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Welcome to the World of Weight Loss

Wed Aug 21, 9-10pm, BBC2

From radical feminism to dog walking, director Vanessa Engle is capable of bringing her own unique sensibility to bear on almost any subject. Utilising a mixture of gentle humour, kindly but insistent probing and occasional flashes of bleak, profound insight, her trick is to always ask one more question. What lies behind our obesity epidemic? Are we literally hemmed in by cheap, crap food? Is overeating a mere symptom of a set of deeper societal problems?

Engle explores these questions obliquely by focusing on a few individual Weightwatchers. There’s a certain wry jollity in the musical selections (‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ anyone?) and Engle never ladles on the melodrama. But soon the sadnesses, even pathologies behind these stories begin to reveal themselves. How does someone get to the stage where they’re eating 30 deep-fried chicken wings in a single sitting? Never po-faced and eventually, all the more affecting for it, this is another worthy addition to Engle’s impressive documentary canon.


Kate Callaghan
Kate Callaghan

Another ‘put-down-the-Maltesers-or-die’ lecture is thankfully avoided by Director Vanessa Engle’s lifestyle documentary, but her efforts to explain why Brits turn in droves to slimming clubs is undermined by hand-picking the most poignant cases from among the tens of thousands of group members. No useful scrutiny of the eating plans is offered and instead Engle serves a tasting menu of the extreme and highly specific social, childhood, and economic factors that may contribute to weight-gain. The more relatable and representative figure of a dieter with a weak spot for mozzarella doesn’t get a look in; a glaring omission by a documentary-maker previously praised for her telling insights on universal experiences. The most eye-opening find is that group leaders tend to be warm, genuine motivators instead of the food police, however Engle is so busy playing psychiatrist and treating the interviewees in isolation that this insight could well be accidental.

Fiona Hewlett
Fiona Hewlett

I’ve been through the slimming clubs wringer over the years, boy oh boy. And although I may have dragged my weight kicking and screaming down to 8st 10lbs at one point (sadly, that particular weigh-in slip is framed and on the mantelpiece in my mum’s house. Ah, the glory days.), I can tell you for nowt that I’m still overly lardy and barely active. However, despite my lack of success, all Vanessa Engle’s documentary did was make me think seriously about launching myself at the nearest Rosemary Conley Club to get back on the wagon…. The leaders were enthusiastic, the subjects were charming, even if some of their stories were a little sad, and I felt like a welcome visitor rather than a probing busy-body. However, if I hear one more lady describe themselves as “curvy” when what they really are is “fat”, I may well spontaneously combust.