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'Harmful' Nutritionist calls for 'fat-shaming' Operation Transformation to be scrapped

"It really contributes to anti-fat bias and we then assume that people on this show and people that look like the participants are lazy"

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Leader Deirdre Hosford on the show

Leader Deirdre Hosford on the show

Leader Deirdre Hosford on the show

A leading nutritionist has called for Operation Transformation to be axed, claiming it encourages fat-shaming.

The show has been a ratings sensation since it first aired in 2008.

Now in its 14th series, the RTÉ juggernaut has come under fire for its "dangerous" and "harmful" approach to weight loss.

Working to dismantle diet culture, nutritional therapist and co-founder of Intuitive Eating Ireland, Sinead Crowe, says time is up for the series.

"My biggest concern is how Operation Transformation infiltrates our unconscious view of people in bigger bodies.

"It really contributes to anti-fat bias and we then assume that people on this show and people that look like the participants are lazy. There's an assumption that they don't look after themselves and maybe all they do is eat McDonald's every day and don't exercise, which is so harmful because it just isn't true.

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Sinead and Gillian Crowe of Intuitive Eating Ireland

Sinead and Gillian Crowe of Intuitive Eating Ireland

Sinead and Gillian Crowe of Intuitive Eating Ireland

"The people that are in bigger bodies that are watching this at home, it just reinforces the idea that they are not good enough because of the bodies they are in."

Taking aim at the RTÉ series which is backed by HSE initiative Healthy Ireland, Sinead said she believes it is perpetuating the idealisation of thinner bodies while also encouraging dangerous and drastic weight loss.

"When participants experience headaches, fatigue and nausea, it's assumed it's sugar withdrawals. It's more likely to be hunger and dehydration from sudden decrease in food and an increase in activity levels.

"Losing a significant amount of weight in such a short period of time is considered dangerous by the HSE, who recommend 1.1 pounds per week, yet Operation Transformation participants are encouraged to lose triple that, even applauded for losing seven-plus pounds.

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Contestants on RTE’s Operation Transformation

Contestants on RTE’s Operation Transformation

Contestants on RTE’s Operation Transformation

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"We don't usually specify calories because people can really get stuck on numbers and it can be harmful, but when we tallied it up the contestants' calorie intake it is the equivalent of what we would recommend for a five-year-old."

Calling on the show to end the normalisation of restrictive dieting, Sinead said: "If diets worked, we wouldn't be having this conversation. Ninety five per cent of intentional calorie restriction will result in weight regain within a five-year window, a huge per cent gaining more weight than they began with and during that dieting period.

"Your mental and physical health is often suffering in more ways than one. This is never discussed because the focus is always on losing weight - weight loss is superior and is seen as the best outcome even if it comes at a significant cost to that individual's mental, emotional and physical health.

"I wouldn't want to shame any of the participants but if Operation Transformation researched who kept the weight off, who gained more weight in the long run, and they also evaluated the former participants' fitness and overall health five years after the programme, I imagine 90 per cent of contestants have put the weight back on."

Discussing some of the aspects of the hit series, Sinead said: "The guys are on television in just cycling shorts and bare chests - they are as much as naked and it is very degrading."

Sinead was also keen to point out some of the positives of the show.

"I love the community aspect of it, I think it's great that people are encouraging each other to move more and that is really helpful.

"It might also encourage people who have never been to the GP to get their bloods tested. "

The Galwegian said many people are afraid to speak out about the show's failings.

"I have had dieticians and nutritionists who don't agree with the show message me but they won't say anything about it, I don't think they want to be seen as criticising RTÉ.

"Kathyrn Thomas and Karl Henry seem like lovely people, I have no beef with anyone on the show. I have no doubt that they think they are helping but maybe don't see that it is harmful."

Demanding that the series is axed, the nutritionist said: "It needs to come off the air, or at the very least it needs to be revamped.

"If they want to empower people to look at their health they need to take the weight loss proponent out of it because it is harmful; harmful to people in bigger bodies and harmful to people who have eating disorders and harmful for most of us who have engaged in a diet and had disordered thinking about food."

Sinead, who runs Intuitive Eating alongside her sister Gillian Crowe, says now more than ever people are at huge risk of falling into disordered eating patterns.

"Disordered eating is a massive problem in our country, poor body image and low self-esteem is a massive issue for so many. Eating disorders are also increasing rapidly. We feel the public require adequate education and information about the potential negative and harmful effects of dieting.

"This past year has been particularly stressful for people. Many are feeling ashamed of weight gain.

"Studies show we fear weight gain over death. Recount all the fat-phobic memes that circulated in the earlier stages, suggesting that the worst thing that could possibly happen during a global pandemic was to gain a few pounds.

Anxiety

"Many people faced a shift in their daily routine which likely impacted their eating patterns, particularly if they experience an eating disorder; it was a very difficult and exhausting time for many.

"Diet culture has stolen so much from so many of us. It convinces us not to trust ourselves, it convinces us that we just don't have enough willpower or we don't want it enough if we can't lose weight long-term.

"It brainwashes us to believe that thin is best and if you were thinner, all your problems would fall away. This is not true. It doesn't have to be this way," says Sinead.

In response, RTE said "the programme aims to give people the best health advice to get them on the right track both physically and mentally."

"With the help of fitness coach Karl Henry, principal clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy, registered dietitian Aoife Hearne and general practitioner Dr Sumi Dunne, Operation Transformation aims to give the viewing public the tools they need to get moving, maintain and improve their physical and mental health all while staying safe during the Covid pandemic."

"This year Operation Transformation aims to help people find ways of getting and staying healthier in body and mind while living with restrictions," it was added.

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