to have drama.

Next, Shaq, his college coach Dale Brown, and Doctor Trainer went to the kids' school. There was an amusing montage of Shaq visiting each of the kids, proving to their friends and enemies that he really was hanging out with them. That was cool. They also met the athletic director, a proponent of mandatory P.E., and he seemed to be a good guy (not like some of the vicious bastards I had for P.E. back in the 1970s and 1980s).

And they sat down with a boy, I'd guess around 15 or 16, who was also dramatically overweight, and he told them about being teased and tortured. He talked about being 10 and wanting to commit suicide. He was very well-spoken and totally open and he shocked the crap out of the three men.

I admit it, I teared up. Especially when he talked about the misery that was Valentine's Day.

Shaq told him he didn't get a valentine until he was in college; that nobody liked him in grade school or high school. But you could tell the kid didn't believe it.

Afterwards, Shaq talked about being an outcast, an outsider, and how he still is one in many ways and that's why he wanted to help the kids.

Then there was a break wherein the nutrition expert (a woman named Joy Bauer) showed Shaq a recording (at his house) of one of the kids scarfing down four slices of pizza, dipping it in a garlic butter sauce, for his "one night a week" junk food allowance. She asked Shaq how many slices he eats, when he eats pizza, but he didn't answer. The kid was complaining about how Bauer wanted him to make sammiches with just a shmear of mayo and Shaq noted that the kid should feel lucky because she wouldn't let him have any mayo at all.

And I was thinking, when I have a pizza, I usually get a large thin crust pie and eat the whole damn thing - eight slices. Ugh.

She headed out to one family's place. They're Cuban and they were missing their favorite food (Picadillo, recipe here), on her new diet so she went to show them how to make it with lots of low-fat substitutes. And they were pretty surprised, when they ate it, at how good it still tasted.

That was an excellent lesson.

The next day Shaq, Coach Brown, and Doctor Trainer returned to the school and met with the principal to encourage her to reinstate mandatory P.E. (Really funny moment when she comes out to greet them and these three giant men are stuffed into three chairs and they all blame each other for throwing the rock).

According to the show, PE is mandatory in only 6% of US schools. Buh. SIX PERCENT. That's crazy.

The Principal shot them down in flames. She pointed out that to add P.E. back in would cost $650,000 (extending the school day, keeping the teachers longer, equipment, and so on). She told them to come back with a real plan, not just a dream. That was fuckin' funny.

Finally, they chatted with panic attack girl (whose name, I just checked, is Kit). She didn't quit, but her parents wouldn't let her come anymore.

And that was the end.

Well, almost. During the credits, they cut back and forth between one of the kids on the show and this cute girl. He's telling the camera that he really likes this girl. Really really likes her. REALLY really REALLY likes her. They intercut that with her talking about what a great guy he is. It was hopelessly cute.

In the scenes from next week, we see Kit's Dad telling Doctor Trainer to get the "bleep" off his property. Should be interesting.

I'm sort of committed to watching the show. While I deplore some of the tactics, I find the issues it raises interesting. I hated P.E. as much as the next outcast while I was in school, but I recognize now that that had a lot to do with the miserable programs they implemented and my own dehydration. I loved volleyball when I was a freshman and was totally devoted to it, but my coach was lame and the nasty uniforms were over 15 years old. It was very discouraging. I also ran track for a while, got shin splints, and instead of being offered alternative training to work on the shin splints (or told that running in high tops would CAUSE shin splints - no one ever instructed me on the proper equipment), I was asked to come to meets and track the stats.

Assholes.

Again, I would enjoy continuing to have intelligent conversations about the show if anyone else is interested.
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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: catness
2007-07-04 01:13 pm (UTC)
Agreed on all of this stuff.

When I was going to the gym and Dane was my trainer, I was working out hard 3x a week, and I gained 15 pounds while looking like I lost about 5. I'd never experienced that before. Conversely, when I lost the muscle mass, it was after months of not working out, and I lost it all in about a week, and didn't look any different.

For me, though, mandatory PE itself wasn't the problem when I was in school, it was the other kids in mandatory PE with me. They were in all my oather classes, too, it was just that there were more opportunities for Lord of the Flies moments in PE than in other periods. I didn't grow up with issues about exercise, only about people who use the shelter of groups and lack of supervision to abuse power.

KJC, I'll probably never manage to catch this show, but I'll be interested in your further evaluations if you keep watching. Do you find that any of what you're seeing is affecting how you think about your adult patterns of intake or exercise? I've been trying to watch how I eat lately since exercise isn't working out so much, and I find that pretty much everything that's available to purchase in grocery stores is... not okay with my dietary guidelines (unless it's from a whole foods store, costs a ton, and tastes like cardboard). It's very frustrating.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-07-05 08:35 am (UTC)
A quick note, before I forget, BMI is only one of the things they were throwing around on the show.

They did actually use calipers and MRIs to see the body fat composition of the kids. Except I couldn't remember that they were called calipers, so they were filed under "pinchy thingy" in my head.
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2007-07-05 06:44 pm (UTC)
That's interesting. I had never realized that BMI was so un-useful. The one time I had mine measured the trainer used calipers and I think something else. I don't remember very well.

I do agree with your comments about outdoors, parenting, and eating habits. NPR's morning show had a bit today about the startling drop in outdoors hours experienced by kids in the past 10-15 years, not just in cities but all over. I'm as guilty here as the next parent.

I disagree slightly on the topic of kids-in-school-all-day. Unless we make one of the parents stay home with the kids all day we need some place for them to be. For better or worse that's likely to be some kind of schooling and we (parents) do expect the schools to behave in ways that are healthy for the kids while the kids are there. I don't see any choice, unfortunately.
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[User Picture]From: egwenna
2007-07-04 03:03 pm (UTC)
I haven't caught the show but I do like Shaq. I think your assessment that he really cares about the kids is correct. Not that I think this show is necessarily going to be the benefit he'd like it to be but, you do what you can, I suppose and if he figures it out, he'll do better.

As for BMI... I agree it has it's limits, but I think it also has value for a large percentage of people. My trainer at the gym was a former bodybuilder and for him, it was bumkus. For me, it's useful tool, just like the scale. I find a mirror and non-stretch jeans are equally illustrative, but numbers are easier to track.

PE was never my favorite time of day, but I got through it okay. I'd much rather have been reading or gaming, but I have found the joy of being fit. I can't run at the moment but I do weights and LOVE yoga. Right before my daughter was born I was in better shape than any time since I was a freshman in HS running cross country track. Just took me a long time to find what worked for me.

With the limits of the school day and how it's structured, I think the burden of helping children learn to take care of themselves really falls on the parents. Sadly, a great many parents don't even take care of themselves so teaching the kids is going to be an uphill battle.
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[User Picture]From: rmd
2007-07-05 11:26 pm (UTC)
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