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Complaints against The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories are growing - here's why

Buckle in - our influencer Alex Light has many thoughts on why this was such a triggering programme...

Alex Light

You do not need to 'earn' your food. Let me just say that again in case you might be questioning it: you do not need to 'earn' your food. 

The recent BBC Horizon documentary, The Restaurant That Burns Off Calories might have you thinking otherwise, unfortunately. The TV show, which was fronted by First Dates star Fred Sirieix and This Morning's Dr Zoe Williams, focused on a restaurant that invited 20 diners to enjoy a three-course meal, before another group of fitness fanatics were challenged to burn off the calories consumed. 

The overriding message of the entire show was that we need to burn off what we eat. An incredibly damaging message that is beyond triggering not only for people with eating disorders, but for anyone who has a difficult relationship with food (read: many, many of us - no thanks to diet culture). 

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The BBC show was presented by Fred Sirieux and Dr Zoe Williams 

When the show aired, Beat, the UK's leading eating disorder charity, kept its services open later than usual to provide support to sufferers. "Our services have sadly been in high demand tonight," they tweeted. 

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But let's talk about why it was triggering. First off, I want to include a couple of viewer comments to illustrate the wider impact this might have had. "Last time I did what @BBCTwo's #Horizon show suggests and burnt off every calorie I ate, I ended up in A & E with heart complications from anorexia. That was 14 years ago and I still struggle with an ED today. STOP. PROMOTING. EATING. DISORDERS," wrote one user on Twitter. 

 

Another tweeted: "I've spent years of my life trying to burn off every calorie I eat only to end up in hospital - both general and psychiatric. We need calories just to survive - you do not need to exercise off every bite you take. #Horizon #TheRestaurantThatBurnsOffCalories." While a third person simply wrote: "Please be mindful if you are watching the program tonight on bbc2! Food does NOT have to be earned! #Horizon."

Because we know that the idea that all calories eaten must be cancelled out through exercise is a myth, and has potential to be incredibly damaging to those suffering from an eating disorder. It encourages food to be looked at through the lens of something to be monitored and controlled, rather than through enjoyment and as something that fuels and nourishes our bodies.

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But the show goes one further - it demonstrates exactly how much activity is required to burn off particular food. This kind of stuff sticks, especially in people who are vulnerable, and can colour eating and exercise habits for a long time to come, not to mention compound the guilt and self-loathing of people who may suffer with binge eating.

And can we touch on the fact that this programme was laced with fatphobia? The fear of being in a bigger body was prevalent throughout, with plentiful references to the 'obesity epidemic' and the demonstration of fat bodies as admonition. As if fat people aren't already aware that they represent the thing people are most terrified of. As if they aren't marginalised by society enough. Being thin is not good, and being fat is not bad. It's being in different-sizes bodies, it's not an indication of your character, or morals, or values, or even health. Because guess what? Health comes in different shapes and sizes. 

I could continue, believe me, I have a lot more to say, but we're already at 600 words and I need to wrap this up. I just want you to know that if you watched the show, you can disregard anything you might have learned from it. And if you didn't, don't. 

Because the premise isn't correct - food is not only measured in calories and you do not need to earn it. 

Follow me over on Instagram @alexlight_ldn to continue the conversation...