Reel Dieting: Losing Weight at the Movies

by Charles Platkin, PhD

We all know that movie can be dangerous to your waistline, not to mention that simply sitting in the dark tends to give you the feeling that you can eat with immunity. But don’t cancel your cinematic plans just yet. There are movies that can actually stimulate you to action. In fact, movies are now being used in therapy to help people improve various aspects of their lives — it’s called Cinematherapy or Reel Therapy.

How can films motivate, inspire and encourage you to achieve your goals? “The process of film helps to suspend belief. Viewers trust that what they’re seeing is true, and, in turn, think they can do it, too,” says Gary Solomon, M.P.H., M.S.W., Ph.D., a professor at Community College of Southern Nevada and author of Reel Therapy (Lebhar-Friedman Books, 2001). Because viewers can relate to the characters, they are able to identify and potentially start to work through issues of their own.

Motivation to Become Active
This is one of the more important film categories. These films have the power to get you out the door and moving.

  • Rocky (1976): Talk about training — this movie can have you up at 5 a.m. running sprints and nothing but protein.
  • Pumping Iron (1977): This is the governor of California’s big break in film, a documentary about bodybuilding.
  • Breaking Away (1979): Makes you want to get out there and start biking.
  • Chariots of Fire (1981): How about a run on the beach for starters? A great movie about more than running — it could be the one that lights your fire and gets you on the road to health.
  • The Terry Fox Story (1983): The true story of a man diagnosed with cancer who runs across the country using a prosthetic leg, creating the Marathon of Hope.
  • Flashdance (1983): The training and dancing in this movie are intense.
  • G.I. Jane (1997): I loved Demi Moore in this film about the first woman to go for Navy SEAL training. The training scenes are intense enough to get the most comfortable couch potato off his or her duff.
  • Warren Miller’s Cold Fusion (2001): How do you feel about extreme athletes? This documentary features extreme snow athletes showing you how it’s done.
  • First Descent (2005): Do fancy snowboarding movies get you excited? If so, this documentary is your film.

Body Makeovers
Watching others transform their bodies can motivate you to change your own.

  • Irreconcilable Differences (1984): Shelly Long’s character is miserable after her divorce and gains a significant amount of weight in this very funny comedy co-starring Ryan O’Neal. The scenes of her getting back in shape are motivating. Revenge can often be a powerful catalyst.
  • Ruthless People (1986): Includes wonderful, inspirational and very funny scenes of Bette Midler losing weight and getting in shape while being held hostage.
  • She-Devil (1989): Roseanne Barr plays a character who goes through a transformation after finding out that her husband cheated on her.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): Linda Hamilton’s body became the talk of the town. She apparently worked out for months, eating a low-cal and training three hours per day. Although most of us don’t have that kind of time to commit to a regimen (we’re not movie stars), it is inspirational to see Hamilton (playing Sarah Connor) transform her body from what it was in The Terminator.

Trials and Tribulations of Dieting
According to Solomon, food and weight control are rarely portrayed accurately in film. In fact, alcohol and drug films can be better examples of the problems faced by many dieters. When the issues aren’t so “close to home” it can be easier to see our own issues, suggests Solomon. He mentions a few that are good to start with, including: Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Clean and Sober (1988) and When a Man Loves a Woman (1994). The following — some serious, some not — depict many of the experiences we often have when attempting to lose weight and get control of our eating behaviors.

  • Tomorrow We Diet! (1951): An animated film in which Goofy goes on a diet.
  • Fatso (1980): This extremely funny comedy starring Dom DeLuise as a bachelor trying to lose pounds works as a good reminder that crash dieting just doesn’t work.
  • Requiem for a Dream (2000): The sad depiction of a woman who fails at dieting, starts taking diet pills and becomes addicted.
  • Love On A Diet (2001): A comedy from Hong Kong that has been called a very cute film but ridicules and mocks fat people along the way. Avoid it if you’re sensitive to politically incorrect jokes. However, the stars (famous in Hong Kong) go from fat to skinny, which could be inspirational.
  • Super Size Me (2004): The famous documentary shows what happens when you eat nothing but unhealthy fast food.
  • Lbs (2004): In this official selection of the Sundance Film Festival, a more than 300-pound, 27-year-old man deals with food addiction and loses weight after he has a heart attack.

Get Cooking and Enjoy Food
You have to be careful with this category — most of the movies are about the love of food. And we certainly don’t want to use cooking extravagant feasts as an excuse to start eating more. However, if you just get the message and are inspired to start doing more of your own cooking, use healthy ingredients and enjoy your food more, these could work. And maybe all that food preparation will satiate you without causing you to overindulge — you never know.

  • Babette’s Feast (1987): Babette spends her lottery winnings on a big feast.
  • Like Water for Chocolate (1992): A Latino feast with food visuals that will knock your socks off.
  • Eat Drink Man Woman (1994): A retired Chinese master chef and his family express themselves during the preparation of their family dinners.
  • Big Night (1996): To save their Italian restaurant, the proprietors make a big feast, bringing out the cook in all of us.

Overcoming Obstacles
According to Solomon, overcoming great obstacles helps people feel as if they’re in control. In other words, if those people in the movie can overcome those great obstacles, so can I.

  • The Guns of Navarone (1961): A great war movie in which the lead characters are faced with an impossible mission.
  • Rudy (1993): This truly motivating film shows what can be done with determination. Rudy is a young man who wants desperately to play on the Notre Dame football team but is too small.
  • Radio (2003): The story of a young man who inspires a football team and an entire community.

Confidence Boosters
Many movies can give a person confidence, and believing in oneself is among the core ingredients of a successful weight-control program.

  • Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001): Bridget Jones is a single British woman who is overweight, smokes and drinks too much, but manages to overcome it all and find love.
  • Finding Nemo (2003): An animated story about a clownfish, Nemo, who is lost in the ocean and finds not only his way home, but also courage and confidence.

Not Hungry?
If you want a few films that are going to turn you off eating, try watching these and see if you’re still hungry.

  • Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983): The vomitorium.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984): Eating of monkey brains.
  • Stand By Me (1986): Just watch the pie eating scenes — that’s enough.
  • Delicatessen (1991): It’s not about deli food, that’s for sure — it’s about cannibalism.
  • Alive (1993): The members of a soccer team are stranded in the mountains when their plane crashes and have to eat their team members who didn’t survive in order to stay alive.
  • Hannibal (2001): Just the idea of Hannibal Lecter’s eating body parts and having blood on his lips should be enough to make you lose your appetite.
Rate this post

You may also like

Subscribe To The Weekly Food & Nutrition News and Research Digest
Our weekly email news and research digest is everything you need to know about food, nutrition, fitness and health.
No Thanks
Thanks for signing up. You must confirm your email address before we can send you. Please check your email and follow the instructions.
We respect your privacy. Your information is safe and will NEVER be shared.
Don't miss out. Subscribe today.