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February 15, 2017

Why Women Watch "My 600 lb Life" 

Kirsten is 38 years old. She lives at her parents', with her two children. She doesn't work. She can hardly get out of bed. She can't even take a shower on her own. Why? Kirsten weighs 612 lbs.

In my never-ending quest to understand women, I asked
a female friend to explain why she watches "My 600 lb Life"

by Juliette Mitchell

Kirsten wasn't always like this. She was a normal child, but she felt unwanted by her hyper-critical father. To deal with the perceived rejection she turned to drugs and food.

After leaving home at 17, Kirsten was gang raped at a party. After that, she stopped caring. Had 2 kids (by unknown men) who had to be raised by her parents. Her weight went out of control.

By 30 she was over 500 lbs. and couldn't take care of herself. Her parents took her in. She got clean, except for food. That's her only remaining addiction. She eats all the time.

She's depressed, and often talks of how easier everything would be if she were to die in her sleep. She feels like a burden, but that doesn't stop her from bullying her 14-year-old son (with whom she shares a room) into bringing her food. He knows that what he's doing is not helping his mom, but it's easier to give in than to have a fight.

As you can tell, I've been watching TLC's "My 600 lb. Life". Every week they follow a different person who is close or over the 600 lb. mark, and their attempts to lose weight.

Why do I watch this gem? I have to admit that at first, it was out of morbid fascination (pun!). But after a while, I have to say that I find it inspiring. Here are these people that dug a super deep hole for themselves, and we get to see them slowly, and painfully climb out of it. Not all of them get all the way out, but they sure make great improvements. It gives me great satisfaction to see the before and after pictures at the end of the episode.

Kirsten travels 2500 miles (5-day car trip) to see Dr. Nowzaradan (affectionately referred to as Dr. Now) in Houston, TX. Many of his patients consider him their last hope. Dr. Now puts Kirsten in a 1200-calorie diet. She has to prove to him that she can follow a regime. There is no point on getting gastric bypass surgery if she can't control her eating.

After losing 50 lbs in one month, Kirsten is cleared for surgery. She gets a partial gastric bypass due to a severe hernia. The procedure is enough, though. She starts to lose weight while she's in the hospital. Up to this point in the episode, I feel sorry for Kirsten. She's made bad decisions, but she's trying to change. I respect her commitment.

Kirsten spends weeks in the hospital. She's a terrible patient. She complains and cries about everything. My respect for her is dwindling. No, Kirsten, you are not in a concentration camp for fat people (her words). She's convinced they are starving her to death.

Another reason why I find the show appealing is its natural sense of justice. The more people work, the more weight they lose. Lazy, whiny people don't loose as much weight. I prefer episodes where people have good attitudes, do the most work, and loose the most weight. This episode is not one of my favorites so far.

After Kirsten leaves the hospital, her progress halts, and she even gains weight. She's not exercising, not following her diet, and has refused to see the psychologist Dr. Now recommended. Dr. Now lays down the law, as he often is forced to; unless she sees a shrink to deal with her issues, he won't be seeing her anymore.

I always find fascinating the lack of insight some people have. You don't get to over 600 lbs. by having a healthy relationship with food. You obviously need to deal with your issues. Many of the people on the show don't seem to make the connection and ultimately make little progress.

Kirsten reluctantly goes to see the psychologist and at the end admits that dealing with her feelings helps her curve her eating.

By the end of the episode, a whole year has passed. Kirsten has lost a total of 144 pounds. She's still very obese at 468 lbs., but her life is much improved both physically, and psychologically. She can walk much further, help around the house, and through therapy has begun to heal her wounds, and her relationship with her father (he even told her he's proud of her progress).

Other episodes are much better. For example, Tara, a mother of two ended up losing 278 pounds in that first year. Or Olivia, who lost 240 lbs. It's very satisfying to see those before and after pictures.

I won't pretend all my motives for watching this show are noble; I also enjoy the schadenfreude. I struggle with my weight, but in comparison, the 20 pounds I'd like to loose are but a drop in the buckets and buckets these people have to deal with. They are so excited when they drop 200lb, and they are still at 400lb. I'd die if I ever were that weight. Sorry, that's just the way I feel. I guess I'm shallow.

Also, I do feel that at some level, these people are being taken advantage of. That's why I feel ashamed of watching it.  They must get paid because otherwise, I don't see why they would expose such a personal struggle to the world. I would never go to the circus and gawk at the fat lady, but if I can root for her to lose weight from home, without anyone knowing...

Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at