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Are Cable Food Shows Making Extreme Eating Glamorous?

Bruce Springsteen had it right when he sang “fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.” Satellite dishes and super-sized cable offerings have exploded the number of programming options tenfold since that song charted. But inevitably, you still find yourself channel-surfing like crazy when the DVR is empty and the weather outside sucks.

Cable Television Food Shows

That’s how I discovered a fascinating and somewhat disturbing trend – cable television shows that delight in extreme culinary concoctions. They are doing for overeating what the Internet did for porn – creating constant access and demand, in this case for extra calories, 24/7.

Sure, it can be entertaining to watch a man tackle an 11 pound pizza in one sitting, or arm wrestle with a 72 ounce steak. I was transfixed by the sight of a chef preparing a hamburger the size of my head with four layers of patties, including one made of deep-fried foie gras (talk about overkill). But as a health conscious individual, there is was no way I’d want to seriously dig into that impending heart attack on a plate. What I worry about is the impact it could have on the average television viewer. Someone who might catch the show and be prompted to search out a plate of double-fried candy bars in return.

It kind of reminds me of Jackass, the MTV prank show that spawned a movie franchise. When the first season aired, reports of kids trying the stunts at home skyrocketed. They suffered broken bones, bruised muscles and hurt egos. What happens to adolescents who decide to copy extreme eating stunts? Or even worse, when they start to consider an entire platter of chicken-fried steak as a normal portion?

Rising Obesity Rate

On November 5, it was reported that experts from Harvard and MIT theorized that the U. S. obesity rate may hit 42% by 2050. I thought that number was crazy, until learning that the Centers for Disease Control already categorized about one-third of U.S. adults as obese in 2007-2008. With television shows celebrating over-the-top eating, looks like Americans are well on their way.

[box type=”important”]What do you think? Are cable shows focused on extreme food making overeating glamorous, or are they harmless?[/box]

Shira Miller is healthy lifestyle blogger, writer, speaker, public relations expert and pop culture addict. Her interest in wellness started in 1992, after she lost 50 pounds through exercise, eating better and eliminating Oreo cookies as a primary food group. Currently working on a funny book about life after weight loss, Shira coaches individuals and promotes companies who make the world better, healthier or more livable. Visit to learn more.


  1. Pingback: Extreme Cuisine: The Meatza Pocket Monstrosity «

  2. Bryan

    November 23, 2010 at 6:35 am

    Hey Shira,

    I think you are so right about this. A lot of reality tv shows in Australia e.g Masterchef; about cooking has sort of spawned a whole bunch of wannabe cooking enthusiasts. Not that it’s a bad thing but there are certain foods that are not healthy and these shows are indirectly promoting it.

    • Shira

      November 29, 2010 at 9:55 am

      Hi Bryan – Thanks for stopping by my post! Am looking forward to checking out your blog.

  3. Nancy

    November 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    I appreciate the smoking analogy, and that does seem to have worked well. Applying it to food may not be as helpful though. As it is, being overweight is definitely societally uncool, often to the point of painful body image issues and insecurity, thereby perpetuating the problem. I think if we focus on making it uncool to be inactive, that will be very effective. When I moved to Colorado, the fittest state in the US, I learned quickly that it would be hard to make friends unless I took to hiking. That led to rock climbing, skiing, kayaking, and wakeboarding. Restaurants in my town have specialties like “lettuce hearts,” and people spend their whole day in biking spandex. I was out of place in my stiletto boots and makeup– how could I hike in that? I haven’t changed myself completely, and I love my boots still, but I took to healthier habits in part because I didn’t want to be friendless.

  4. [email protected] Workouts

    November 22, 2010 at 11:52 am

    I’m with you! I occasionally watch Man V Food just because he shows some really awesome places and dishes. But at the end he does some crazy food eating challenge where he stuffs himself so much that he literally starts to sweat! I think it is a fun show but too many people can be influenced negatively by this and probably are. I have also heard the 42% obesity rate…’s sick. And especially the year of which it will plateau at. We are doing so much to educate people about obesity. Why will it take 40 years for us to turn it around?

    • Shira

      November 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm

      We’ve got to make bigger changes to reverse that trend. I heard David Kessler speak recently and he used the analogy of how society made cigarette smoking undesirable whereas 40 years ago it was still deemed “cool.” Current education efforts are on the right path, but we need a more concerted brand image campaign to change the way people feel about and interact with unhealthy foods.

  5. Nancy

    November 22, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I don’t know about glamorous, but you’re right, TV shows and commercials absolutely make me hungry. I learned to stop watching most of it as I started to lose weight, because it definitely undermines weight loss goals. What’s crazy is the number of extreme weight loss shows that are on now as well. As if to self correct for the over-eating shows. I used to watch those shows religiously looking for inspiration, but instead, I became bogged down in self-comparison. In the end, I agree that switching the TV off has been one of the smartest things I have ever done. I lost weight, got fit, and am feeling pretty good about myself

    • Shira

      November 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm

      Nancy, congrats on your weight loss and getting fit. It is the most wonderful gift a person can give themselves. I find the weight loss show trend potentially worrisome too, as the contestants are living in an artificial bubble. There’s no way a regular person can lose weight that quickly in a healthy manner, deal with the pressures of daily life and keep it off permanently.

  6. Rich Thurman, MA, CSCS, CPT

    November 22, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Simply turning off the television would help lower the obesity rate alone. People spend 30+ hours a week sitting in front of the television. That’s a full time job and they don’t get paid for it. Those same people are the people that say they don’t have time to exercise, prepare their own meals, etc. Come on folks…turn off the TV and stop making excuses.

    • Shira

      November 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm

      Rich – you are so right! I’ve heard that 30 plus hours/week statistic and it boogles my mind. Imagine if someone just took five of those hours and went to the gym instead. Can’t wait to check out your Thanksgiving solutions blog post!

  7. Gale

    November 22, 2010 at 1:47 am

    I think that food shows do have an influence on the eating habits of people, especially in children. It’s bad enough that people make a habit of eating in front of the television, but to do this while watching a show on extreme foods is too much. If you ask me, the answer to what is the best way to lose weight quickly cannot be seen on TV, so people should really start turning off their sets and start making lifestyle changes for the better.

    • Shira

      November 22, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      Gale, you are preaching to the choir here! Hope more people stop watching TV, especially while eating. :)

  8. [email protected]

    November 21, 2010 at 8:45 pm

    Hi shira

    Interesting post. I am in Australia and with the dirth of cooking programs now on television there is mounting criticism of the unhealthy food being cooked. Not so much like the ones you have mentioned but more very rich foods high in calories that one may cook for a dinner party. Personally I only eat healthy meals so they don’t really tempt me! But lots of people are hooked on the shows and will probably see this as an okay things to do cos it’s on TV!!!

    Patricia Perth Australia

    • Shira

      November 22, 2010 at 11:58 am

      Hi Patricia. Thanks for your comment! We’ve had regular cooking shows on for a long time that focus on special meals, etc…but this new trend has really taken it up a notch. Like you, I’m concerned that once someone sees it on television, then it becomes acceptable.

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