Why mind over matter wins in ‘Bite Size’ movie
by Greta McAnany
With countless food documentaries, fad diets that tell us that we can lose weight from only eating cookies (yes, there is a diet that actually endorses desserts as a weight loss technique) and national icons like the First Lady, with those amazing arms, encouraging physical activity, it is easy to think that the government and health experts in America have finally come up with the right concoction of solutions to end the obesity epidemic. However, as a producer of the most recent documentary to examine this health crisis from a child’s point of view, Bite Size, it is clear to me that our work is far from finished.
Bite Size examines the childhood obesity epidemic from the perspectives of four diverse children across the country as they fight for their health one day at a time.
I came on to this project as a person who had been a solid medium in any clothing store her entire life and had only recently started reading the labels of foods because of my diagnosis with celiac sprue (it’s an auto immune disease where you cannot eat gluten which is found in a lot of common carbohydrate foods – yes it’s real, no it’s not just another form of paleo). Unlike the director and one of our producers, I had never grown up as an overweight kid, or had a huge weight loss epiphany or suffered under the duress of being a prisoner in my own body. I would always hear other members of the team talking about their personal connection to the subject matter, and for a while I felt like I didn’t really have a story about my health that was relevant or “mattered” to the movie. I assumed because I had never been fat that I couldn’t really understand what the kids in the film were going through.
This quasi imposter syndrome followed me until we began shooting. For days on end, I filmed with these kids and their families in the trenches. I shared the same experiences they did and saw first hand what it was like to be an obese child in America today. This was a perspective no Ivy League health expert could offer (believe me we interviewed them too), because it was a comprehensive look at the effects of obesity on the entire person. A lot of the struggles were physical, like not being able to participate fully in sports or dance class. But more often than not, the far greater challenges were rooted in mental and emotional struggles like bullying (both at school and at home), depression, anxiety, lack of self-esteem and anger.
While this mental component of health should have been more apparent, it took me up until a conversation with a Mississippi guidance counselor, who ran a girls’ health and wellness group, to understand it completely. I sat with this woman in her office as she explained how the girls in the group might be reluctant to talk about their weight, especially to someone who looked like a model from L.A. My incredulous laugh probably echoed halfway down the hallways of that humid middle school.
As the only woman on the team, I of course was all too familiar with the reoccurring feelings of shame, disappointment, and anger with my own body. Despite my normal weight, I always looked in the mirror and saw a constant self-improvement project. When another woman referred to me as an “L.A. model” these negative voices were abruptly silenced for the first time since adolescence began (they had definitely grown louder in my time in L.A.). From that moment I discovered my legitimacy and my personal connection to the journeys of the children we filmed – the struggle to accept your body and feel powerful and vital in who you are.
The characters of Bite Size taught me incredible lessons in self-compassion and perseverance. They cut through the mass misinformation of diets and workouts in the media to reveal that ultimately health is about vitality and a commitment to yourself. A commitment to honor your dreams despite all the opposing forces within and around you that threaten to take that away.
It is this message that makes each character so relatable to people who are overweight or health fanatics, because we all have a bulwark of insecurities to overcome, no matter what the number is on the scale. As a country we have a ways to go to create our own definition of health, mind, body and spirit. But hey, if a 12-year-old in the poorest part of the most obese state in America can figure out health and self-acceptance, then in my mind there is hope – and the rest of us have no excuse not to follow suit.